OMG - Where did you take that picture!?
Did you see a cool picture of a hike that you would like to add to your list? I'm here to help you figure out how to get there!
As I get outside more - post quarantine (but still in pandemic-mode), I have been sharing more pictures of our adventures on social media. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't receive a comment or a private message asking, "Where is this?"
I want to be helpful in this scenario. I personally believe that the outdoors is one of the absolute best places that anyone could spend their time right now. The benefits of spending just 2 hours surrounded by nature sights and sounds alone are countless! I also know that it can be difficult to know where to start if you are just now becoming interested in exploring the outdoors more. There are some really good conversations going on about accessibility vs. gatekeeping and it's hard to not feel pressure from either side. Especially as a person of color myself. Especially as someone who practices and believes in the principals of Leave No Trace. Especially as someone who has taught myself how and where to hike and backpack in the Pacific Northwest, how to ski, (still working on this one), how to build a website, how to fix a vacuum, how to put a new hood on a 2009 Ford Taurus, how to change my own oil, how to change a tire, how to hook up an XBOX and a ROKU to a smart TV, etc.. simply by researching these topics on the internet, reading books and/or articles, watching videos, and talking to people who have taken these steps before me. Information is at the tips of my fingers, and if you are reading this blog - it is at the tips of yours as well.
I have seen the question asked - "Why do you post pictures on the internet if you don't want to tell people the location in which you took it?" And to that I say - Other people's pictures are such a huge source of inspiration to me. I also look at them as a challenge if I haven't seen a particular location photographed before. I look for subtle cues - Is it a current pic? That may give me insight as to what elevation the location is in. What kind of flora and fauna are present? That can also indicate if it is local or foreign. Any land marks in the pic that would be easily Google-able? Start with that.. etc. 99% of the time I can find what I am looking for in a reasonably quick matter of time and minimal effort.
I want to take a moment to share a sneak peek of my own personal process for finding beautiful places to hike to - So next time you see a cool picture on your feed, you have other options at hand - instead of simply sending someone a message (one of many that they receive no doubt) asking them to pass over their hard work free of charge. This actually reminds me of a quote I read recently on an unrelated topic, but it applies here as well.
"You do all the work and take all the risk. I will sit back and receive them while taking no personal risk myself." -Robin Diangelo
This quote is relevant because finding backpacking routes and applying for permits, coordinating drop offs and pickups, planning for all different weather forecasts depending upon the location and the season - truly is a labor of love. Sometimes it takes the better part of a year to get to the day that I actually lace up my boots and step foot on a trail. A lot of time, effort, and research goes into planning an epic adventure. Accessibility is a real issue in the outdoor world. One in which I have felt the pains of myself. Has that stopped me from getting outside? Nope. And I'm happy to share with you how I do it. It might not be in the form of a Geo-tag on every single picture that I post - and it may require you to expend a little of your own investment into the process - but we will get you there none the less, and you will know how to get to any place you want to go moving forward, without having to depend on anyone to Geo-tag their photos. Also - Full disclosure, I have no secret vault of information that I keep under lock and key. This is just my process that I follow to navigate the many public tools that are already out there for anyone to use, if they choose to do so.
Before I give you all my secrets, I want to reiterate that when I think of "preparing for a hike" I don't start by putting on my shoes and gassing up the car. I start way back at "What area do I want to explore". And thus begins my research/preparations.
Here in western Washington, I am fortunate to have so many gorgeous locations within a 3 hour drive/radius. I usually break them up by National Park for the initial planning stages.. Rainier, North Cascades, Olympics - and then I may include some other specific areas that I like to explore in as well - Teanaways, Hwy 20, Mt St Helens, etc..
After I narrow down what area I want to be in, I look at a map. I actually look at a few.
A. I go to the Washington Trails Association website, and pull up their Hike Finder map first. This is such a cool feature because it allows you to filter in lots of ways to narrow down your search based on your personal preferences of length, elevation gain, and even features like lakes, views, rivers, spring flowers, fall colors, etc. I pull up the area I want to adventure in and look at all of the hikes that are available. I also browse the recent trip reports of each hike to see when was the last time that someone left a report. In shoulder season, if there hasn't been a report in several months it could be an indicator that the hike is still inaccessible because of snow and/or washouts. Sometimes recent trip reports have helpful information like - Bring bug spray! Or bring a garbage bag because there is a lot of trash at the trailhead. Or bring water shoes for a water crossing. Etc.
B. I also like to pull up Earthmate or Google Maps to look at the surrounding area. I will just do a zoomed in scroll over the area to see if there are any lakes or peaks or other features that I want to research a little bit more. If I see something interesting, I will do a separate Google search for the specific name of the feature.
**If I saw a picture on social media - this is a big help in trying to figure out where that picture may have been taken based on what I may have noticed in the background. Let's say I saw a picture of a human in front of a large lake, with a view of Rainier in the background. First I will make an assumption on what side of Rainier the photo was taken on. The biodiversity, glaciers, and general environments are fairly distinguishable on the different sides. I will also take notice of how far away or close up Rainier was to the lake in the foreground. And then I will just do a scroll over a map on that side of Rainier looking for a large lake in front of the mountain and I can usually find what I am looking for. Then I will take the name of the lake I found, and plug that into a Google search or a social media search, and see if the pictures that pop up align with the initial picture that I saw posted - and if not - I will scroll over the map again a second and maybe even a third time until I find the location I am looking for. This also helps me get a better understanding of the layout around Rainier as I am scrolling around looking at different lakes and their position in relation to the mountain - which gives me a general better sense of direction when I am hiking in that area.
3. Once I have a hike narrowed down, I focus on the trip reports and social media searches to determine when the best time visit might be. If it's summer time, and all of the trip reports and public posts focus on the fall colors - I may wait and do that hike a little later in the year so I can see what all the excitement is about. OR - if we are in the midst of a pandemic, I may choose to do that hike in the summer and NOT in the fall when everyone else goes so I can potentially stay away from the crowds and still have an enjoyable hike with the summer views instead of the fall colors. There are good and special things about any hike in any season as long as it's still considered safe to do the hike in the particular season you are scheduling it. And I can always go back next year in the fall for a different perspective.
And that's really it! Put in the extra bit of work to research and learn about the areas that you want to explore in - in a more in depth way than simply asking for the name of a trail from a stranger. I don't believe in gatekeeping, and I won't be nasty if you ask me where a particular picture was taken because that's not necessary. But I do believe in giving people the tools they need to open the door to getting there on their own, because I think it's the safer and most helpful option, rather than simply telling everyone in a wide and public audience what trail I hiked or where I snapped a pretty picture. If you know how to put in the work and prepare for a hike from way back at the "research" point and not the "putting on the boots and gassing up the car" point, then you are on the right track to find some really amazing and beautiful locations to hike in. If you're not quite there yet, that's fine! We are all beginners at something, at some point. Find a friend, find a map, (join our FB Group so you always know where we're heading, or where we went!) and build the foundation that will help you continue to find beautiful hikes to explore no matter where you are.
Please pay it forward by giving someone else the tools to find beautiful places to hike in as well.
I hope this helped someone. If you have questions/comments on this content, I'd love to hear it. I am not above revisions, learning better methods, or changing my own views when I learn something new.