Pics or it didn’t happen: Would you climb a mountain without posting pictures?

Hiking and photography go together. But will you hike without posting pics?

I asked a question on Twitter and got some interesting answers to this: “Would you climb a mountain if you couldn’t take or post pictures?”

The question itself was rhetorical. But people answered.

“Absolutely. My camera is my least important piece of equipment. If I did not carry my phone for navigation I would likely take even fewer pictures than I do,” one responder said.

Another: “Definitely, though I think I’d still want some way of recording the experience to remember it later, probably some scribbled notes.”

And another: “Do it all the time.”

I believe these folks, as well as the others who more or less said the same thing. Based on what they’ve posted, many of them are pretty serious about their outdoor undertakings. They hike and climb for the sake of the activity, not because they want to be able to say that they’ve done it.

But I also know that there are those who probably would not climb mountains if they couldn’t take photos, or share the experience on a blog or via social media. In fact, many of them are trying to get new images for the sake of keeping those platforms stocked with new things for people to look at, comment on, or hit “like” or whatever.

I also know the nature of the question (and the responses that followed) probably discouraged these folks from answering that no, they wouldn’t climb if they couldn’t share. To admit it would seem shallow.

That’s the part I want to break down, because I think there are a couple of reasons that push people toward this side of the outdoor world.

For some, it really is a question of meeting demand. Many hikers, climbers, mountaineers or whatever have websites that need new posts. They’ve got social media channels that need fresh photos and videos. Sponsorships might be part of the deal, or perhaps a larger prize down the road that will pay off if all these online efforts showcasing their adventures hit some sort of critical mass. So yeah, that’s pressure to get out there more, push harder and provide new stories to tell online audiences.

For others, it’s simpler. They’ll hike a mountain, or climb a pitch, get a dramatic photo, and post it. Soon thereafter, folks are double-tapping that image like crazy and their phone is blowing up with likes and comments from enthralled followers. It’s a symbiotic stimulus-response reaction between the person and their audience. For the followers, it’s a matter of expressed appreciation. For the poster, it’s validation. And validation is a powerful drug. A numbers game follows where the tally of likes and followers drives these folks to see what image will garner even greater numbers.

Most of the time, this is pretty harmless. If it floats your boat, you do you, man. While there are examples of people trying things in places where they get in over their heads (sometimes with deadly consequences), those are rare exceptions.

I asked the question following a trip to Colorado for a family wedding. I had a day after the ceremony where I could head up into the mountains and maybe hike a trail and bag a peak. Might as well, right?

But it had snowed pretty hard in the high country, and I’d left my ice axe at home. I read a report that a hiker had a near-miss with an avalanche in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. And someone else lost control of their car at Loveland Pass, with icy conditions sending them down the mountainside. I took a pass.

And yet, part of me regretted not going up, especially after seeing some friends’ pics in the hills at the same time I’d planned to go. Was it fear of missing out? Or fear of missing the opportunity to take a bunch of photos of snowy alpine scenes, writing a trip report, and posting fresh images on the IG?

And that brought up a deeper question: What’s my overriding motive?

I’m a storyteller by nature, be it with words or pictures. I enjoy it. But I’d hate to get to the point where every outing has to be justified by fresh content for all the interwebz to consume. Worse yet, I’d hate if it turned into something where I planned all my trips on the basis of what new thing I can publish.

In other words, I needed to check myself. Hence the question.

I can say yeah, I’d climb a mountain if I couldn’t take pics or post about it. I have before, and I enjoyed the experience just fine. I’ve done plenty of hikes without snapping a single shot. Those were good, too. And so were the ascents and hikes where I took dozens of photos.

But I don’t want to get to the point where I’m hiking for the approval of others. I never want to make the hike akin to a job, where it must be done and documented or it’s not worth my time. That would signal a loss of the love for the outdoors, and that would be far more tragic than not seeing a bunch of affirming notifications pop up on a hand-held screen.

My next hike ought to have no photos taken. Or at least I should give myself that option.

Bob Doucette

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6 thoughts on “Pics or it didn’t happen: Would you climb a mountain without posting pictures?

  1. Hmmm, this makes me think.

    I have done plenty of hikes without sharing photos (I nearly always take some, because I have a rubbish memory, and taking photos really helps me retain the stories of each day.) Sometimes I enjoy hiking even more when I’m not constantly trying to capture the moment…

    But I guess mostly, I just really enjoy writing about trips and sharing photos afterwards. I don’t go exploring just to update people, but it’s like the cherry on the top. It brings back the memories of the day, and keeps me motivated to get up and go the next weekend.

    • We think alike. I like to think of this site as a resource, but at the same time, I’ve always taken it for what it is: A space to enjoy telling stories about the places I go. I have to check myself sometimes, though. I never want to contemplate a hike or a climb, and the first thought to pop up in my head is how great the pics will be, or how awesome a trip report might be.

  2. I am not a climber at all and specialize in the 3 to 8 mile hikes and I love to take photos and post them but believe it or not, it is the outing that is the point to me, not the instagram or blog pic so yes I could, and have, have an visually interesting outing and not take photographs.

    Great question though because we do read about people who are killed or injured trying to get a great shot.

    • It’s becoming more common, unfortunately. There are some folks in the SAR community in Colorado who think last year’s spate of fatalities on Capitol Peak was spurred in part by people wanting dramatic photos for social media purposes. That’s no mountain to play around on.

      I’m like you. I dig the visual and written storytelling aspect that comes with hiking, but I’d go anyway.

    • The people who make me most mad are the ones who are willing to put animals or other people in danger for their photos.

      A few weeks ago I saw people climbing over fences and ignoring signs to get to a possible instagram photo, while putting a really rare bird in danger in the process. Or people that leave food for wildlife, hoping to get a piccy.

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