A hard route to follow

Attending the Outdoor Industries Association (OIA) 2013 Conference and AGM yesterday, it was a privilege to listen to the address given by Peter Metcalf, Black Diamond president/CEO.
From self proclaimed Yosemite climbing bum, to CEO of Black Diamond is a move few climbers could match, but Metcalf has proved he is more than just a climber and is certainly not just another bum that stalked Camp 4 back in the day.
In fact he has been the driving force behind more than just one major outdoor brand and has championed the need for the outdoor industry and conservation bodies to join forces to protect our wild places in a way that those who value such spaces, not as a commodity to be exploited either for recreational or other gain, but as something of far greater intrinsic value, will appreciate.
At the end, questions were taken and before I realised quite what I was doing, I had posed my own. It was probably rather poorly put, but seeing in Metcalf someone who clearly understood the values that I believe are fundamental to 'adventure sports' such as climbing or sea kayaking for that matter, I was intrigued to learn whether as an individual who also has a vested commercial interest, he saw a conflict of interest.
As Metcalf's presentation illustrated, over the course of 40 odd years, climbing has moved from a fringe activity pursued primarily by those who gladly dropped out of mainstream society, to one which is pursued by the masses; that has become a marketing tool; a multi-million pound industry in its own right. My question really, was at what cost? And what should, if anything, members of the OIA be doing about it?
There are clear environmental issues that spring from the explosion in numbers and these are being addressed with varying degrees of success, but the cost I referred to was the loss of the very values that made the industry's success story possible to begin with.
As the hordes are drawn to indoor walls and perhaps then to the crag, do they truly learn about the freedom of climbing while stitching up another crackline with more cams than common sense? Having bought the picture of a cute seal in front of white sands, does the guided kayaker learn of the wonderful adventure that is there for the taking, the importance of self-sufficiency and the joy of travelling independently in these remote, wild places? And what of the client, whose fee pays for the tent to be pitched, meals to be provided and fixed ropes anchored to the very summit of our world (ok, not quite the summit); and those who claim success despite being rescued from a certain death by their guide, having bought the marketing rhetoric and swallowed the adventure pill found in the pocket of every piece of outdoor apparel on the shelves today: do they really 'get it'?
Because if they don't, then really, what is the point?
But more importantly, what happens when the numbers of those who do, diminish so completely that real adventure is no longer understood by the masses? Where then, will our inspiration come from?
The age of exploration is gone. Adventure need not follow. But no matter how good the gear, the adventure - great or small - and all that it entails cannot be bought with it.
And the more we try to sell it in an affordable bite size package that allows us to get home in time for tea, the further away we move from the values we think we aspire to. Once lost, there will be little hope left for the wild places for we will no longer be able to comprehend what they hold.
The outdoor industry is not to blame if indeed there is blame to be attributed. It is a human condition to seek the path of least resistance. This is not the rant of an elitist, nor do I claim superiority, higher skill or greater worth - I am just another punter with aspirations no doubt beyond my ability - but if we are to keep the adventure alive, inspire those who follow and protect those places that make it possible, individually and collectively, we must sometimes accept the harder route.


John Bunyan said…
Enjoyment from true adventure can only be when you are the primary decision maker and responsible for your own safety. You do not have to travel half way around the world to get into such situations and they can last for an hour while you solo a route on a crag or a few days when you paddle off to some remote island. You can only do this if you have invested time in your adventure sport and acquired the relevant skills and knowledge. Not many people will achieve this level because it does not fit the immediate gratification demanded by many nowadays.
Douglas Wilcox said…
Hello Will, I couldn't agree more. You are not being elitist but to survive independently and enjoy the wilderness does require "elite" skills.

Ian and I have recently enjoyed several days camping, bothying and B&Bing while seakayaking round the Arisaig area which was a complete wilderness, we never saw a soul and were often out of phone and VHF coverage.

In the summer the wilderness is gone. It is crawling with guided groups experiencing "the wilderness". Most of the groups consist of two guides and 12 clients and the majority wild camp rather than use local hostels/hotels. I don't even think that the Scottish outdoor access code would consider a group of that size "wild camping". The clients can only paddle about 7km per day and given the number of businesses operating in the area, just about all the landing/wild camping sites are occupied by early afternoon. Two summers ago I paddled 60km one day looking for an unoccupied wild camp site. I ended up in a commercial campsite north of Arisaig. There were less people there than at Port nam Murrach!

People don't seem to want to put in the years of experience and apprenticeship to gradually increase their own wilderness ability. They want a fast track and the commercial companies are making money out of a finite natural resource. They argue that they are giving everyone the opportunity to experience the wilderness but in the process they are destroying it. They could help local communities by staying in local accommodation but that would cost money and that is their bottom line, not the wilderness.
webmaster said…
Hi Will,
despite the mass marketing of 'adventure' I think most people know the difference between the responsibility of looking after yourself and being guided, either by a person or on a way-marked route. Take our Scouts, loads of them have done adventurous activities at centres these days, sometimes even on real mountains. However, they know that a 3 mile hike at night in the woods near home without adults is infinitely more demanding- and more rewarding as they get safely back but severely hyped up.