I started the first canyoneering forum on the internet back in May of 2000. The original platform was called eGroups, which was later acquired by Yahoo! Those who have been around long enough likely remember it best as the Canyons Group on Yahoo! To get it up and running I did an internet search for “canyoneering”, “canyoning”, “slot canyons”, “gorge walking”, “river tracing”, “kloofing”, and every other related word or phrase I could imagine; inviting anyone and everyone who came up in the search to participate in the group. I was naive enough to imagine we would all come together in a spirit of cooperation to share ideas and information, learn from each other and help each other. Two years later I become extremely frustrated and turned the group over to someone else.
Since then I have been involved in one way or another with several more forums and groups. I certainly see the potential benefits. Unfortunately, I have also witnessed an abundance of pitfalls. Canyoneering existed long before there was an internet, but the exponential growth of the sport has paralleled the exponential growth of the internet. The two have grown up together. Some of the pitfalls that plague canyoneering internet forums are the same ones that plague the internet in general. Others are more specific to the canyoneering community.
Those just getting started in canyoneering have access to a wealth of information that did not exist 15-20 years ago. That’s a good thing, but it presents a significant challenge; sorting through all that information – often conflicting information – to figure out what is worth learning and what should be ignored.
This isn’t a blog post intended to tell you what information is good and what is bad. It’s just a personal rant about the pitfalls. Here is my list of some of those pitfalls:
- Context – “It depends”
- Opinions vs Facts
- How to Think vs What to Think
- Ego, Ethics and Tenacity
- Ego and The Need to Right
- Biases, Motives and Manipulation
I might add some comments with more details about each of these pitfalls. Maybe not. It’s just a rant after all. If I do, someone is bound to disagree. Sometimes people disagree just to disagree. And those folks tend to be much more tenacious than me with their arguments.
In my old age I’d rather be at peace than be right.
Context – “It depends”
Canyons are incredibly diverse. They are cut through variations of igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rock. They can be found in mountains, deserts and forests. Water volume varies from canyon to canyon and season to season. In some parts of the world canyons are ignored until the water starts to flow in the spring. In other parts of the world canyons are ignored until the flow stops. Some canyons are deep and committing while others descend gradually and provide many opportunities for ingress and egress.
It stands to reason that the techniques employed to explore different types of canyons are also diverse. Techniques that are efficient in one type may be quite inefficient, even dangerous in another type. My students nod with understanding when I explain why answers to canyoneering questions usually need to start with a qualifier: “It depends”.
On internet forums there are those who quote my “It depends” tag line as though they understand the concept, but reply to questions with answers that demonstrate they don’t. When someone from the Pacific Northwest asks a technical question in the context of Class C canyons, perhaps those canyoneers who have only been doing dry Utah canyons should refrain from replying. But who can resist the opportunity to show off their superior knowledge, even if completely out of context?
Opinions vs Facts
In the final analysis all any of us have are our opinions. Constructive discourse might occur if each party to a discussion is capable and willing to differentiate between opinion and fact. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. I have my own opinions and preferences and I accept that others do as well. Certainly there have been times when being adamant about an opinion comes across as, “my way is the right way, yours is the wrong way”. Wish I could say I have never done that. It’s unfortunate because there is rarely one right way to solve a problem.