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The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people overestimate their knowledge or ability in a specific area. This tends to occur because a lack of self-awareness prevents them from accurately assessing their own skills.

A friend invited you to tag along on a few trips to experience canyoneering. After 20 uneventful canyon descents with him, you realize there’s not much to the sport and you know everything there is to know. You observed your “experienced” friend at the top of every rappel. He passed the rope through a ring that already existed on the anchor, then tossed both sides of the rope down. Everyone in the group rappelled, then you pulled the rope down, coiled it and stuffed it into a backpack.

You don’t know it yet, but you just arrived at the Peak of Ignorance. That place where you feel you know everything, but you do not know what you do not know.

Your descent into the Valley of Humility might come about because you started inviting friends to go canyoneering with you. After all, you are an experienced canyoneer now. You just don’t realize that experience and competence are not the same thing. On one of your trips somebody gets something jammed in their rappel device and you, the leader, don’t know how to deal with it. Or maybe you took a group into a new canyon that was described as being more challenging. You didn’t fully grasp what “more challenging” actually meant. Maybe it was anchor-building challenges or pothole escapes or swiftwater problems. You made it out ok, but you spent the night in the canyon. Or you made it out, but only with the aid of a rescue team. Or you made it out, but one of your friends did not.

Now ask yourself … Have the people you are learning from started the ascent out of their own Valleys of Humility? Or are you learning from people who are still standing proud on the Peak of Ignorance?

The ascent out of the Valley of Humility will require you to learn more. Much more. But how will you know when you have learned enough? Be patient. There will be more Peaks of Ignorance and more Valleys of Humility in your future. Hopefully smaller peaks so you don’t have to descend too deeply into the valleys each time. How many peaks and valleys is unknown. Just don’t get cocky. You will never know everything there is to know. Stay humble. Keep your mind open and never stop learning. 

Have fun. Be safe.

Please share your comments below. Does anything about the Dunning-Kruger Effect seem familiar?


  1. This article reminds me of the 5 levels of competence. Usually it is called the 4 levels of competence: Unconsciously Incompetent, Consciously Incompetent, Consciously competent and then Unconsciously Competent. But in my experience there is a fifth level of competence and that is the person who is intentionally incompetent. He knows that he does not know but he does not care and does not seek training to treat his incompetence. This cat will probably kill himself and possibly take others with him. Avoid going into danger with this person if possible.

  2. Hang out with Rich for a day and you’ll hear the Dunning-Kruger Effect brought up at least 3-4 times. It’s that important. I give this talk to every new canyoneer I run with, but it’s just as relevant to experts. Know thyself…