Adventuring Without or With a Guide Part 1

Adventuring Without or With a Guide Part 1

My friend “Butch Danger” (real person, real sobriquet) was the first person I heard say: “Adventure, by definition, is uncertain of outcome.”

Another friend, “Irish Dave,” said: “When things go wrong, that’s when it becomes interesting. That’s when the adventure begins!”

I suspect that the guide’s profession is certainly ancient beyond written history. It could have happened like this:

One day, a small party set out to explore the other side of the hill, the forest across the river, “the land over there.” Eventually, someone returned and said, “It’s good. You should come. I’ll show you the way”, and guiding was born.

Kayaking in the rain

Modern Technology in Adventuring

Today, we have excellent tech tools. Satellite GPS systems ensure our route and provide us with an unprecedented safety net. We download topographical maps onto our phones, and our route shows up on our screens, and those we link to with highlighted colors and our present position marked with a waypoint. We don’t “need” Nanuk of the North to show us the way, and we may already have been there virtually, but are we missing something?

It is noteworthy that the number of rescues performed by Search & Rescue teams has been climbing steadily since GPS and EPIRBs came into common use. A few things are obvious: increased numbers in the backcountry and faith that a device will keep us safe, resulting in a willingness to push limits. Other risk factors include a lack of local knowledge and poor general risk management. Decision-making where real versus perceived risks are misjudged also contributes to rescue incidents.

Looking at a history of backcountry deaths and injuries, one thing seems to be more consistently involved than most, and it has to do broadly with time and time management. Knowing how and when to call it quits and adjusting one’s itinerary to address pacing or projected conditions is an essential part of an expedition that cannot be gleaned with a smartphone app or GPS.

Scenic Southeast Alaska

The Rise in Search & Rescue Missions

The feeling of “needing to complete my goal” often eliminates sensible decision-making. In high mountains, this phenomenon is called “peak fever” and is responsible for ordinarily prudent people pushing beyond reasonable limits to achieve ends that result in death or injury. Another significant contributor to increased rescue numbers and close calls is the “Dunning- Krueger Effect.”

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people with limited competence in a particular domain overestimate their abilities. I think it is more common that people don’t realize the real potential hazards—the real versus the perceived risk.

Imagine having a plane to catch in two days and being on an expedition with only one day’s paddle from your destination. The weather forecast has changed suddenly; what was going to be a reasonable wind of, say, 7 miles (11 km) per hour has suddenly doubled, but you are thinking that it may even be a bit higher. You’ve heard of the Beaufort Scale but aren’t sure how to gauge what you see. You launch because you “need” to catch your plane. The forecast for wind strength was accurate but didn’t include the gusts and squalls you find yourself in or the wind waves of 3-4 feet and one after another they build as you struggle to make your 7 or 10 miles…

The Role of Local Knowledge

This is a real scenario. How well-equipped are you skill-wise to deal with this? How and why did it happen? A guide with local knowledge can be invaluable to the success of your journey.

In the next two posts of this three-part series, I will explore why and why not to accept the added cost of a guide.