Before we hike Mount Storm King, my wife, Kelsey, is met with a simple request: please don’t geotag your photos.
Kelsey learned about the trail from a work friend, who posted images on Instagram after reaching the summit alongside several hiking influencers. It’s the hiking influencers we’re warned not to upset, as best practice for them requires posting their photographs or videos with no geographic specificity, just a tag saying “Washington state”.
The idea, we are told, is environmentally motivated. “Viral hikes” can lead to trail overcrowding and disruptions in small towns. For example, the picture-worthy Rattlesnake Ledge trail in North Bend, just outside Seattle, now receives more than quadruple the number of annual visitors expected than originally estimated when the trail was constructed about 20 years ago, leading the Washington Trail Association to undertake a major renovation earlier this year.
The vast majority of Washington’s hiking foot traffic clogs the trails closest to Seattle, sometimes resulting in annex parking, overflowing dumpsters, and slow maneuvering around summits and overlooks.
While perhaps well intentioned, the “no tagging” rule bothers me right away. Since moving to Tacoma last summer, Kelsey and I have hiked nearly every weekend. We’ve covered most of the popular trails around Seattle and have started driving farther out to more remote areas for variety.
When my wife and I frequent more popular trails, we leave before dawn to beat the crowds, and usually have ample space of our own as we make the climb. On the way down, it’s another story, but I have never minded the influx of traffic going up as we descend. It’s nice to see so many people enjoying the outdoors, though part of me does feel the selfish urge for privacy and isolation, that privileged dream of being alone in the great unknown.
The geotagging no-no appears to stem from outdated and poorly understood social media guidelines by organizations like Leave No Trace, which once encouraged the idea of “tagging thoughtfully” in 2018.
Updated in September 2020, Leave No Trace’s new guidelines insists they are not anti-geotagging and discourage bullying or shaming those newly discovering nature. Regardless, I imagine …….