Adventure by Browser: The Outdoor Community’s Uneasy Relationship with Google

Adventure by Browser: The Outdoor Community’s Uneasy Relationship with Google

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The outdoor community has a love-hate relationship with the Internet’s foray into outdoor adventure.
Better stated: I think we hate to admit that we actually love it.

I believe most of the resentment stems largely from the voyeuristic invasion of the non-participant. Viewing The Nose from your computer isn’t core. We still bitch about summit selfies and revealing secret spots on subscription websites. Yet ignorant to the irony, we leverage comment forums as the perfect barstool from which to cast craft beer-fueled aspersions upon those who choose to experience risk from a safe distance.

It’s time we stop kidding ourselves. We’re not as ignorant to the value of space-beamed megapixels as we want our crews to think. We have smartphones and Instagram, and we use them regularly for our own end.

Google, and its carefully cobbled GPS data, has helped countless climbers piece together approach routes, backcountry skiers discover new lines, and surfers find remote lefts.

On top of that, Google Street View’s special projects team is using its global positioning power to document some of the outdoor adventure world’s most coveted destinations. Places like the Galapagos Islands, the Arctic, and even the Amazon.


Gear Institute contributor Yitka Winn recently covered Google’s release of its latest 360-degree interactive adventure, a multi-sport tour of Mont Blanc in France. Like it did on El Cap, the Silicon Valley stalwart solicited help from some of the best all-around mountain pros in the world. Renan Ozturk was involved, as was Sender Films.

That lends instant credibility, right?

The other names were folks with whom most Americans aren’t as familiar, such as Gabrrou, Destibelle, Thovex, Steck, Roux, and Jornet. We don’t have to have posters of these people above our garage bouldering walls to know they are more than legit. That’s why we have the Google search engine instead. If we want to know what – and who– it takes to safely tour, map, and publish a 360-degree virtual tour of a 15,000+ ft. peak in the French Alps, we only have to type a few words into an empty space on a web browser. The same goes for finding a remote trailhead or logging road shortcut.

Count me among the initial skeptics. But man, we are blessed with crazy ways to imbibe trip beta these days. It’s time we stop scoffing at the value of these digital wilderness tours. Google isn’t positioning these projects as alternatives to the real thing. There isn’t some subversive campaign to dissuade people from visiting these places.


If it wasn’t for a picture on the cover of National Geographic Adventure, my wife wouldn’t have planned our first trip to the blue-green canyon oasis of Supai. Now I guide trips there.

I can’t come up with a single argument for why adventure inspired by film and type is any different than that inspired by pixels and code. Where would Yosemite National Park be without the journals of John Muir? Is he not one of our first adventure travel bloggers? It’s only the media that’s changed.

As much as we might not like to admit it, the most recognized technology brand on the Internet makes seriously compelling outdoor adventure films.

And I want more.