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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Sports >  Outdoors

Francovich: Mount Rainier ranked best climbing spot in the U.S., but who cares?

Mount Rainier as seen from the summit of Mount Stuart on Aug. 17, 2019.  (Eli Francovich/The Spokesman-Review)
Mount Rainier as seen from the summit of Mount Stuart on Aug. 17, 2019. (Eli Francovich/The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

Mount Rainier is the best mountain climbing spot in the United States, according to a combination of Instagram hashtags and online reviews ranking a geographic marvel that’s been around for at least 500,000 years.

“The study by family vacation experts Family Destinations Guide analyzed Instagram hashtag data, TripAdvisor ratings, and TripAdvisor reviews of 600 mountainous destinations in America to assign every mountain a ‘Peak Score’ to reveal the best mountain climbing destinations in the country,” states a news release.

Mount Rainier received 22 out of 30. Maybe next time around it can improve its score a tad.

“It has 439,039 Instagram posts with the hashtag #mountrainier and a 5-star rating on TripAdvisor,” states the release. “The 14,410-foot elevation has 1,796 reviews on TripAdvisor, with visitors describing their mountain climbing experience as ‘a must-do.’ ”

Reviews of elevation? OK. I know when I’m climbing every foot up is a thumbs down, so I’m not sure how they calculated that.

Of course, judging a mountain – much less ranking one – is a ridiculous endeavor. One meant to sell something, although in this case I’m not sure what exactly.

As the outdoors editor at The Spokesman-Review, I receive dozens of these types of ranking “news releases” each month. Best city to hike in. Best skinny-dipping hot springs. Best trail.

These are patently ridiculous pronouncements, judged by dubiously titled folks. After all, what is a “family vacation expert?” Is this a degree offered by a university? If so, take this column as my two weeks’ notice. I’m switching careers.

Still, while these may be ridiculous, and most often go straight to the trash, they point to a larger trend in modern life, a force that’s crept into every facet of our existence. Tracking culture. Optimization obsession. Call it what you will.

Go on a walk? Fire up Strava. Eat a donut? Log those calories. Feeling tired? Check your Apple Watch to see if you got enough sleep last night.

Our lives are tracked commodities. Ranked and surveilled. The data, freely given up by us, sold to the highest bidder. Experience turned into ones and zeros.

Don’t get me wrong, there are great benefits to these technologies. It’s never been easier or cheaper to fine-tune your diet, schedule and physical training regimen. Elite health, so long the purview of professional athletes, is democratizing. So has, to some extent, access to high peaks and wild places, fueled in part by social media and easy imagery.

I’m all for that.

But I do feel there is something at stake. Something that if lost completely will suck the joy and beauty out of lives that are meant to be enjoyed and marveled upon.

Subjective experience.

Do you like that mountain? The one with no name? That in all truth is more hill than mountain and yet a place you feel calm upon? A place where the wind sings and things seem simple, if only for a moment?

Or are you judging your experience of that place against the images you see from other places? The grander, larger, somehow better places? The hashtagged peaks, the ranked routes? Are you choosing your trails based on best-of listicles? Are you running simply to log the miles? Walking for the calories only? Eating food not for taste but for that particular nutrient your watch told you you’re lacking?

I have done, and will do, all these things. But I hope to remember the unremarked upon. The nonfamous. The unranked. I hope to make decisions based on immediate enjoyment, not some promised later reward.

That, it seems to me, is the best way to be a human.

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