How Long a Beginner?

10:14 a.m. on May 22, 2014 (EDT)
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Wow. I was just responding to a post in another thread. Someone asked me what I was taking on my upcoming trek. I started rattling off the gear and it occurred to me. I am just coming up on my 3 year anniversary of participating in this community. I came here a pretty inexperienced beginner with not any knowledge of gear let alone any real knowledge of the outdoors. I had hiked a lot years ago in the PNW but we had NO gear back then. Just our shoes and our coats...the ones we would wear in town too. Thing is, I sure did not know what I did not know. I arrived here with the worst blisters of my life and that is when it all began. BillS was instantly helpful. I think Bill must be the most experienced mountaineer on the site since I have been around. Him and Ed. (Whomeworry). At least the ones that post. Then there is also  Caleb and Tipi and BHeiser1 and Gartmen and Denis Daly and Gary and Rick and Arson and Patman and Calahan and Seth and Jeff and Wolf (Who I have not seen in a while) and so many more that were there in the beginning that took me to school. I read their gear reviews, I listened to their conversations about stuff and I began to learn some things. In that time I have been on countless day hikes. (my style is day hikes, I don't back pack). I strung about 10 day hikes together to get to Mount Everest and now will do the same in Peru for Machu Picchu. I guess I am a hiker/trekker by classification with some dabbling in Rock Climbing.

But the question I pose is, am I still a beginner? On a hike this last weekend, my hiking companion was a dead out non hiker. Not even a beginner, just wanted to get to the top of that rock. He called me an expert. And from his perspective, I am. But he doesn't know what he doesn't know either.

I would not call myself an expert. I wouldn't call myself a beginner anymore either. I would call myself barely advanced or intermediate. One reason is because day hiking you never find yourself in situations that present themselves over night. So when something happens that perhaps renders you stranded over night, you are in new territory as opposed to a packer who would be familiar with his night time gear and conditions and able to deal with that situation from experience. I am no mountaineer for sure. Not even a beginner in that category. I think it is important to honestly assess your skill set and its limitations. You can get yourself into some pretty deep doo doo if you have not made that walk through your mind and identified areas that need improvement or development. How long a beginner? Forever if you don't do that!

10:52 a.m. on May 22, 2014 (EDT)
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Since I learn something new or get reminded of something I should have known (but forgot) every time I go out, I am definitely still learning. I have various qualification cards "certifying" me as "Trained", "Instructor", "Climbing Director", etc and have been given wall certificates, inducted into several "elite" organizations, you might think that I am some sort of "expert". But I will quote a couple of friends who really are experts - 

One (an IFMGA fully certified guide) commented to me when we were climbing a fairly challenging Big Mountain (18,000 ft plus summit across a glacier, as climbing partners, not as "guide and client" - I sometimes act as assistant guide when he has a group), "Guides sometimes fall, too."

Another says, "The day you don't learn something new is the day you should go to the nearest mortuary and turn yourself in."

From one of my University professors, as I was training to become one - "The true expert is the one who knows his limitations."

You are always a "beginner", whether it is in an activity related to the one you are a certified expert, and activity you have never tried before, or because your area of expertise has continued evolving.

There are well-established statistics showing that a very large fraction of serious injuries and fatalities in the outdoors happen to highly experienced experts. Some of that is due to hubris, some due to overconfidence, some due to knowingly pushing the limits.

I started serious technical climbing at age 12. My parents had me out horse-packing and backpacking within my first few years on this Earth. I am still learning, sometimes the hard way.


That's me with my mother at less than a year old. I have now hiked and climbed on 6 of the 7 continents, including the high points of 3 of them.

I am still a beginner.

By the way, this "Beginner Forum" on Trailspace was started because of exactly this point - everyone is a beginner at something. It might be a new aspect of climbing or backpacking they had never tried. It might be some new development in an area they have lots of experience.

11:05 a.m. on May 22, 2014 (EDT)
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You are a beginner only until you think you know everything and if that ever happens you are pretty much finished.

"The ancient Oracle said that I was the wisest of all the Greeks. It is because I alone, of all the Greeks, know that I know nothing" –Socrates

1:59 p.m. on May 22, 2014 (EDT)
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Bill and points exactly. I am happy though, that I make progress. That made me feel satisfied that I am at least attempting to make value of the things people here have taken their time to share with me. Sometimes when a person asks for help it seems they just want to ask so they can criticize the answers. Most the time though, I think people here are truly looking for  some advice or ideas. I am here to say to all who have given me advice, ideas, suggestions.....I take them to heart and I pass on the info and let people know I got it from someone who was willing to share.

3:19 p.m. on May 22, 2014 (EDT)
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I think you are a beginner (quite obviously) when you first start out... as you gain experience though, you should just see yourself as a life-long learner and always be willing to take new things in.

12:00 a.m. on May 23, 2014 (EDT)
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A few years ago someone asked the same question..My answer hasn't changed..Were all evolving to whats best for us..Its dosn't have to have a title to make you better.It the process of evaluateing what will work best for you...I learn constantly from people Like OGBO,Rambler. Sage, ED(Whomeworry) Trout and Patman. Gozan and Tippi and  all the other members who are willing to expose you to what works for them..I take what they say and use it to see if it works for me and Karen I learn from you also..The way you apraoch a trail is what I do..Break it down to a day hike,...Some are longer some are short...

1:30 a.m. on May 23, 2014 (EDT)
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One of my hiking buddies is a dude who's big into bushcraft - at least a decade so.

When we met, we were about as opposite as can be when it comes to hiking approach. Our friendship really came in learning, borrowing, and challenging another.

The intention isn't to impose one's style onto another, but simply, to at least learn and respect how and why we each operate. I may not carry the "Crocodile Dundee" sized knife he does, but I do appreciate and follow the same belief of placing favor with items that're multipurpose, as an example.

Meeting, if not knowing, folks like him has become a tremendous resource for my own growth as a hiker, and I'm continually fascinated by all the different approaches (and gear, of course) folks use as a means to the same end.

5:29 a.m. on May 23, 2014 (EDT)
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Come to think of it, applying the term expert to individuals, especially one’s self, will lead to confusion if not jeopardy.  At some point (in a youth somewhat less outdoors than Bill’s) I considered myself an expert.  Then I started trekking with some folks who’d been around, and realized I’d probably never reach their level.  Somewhat later I started doing stuff that raised their eyebrows and a few people thought I was an expert.  At about that time I went on some trips that pegged my meter in every way imaginable, and I realized whatever passes as expertise is not nearly as important as wisdom and heart when walking into a challenge.  Expertise is more about understanding where the lines are drawn between what we are sure of and what we are taking chances with, understanding the effort required and knowing if we are capable of rallying the mettle within to meet the challenge.  Expertise is not what we know or have done, it is knowing what we can safely do with what we know, and knowing how hard we can push without overextension. 

It has been two decades since I set foot on a large glacier, was above 15K’, or attempted a sustained technical climb longer than a couple of pitches.  I have forgotten enough stuff that I would not be able to repeat some of these adventures.  Meanwhile I have not kept abreast of advents in the field and probably fall back on techniques now considered archaic.  When Bill and I first learned to climb, ice axes had ash stocks, the line was attached to your person via a waist band known as a swami belt, and most folks used pitons as their go-to anchor technology.   Axes now use light alloy and composite resin stocks, which in itself is a relatively insignificant advent.  But both swami belts and pitons caused quite a bit of damage to both  person and mountain, and both have been superseded by modern climbing harnesses, and wedge and cam anchor hardware.  These were very significant advances.  The nomenclature of climbing was nascent and reflected our relatively limited understanding in the physics of climbing systems.  Folks like Bob Gaines significantly advanced the principles of climbing in the meantime, making students of the sport aware of such considerations as equally and dynamically distributing the load force among the anchor points comprising a belay station, and rigging the belay station such that the system doesn’t experience extension – a sudden slack in the line caused when an anchor point fails and drops its load - causing a shock load when the falling climber uses up all the slack and jerks on the remaining belay station.  I do know about SRENE anchor concepts, but probably am ignorant of other significant advents that occurred in climbing and mountaineering in the meantime.  I am definitely not an expert currently, if I was ever one to begin with.

If I had to define expertise, I can’t help but let a degree of cynicism permeate my definition: The difference between an expert and novice is the expert has a full appreciation of his impending debacle, whereas the novice has no idea what hit him.


9:35 a.m. on May 23, 2014 (EDT)
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beginner? I think it's like anything else in life...

you know when you know and you needn't anyone to tell you otherwise. :)

9:50 a.m. on May 23, 2014 (EDT)
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I agree with Bill.  Even though I might have several professional certifications (work related) I never call myself an expert.  I feel like "expert" is a title others may refer to you as but never one you get to call yourself. 

I think that, looking back at what you have learned, we can all be proud of how far we have come and that informs us about what else we need to learn going forward. 

9:57 a.m. on May 23, 2014 (EDT)
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"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few."

-Shunryu Suzuki, via WikiPedia

Thanks for the kind words gifto and thanks for sharing your hard-won knowledge with newer members of the community too!


11:49 a.m. on May 24, 2014 (EDT)
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At 59, backpacking and hiking since I could walk or before(how did my parents carry me all that way) I learn every day. That is part of life's adventure, learning something new. The certifications I have make me nervous, as they say that I'm qualified for things that I don't really feel I'm an expert at. At a recent seminar, I was getting asked all sorts of questions by "beginners" about expedition canoeing. What struck me was that they were not beginners, they just hadn't learned what I had. At the same time, I have so much more to learn in my journey of outdoor exploration.

10:37 p.m. on May 24, 2014 (EDT)
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In my field of work (Adventure challenge/Adventure education) I am considered by others to be an expert. I'm asked to speak at conference, conduct trainings, provide consulting, yada, yada, yada.

Yet whenever I'm training a new facilitator, whether they're an adult or a 16yo rookie, I give the same speech, "Ask questions. Challenge my thinking. If you see a better way of doing things, tell me." I've had summer interns try things that I now use regularly.

So what I mean to say is, you're only a beginner for a short time, but regardless of your experience level, you should never stop being a learner...and ANYONE can teach you, as long as an "expert" can set pride and ego aside.

7:37 p.m. on May 28, 2014 (EDT)
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Our society cultivates an "expert" mentality... being competent, careful, and humble will help us

  • not to get too big for our britches (read-- expert who got too big headed), 
  • or careless because of experience (read-- hey! I've got thissssssss),
  • or cavalier (read ho-hum, been there done that -- uh-oh...)
  • or clueless...(read incaution caused by over-confidence...) --

I think I've beat that horse dead...

Many of you said it very well. Don't get so "good" or "old" or experienced to ever quit learning..."Give instruction to a wise man and he will be still wiser"...

7:03 p.m. on June 1, 2014 (EDT)
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I think this is like anything else. No matter what we have/know/do (or how well we do it) there is always someone else who has/knows/does more (and less), or who does it better (or worse). It's a continuum, ideally one along which we are each advancing (though I realize this is not always the case either).

June 23, 2018
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