It’s become second nature to most of us these days: when in doubt, ask your smartphone.
But reliance on the supercomputer in your back pocket isn’t always the safest bet, as hikers in Scotland have been finding out recently.
"For those new to hill walking, it would seem perfectly logical to check out Google Maps for information on how to get to your chosen mountain,” Heather Morning, mountain safety adviser for Mountaineering Scotland, told the BBC. "But when you input Ben Nevis … Even the most experienced mountaineer would have difficulty following this route."
Ben Nevis, at 1,345 meters (4,413 feet), is the highest mountain in the UK. In worldwide terms, that makes it a teeny thing, but hikers shouldn’t underestimate the pint-sized peak.
“'The Ben' as it is affectionately known, can experience extremes of conditions that make it a far more serious proposition than its modest altitude would suggest,” warns the British Mountaineering Council. “Many people have died on the Ben and many more have been rescued from its slopes.”
Many Scottish mountaineering organizations have criticized Google’s recommended route up “the Ben” this past week, with one, the John Muir Trust, reporting that their attempts to contact the tech giant directly have so far been “met with silence”.
Hopeful mountaineers searching Google Maps for routes to the top of Ben Nevis had been directed to the nearby Upper Falls car park, local experts explained, probably because it is the closest parking lot to the summit. But the walking route from Upper Falls is dangerous even for seasoned hikers.
"[U]p pops a map of your route, taking you to the car park at the head of Glen Nevis, followed by a dotted line appearing to show a route to the summit," Morning explained. "[But] the line goes through very steep, rocky, and pathless terrain where even in good visibility it would be challenging to find a safe line.”
"Add in low cloud and rain and the suggested Google line is potentially fatal," she added.
Ben Nevis isn’t the only mountain where Google Maps isn’t your friend. An Teallach, a mountain in the northern area of Scotland known as the “great wilderness”, has also been hit by Google’s concerning misdirections.
"For An Teallach … a 'walking' route was input into the search engine and the line offered would take people over a cliff," Morning told CNN. "Sadly… there have been a number of incidents recently where following routes downloaded off the internet have resulted in injury or worse."
In response to the complaints, Google has released a statement saying they are looking into the problem.
"We built Google Maps with safety and reliability in mind, and are working quickly to investigate the routing issue on Ben Nevis and surrounding areas," a spokesperson for the company told CNN.
"In addition to using authoritative data and high definition imagery to update the map, we encourage local organizations to provide geographic information about roads and routes through our Geo Data Upload tool."
In the meantime, local organizations are recommending that tourists cross-check potential routes against a map – and when in doubt, ask a local.
Since the time of writing, Google has updated the Ben Nevis route according to the BBC.
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