A virtual hiker is an algorithm that produces computationally derived paths from data in such a way that allows them to be re-followed through the actual world. The virtual hikers that are included in the C5 Landscape Database, beginning with version 2.0, include various Least Cost Path hikers and a Slope Reduction hiker based on a natural selection algorithm.
The first attempt to follow a virtual hiker through a real landscape was performed by C5 on April 9th 2005 near Dunsmuir California as part of the quest to discover the *Other Path* of the Great Wall of China in California, or as it is now known, simply the Great Wall of California. After a rigorous insertion hike and facing both fading daylight and rapid waters flowing through necessary water crossings, C5 was only able reach the beginning of the Great Wall's other path. The visual comparison of the China terrain and its California other were satisfyingly documented, even through it was impossible to actually walk in the footsteps of the virtual hiker. (C5 personnel are Joel Slayton, Steve Durie, Geri Wittig, Jack Toolin, Brett Stalbaum, Bruce Gardner, Amul Goswamy and Matt Mays.)
The second attempts to follow a virtual hiker were performed by Paula Poole and Brett Stalbaum using C5-developed software in the Anza Borrego desert of Southern California. On May 28th 2005, we attempted to follow the stepwise 3 degree Least Cost virtual hiker from Agua Caliente Springs to the Inner Pasture. An earlier scouting mission had revealed that part of the LCP path dead ended in a box canyon, but some probative scouting revealed a saddle over which the canyon could be bypassed. Even though this would cause a small divergence from the course, we proceeded to try the full hike. Unfortunately, the virtual hiker's track also led over a steep talus slope. While the path was not impossible to traverse due of the severity of the slope alone, the combination of loose talus and the many agave plants, cholla and barrel cactus in the area presented painful safety challenges. The idea of following the LCP path to Inner Pasture was abandoned after Brett slipped and fell, spearing his arm on an agave.
Realizing that most paths in the area were probably untenable due to the floristic nature of the Anza Borrego desert and its many sharp plants including the beautiful ocotillo, jumping and teddy bear cholla, it was decided to follow the nominal foot path to the Inner Pasture known as Moonlight Canyon. While both the LCP hiker and Slope Reduction Virtual Hiker utilized parts of Moonlight Canyon, they diverged enough that the claim to have followed the virtual hikers could not be sustained. Interestingly, however the virtual hikers did traverse parts of Moonlight Canyon.
The desert mountain ranges of the Great Basin provide much less in the way of spiny botanical hazards than do the Sonoran desert. A scouting mission including Brett, Paula and Naomi Spellman was performed on June 18 2005 to evaluate the terrain, and During the Locative Media in the Wild Workshop at the White Mountain Research Station Crooked Creek Facility, July 22nd of 2005, Brett, Naomi, Kimberlee Chambers and Nico Tripcevich became the first to actually successfully follow the path of both a Three Degree Least Cost Path hiker and a Slope Reduction hiker. True to form, the LCP path followed a waterway, and the Slope Reduction Path discovered a surprising and unexpectedly easier path than the non-computational path that had originally been scoped out on June 18th. Experiments with virtual hikers are ongoing.