As 2023 comes to an end, it’s a good time to reflect on what went well and what didn’t go so well over the year.
I had some exciting and ambitious goals for the year. I wanted to climb 20 peaks. I wanted to climb every 5.10 at the Moose Mountain crags. I wanted to push the grade on multi-pitch climbs and explore some new (to me) long routes. I wanted to improve my mountain biking fitness and skills so I could join Dan on a long endurance ride from Jewell Pass to West Bragg.
I booked a two-week backpacking trip for me and Dan into remote and rarely travelled areas of Banff National Park. I also wanted to backpack by myself for the first time, overcoming the anxiety of sleeping in a tent alone in the backcountry. I wanted to lead some trad multi-pitches.
The start of the climbing season was exciting and productive for me and Dan. We headed out to Moose Mountain as soon as it warmed up a bit and got on some easier climbs we had sent last year. We started doing multi-pitches in May. Two on Cascade Mountain - Mini Happa/Seven Oaks and Wheat Kings were new to me and so fun.
The third, Plutonian Shores, was where disaster struck so hard that it has reverberated throughout 2023 and into 2024. Dan fell. He injured his ankle and was evacuated by helicopter. The doctor at the hospital said no climbing for a couple of weeks. We couldn’t climb, couldn’t ride our bikes. We couldn’t scramble up any peaks. As time passed, it became clear that it would take a lot longer than 2 weeks to get back to our mountain adventures.
After a couple of weeks, I went on my solo backpacking trip as planned. It was very successful. You can read about it on the Backpacking page.
After a couple more weeks, we cancelled our two-week backpacking trip, our mountain bike plans and any plans for big rock climbing adventures. By the end of summer, Dan was able to climb some short, easy routes at crags with short, simple approaches. But the Moose Mountain goal was out. There were no more multi-pitches and no trad climbing.
I went on to do a few scrambles on my own which you can read about on the Scrambling page. But the wind was out of my sails. The solo mountain climbing adventures felt hollow. A lot of the joy was gone and I often felt like it was a chore to head out on my own.
My goal to climb 20 peaks stalled after 13.
Although I did not achieve any of my summer goals, it was a productive and memorable summer. We spent about 3 months living in our RV out of the city. I enjoyed spending so much time outside. And I learned two important things.
First, there will always be the potential for factors beyond my control that make it impossible to achieve my goals. Sure, I probably set way too many goals and would have had to drop at least one or two, even if everything had gone well. But I firmly believe that if Dan had not been injured, we would have nailed some of the goals and had glorious, highly satisfying adventures. But stuff happens. And there’s nothing we can do to fix it. All we can do is decide how to proceed, given what we can do.
I decided at first to try to achieve the goals I could on my own. After trying for a while, I decided to give up on my goals. And I was ok with that.
The second thing I learned was that even when I failed to achieve my goals, I still got a lot out of them. I failed at my attempt to climb 20 Peaks in 2023. But I climbed 13. Each of those 13 peaks was a day of adventure, learning and, for most of them, fun. I know I would not have climbed that many if I had not been trying to achieve the 20 Peaks goal. I would have stopped going when Dan could no longer join me. Setting that goal pushed me to achieve more.
I learned a lot heading out on my own, even if it was hard at times. I gained a lot of confidence too. Going out on my own for long days, not seeing another person made me a lot more comfortable moving through the mountains. I believe I will be a stronger and smarter partner when Dan and I return to the mountains together.
Although 2023 did not turn out the way I hoped, it gave me a lot. I learned, I enjoyed and in the end, I had some great adventures both with Dan and on my own.
Of course, I am already setting goals for 2024, starting with a rock-climbing trip to Morocco. I’ll start posting about that trip in April, just before we head out.
Another goal is to write about and post my adventures here on my website. Stay tuned.
There’s an easy way and there’s a hard way. Which will you choose?
No brainer, right?
Make things as easy as possible. It’s smart. That’s the whole idea behind “hacks”, isn’t it?
Or are we missing out on something by seeking the quickest, easiest way to the goal?
On Medium, there used to be a requirement to have at least 100 followers before you could earn money from the articles you published. I came across some authors who offered to follow you if you followed them back as a way to quickly reach the 100-follower goal.
Of course, this misses the point.
Followers are supposed to be people who have read your articles or comments and enjoy and appreciate your work. They want to read more of what you have to say.
Real followers must be earned and when you reach 100 followers this way, you’ve achieved something real.
But does that matter? Why not make it as quick and easy as possible? Or is there something to be gained by taking a more challenging path?
When I moved to this area, I was thrilled to learn that many of the nearby mountains that look so steep on one side can be easily climbed by hiking up the other side.
For example, this is the north face of Ha Ling Peak, as seen from the town of Canmore.
From this side, it looks like climbing to the summit would be difficult and extreme. It might require rock-climbing skills and special gear. But check out this photo of Ha Ling Peak taken from a different angle.
Here you can see that there is a much easier way to reach the summit. The right side of this photo shows the tree-covered south-facing slope of Ha Ling Peak.
You can hike all the way up to the summit on the right side, no climbing ropes or special skills are needed.
In fact, this mountain is named for someone who figured that out before any of his friends.
The story goes that Ha Ling told his friends he could climb to the top of this mountain. They looked up, saw only the steep north face and said, No Way. He made bets that he would do it the next day.
At the end of the next day, Ha Ling gathered his friends and pointed out the flag he had left on top of the mountain. They were amazed. Ha Ling collected on his bets. The easy way paid off.
Sometimes we are rewarded for finding a quicker, easier way to get the job done. But if we always default to the easiest way, we might be missing something.
Ha Ling Peak was one of the first mountains I climbed when I moved here. There are many other mountains like it, with one very steep side and gentler, easier slopes on the other side. I climbed many of them, always finding the easiest way to hike to the summit.
Eventually though, I wanted to climb more wild and remote mountains. Like these:
These mountains can actually be climbed by hiking up the glacier in between them. Then there is a short section of rock where you need to use your hands to get to the summit of The President on the right.
I climbed both peaks in one day in 2014. It’s not as steep as it looks in the photo. However, I needed to learn some new skills to move safely across the glacier. It wasn’t easy but it was the easiest way to the top of those mountains.
Next, I started to consider more difficult mountains. I signed up for rock climbing lessons because those skills are required for even the easiest routes on these mountains.
But then I learned that some climbers choose more difficult, more challenging routes to get to the summits. They don’t take the easiest way.
In fact, good old Ha Ling Peak is often climbed up the steep north side, by those who have the skills. I learned that there are many rock climbing routes up the front, with varying degrees of difficulty.
Why would you climb to the top of the mountain by a more difficult and potentially more dangerous route when you could get to the same place just by hiking up a trail?
Of course, as I learned, the experience of getting to the summit is just as important as standing on top. I started to look at Ha Ling with fresh eyes.
I decided to climb Ha Ling Peak again but this time on a rock climbing route. Not the hardest rock-climbing route on the mountain but a lot more challenging than the hiking route I’d done before.
It was a completely different experience to climb the mountain this way. I was tied in to the rope and used all the gear needed for safety. I got to use my new rock climbing skills and make my way up some steeper sections of rock. I climbed a long corner. I jammed my hands into cracks. I found handholds to pull. I smeared my feet on the rough, grippy rock.
When I pulled up over the top, I was so satisfied. I was on the same summit but it felt very different. A different achievement.
It was a sunny weekend day in the middle of summer and there were people sitting on the summit who had come up the hiker’s route. The trail was very busy. We coiled up the ropes and hiked down, dodging families with children and dogs who were making their way up the trail.
I felt alive and apart. I had done something different, something more.
Since then, if I see a mountain with a striking ridge line leading to the summit or a funky ledge system, I wonder, has it been climbed that way? Could it be?
I still go up mountains by the easy route. Some days, the easiest route is the best. But harder routes, that challenge me to bring more, are always more adventurous and more satisfying. I won’t automatically opt for the easiest way to the top anymore.
The next time you have the option to choose the easy way or the hard way, take just a moment to consider the hard way. Is there something more for you there?