Reflecting on 2021
At the beginning of 2021, I hadn't really considered what kind of goal I could set for myself outdoors. Having only ever set running goals and not knowing where to begin for pursuing something larger in this new-to-me environment, I started to weigh a few options against each other. Did I want to pursue a specific number of high peaks? Finish summits within a list or range? A set number of days hiking, or should I just pursue a statistic? Maybe distance or gain? The more I thought about it, the more I realized I didn't want to go after a set number of summits because it put too much pressure on any one individual climb. Logging a certain number of days in the alpine also ran the risk of putting too much pressure on getting out when conditions might be otherwise sub-par just to satisfy a number.
Instead, I set my sights on a hard statistic. Elevation seemed like it would be fun to target if not only because it sounded a little tougher to plan than distance. After looking at my achievements from the year prior, I settled on a goal that would also be a tribute to the year we had just entered: 202.1k’ (202,100 feet) of gain. This was 4x what I was able to climb the year prior. I knew it would take some effort, but it felt attainable.
The more I considered it, the more excited I became about this goal because it posed a different kind of challenge. Did I want to exclusively go after peaks with a large amount of gain? Or did I want to pursue a mix of easy and difficult routes? I needed to average ~17,000 feet each month to stay on track, and I quickly found myself ahead of schedule halfway through January. If I did decide to mix smaller climbs in with my larger days, I was going to make quick work of this goal. So I looked to diversify my routes even more.
Steadily Making Progress
I wound up pretty far ahead of schedule at the very beginning of the year only to fall back when avalanche danger increased in February and March. It was fun to watch the blocks on my elevation bar chart stack up on top of each other regardless of the terrain I was able to safely travel in. Doing more solo routes, I wanted to make sure I was as safe as possible and that required me to make some calls I probably wouldn't have if I had the security of a hiking partner at the time.
By April, I was beyond my quarterly goal and I stopped thinking about elevation first and foremost. At this point, I had built up stamina to more confidently pursue larger goals alone and I wasn't worried about meeting my monthly minimum. Throughout the rest of the year I battled a genetic setback in the form of an accessory navicular (a.k.a. extra bone in my foot), and only then did I find myself nervously looking at the elevation I had planned to gain through the rest of the year.
In August, I realized my foot was going to become a more regular setback in these high peak pursuits. I took some time to calculate exactly how many more feet I needed to gain. At this point I had spent five weeks at the end of summer in a cast and had been forced to postpone a number of big climbs I had been looking forward to. Even with this hindrance I was ahead of schedule, only needing a cool 34,000 feet of gain before I would surpass my goal.
Trying not to put too much pressure on my injury as I weighed my more permanent options (long term, surgery to remove the bone would be the best idea), making plans became more depressing than anything else. I couldn't schedule large scrambles because my ankle was unreliable, and I couldn't bear the pain of anything beyond 7 or so miles. The gain would be easily won, but it wasn't as rewarding a feeling when I did finally pass that threshold if not solely because of the dread my ankle was bringing me on a daily basis.
We were backpacking West Maroon Pass after the first snowfall of the year when I achieved this annual goal of 202,100 feet. Both of my digital trackers for this goal wouldn't go off until we were back to service and I had been able to sync my activity, so the actual moment came and went without any celebration. In fact, I didn't notice what had happened until we sat down for camp dinner and I finally did the math based on that day's efforts.
There's still a lot I haven't quite unpacked about my accomplishments over this past year. I'm certainly proud of what I achieved but at the same time it almost feels... mundane? And yet, I did things this past year I never pictured myself doing. Soloed routes I wouldn't have considered mere months before 2021 came around. Quadrupled the elevation gain from even my best year outside prior.
For now, all I can think about is getting this bone removed from my foot. And then how long recovery might take. And how that long recovery might impact my future goals. Putting all of those thoughts aside so I can focus on more productive efforts while I sit on the couch is tough, everything feels heavier when you're not physically capable of leaving the house. But I do take comfort in knowing that surgery is the permanent solution to this problem and I won't have to lose valuable climb time to a cast this upcoming summer, so I can plan those summer scrambles a little more confidently.
Here's to more growth in 2022. 🍻
My 2021 Hiking Statistics
For a more in-depth look at my 2021 climbs, check out the climb-log.
Total elevation gain: 213,542 feet
Total distance: 624.7 miles
Climbed 31 14,000+' peaks
Top 3 routes:
- Pyramid Peak: climbing alongside mountain goats was the experience of a lifetime, but this class 4 route also has a lot of fun moves including a “leap of faith”.
- Mount of the Holy Cross via Halo Ridge: a super rewarding loop and great way to start your season as you spend a few hours traversing a ridge above 13k. Sunrise on Holy Cross from the Notch shelter is indescribable.
- Maroon Bells Traverse: I’ve heard folks call this a “one and done” type of route, but I would be happy to repeat it every year for the rest of my climbing career. The class 5 moves are involved but exhilarating, and the views of other Elk peaks are unparalleled from that saddle.
Climbed 28 13,000+' peaks
Top 3 routes:
- “K2”: Capitol Peak’s chossy 13,664’ neighbor, accessed from a beautiful backpacking route up to an alpine lake.
- ”The Citadel”: one of the peaks seen from Herman Gulch, this lesser-traveled peak has class 3 and 4 routes to its summit including a fun 40’ chimney.
- Mount Sniktau: honorable mention because of its versatility. Being off of a paved mountain pass, this peak is easy to get to and offers a number of alternative combos if you want to add additional gain or views to your day.