"Make Your Friends Jealous With an Instagram-Worthy Hike"
The quest to do something cool to impress others is robbing us of our true enjoyment of the outdoors, and life. Here's how we reclaim both.
A Copy-Cat Tattoo
Two years ago: my then-girlfriend dropped by my apartment. She arrived more than an hour late. Before I could ask her why, or she could so much as cross the threshold, she held out her forearm.
“What do you think?” She asked.
Several layers of saran wrap covered her wrist. Through the plastic, I spotted a small, simple tattoo. A cluster of pine trees, formed from no more than a dozen straight lines.
“Interesting,” I said. “What gave you the idea?”
“Oh, it wasn’t my idea. There was a sale.”
“Yeah, the shop down town was doing a deal. 20 bucks. You pick from a list of like 20 designs. This was number 12, I think.” She dropped her bag on the floor beside the welcome mat, careful to keep the strap from rubbing against the wrapped skin. “My roommate got one, and I thought it looked kinda cute. I dunno.”
I nodded politely. Quite a few important people in my life have tattoos. I’ve always respected the beautiful way a design can tell a story, or highlight something important. Some of these designs are gorgeous in their simplicity.
What I don’t understand — or rather, I didn’t at the time — is the desire to replicate the same off-the-wall experience as everyone else, so you have something cool to show your friends.
Something Cool to Show Your Friends
Not more than a week later, I geared up and prepared to summit my first fourteener. My friend suggested Quandary. Much of my experience along the trail was dictated by the hiking culture clichés I’d been told to follow.
The night before, I cut out a cardboard sign bearing the peak’s name and altitude, strapped it onto my pack, and set an early morning alarm. Advice from my neighbor, and my own past close call, left me wary of afternoon storms. We planned to start the trail before sunrise, peak early morning, and be back at the car before 11 a.m.
While this was my first fourteener attempt, I’d been backpacking since I was 9. I’d grown accustomed to solitary trails, and the quiet ambient noises of nature.
This trail felt more like an amusement park.
We made our way to the summit in an unbroken line, like the queue of a popular thrill ride. Instead of nature sounds, other hikers blasted music on Bluetooth speakers.
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We stopped for a quick lunch in a barren boulder field, just above Quandary’s spirit-breaking false summit, then rejoined the fray.
The peak could have been a skyscraper’s observation deck. Hikers waited their turn to have their pictures taken at the exact highest point, with the best backgrounds, clutching their cardboard signs. I joined them to get a picture of my own. After all, what’s an hours-long hike without something to show for it?
“We Tend to be a List Society”
When I spoke with the Director of the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative for an upcoming piece I’m working on, he remarked that we tend to be a list society. All around the world, we have these right-of-passage bucket lists to work our way through, as if that somehow dictates our worth as hikers and climbers.
Fourteeners in the West
8,000ersin the Himalayas
The 3,500 Clubback in my birth state of New York
These are just a few examples; it’s certainly not a phenomenon unique to climbing. Humans love lists. There’s an odd feeling of satisfaction from striking through a difficult item you’ve completed. Sometimes this is more cathartic than accomplishing the goal itself.
My gripe isn’t with setting and completing goals, though. It’s the energy we spend ticking items off someone else’s list. I’ve largely set aside my fanatical quest to climb all the Fourteeners after realizing someone else thrust this goal on me. I’m more content in the solitude of less-traveled trails.
If you’re going to climb a mountain, do it because you love the look of the alpenglow, the smell of the wildflowers, the way the crisp summit air feels in your lungs — for the love of the experience itself.
Don’t do it because it’s a benchmark of achievement set by someone else.
That said, there’s nothing inherently wrong with liking the same experience as someone else. You could see a destination, goal, or even tattoo design as the most beautiful and desirable thing in the world, no matter how many other people have it.
That’s fine too.
But next time you are picking something from a list — be it tattoo #12 or Quandary peak — make sure you are the one picking, doing what you want, and following your idea of adventure.
Announcements: Upcoming Guest Post
I’m thrilled to announce an upcoming article from meteorologist and mountaineer Chris Tomer. He specializes in mountain weather, and consults for teams climbing and skiing some of the world’s highest peaks.
In this post, Tomer breaks down the weather patterns and changes you can expect on your October hiking adventures, particularly on the high peaks.
Look for that special edition on Sunday, October 3rd at 9am MST.
I Want to Hear from You
What’s something you feel you’ve been pressured into enjoying? What would you rather be doing instead?
If you’re new here — these are the group of mountains taller than 14,000 feet in height. Colorado has almost 50 of them.
This collection of mountains are the tallest in the world, all above 8,000 meters. Notable examples include Everest, K2, and Lhost
The 33 mountains in the Catskill range topping out over 3,500 feet.
Love this: "make sure you are the one picking, doing what you want, and following your idea of adventure." I think this applies generally, as well. For example, I think about it with reading. Readers seem to read the books that others have already said that they like. With hikes, I wonder if amateur hikers just don't know any better. They went on the hike because someone told them to and they don't really know how to follow their own idea of adventure.
I couldn't agree more with this idea. It's terrible that something as freeing and nourishing as a hike has become so performative. We do it for a badge of honor or for accolades from others instead of our own enjoyment. Well said, Cole.