pnw

reflecting on milestones

For a while, I’ve been keeping a little spreadsheet for all the hikes I’ve done throughout the years. It dates back to 2013 from when I could remember the hikes (mostly based on pictures I’ve saved). And only this year did I realize it would be fun to summarize and track the statistics by year! 

Reflection has been an important part of my growth, personally and as an alpinist. My definition of an alpinist is someone who explores the mountains, particularly in the alpine region, above tree line. Sometimes technical and sometimes not. My hope for this little post is to serve as a reminder to me (and hopefully you too!) that growth happens in different ways and different speeds, but it does happen over time, especially when you put in the effort.

And I’d like to preface that I’ve taken opportunities as they’ve been presented to me and make the most of what I have. Having time and being able to improve my physical ability have been a big part of my progression. Slowly, I’ve acquired more gear and knowledge, but have always been money conscious. So part of this post is a summary of how I’ve acquired gear. You’ll find that I’m still using the same gear from years ago and buy a little bit at a time to “complete” my collection. But in no way does having an incomplete gear collection inhibit fun adventures! I’m all for using what you have as long as you can be safe! But I digress, I hope you enjoy this post! 

2013
2014: Backpacking borrowing equipment (like backpack) and using sneakers

Overview

Before we dive into the stats, here’s a general overview of things I’ve learned throughout the years as a reference. This isn’t a sure-fire way to get from point A to B for everyone, but just my personal experience. It kind of looks like a resume, but just highlights the new things I’ve added on each year, which would help the rest of this post make more sense!

2013: Officially started hiking (longest hike was 8 mi), went on a 7-day camping trip that included an overnight backpacking trip, mountain biking
2014: First scramble, backpacked 18 miles over 3 days
2015: First canyoneering trip, started gym climbing (occasionally)
2016: First time using ice axe and crampons on steep snow, first time caving, backpacked 4 days with a hut system, first time outdoor climbing
2017: First time on a glacier
2018: First time white water kayaking and rafting, first time on via ferrata (hiking with harness), and started this blog!
2019: First time backcountry skiing, started running downhill on trails, first time XC Skiing, personal record of 19 miles and 5000 ft gain in a day, learned Wilderness First Aid
2020: First time in a 2-person team for glacier travel, personal record of 22 miles in a day and 8000 ft gain in day (or 39 mi and 13000 gain over 2 days), started trail running at least 5 mi regularly, took AIARE 1 (for avalanche safety), first time ice climbing

2015: Canyoneering, still rocking the drawstring bag and borrowed the other gear (harness, helmet…)
2016: Snow Climb, borrowed all technical gear including backpack and ice axe and crampons (using hiking boots)

Stats

This is an accumulation of outdoor activity I’ve done, excluding runs and bike rides, which are city-based. So anything that’s from backcountry skiing to hiking to overnight mountaineering is included here. I’ve rounded some of the numbers to make the most sense to account for inaccuracies in measurements (± 1 mi in distance and ± 100 ft in vertical gain). Generally, by looking at the numbers, you can see how both distance and gain have been growing steadily. With the exception that 2018 dipped due to being abroad where it was a bit more limiting to get outside in the mountains.

Year Total Outings Total Distance Total Gain
2013 8 33 mi 8300 ft
2014 10 49 mi 12000 ft
2015 11 61 mi 21700 ft
2016 27 167 mi 52100 ft
2017 34 177 mi 59500 ft
2018 34 162 mi 49700 ft
2019 39 327 mi 131200 ft
2020 57 538 mi 201700 ft

And bonus stats, this year I started trail running and local biking more just to get out of the house during the weekdays.  I didn’t include them above since they weren’t necessarily mountain outings. Again, these stats are just for fun, but I ran 20 times for a total of 150 miles with elevation gain of 24200 ft! And I went biking 18 times for a total of 325 miles and 12900 ft gained. Pretty cool to see these numbers as a result of the pandemic. From only biking a couple times a year and not running (literally like ever since grade school PE class), I’m quite happy that I’ve done so much. Thanks to friends that keep me moving and having the extra time since I haven’t had to commute to work.

Okay, back to the main stats! Below are some trends. And as a numbers-oriented person, I like to analyze statistics like this. And I find graphs to be a helpful way to look at numbers! To create your own charts, download the spreadsheet in my free resource page here.

First, there’s a big jump in 2016 for number of outings, from going on average less than once a month to over twice a month (to at least once a week now in 2020). That’s the year when I realized that I wanted to make the outdoors a bigger part of my life other than the occasional onesie-twosie hiking trips I had each year. In my head, I thought I was an avid hiker until I realized I didn’t actually hike that much. Haha! But since then, my love for the outdoors has just continued to grow. My guess is that it’ll eventually plateau because I’m limited to mostly weekend outings while working a regular 9-5 job. And it can get tiring to be out every weekend for both days. I prefer having at least one full day to relax every week or so, but everyone is different! 

Another cool point is the sharp increase in 2019 and 2020 for the elevation gain, both total and average gains are much more than before. During 2015 through 2018, it seems like I only pushed myself the same amount, but took a huge leap last year as I tackled more mountains! Up till 2018, I generally did not hike more than 8 miles and 4000 ft gain at a time. So it’s been an eye-opener to know that the human body can do more than you expect sometimes! Total distance reflects a similar trend to the gain.

And to merge the distance with gain data, we can look at average steepness too! Again, 2015 shows how I got overly enthusiastic and was searching for more gains and didn’t value the shorter hikes like I did the next couple years. And most recently, I’ve been climbing more technical mountains with steeper trails (up to 2000 ft/mi), but also some easier trails (and less elevation with backcountry skiing) mixed in to get that slightly lowered average. But an overall there is an upwards trend. I think this is more reflective on the types of trails I’ve been on.

If you’re curious to know the types of trips I do, I’ve blogged some of the bigger ones (long day trips or multi-day trips) over here. Some of the fun day trips have been to go hunting for yellow larches and longer ones include some mountaineering skills or just backpacking.

2017: Explored canyons (amongst other things)
2018: Via Ferrata (rented gear to travel with harness and y-lanyard)

Gear

Generally, I haven’t felt too limited by the gear I’ve had at various points in time. I think it’s valuable to make the most of what you have. It’s like how they say having a nice camera doesn’t make a great photographer. You keep honing your skills with what you’ve got, whether it’s a beaten up pair of sneakers or some fancier hiking shoe. All within safety reason, of course! These are items I’ve acquired/purchased throughout the years and what I’ve been borrowing too. If you can borrow gear from friends or through school, that’s a great way to try out equipment and try out a new activity before you dive to deep into it. I wasn’t sold in on backpacking the first couple times I went. But I would borrow or rent, which was nice until I decided to get my own pack. Things like this are better when they fit well, think of it as borrowing someone’s shoes – if it doesn’t fit, it just doesn’t work! But things like an outer jacket could be easily borrowed and still be comfortable!

Key:

  • bold: new or acquired item
  • ^: borrowed
  • *: second hand item, big proponent for this when it’s not safety gear!
Year Footwear Hiking/Camping Gear Other Technical Gear Clothing
2013
  • sneakers
  • 1st pair hiking boots
  • school bag
  • backpacking bag^
  • 35 deg sleeping bag
  • foam rolled pad
  • hiking poles*
 
  • athletic clothing
  • soft shell jacket
  • rain jacket
  • snow gloves
2014
  • sneakers
  • 1st pair hiking boots
  • school bag
  • backpacking bag^
  • 35 deg sleeping bag
  • foam rolled pad
  • hiking poles*
 
  • athletic clothing
  • soft shell jacket
  • rain jacket
  • snow gloves
  • soft gloves
2015
  • sneakers
  • 1st pair hiking boots
  • climbing shoes^
  • school bag
  • backpacking bag^
  • 35 deg sleeping bag
  • foam rolled pad
  • hiking poles*
  • harness^
  • athletic clothing
  • soft shell jacket
  • rain jacket
  • snow gloves
  • soft gloves
2016
  • sneakers
  • 1st pair hiking boots
  • climbing shoes^
  • school bag
  • backpacking bag 65L
  • 35 deg sleeping bag
  • foam rolled pad
  • hiking poles*
  • 1st headlamp
  • harness
  • gaiters
  • crampons
  • ice axe
  • athletic clothing
  • soft shell jacket
  • rain jacket
  • snow gloves
  • soft gloves

 

2017
  • sneakers
  • 2nd pair hiking boots
  • snow boots
  • climbing shoes
  • day pack 20L
  • backpacking bag 65L 
  • 35 deg sleeping bag
  • foam rolled pad
  • hiking poles*
    2nd headlamp
  • harness
  • gaiters
  • crampons
  • ice axe
  • helmet
  • ATC device
  • athletic clothing
  • soft shell jacket
  • light soft jacket
  • down jacket
  • rain jacket
  • snow pants
  • snow gloves
  • soft gloves
2018
  • sneakers
  • 2nd pair hiking boots
  • snow boots
  • climbing shoes
  • day pack 20L
  • backpacking bag 65L
  • 15 deg sleeping bag
  • foam rolled pad
  • hiking poles*
    2nd headlamp
  • harness
  • gaiters
  • crampons
  • ice axe
  • helmet
  • ATC device
  • picket
  • athletic clothing
  • soft shell jacket
  • light soft jacket
  • down jacket
  • 2nd rain jacket
  • snow pants
  • snow gloves
  • soft gloves
2019
  • sneakers
  • 2nd pair hiking boots
  • snow boots
  • climbing shoes
  • 2nd climbing shoes*
  • mountaineering 3-season boots*
  • trail runners*
  • backcountry skis
  • day pack 20L
  • ski pack 33L*
  • backpacking bag 65L
  • 15 deg sleeping bag
  • foam rolled pad
  • air sleeping pad
  • hiking poles*
  • 2nd headlamp
  • 2P tent
  • stove
  • water filter
  • pot
  • harness
  • gaiters
  • crampons
  • ice axe
  • helmet
  • ATC device
  • picket
  • athletic clothing
  • soft shell jacket
  • light soft jacket
  • down jacket
  • 2nd rain jacket
  • goretex jacket
  • snow pants
  • snow gloves
  • soft gloves
2020
  • sneakers
  • 2nd pair hiking boots
  • snow boots
  • climbing shoes
  • 2nd climbing shoes*
  • mountaineering 3-season boots*
  • trail runners*
  • backcountry skis
  • day pack 20L
  • ski pack 33L
  • backpacking bag 65L
  • running vest 8L
  • 15 deg sleeping bag
  • foam rolled pad
  • z foam pad
  • air sleeping pad
  • hiking poles*
  • 2nd headlamp
  • 2P tent
  • stove
  • water filter
  • pot
  • harness
  • gaiters
  • crampons
  • ice axe
  • helmet
  • ATC device
  • picket
  • avalanche safety gear
  • athletic clothing
  • soft shell jacket
  • light soft jacket
  • down jacket
  • 2nd down jacket
  • 2nd rain jacket
  • goretex jacket
  • rain pants*
  • snow pants
  • ski pants
  • snow gloves
  • soft gloves

As you can hopefully see, I’ve been acquiring gear a bit at a time. It helps the wallet feel better instead of spending thousands of dollars at once. Buying things on sale or as a second-hand user when the opportunity comes up has been great too. But at the same time, you have to anticipate when you might want something or being okay with waiting for a while. For example, for a few years, I just used a laptop backpack to day hike with. It honestly is not as comfortable as my current day pack with a hip strap, but it worked well enough for me! And even before that, I’d use one of those drawstring bags. That was particularly uncomfortable as the string straps dug into my shoulders, but I loved that it was so light!

I would advise that if you’re looking for gear, ask around to see what would work best for you! If you only intend to camp in the summer, then an expensive -15F bag wouldn’t be necessary. And if you can maximize the number of uses for each piece of gear (like backpacks), then that can help keep number of outdoor items to a minimum. Over time, I’ve developed a sense of what I need and have a better intuition for future gear that I might need. In the beginning it’s hard to gauge even with advise from others, but I think whatever works in your budget, you can make that work for your adventures! Like if your items are bulkier and heavier, maybe do less intense trips that can still be fun! On the flip side, I have friends who have slightly different gear for very specific purposes (like multiple sets of skis), which maximizes performance if that’s down your alley.

Long story short, if you have the basic gear to keep you safe and relatively comfortable, that’s all to worry about! You’ll find me wearing yoga-type pants and leggings while mountaineering and sometime backpack in sneakers too, so truly no judgment to the gear you have!

Bonus: Here’s a few ways I look for discounted gear

  • Sales on any outdoor gear brand
    • EVO sales (mostly for snow/ski-related items)
    • Outlet stores
  • REI garage sales (50% off is pretty sweet! but make sure you know what you want because sales are final)
  • Online stores (often they have items 25% off if you wait for them)
    • Backcountry (various gear)
    • Gear Express (mostly climbing related)
  • Costco (I’ve gotten many leggings from them cause they’re pretty cheap and durable and warm)
  • Consignment stores (Seattle based: Wonderland Gear Exchange and Ascent Outdoors; Online-PNW based: Isella Outdoor Consignment)
  • Facebook Marketplace or other groups. Craigslist and eBay can work for some people too.
2019: Backcountry Skiing (all my own gear)
2020: Glacier Travel

Final Thoughts

I hope this has been a fun post to read through! It’s easy to fall into the trap thinking that you’re not good enough or that you haven’t been outside enough. But I want to reiterate that everyone’s version of enjoying the outdoors is different! And there will always be people who are better, faster, stronger, more motivated, etc… But if you look at the things you’ve accomplished, I believe you’ll find that you’ll fascinate yourself too! I think it’s been cool to see the progress I’ve made from someone who didn’t enjoy walking in the woods to someone who’s always looking for new adventures in the mountains. And the data shows that too! So, whatever your adventures look like, make sure to be safe and have fun out there!

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