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The Outdoor Athlete Book by Courtenay and Doug Schurman

Train Today for
Tomorrow's Challenges

More Training Info > Lofty Goals

Lofty Ambitions: How to Select Your Next Goal

Of the countless mountains, crags, hills and interesting places around the world that you can visit on foot, how on earth do you determine where to go? First and foremost, consider your unique reasons for visiting the mountains:

  • ADVENTURE: Do you like to reach a different peak each time you go out, or is the process of hiking and climbing its own reward? Do you include climbing in your travels, or as a part of your life wherever you happen to be?
  • REMOTE ACCESS: Do you like to go where there are few people in hard-to-access areas?
  • CHALLENGE: Do you thrive on new physical challenges, whether that refers to highly technical routes, high altitude, distance traveled, extreme weather conditions, or a lot of elevation gain?
  • AESTHETICS: Do you prefer hikes with a great view, waterfall, wildflowers, fall colors, meadows, wildlife, geology, or lake en route?
  • PURPOSE: Do you prefer to go light and fast for cardiovascular training, go heavy and slow for strength training, take time along the way for photographs and views, or relieve stress by getting away from it all? Do you climb to overcome a fear of heights, or to test your survival instincts in harsh conditions? Is climbing spiritual for you, or do you climb for some other reason entirely?
  • COMPANIONSHIP/SOCIAL: Do you hike with a canine companion (which may limit technical difficulty and route selection) or family members (of varied ability levels)? Do you like the social component of outings (such as a climbing group or guide service provides), or do you prefer a solitary undertaking (with a few friends or a trusted climbing partner)?

Once you have determined your major reason for hiking, trekking or climbing, you can use that as a �filter� for choosing outings. We have lofty goals for future issues of our newsletter and will be bringing you the latest resources available to help you plan your trips!


Some might refer to climbing a different peak every weekend as �peak bagging,� but we much prefer the term �scouting,� as it implies that each route selected for exploration is new and worth investigating to see if it should be added to your unique �favorites� list. If you like to �scout� new (to you) routes, then why not consider a group of peaks that have been compiled by others as worth seeing? The organization known as the Seattle Mountaineers has a number of such �peak pins� or collections of peaks that Mountaineers members have been climbing since the 1920s. You might also want to attempt them or make up your own:

Five Peaks Pin:
Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, Mt. Baker, Glacier Peak, and Mt. Olympus (The �Six Peaks Pin� is for anyone completing Mt. St. Helens prior to its eruption in 1980.)

Two other peak collections that climbers in the greater Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia area might consider pursuing are 10 peaks (each) in the Snoqualmie Pass area, known as the Snoqualmie Lodge Peaks:

Snoqualmie Lodge Peaks--First Ten:
Chair Peak, Denny Mountain, Guye Peak, Kaleetan Peak, Kendall Peak, Red Mountain, Silver Peak, Snoqualmie Mountain, Mt. Thompson, The Tooth

Snoqualmie Lodge Peaks�Second Ten:
Alta Mountain, Bryant Mountain, Chikamin Peak, Granite Mountain, Hibox Mountain, Huckleberry Mountain, Lundin Peak, Mt. Roosevelt, Rampart Ridge, Tinkham Peak


You can get very creative with �highest� category -- you can try to climb the highest in each of the 50 states in the U.S.A. (or the second highest in each, I�m quite sure that one has NOT yet been done!); the highest on each of the continents, known as the Seven Summits (Everest, Aconcaqua, Denali, Elbrus, Kilimanjaro, Vinson, and Kosciusko or the Cartenz Pyramid, depending on your definition of the �seven continents�); the highest in each county in your state; the highest 10 (or 20 or 30�) in your state, the highest on each island in a chain; the highest in each European country; the highest �mean name� peaks (imagine a collection of Washington peaks including such names as Fury, Sinister, Forbidden, and Terror!) Or as an alternative, try the highest ten on any given continent, all the peaks you can see from one centrally located peak in your favorite mountain range, or all the 8,000 meter summits � the sky truly is the limit.


The Mountaineers Books publishes a number of good collections, including the �100 Hikes� series (choice hikes in Washington and other states including the Alpine Lakes, South Cascades and Olympics, North Cascades: Glacier Peak area), 75 Scrambles, 100 Classic Hikes in Washington, the 50 Classics in the United States, and so forth. In fact, both Rock and Ice magazine and Climbing print annual lists of �ultimate Tick Lists� of routes and climbs not to be missed. Clearly, having a goal (or a number of them!) makes climbing more enjoyable and, as Dale Flynn (a climb leader for the Seattle Mountaineers) once put it in the summer, 2001 issue of the Mountaineers� Cliff Notes, �you always have money in the bank� or some project to be working on.


Do you have a favorite climb or hike that didn�t have a lot of people on it? We admit, it�s quite hard to do in the Cascades during peak climbing season. Perhaps your favorite was due in part to the remoteness of the peak, or the time of year you tried it, or the route you chose. If you like this sort of adventure, you might consider an extended trip such as the Ptarmigan Traverse, Bailey Range Traverse, Brothers Traverse, or other 7+ day backpacking trip in your area. If ultra-endurance treks are your goal, and you have the luxury of taking several months for a trip, consider doing the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail in the United States, or even the Annapurna circuit in Asia. However, be prepared to encounter large numbers of people on the most popular treks. Links are included for the first three.

Dome Peak � 8,900 feet. In a fairly remote area north of Glacier Peak; the highest peak in the Ptarmigan Traverse, with a brushy, long approach. Strong parties can do it in two days with perfect weather; allow for three.

Glacier Peak � 10,541 feet. The Kennedy Glacier, Frostbite Ridge, or Sitkum Glacier routes are all fairly easy, but due to the distance in, the first two usually will have far fewer people.

Mt. Olympus � 7,965 feet. 42 miles round trip; while this is an incredibly popular hiking destination (as it�s the only rain forest in the lower 48 states) it�s well worth the trip in good weather. Doable in a 24-hour period for fast-and-light enthusiasts; comfortable in four with heavy packs.

Mt. Goode � 9,220 feet. A remote, challenging peak in the heart of the North Cascades. Usually requires at least three strenuous days for a strong party, though many parties plan for more due to the approach difficulties and long routes.

Mt. Logan � 9,087 feet. Logan is close to Goode and Buckner; remote, with a long but relatively straightforward glacier and ridge climb via the East Ridge.


Everyone defines this quite differently; for someone new to hiking, a peak that requires 3,000 feet of elevation gain in one outing might be a worthwhile goal; for someone who has been climbing highly technical routes, gaining 4,000 vertical feet and also rappelling the same might be a worthy challenge. For some, reaching the summit of Mt. Rainier becomes the challenge of a lifetime; for others who train, play, and ski regularly in Mt. Rainier National Park, doing the Disappointment Cleaver (DC) route in a day (a speed ascent) or climbing the mountain in winter might offer you the right challenge. Study all the climbing possibilities that interest you, determine what level of fitness you need to attain in order to do the climb(s), and set your goals high but still within reach, so that you have something compelling to train for.


The great thing about the outdoors is nearly any peak can be exceptionally beautiful at the right time of day or season. However, a drawback to some climbing areas is exposure to heavily logged areas (on some popular routes) or routes with ski resorts (unless you�re a skier) or visiting heavily traveled areas that lack stringent waste deposit policies. Some climbs with avalanche debris may limit the amount of foot traffic certain peaks receive, but there�s nothing that visually appealing about an avalanche zone, other than imagining the sheer size of trees, boulders and debris that such forces of nature carry with them. We were especially delighted with our climb of Mt. Olympus (2002) with views of the entire Cascade range from Mt. Rainier to Mt. Baker, the Pacific Ocean, and Canada north of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, not to mention one of the most brilliant sunrises we have ever seen.


Just as there are countless peaks to climb, people�s reasons for climbing are perhaps just as numerous. Some choose climbing for the exercise (after all, how many types of exercise give you aesthetics, strength, cardiovascular challenge, the outdoors, and adventure all in one?); others prefer having a way to relieve stress and escape from the �rat race� of crowded cities and demanding jobs; some seek wonderful views and spectacular scenery, gathering photos for their collection, a story or article, or for an annual calendar to send friends and family; and a few might climb to overcome a fear of heights. Whatever YOUR reason, choose the climbs that will be appropriate for your unique desires so that climbing and hiking are satisfying your needs, not those of someone else.


Perhaps you take your dog along to provide some exercise, in which case the dog�s age, activity level, breed, size, and comfort with more challenging terrain will determine what hikes or scrambles you choose to do. Some climbers will actually tie their dogs in to a rope for glacier travel and take them along; our dog Emily has been up Mt. St. Helens twice, and both times encountered several other dogs doing the same trip. On the other hand, you may prefer climbs where you won�t encounter anyone or anything other than natural wildlife. If you climb with family members of varied ability levels, then it�s best to choose an outing everyone will be able to enjoy. If you like meeting new people, then you might be drawn toward the social component of outings with a group such as the Mountaineers, Mazamas or BoeAlps climbing programs, or a guide service such as Alpine Ascents International or Rainier Mountaineering Inc. If you prefer more of a solitary undertaking, then you might prefer to steer clear of more popular (read: crowded) routes and find a few reliable climbing or hiking partners to explore the mountains with you.

Once you are clear about the types of adventures, hikes and climbs you would like to do, the fun begins: searching route descriptions, guide books, on-line climbing and hiking resources, and talking to people who have been where you want to go. Dream big, train smart, and get out there!


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