The intention when getting my first hiking journal years and years ago was simple:

Record all the peaks I would walk up or climb.

I had just stepped into an entire world of new possibilities and imaginations. A world that somehow calmed my hectic mind and made me realise what I've been missing before. A world that's always been there but for some reason has never caught my full attention. What I'm talking about is hiking, mountaineering, climbing, just anything connected to mountains and the outdoors around them.

I used to be very competitive. Getting something where I could write down my little successes seemed not only reasonable but also like a whole lot of fun. In the very beginning no thoughts of ever going much further than just walking up hills and more or less little peaks were crossing my mind. In fact, I didn't really have expectations. All I knew was that I enjoyed walking up a peak that has a name and a certain elevation and soak in the view to and at the top. Little did I know that I would soon find myself jumping over cravasses, climbing up glacial walls and catching my breath at high altitude.

Not only the why behind but also what I am writing down in my hiking journal have very much changed since then. I've lost most of my competitiveness to a mixture of the most beautiful and challenging moments in the mountains. Moments that made my, recalling it now once very big, ego fall to pieces bit by bit.

For a while getting to the top was one of my main focus points. And doing this faster than what given estimations were, or at least within. Despite always having a deep understanding for someone who is hiking with but not as fit as me, the more hikes I'd do the more pressure I would put on myself. I became arrogant enough to think just because I did a hike with certain characteristics once that another hike somewhere else but with similar properties should and will be easier.

It was in Patagonia, after a few years of average hiking experience, that I was taught differently. And up to date I'm incredibly grateful for these experiences. I was not just metaphorically but also literally thrown to my knees. Shown how dramatically weather can change the difficulty of a track and how very little of an idea I had back then about what being in the mountains really meant. I learnt to see each new hike as what it is: new and unknown to me. But most importantly, independent from what I've done before. Taking all estimations I know in advance about a particular track as a guide rather than a means of judging without having ever set a foot on its path yet.

This is why my hiking journal now usually includes paragraphs of additional information about weather, my personal state, number of breaks, terrain,... instead of just a number each for elevation, distance and time spent.

This is also why and how I came up with a specific rating system to evaluate tracks I've done. You can read more about it in the tracks section of this website.

 

Being humbled by my regular "heavy backpack" trainings. Sometimes I wonder about myself...

 

I've summarised three major reasons why keeping a journal for hiking is worth considering:

Staying Humble

I think, it is always a good thing to stay grounded and remember where I've come from. In just any area of life. But particularly areas where stupid mistakes can quickly become a problem, like being in the mountains.

Arrogance can make us blind and will lead to such mistakes.

I've had several moments in the past underestimating a situation because I was "just going for a walk" or doing supposedly easy walks. A way of thinking that would lead to risky behaviour, i.e., putting on flip flops and not thinking anything of it. Until I found myself slipping out of these only to just barely come to a halt before a 3m drop down a small cliff I didn't expect to be there.

I'm mentioning Patagonia a few times in my writings. I don't get tired of emphasizing how much this incredibly beautiful area has shaped me. Taught me to be and stay humble.

I was once doing a track with a friend, called Sendero Cerro Guanaco in Tierra del Fuego. I remember looking at the time estimations for distance and elevation gain before walking it and thinking "These are probably for tourists. Surely we will be faster than that." I didn't even bother checking the weather forecast. We had to leave our names and emergency contacts at the park's tourist center before getting on the track. The latest recommended time to start this track was 12pm of the day one intends to do it. Even all of that I considered precautions for inexperienced tourists, not people like us.

I consider it a red flag and a reason to work my mindset if I ever catch myself thinking like that now.

To keep it short: it was an incredibly beautiful walk and we were faster than estimations. But I remember this walk being the first one that felt harder than I expected. Harder as in I had to actually push myself to keep walking. The closer we came to the top the windier it became. Patagonian wind is not a joke. I kept on sarcastically thinking to myself "Did I have to literally go to the end of the world to find my limits?" With regard to this part of the world also being called el fin del mundo (the end of the world).

 

A seemingly endless path to the top of Cerro Guanaco. From here it was less than 1km but with strong winds it's still one of the longest kilometers I can remember...

 

Tracking and Boosting Progress

About the stupid mistakes I'm mentioning above. Sometimes our mind plays little tricks on ourselves. Meaning that even moments that once felt awfully dreadful may, after a bit of time has passed by, not feel nearly as awful in memory anymore. And sometimes, if we're not careful, this will cause us to make the same mistakes over and over again. Wondering for longer than necessary as to why they keep happening.

That being said, I have more than one flip flop story like the one above. Including those when other than my own feet were the stars of the story.

I also have multiple stories about packing the wrong kind of food. Or too much and not the right kind of gear. Not wearing the right kind of clothing according to the weather. Or simply ignoring the weather and thinking it'll all be fine only to find out that it wasn't.

Writing down some key factors to hikes has helped me boost my learning process enormously. This does include positive factors, too. It can be quite an advantage to know why hikes feel easier even though they may generally be more difficult than others I've done before.

Things to note down can be:

  • Food
    • How much did you pack?
    • What did you pack?
    • More specifically: When did you eat what?
  • Hydration
    • How much water was available?
    • Did you drink enough?
  • Weight
    • How heavy is your backpack?
  • Weather
    • heavy rain
    • sun
    • snow
    • hail
    • WIND
    • ...
  • Features of the track
    • elevation
    • distance
    • terrain
    • steepness
    • protection from weather impacts (trees when it's hot and sunny, etc.)
    • ...
  • Your personal state, mentally and physically
    • Are you reasonably fit?
    • Is your motivation hitting rock bottom for whatever reason?
    • Did you do physically or mentally exhausting activities the days prior?
    • For us female hikers: What state of your period are you in?

Memories, Memories, Memories

When you're hitting the 70th year, or beyond, of your current existence on this planet and you've done this for years and years, it's good to have some memories of it written down somewhere. Given that we as humans haven't made this beautiful and so far only available home of ours unlivable for us by then. But, um, that's another story.

Something written somewhere to make you remember how it actually felt climbing up peak X or walking track Y. We know, a picture can very often say more than words. As for me personally, I've experienced that the more challenging something becomes, the fewer pictures I'll take. Which is, in a way, kind of understandable. When I'm hustling my way through freezing temperatures, being soaked all the way through to my bones, the weight of my backpack, altitude and/or wind making it hard to breathe. Somehow, the last thing in moments like or similar to these is taking a picture. Well, not currently, at least.

So, when there is no picture to tell the story, and also in addition to any picture, words can fill a void. Words written down during or after a day's hike. When emotions are still fresh and minimally influenced by later (over- or under-) interpretations.

Or we keep a desperate hope that our mind will always be capable of remembering these moments.

Yeah...I'd go for the journal...

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