It’s About the Journey: In Praise of Peakbagging

Peakbagging.  When you mention that you’re into it, you are almost guaranteed to get one of three responses:

  • That’s so cool!  Which mountains?
  • What on earth are you even talking about?
  • Oh, peakbagging.  No, thanks.  I hike because I love nature, not to check things off a list.

I count myself lucky that I’ve never gotten response number three.  As luck would have it, pretty much everyone I know either has no idea what peakbagging is, or they are themselves peakbaggers.

To start with a definition, for my non-mountain-chasing friends, peakbagging is a crazy hobby involving challenging oneself to summit every mountain on a particular list.  Think Colorado 14ers.  South Beyond 6000.  Fire Tower Challengers.  Saranac 6ers.

Adirondack 46rs.

I’ve mentioned before that Steve and I are very, very slowly working our way through the Adirondack 46.  So far, we’ve been at it for three years and we’ve summited three peaks: Cascade and Porter, and Giant.  At the rate we’re going, we will finish in 2060.  (We’ll have to step up the pace at some point.)  I suppose we could have started with a kinder, gentler peakbagging chase, like the Saranac 6 or the Fire Tower Challenge.  But go big or go home, right?  And the Adirondack 46 is definitely going big.

So, like I said, I’ve been lucky enough not to run into the anti-peakbagging crowd.  I have hiking friends who aren’t interested in bagging peaks, but they don’t look down their nose at the pursuit, either.  And I have several friends and relatives who’ve already finished the Adirondack 46 or are well on their way (and considerably further ahead than Steve and I are).  But there is a contingent that likes to sniff and act superior.  Or at least I’m told they’re out there.

As I understand it, the anti-peakbagging argument is that hiking should be about communing with nature and growing as a person and celebrating the journey and all of those worthy pursuits, and treating mountains like bullet-points to be checked off is disrespectful or amateurish or something along those lines.  To which I say: pffffft.

There are lots of good lists of reasons why peakbagging is cool.  (A moment’s appreciation for the splendid irony of defending hiking-by-list with… another list.)  My favorite is this one from SectionHiker.  I’m not going to make a list, even though that’s amazing.  Instead, I want to respond to the “it’s about the journey, not the destination” critique of the peakbagging pursuit.

Peakbagging is about the journey.  It’s about deciding to do something big and audacious and then trying, maybe failing, bouncing back, learning as you go, and descending every peak a different person than the one who signed in at the trail register.

It’s about building endurance, starting with the “friendliest” mountain and working your way up to the biggest, baddest summit in your sights.  It’s about brushing off the naysayers and believing in your own capabilities.  (If someone asks you “are you sure you can…” – well, no one’s ever sure they can climb a mountain.  You have good days and bad days and the mountain has something to say about whether you’re summiting or not, too.  But you can give it your best effort and you can ignore the negative voices, whether they’re in your head or outside of you.  As long as you’re smart.)

It’s about views and burning quads and scrambling over granite slabs and climbing waterfalls and calling it Saturday.

Peakbagging is about having the guts to go exploring in the great unknown.  And no, you don’t need a list to go hiking.  (Most of my hikes are not Adirondack high peaks.)  But when you decide to work toward a huge goal, it can’t be about anything but the journey.  Because you’ll reach the destination once – eventually – but you’ll be on the path for a long time before you get there.

Are you a peakbagger?

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