Having a goal is a good thing. It allows you to put yourself on a path towards achieving something specific. It allows you to set goals, way points, and put in place the pieces that allow you to achieve your end result.
In climbing, I’ve come to see two types of goals. One way to look at it is that one is tactical and the other is strategic. Let’s talk about the tactical goal first.
Climbing in and of itself is a daunting task. Whether it’s to summit a 20,000 foot mountain or to climb a 5.14-rated route in your backyard, the task you’re setting yourself on is no easy thing. Your goal might take you a few hours, or days, or even months. But it’s a very proximate thing, it’s staring you in the face. When I am climbing indoors
the goal is simply the top of the route. Once I am clipped in, I’ll take a minute or two (or more) to study the route before I even touch the wall. I do the best I can to envision where my hands and feet will start, and the sequence of moves I need to get to the top. This is an art, not a science. And being able to plan your moves far out in advance is most certainly a learned skill, something that I am capable of doing at a very low level at the moment. But when I started, I wasn’t able to do it at all, so progress is progress! Once you have that plan in place, you get on the wall and start. Inevitably I hit the crux of the route, and I have to re- imagine how I am going to best the crux. But, I figure it out, make it past, and then hit the top. I’d imagine (and I will soon find out) that alpine mountaineering is similar, in that you spend lots of time planning your site, bivy locations, route, etc. Plus the added weight of managing gear packing and load-out.
I see the above as tactical because the end result is proximate.
Strategic goals, on the other hand, are ones in which the goal is much further out and is not only driven by a specific end-result, but by a more esoteric achievement. The two efforts (tactical and strategic goals) are intricately linked, and one lays the groundwork for the other, but the tactical goal is so much more proximate that your efforts are incredibly heavily geared towards that effort, with the idea of achieving your strategic goal taking a (hard to imagine) back seat for a limited time.
So why does any of this matter? I’m climbing the South Spur route of Mt. Adams in the summer of 2012.
This is generally seen as a non-technical route good for alpine beginners. While the altitude is serious (12,281 feet), the level of difficulty is still beginner (though it’s all about the context!). Once I’ve tackled this, what next? In a classic example of putting the chicken before the eggs, I want to climb something harder in 2013 (one year later). I’m pretty sure I want to climb Mt. Baker, also in Washington State. Now Mt.
Baker is a bit smaller (10,781 feet), and though still thought of as a beginner mountain, it’s far more technical. While crampons are needed on both, the size of the glaciers and the danger of crevasses on Baker require roped-glacier travel skills. Mt. Adams doesn’t have this particular issue. The crux of the Mt. Baker climb (the Roman Head Wall) is reportedly much harder than the crux of the Mt. Adams climb. In addition, I want to make the Baker climb in 2013 part of a longer alpine mountaineering course, likely a week long. So, that’s Mt. Adams in summer 2012, and then Mt. Baker in summer 2013. Then what?
If the stars align and everything works out perfectly (i.e. my abilities to actually do this, personal circumstances, etc), I’d like to tackle one of the seven summits (the highest peak on each of the seven continents). Of the seven, two are generally considered the “easiest” (again, context): Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (19,341 feet)
or Aconcagua in Argentina (22,841 feet).
The basic idea here is to tackle a huge undertaking in 2014- considering the financial cost to do so, that might be more like 2015 or even 2016. That seems like a long ways away. My current efforts are certainly laying the groundwork for it to happen, but the more proximate effort (Adams) is taking up so much of my efforts in this space, that the other stuff is on the back-burner at the moment…my strategic goals. More in the next few days at what an effort at Aconcagua or Kilimanjaro would look like…