Hiking and the Ego


18 miles

Start: Grouseberry Campground (RMNP)     

Finish: Timber Creek Trail  (RMNP)  

Actual Hike

9.75 miles 

Start: Lake Verna (RMNP)

Finish: East Inlet Trail (RMNP)

Gaia Track Kent Gruetzmacher September 15, 2020 

On the last installment of the Pfiffner Traverse Series, I described a very challenging hiking day on the route that eventually motivated me to abandon my original itinerary. This week, we will look into my last day backpacking on the trip, as well as the internal dialogue I experienced when I decided to “call it quits.” Not only did this trip challenge my physical and mental fortitude in the outdoors, but it also forced me to reassess my views of hiking and the ego. 

Pfiffner Traverse Hike September 15, 2020hiking and the ego

Day 4 of my Pfiffner Traverse hike began differently than any backpacking trip I had done prior. On this morning by Lake Verna in RMNP, I took my time and soaked in the scenery. Having decided the night before to abandoned the northernmost 25 miles of the trail, I was feeling relaxed. All I had to do that day was to hike an easy 10 miles to the East Inlet of RMNP and check-in to a hotel room. After that, I had a hot shower and steak dinner in the works.

As I slowly sipped coffee and had breakfast on the lakeshore, I had ample time to reflect on what I had learned over the previous days. Even more, I no longer had to worry if the next mountain pass would be impassible with snow and ice, or if the next valley was demolished by tree blowdowns. The relaxed mood of the morning signified a shift in my internal dialogue. Amazingly, I was still being compassionate with myself – even though I had not met my hiking goals. Even more, the calmness of the morning gave me a stronger sense of place in the outdoors than almost anytime prior. Letting go of my hiking goals recalibrated my motivation and helped me circumvent my ego. hiking and the ego

hiking and the egoIn its simplest terms, the ego is considered a “condensed version of the self.” As we navigate our lives, our experiences reinforce our notions of selfhood. Personally, I have used hiking goals to reinforce my self-image as capable, strong, and self-reliant. Even more, as I am always extremely hard on myself, the act of meeting a hiking goal gives me a sense of accomplishment. Yet, I have noticed that such goal-oriented hiking brings a rigid mindset that resembles duty or work. Even more, pressure to meet goals had added stress to my life. This stress has had negative effects on important relationships. 

Hiking goals have given me purpose during some of the hardest points in my life. Similarly, it can’t be denied that a goal-oriented mindset can lead to incredible accomplishments. Yet, for both safety and enjoyment, it’s important to think about how the ego motivates us in outdoor pursuits. Whether we are assessing avalanche danger in backcountry skiing, or pushing over a mountain pass during a thunderstorm, good decision-making does not come from the ego. In fact, it comes from a place of compassion.

Next Week in the Pfiffner Traverse Series

In the next edition of the Pfiffner Traverse Series, I will cover the southernmost 12 miles of the hike near Berthoud Pass, CO. My girlfriend and I did this section as a day hike at the end of my trip.

Schedule appointment

Kent Gruetzmacher

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