Hiking on Purpose

Thoreau once wrote that he went to the woods “to live deliberately“. To live deliberately means to live (to decide and to act) with intention and with some clarity of focus.

I like to know why I am on trips … especially difficult or challenging trips. I like, for example, to have a clear sense of why I am slogging up a deactivated logging road, or crossing a glacier-fed creek, or eating my lunch in a marsh swarming with mosquitos. As Nietsche said, it is best to have a Why (Why am I doing this?) in order to push forward with my How (How am I going to do this?)

I like to know Why I am doing what I am doing. I like to know the Why of my “suffering” — especially when that suffering is voluntary, especially when that suffering is part of my “vacation” or my “leisure”!

I write out a “Purpose Statement” for each of my trips. I usually do this about a week before I leave. Here is an example of a trip Purpose Statement that I wrote for a trip into Top of the World in 2006:


I carry the Purpose Statement with me on the trip, and I review it several times during the trip. I have a habit of reviewing the Purpose Statement when I am about halfway through a trip. That gives me time to make any adjustments to my daily plans and actions — adjustments that will help me better accomplish the Purposes of the trip.

Way back in 1998 (almost 24 years ago!) I was on a solo in the Taylor-Cinnabar Basins area of the Southern Chilcotin. I wrote in my trip journal:

“One on my purposes for this trip is to get a bit deeper (and off-trail) in this area. I plan to basecamp Days Three and Four, and do two day hikes to get back as far west as I can.

It helps to know my purpose — because then I have criteria to make decisions. Decisions that effect the quality of my trip”.

— Trip Journal, July 18, 1998

Here is a picture from that trip … a scene that is directly related to my decisions based on a clear sense of purpose:

When thinking about purpose I sometimes use a music analogy. Some people dance to music. I hike to purpose. The dancers use a rhythm that they can feel deep down. They move to that rhythm. It is very similar to what I feel like when I’m hiking … I can feel a rhythm deep down, but it’s not music, it is the purpose that moves me.

Moving to the rhythm of a clear purpose (the quick video has a soundtrack):

To paraphrase author Robert Bryne:

The purpose of my life …

is to live a life full of purpose.


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