The Importance of Memory Dividends: Best Hikes of 2023


, by Greg Heil

Monte Fitz Roy, Argentina. Photo: Greg Heil

Epic adventures aren't merely experiences that happen once and then cease to exist forever. Instead, the hikes and other adventures that we enjoy pay us back with what writer Bill Perkins calls "memory dividends" in his book Die With Zero.

Bill views the money and time that we spend on experiences as investments—and like all investments, he says that these experiences pay us rewards, known as "dividends." The basic idea is that once you've had an incredible experience—say, backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail—you'll forever be able to enjoy the memories from that backpacking trip. If you have an epic experience earlier on in your lifetime (say, backpacking through Europe during a college gap year), you'll get to enjoy those memory dividends for many more years than if you had the experience later on. That means that your investment will be worth much, much more if made early on in your life.

To put it another way: book the damn flight!

Every January, I take a couple of hours to look back through all of the incredible trails I explored over the previous 12 months so that I can better appreciate the memory dividends that I've earned over the past year. I'm invariably shocked by the sheer number of places that I traveled, asking myself, "Did all of these adventures REALLY happen in the past 12 months?!"

If you don't review the hikes you did, it's too easy to let the enjoyment from those memory dividends slip away.

If you've never done this before, I encourage you to take some time to relive some of your memories from the past year. I personally use my Strava Training Calendar for this exercise—just click back to 2023, click on January, and skim through the titles of all of your rad adventures. I've also been very consistent at uploading photos to my adventures, so clicking into interesting hikes and reliving the experience through images is a great way to enjoy those hard-won memory dividends!

If you're looking for a little adventure inspiration, here's my list of the 11 best new hikes that I explored in 2023—ranging from Oregon in the north all the way to Patagonia, Argentina in the south:

1. Golden Horn and Ice Lakes Basin, Silverton, Colorado

As I wrote in my #onepeakaweek roundup, Golden Horn was unequivocally my favorite peak of the year! This jagged spire requires a long, sustained scramble to reach the saddle. From there, we scaled an exposed ridge to reach a tiny summit block with absolutely unbelievable views!

Helping make this hike my #1 choice for the year, our approach hike the day before the summit attempt followed one of the best day hikes in Colorado—the trail to Ice Lakes Basin. This epic overnighter was just downright spectacular!

Full Article: An Epic Overnight in the Ice Lake Basin

2. Four Pass Loop, Aspen, Colorado

It's pretty convenient that I can call an epic three-day backpacking trip a single "hike," thereby freeing up more space on this list! Aspen's famous Four Pass Loop 100% lives up to the hype and proved to be one of my most memorable experiences of the year. Four passes above 12,400 feet, gorgeous backcountry campsites, endless wildflowers... I could go on and on. If you haven't read it yet, be sure to catch my full article about the experience: "Colorado's Famous Four Pass Loop Lives Up to the Hype."

3. Laguna Torre, El Chalten, Argentina

For our first time ever to South America, my wife and I planned a honeymoon in Argentinian Patagonia in March and April. We spent several day hikes to viewpoints of some of South America's most iconic mountains: the Cerro Torre and the Fitz Roy. As you can imagine, these hikes did not disappoint! The excursion to the iceberg-filled Laguna Torre with stunning views of the rocky spires of Cerro Torre in the background was, in particular, the kind of hike that memory dividends are made of.

4. Red Reef Slot Canyon, Saint George, Utah

While we had hiked the entrance to Red Reef Slot Canyon several times before, in late April, we scored a hot weather window that we thought would allow us to venture deep into Red Reef Canyon. Waiting for a hot weather day was of paramount importance as we waded (and swam) through numerous neck-deep holes filled with frigid snowmelt. Extremely deep holes coupled with exposed red rock scrambling and technical canyoneering moves made this adventure one for the books!

5. Monte Fitz Roy Views, El Chalten, Argentina

While in Patagonia, we also hiked to a viewpoint of the Monte Fitz Roy, which was certifiably breathtaking! If you haven't heard of the Fitz Roy before, find the closest piece of Patagonia clothing and look at the logo. That mountain outline? That's the Fitz Roy.

6. Picketpost Mountain, Superior, Arizona

Picketpost Mountain was one of the true sleeper hits of the year. This technical, rocky scramble to a gorgeous viewpoint was tougher than anticipated and simultaneously more rewarding than expected. As you read on, you'll see that I've ranked this higher than numerous peaks in the Rockies. Yes, it really was that good!

7. Engineer Mountain, Durango, Colorado

Despite not even hitting 13,000 feet, Engineer Mountain is one of the most aesthetic peaks in the San Juans, and the scramble up the summit ridge is high consequence! The combination of a challenging scramble to the summit and the stupendous views made Engineer one of my favorite mountains of the year.

Full Article: "Assessing Risk on Engineer Mountain"

8. Sultan Mountain and Spencer Peak, Silverton, Colorado

The route to Sultan Mountain crossing Spencer Peak is an epic two-peak combination that takes place largely off-trail, rendering it a respectable challenge. When I finally completed both peaks at the same time, I spent five and a half hours high in the mountains above treeline without seeing another soul. Can you beat that?!

Full Article: "How Not to Prepare for a Peak Climb: Illustrated by Spencer Peak and Sultan Mountain"

9. Seven Wonders -> Fire Wave -> White Domes Loop, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Valley of Fire State Park is insanely underrated! The gorgeous rock formations found in this state park are undoubtedly worthy of National Park designation—but since this is state land, it manages to fly a little under the radar. This loop hike hits several of the best rock formations in the park in one fantastic outing.

GUIDEBOOK: "Ignite Adventure: Best Hikes in the Valley of Fire"

10. Waterfall Trail Loop: Sahalie Falls and Koosah Falls, Santiam Junction, Oregon

This loop was short, but the beauty of the Oregon rainforest, coupled with two absolutely gigantic waterfalls, made it an extremely high-value adventure. As an added bonus, since these waterfalls are NOT Oregon's tallest, this trail sees a small fraction of the crowds compared to Multnomah Falls.

11. Sanctuario de las Cascadas, Mindo, Ecuador

We had such a great time in Argentina that we planned a second South American trip for the tail end of 2023. While a torn tendon in my ankle kept me from hiking as much as anticipated in Ecuador, this stunning hike at the tail end of our trip is more than worthy of making the highlights list for the year. The trail ventures up a narrow gorge deep in the rainforest, visiting at least six distinct waterfalls with refreshing swimming holes beneath them.

Hopefully this list has inspired you to not only review your own memory dividends from 2023 but to plan some epic adventures in the year to come!

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