Reflecting on the Retirement Journey After Climbing Mount St. Helens
Preparation, a trusted guide, and perseverance—all made a significant impact as my wife and I climbed the majestic Mount St. Helens. Since one has to purchase permits many months in advance, we picked August 2nd for the big day. For those who live outside the Pacific Northwest, early August usually ensures a high probability that it will be warm and, more importantly, dry! The perfect conditions one would hope for when climbing the 8,365 foot summit.
When we arrived at the trail head at 7:00 a.m., it was around 50 degrees with a light drizzle. Ahh, we're Pacific Northwesterners, we can handle a little rain! The first two miles took us through a thick evergreen forest keeping us mostly dry as we made our way above the tree line (around 4,800 feet). Once we exited the shelter of the forest, the rain was falling a little heavier and the breeze was stronger. What now stood between us and the summit was roughly 3,500 feet of boulder ridges leaving us fully exposed to the elements. The visibility was pretty low (less than 100 yards), so psychologically, it helped not being able to fully visualize the many ridges of boulders we would have to climb before we reached the summit.
This stage of the climb is where our preparation, having a trusted guide, and perseverance made all the difference. We passed several people on our way up that chose not to summit. Some said they were not properly outfitted given the conditions; others said the conditions were just too difficult and not worth the effort. We quickly discovered that we were in for an interesting trek.
While our trusted guide prepared us very well, the gusty winds and steady rain gave us all a good beating soaking us through and through! Joe, our guide, was very encouraging along the way sharing helpful tips on navigating the elements. At one point, we discussed as a group if we wanted to continue. With another 2,000 feet to the summit and after assessing the risk/reward trade off, we all decided turning back was not an option. This is where good old-fashioned perseverance, digging deep as some say, allowed us to reach our final goal. The last 1,000 feet was a true test, but we all made it and were so glad we pushed through. Even though the panoramic summit view was not to be had that day, our feeling of accomplishment was still fulfilling.
As I reflect on the years I've spent in the investment advisory field, I've come to more fully appreciate the importance of preparation, having a trusted guide, and perseverance for the long financial journey. Life naturally brings many highs and lows. Factor in the routine variability that comes with navigating the capital markets and I have come to recognize the profound value in these principles.
Just as we had no control over the weather, navigating retirement can also be unpredictable. It may be sunny and clear or you may find yourself in the middle of an economic storm. To prepare for our hike, we started our physical training months in advance by going on multiple pre-hikes. We packed all the necessary food, water, clothing and gear should the weather not cooperate (I did forget gloves—oops!). Preparation and having a plan are vital. When planning for retirement, focus on things within your control: accurately estimate the cost of your desired retirement lifestyle, develop a sustainable income generation plan, and implement and maintain a custom investment strategy.
Our friend, Joe, had hiked Mount St. Helens over 20 times, so we knew we were in good hands. There's something about the assurance you have when navigating a trail with a trusted guide. Assurance doesn't mean conditions are always perfect or that emotions will remain in check, but a good guide helps you stay calm and focused on the end goal. The same is true of a trusted financial advisor. Having confidence that they are truly looking out for your best interest and helping you stay on track can make the retirement journey more successful and enjoyable.
My gut-check moment probably came in the last 1,000 feet or so. My legs felt like rubber bands, my fingers were cold, and I was starting to feel the effects of the elevation. I would take 15-20 steps, take a short break and then keep moving forward. It felt like it was never going to end! When the stock market drops and the global recession feels like it is never going to end, long-term minded investors need to rely on perseverance to stick with their investment plan. It may not feel that great in the moment, but you'll be glad you didn't abandon the plan when adversity crossed your path.
Had you asked me the evening after the climb if I would hike Mount St. Helens again, I would have said, "I think I'm good, I'll pass!" Now that I've had time to process the adventure mentally and heal physically, I now say, "Bring on the next adventure!"