One March day when I was a resident in Tucson, I took a medical student friend and we went to climb Baboquivari Peak. We left Tucson about 7 am, drove out there for an hour, and promptly got lost, right out of the parking lot. We wandered around for four hours, backtracking at least once to try (unsuccessfully) to find the jacket I lost in the brush until we finally reached the base of our route. The route was relatively short, only six rope lengths, and relatively easy. So we figured, hey, it's noon, but this is going to go really quickly. It took a little longer than we thought to reach the summit and we then started down, rappelling the route.
We ended up getting the rope stuck, not once, but twice, and long story short, arrived back at the base of the route about dark. Unfortunately, we still had at least a half-hour of bushwhacking across steep ledges to get back to where the trail ought to be (we never saw it on the approach.) Even more, unfortunately, we only had one headlamp, and its batteries died about 2 hours later, while we were still trying to find our way off the ledges.
At that point, we had done some climbing that was harder than anything on our route and rappelled off the end of our rope at least once (one of us in the pitch black, of course.) We decided the wisest thing to do was to sit down and wait for daylight. (Naturally, I forgot that the batteries in my camera were identical to the ones in my headlamp.)
We got a fire going, pulled out the space blanket I always carry on climbs like this, and proceeded to have a miserable, but not life-threatening night. The next morning, we discovered we were less than 10 minutes from the trail, and only an hour from the car. Luckily for us, we had cell phone coverage on that ledge or our wives would have killed us.
We Failed to Get an “Alpine Start”
Most wilderness epics like this occur due to a cascade of multiple bad decisions, and this one was no exception. However, the very first bad decision, which could have made up for all the other ones, was that we didn't get an alpine start.
You see, an alpine start is a tradition among climbers, mountaineers, and other outdoors people. The point of the alpine start is to use your limited daylight for the most difficult part of the climb. You basically want to arrive at the most technical portion right at dawn. Sure, it makes for a short night, a rather unappealing breakfast (I recommend against warm milk on Captain Crunch by the way,) and a frigid few hours in the morning, but it provides a buffer against bad weather, bad decisions, and unexpected circumstances. Plus, you get to see the sunrise from a lot of very cool places.
For example, on the Grand Teton, climbers routinely arise from their high camp at 4 am, eat a quick breakfast, and start scrambling up by headlamp. That early start allows them to have summitted and to be on the way down by noon, when the bad weather starts coming in (except for when I take my daughter, when the storm comes in at 8:30 am, but that's another epic story.) It gets even nuttier on summit day on Mt. Everest, where climbers generally start between midnight and one am.
At any rate, the point is if we had gotten up earlier, we could have slept in our beds that night. But we underestimated what was ahead of us. We figured it was a small mountain, in a warm latitude, with easy climbing. So we slept in and failed to get an alpine start.
Get a Financial “Alpine Start”
In our financial lives, too many of us fail to get an alpine start. I am forever grateful that I learned key financial lessons early. Some I learned from specific lessons verbalized by others, such as a Boy Scout leader who told me to always pay cash for my cars. Others I learned from the examples of others, such as my wife's grandparents who started investing early and often for themselves and their descendants. Some lessons get learned in the school of hard knocks, such as my experiences buying my first and second home (paid too much for a home I shouldn't have bought, twice- yes, I'm a slow learner) or my first (and only) whole life insurance policy.
Some of the best lessons are self-taught. In your 25+ years of education, you've at least learned to teach yourself some new tricks. Some of the things I taught myself was how to evaluate a mutual fund, how to construct a portfolio, how to save a lot of money on taxes, and why retirement accounts are so awesome. It's amazing the information you can find in a library and around the internet, isn't it?
But the point is that you want an alpine start. Learn about finances as a medical student or resident, so that when you hit that most important, most technical year of your financial life (the first year out of training) you're ready and can maximize the time and resources you have.
Those who start early already know how to budget by the time they get to the big bucks. It's just the same game with bigger numbers. They've minimized their debt and have a plan to get rid of it long before they get used to their income. They've got an insurance plan, an investing plan, perhaps even an estate and asset protection plan. They've learned where money can increase their happiness, and where it cannot. Their investments also get to enjoy additional decades of compound interest. This all translates to earlier, more reliable, financial freedom, retirement, the good life, and all that entails. There are no mistakes to rectify, personal and spousal habits to change, or lost opportunities.
Get up early and start climbing. It's worth the pounding headache, the nauseating food, and the cold hands. Use an alpine start to reach the summit of financial freedom in the most enjoyable and safe way possible.
What do you think? When did you “get up and get going” toward your financial freedom? Do you wish you had started investing earlier? What (or who) was it that “got you out of bed?” Comment below!