Dirtbag Dreams // Reaching The Summit

Recently, we started noticing comments on the blog from a couple who blogs at Our Next Life.  They said that they related to our story and loved our concept of  “Dirtbag Millionaires”.  They are also blogging about their path to early retirement and are about 2 years away from the goal.  They also were originally inspired by their love of the outdoors.  They have many similar plans, dreams, fears, questions and aspirations as do we.

Well I clicked over to check out what they were doing and …..WOW!  Our backgrounds and stories really did have a ton in common.  Their blog is loaded with incredible photos taken while hiking, climbing and skiing in some of the most beautiful places in the world.  If instead, they started littering it with pictures of a little “toddler dirtbag” doing stuff like skiing down green circle ski slopes and climbing on an indoor climbing wall (b/c everyone likes to look at pictures that lame parents post on the internet thinking their kid is the greatest), I at times would think I was reading my own thoughts.

With so much in common, I think readers of either blog would enjoy and get value from the other.  I suggested swapping guest posts to share our stories and introduce one another to each others’ audience.  They agreed.  They’re up first, so with that…..Take it away ONL.


Our Dirtbag Dreams // Reaching the Summit

Thanks for having us, Elephant Eaters! We’re Our Next Life, a mid-thirties couple living in the west, on a path to retire early at the end of 2017. Like the elephant eaters, we live for the outdoors. Skiing, climbing, hiking, biking, paddling, you name it. But our true love is climbing mountains. Nothing replaces that feeling of reaching the top, knowing that you’ve prepared and planned to get there. On bigger mountains, you get to sign the summit register, which also lets you see who else has been there. We love collecting photos of summit markers, those little US Geological Survey plaques that mark the top of all surveyed peaks.  [Seriously, throw a little mini-dirtbag into their posts and this is like reading our own story.–EE]DSCN4471

The most wonderful thing about climbing mountains is that there’s no one right way to get there. People are constantly establishing new routes up well-trod mountains. And they’re devising new methods of travel to the top. It’s a lot like those striving for financial independence – there’s no one right way to do it, and people are always figuring out new ways.

Our Journey to Climb Mountains

Our love of mountaineering began innocently enough: A chance viewing of Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the lower 48, from US 395 through the Eastern Sierra, perhaps the prettiest road in America. We saw the mountain, and we knew we had to climb it. Though “climb it” really just meant “hike up it.” We got our permits via the annual lottery, we trained hard to make sure we were in shape for the long slog, and we did it. 14,505 feet. It felt great.


iceaxeExcept while we were standing on the summit, we saw real climbers – rock climbers and mountaineers – coming up a more challenging route. A route that surely felt, to them, like a bigger accomplishment than basically just walking up a bunch of switchbacks. It felt like they, not we, had really earned the summit.

We immediately decided to learn to climb like real mountaineers. We joined the local rock gym, and learned to rock climb. We signed up for a Sierra Club clinic on glacier travel, and then avalanche school, and then crevasse rescue training. We bought a lot of gear. (This was pre-frugality.) We quickly became acquainted with crampons, ice axes, ropes, ascenders, and many varieties of anchors and protection.

Our Journey to Early Retirement

Around the same time, we started realizing that we were spending most of our time and money getting out of the city and into the mountains. We spent a fortune each winter on ski trips. Our planning for summer was all about keeping track of when the permits opened to climb different peaks, making sure we got our applications in on time, and packing up food and supplies for our numerous trips. We realized that we wanted something different for our lives. And we knew we might not have a lot of years to spend on our outdoor adventures.

Hope this isn’t the “retirement house”. “Dirtbag” EE’s are always looking for couches and floors to crash on in beautiful places 😉

We didn’t want to take the easy route through life – work til 65, save the minimum for retirement, and then move to Florida. We wanted to take the harder but more rewarding route. We wanted to retire early. Financially, we wanted to achieve the same goals we were after in the mountains: reach the summit the hard way, but the way that would give us the biggest rewards.

Just like we did with mountaineering, we became voracious students. We learned about the 4 percent rule. We learned about index fund investing. We decided that we’re more comfortable with growth investing than dividend investing, and built an investment plan to match. We got serious about cutting our expenses. And in our biggest move of all, we moved to the mountains, to what we call “our retirement house.”

Getting On With the Slog

skimountaineeringTo those who haven’t done it, climbing mountains seems far more impossible than it really is. Most of the time, it’s just an uphill slog. Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. Sometimes you’re on loose scree (tiny rocks), and you slide backwards a little bit with every step. To those who haven’t mapped out an early retirement plan, it probably seems impossible too. Sometimes you move forward, and sometimes you slide backward. But it’s really just saving, and saving and saving some more. But with both mountain climbing and early retirement, you keep moving toward your objective. And with practice, you get better at both. You learn to speed your progress. You know that an early start always puts you in a better position to succeed – in the mountains, it’s called an alpine start, and in finances, it’s investing in your 20s. And you learn which ways you prefer to get to your goal – financially, we’re all about the index funds, and on the mountains we’ve come especially to love ski mountaineering (climbing up with skins on our skis, and skiing down).

Our Dirtbag Dreams

The truth is, we’re in that stage in our careers now when we don’t have a lot of time to climb mountains. We’re lucky if we can ski on the weekends in the winter, and if we can hop on the bike in the summer. We can only manage one or two big adventures a year, even though we live in the mountains. We’d love to be out there a whole lot more, but right now we’re prioritizing getting to early retirement, which means dedication to our careers to keep earning more, to speed us to the big financial goal that will let us spend more time on our outdoors goals. Right now it’s all about the means, not the ends.

In a few short years, though, we’ll pull the plug. Come January 2018, we plan to be free to pursue our dirtbag dreams. Like the Elephant Eaters, we want to be dirtbag millionaires – able to spend most of our time skiing, climbing and working our way up mountains, but knowing that we’re financially secure, and aren’t scraping by, uninsured, or worse.

Getting to early retirement is the current climb we’re focused on, and rather than a summit marker telling us when we’ve reached our objective, it will be a date and a dollar figure. When we get there, then our focus will go back to the actual mountains, to the mileage and elevations, instead of dollars and dates. We’ve got big plans.

Are you also seeking financial independence? What are the goals in life that you can’t wait to pursue once you reach financial independence? Do you like taking the hard but more rewarding route, or are we crazy people? 😉 Share your thoughts in the comments!


[Thank you to our friends at Our Next Life for taking the time to stop by and introduce yourselves.  GREAT JOB!  Follow the links above and check out the ONL blog, read more about their detailed plans and be inspired by their beautiful writing and photography. —EE]

*Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this content, you can find my current writing at Can I Retire Yet?. Enter your email below to join our mailing list and be alerted when new content is published.

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25 comments on Dirtbag Dreams // Reaching The Summit

  1. Man, 2018 seems to be a popular year for FIRE, we’re planning to pull the plug that year as well. Achieving FIRE and climbing a mountain do seem equally daunting to most people, but like you pointed out, most of the time it’s just an uphill slog. During my time in CO, I “climbed” 21 fourteeners, but I didn’t need rope or anything special for any of them.
    I find FIRE to be like that. Figure out your route to get there, and put it into action. For us, it was cutting mindless spending, and ramping up our external savings even more. Now, we’re just slogging to get there and checking our route every now and again to make sure we’re on course. Great post!

    1. Another climber — how great! What we didn’t say in the post is: even though both climbing and ER are an uphill slog, oftentimes the view’s pretty great.

  2. Great guest post ONL. Thanks for introducing me to ETFE. Once i get to FI (currently estimated at Sep-2026) I plan on traveling more, putting exercise and my other passions first, and getting my hands dirty a lot more than I’m able to now 🙂

      1. Thanks for stopping FF. Agree w/ ONL, try to incorporate your passions as you go in a way that fits your overall plan.

  3. Uh oh, looks like I too have another blog that I need to follow here at the Financial Elephant. Awesome guest post, love the progress that you guys are making, and I especially love the fact that you’re outdoorsy people. I’m glad to see that you aren’t going to just move to Florida and bum around on the beach after retirement, too.

    Stay active. Stay healthy. Stay yourselves! 🙂

    1. Yes, Steve! Definitely follow these guys. They paid off their house by age 30ish, have learned a lot about PF the hard way, and have an outdoorsy mindset which we love and feels right up your alley.

    2. Steve,

      Great to have you. Just was looking at your adventure blog earlier. Cool stuff!


  4. Nice guest post..; I look forward to the other post as well.

    It is a nice story to read: how climbing can be an analogy for FIRE. IT comes down to the same: Have an event open your eyes to see the possibility, then make a plan and execute it.

  5. Congrats on the your first guest post, onl! I have always been intimidated by mountain climbing, especially for it’s technical aspects, but seems like I should give it a try one day. Also, thanks for introducing me to another blog written by like-minded folks!

    ETFE – looking forward to reading more about your journey 🙂

      1. Glad you stopped to check us out. Agreed that you should try to get out in the mountains if you have any interest. Just be careful, they can be addicting!

  6. 100% amazing! I love the adventure combined with a financial plan. I’m reading this to my husband tonight. All the best in your pursuit for the summit. <3 – Smiles, Cornfield

    1. Kristal,

      Glad you enjoyed it. Life is an adventure so there are a lot of obvious parallels if you think about it.


  7. I LOVE how you compared your goal to FI to climbing a mountain. A great analogy that people can actually visualize. The Mr. and I also like to take the harder but more rewarding route…although if it just so happened that we stumbled upon a million dollars and could retire tomorrow, we wouldn’t be too upset 😉 Thanks for the fun read!

    1. There is definitely an aspect of working for something that makes it much more rewarding. That said, I’m not passing on the free $1M either if you find someone handing them out 🙂

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