2012 Year in Review and a Look Behind the (Blog) Scenes

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Well, another year is over so it’s time for my 2012 year in review! Thankfully the Mayan Apocalypse didn’t happen, or that would’ve really messed up my climbing plans for this year.

On the surface 2012 was a year pretty much like the past few years, but behind the scenes it was a year where some major changes were transpiring. Chief among them being the realization in March that I would no longer have a job at the end of the year.

Big changes, indeed!

Here’s a wrap up of my outdoorsy experiences in 2012, as well as a behind the scenes look at Desk to Dirtbag, how many visitors I’ve received, and what things have helped it’s modest growth.

2012 By the Numbers (Weekend Warrior)

  • 51 nights spent in a tent or bivy. 23 nights in the backcountry and 28 nights in the frontcountry (campground camping for climbing).
  • 37 weekends out of 52 I spent at least one day in the great outdoors. 25 of which were climbing trips, 12 of which were backpacking oriented.
    • 31/52 were full weekends of climbing or backpacking (requiring at least Sat-Sun, and staying overnight somewhere)
      • 9 of those weekends were spent climbing at Seneca Rocks, West Virginia.
    • 6/52 only included a day trip of climbing or hiking (day trips are just fall back plans, never a priority)
    • 15/52 weekends I was doing something else not out in the wilds, six of which were the last six weekends of the year when I was busy moving out of DC or otherwise busy because of the Holidays.
  • 337 miles covered over 12 weekend backpacking trips (I’m not counting any approaches for climbs or dayhiking), averaging 28 miles per weekend trip (includes both two and three day weekends).
  • 2 separate week long trips to the mountains (good use of vacation time!) — first to the Sierras, and then to the North Cascades.

Some Highlights from 2012

  • I got outdoors a lot! I was practically getting out every single weekend either climbing or backpacking in the Mid-Atlantic. Pretty awesome, especially considering that I had no vehicle in DC. I had to take the occasional weekend off, sometimes because I had to go to the office or had other commitments, sometimes because I couldn’t find a climbing partner, sometimes to travel for work.
  • The year started off well with a fair bit of ice climbing by heading up to New York and New Hampshire on four separate occasions (we had virtually zero local ice). And I continued really strongly throughout the year, culminating with tons of alpine climbing in August. But my outdoors time really fell off the cliff (not the fiscal cliff!) at the end of this year with my job wrapping up, the holidays, and moving.
  • Started leading easy multipitch trad routes, but didn’t really increase my max climbing grade at all. I just hadn’t been that interested in climbing hard for hard’s sake last year, and was more keen on increasing my all around technical know how and competence. I really enjoy leading easy multipitch rock the most, but I’ve been a little skittish about pushing myself on lead (for better or worse). I hope to bump up the climbing grade a little and increase my confidence on the sharp end more next year.
  • Despite living in Washington DC, I still got lots of alpine climbs in this past year with Mt. Hood, a week in the Sierras, Mount Shuksan, the Torment-Forbidden Traverse, and a whole other week in the North Cascades. I’d have to say that the guided climb of the Torment-Forbidden Traverse was probably my favorite climb of the year, followed by Mount Shuksan with a buddy from DC. I just love alpine routes which include snow, rock, and glacier… Hope to do lots more of that.
  • I had a really good summit success rate this year (unlike 2011, which was my year of getting shut down by the weather in the Cascades), and made it up every big peak I attempted to climb this year except for Mount Hood in April.
  • I moved out of Washington DC and headed back West! I also wrapped up five years of gainful employment at a pretty great job. While it was sad to say goodbye, it was also exciting to be making new plans and arrangements for my climbing road trip. I subsequently launched this blog, www.desktodirtbag.com to share some of my adventures, thoughts on gear, and to also give me something to do while on the road and not climbing.

Behind the Scenes of Desk to Dirtbag

So I’ve officially received my last real paycheck. I’ve moved out of DC and am back on the West Coast. Goodbye desk jockey, hello dirtbag!

As you may know, I was working for a Member of Congress in Washington DC, but last March my boss announced he would not be seeking reelection and would be retiring, which meant my job too would be coming to an end at the end of the year. For quite awhile I had been contemplating leaving DC and perhaps doing some more international traveling, but I could never actually pull the trigger.

After my boss announced his decision, I knew this was my opportunity to finally take action and do it–and I quickly settled on doing some sort of long term climbing trip and what I’ve dubbed my Epic Dirtbag Adventure

Six weeks later I had purchased the www.desktodirtbag.com domain name and hosting, and started quietly setting it up, testing things out, and adding old trip reports I’d previously written.

Another six weeks after that and I was ready for my “unveiling” with one of my trip reports featured as a guest post on SectionHiker.com (many thanks to Philip Werner!) at the end of May, which was also when I started mentioning the site (and my plans) to friends and fellow backpackers/climbers.

Now I was actively telling friends and eventually family about my upcoming dirtbag trip… I was publicly accountable–so I couldn’t back down now and find another job!

For the subsequent six months I continued doing research, gathering ideas, and daydreaming about this trip, but it was still always so far away… Fast forward to today and it is really starting to get real! I have recently completed outfitting the back of my truck to turn it into a camping rig (stay tuned for more details on that later), and am now hard at work trying to get all my gear together and organized. My departure for Ouray is literally just days away! Woah, hard to believe.

[singlepic id=502 w=540 h=405 float=center]

A look at the awesome setup in the back of my Toyota Pickup. Check out this Facebook gallery for more photos of the layout.

Five Most Popular Posts of 2012

5. Backpacking Across New Jersey: Delaware Water Gap to High Point (45 miles)
4. Pilgrimage to Mecca: Yosemite and the High Sierras
3. Torment-Forbidden Traverse
2. Long Term Review of the Feathered Friends Jackorack
1. List of Mountaineering and Climbing Movies on Netflix

Since launching my blog in May I received 3,420 unique visitors over the course of 2012. Traffic was very slow for those first few months with most of it coming from friends, my social network, and sharing trip reports with my group DC UL Backpacking as well as the local climbing club.

The past three months saw more considerable growth, with around 75 visitors per week in September, jumping to around 150 per week in October and finally ending up at around 400 visitors per week in December, with 1,644 visitors in December alone. Of those visitors in December, 1,384 were unique, representing fully 40% of the 3,420 unique visitors I received all year. It was a pretty big month!

Weekly visitors to this site

Weekly visitors to this site

Monthly visitors to this site

Monthly visitors to this site

I have no idea how these numbers compare with other personal climbing/backpacking blogs, but I was pretty happy with the growth for that time period, and it’s kind of fun to watch… But, like climbing grades, the numbers in and of themselves aren’t really important or meaningful. That said, I do hope I’ll continue to see a steady growth in traffic and visitors as I continue to post new content next year.

Surprisingly, the list of climbing movies on Netflix has been far and away the biggest driver of traffic to my site. It was a low effort post that I quickly put together to go live while I was away in the Sierras. I continued to add to the post throughout the year with new movies I saw.

I also recently ‘monetized’ this page with Amazon Affiliate links since I was getting lots of traffic looking for climbing movies generally and not just those on Netflix. This was done mostly as an experiment to see how it goes… In the past month I made three affiliate sales through Amazon which totaled a whopping $2.08! So, it’s definitely no get rich quick scheme, but, hey, maybe it will get me a free Kindle book worth of Amazon credit at some point.

I don’t feel that I’ve really pushed promoting this website too hard–I add links to Facebook (my personal account as well) and Twitter when I update the blog, but that’s about it. 

I’ve been surprised a couple times, like when my Backpacking Across New Jersey post got randomly picked up by NJhiking.com’s social media and sent a mini flood of traffic. Because of that, the same post got picked up on Reddit and sent another little wave. It’s cool to see things like that unfold, especially when you aren’t actively pushing it.

One proactive way I’ve promoted posts that has worked somewhat well is trying to get the relevant company or business to share my links where appropriate, for instance, the American Alpine Institute posted a link to my guided trip to the Sierras in their weekly round up (I emailed them and asked if they’d like to include it).

I have also received a decent bit of traffic by tagging the relevant companies in Tweets when I share my reviews, like when I reviewed the Icebreaker BodyFit 150, I tagged @IcebreakerNZ, hoping for a retweet (but not asking for it), which resulted in a good influx of traffic as well.

There are some things that I hope to improve on with respect to this site in 2013… Namely, my ‘Likes’ on Facebook and growth has been pretty pathetic (you can ‘Like’ Desk to Dirtbag here!).

Twitter seems to be much easier to find growth and to engage in with people conversationally. But Facebook links far out compete Twitter links in terms of driving traffic. I also had intended to do a lot more gear reviews this year, because I’ve got a ton of gear that I’ve been using for quite a while now, and feel like I can talk about my likes/dislikes with gear pretty well.

Unfortunately, they didn’t make it to the top of my priority list, but I know from my own traffic patterns, and from hearing about others, that gear reviews can be some of the most popular posts. I plan to do more detailed and long term gear reviews next year.

Overall, launching this site has been a fun process. I’ve learned a lot about the technical side of things behind the scenes, which is cool.

I enjoy writing about the gear, trips, and the great outdoors, even if no one reads it, as I think it helps me better understand my own choices and decisions about gear selection, techniques, ways to improve, etc, and it also helps me to better retain what I’ve learned and what I’ve experienced on some of these trips. 

I’ve also connected with some pretty cool like-minded people because of this site, particularly some of the folks on Twitter, but also others who have stumbled across the site and emailed me, which I really enjoy! It’s been fun, and I look forward to further developing this site in 2013.

Here’s to an awesome 2013, filled with great adventures! What adventures or big trips do you have planned for this year?

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2012 Year in Review and a Look Behind the (Blog) Scenes armchair-alpinist


Head Writer and Adventurer at Desk to Dirtbag
Ryan is an author, adventurer, perpetual wanderer, and self-proclaimed dirtbag (but that might not mean what you think). Originally from Seattle, he headed to Washington D.C. where he spent five years working for Congress before heeding the call of the wild. He set out truck camping to road trip across the American West, and then across all of Central America and South America. When he isn't on the move, you can find him living as an expat in Colombia. He is also the author of the best selling book: Big Travel, Small Budget that will help you travel more for less. Follow the adventures on social media or read more.

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