10 Essential Questions: Luis Zuniga

Meet Luis Zuniga, a Backpacking Building Blocks (B3) mentor who credits The Mountaineers for helping him safely push his comfort zone.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
June 17, 2022
10 Essential Questions: Luis Zuniga

Each week we bring you a personal story from one of our members. For our member profile this week we talked to...

Name: Luis Zuniga
Hometown: Guadalajara, Mexico
Member Since: February 2020
Occupation: Software Engineer
Favorite Activities: Backpacking, hiking, scrambling, trail running, snowshoeing and hopefully soon: climbing



Back in 2011, I was studying and working in my hometown in Mexico. I had a colleague that had moved from Bellingham and had been a member of The Mountaineers. During our breaks, he showed me pictures of his trips and the beautiful PNW. I fell in love with the place from these stories and pictures, I even learned to read topo maps to be more involved in the trip details of the stories. In 2014 I had the opportunity to move to the Seattle area. Having never set foot in the state, but already loving the PNW thanks to my friend, I decided to move here. After some years of dreaming about going backpacking, I started looking for adult outdoor education opportunities. The Mountaineers showed up in the search results. I was very surprised as I thought The Mountaineers were just about climbing mountains - you can't blame me, it's in the name!

I joined, took the Backpacking Building Blocks (B3) Course and found a very strong, friendly and welcoming community. From then on, I started taking more and more courses on different activities, and then began contributing back to some of those courses. I also started trail running thanks to people on the trail running committee and found that this is a very  tight-knit community that I now belong to. There are now the friends I see a couple times per week on runs. B3 was my "gateway drug" to the outdoors, and now I'm a student of the Alpine Climbing Course, the very same activity I thought back that was way above by skills.


This one is definitely multi-dimensional:

Outside of myself: definitely all the leaders, and instructors on the club. I believe they volunteer because they want to share what makes them happy. Thanks to their willingness to teach, their mentorship and their company I've been able to experience a completely new side of the world and myself. They are there when I want to go out, when I want to learn and even when I'm feeling low. Also, as I keep telling the trail running leaders over and over: If I was planning to run by myself, I wouldn't go out on the cold rainy mornings. Having the accountability of a leader expecting me to show up keeps me running!

On the personal side: I keep doing more and more than I ever thought I could do. The club has helped me push myself to grow. This can be both very rewarding and very addicting. Also, being a very risk averse person, the fact that the club has a focus on safety allows me to keep pushing while knowing the risks I'm taking are calculated.


I have a handful of great memories! It is impossible to pick a favorite. Both my first backpacking trip and my first alpine summits come to mind. The sense of accomplishment I felt and the realization that these activities were within my reach managed to set this memories very hard in my mind.

The first overnight trip I led for the B3 course also stands out. One of the students had never slept in the backcountry before, so naturally they reminded me of myself. They ended up having a great time and built up their confidence to go out. I felt extremely happy that perhaps I helped that person to start their outdoor adventures, just like I was helped by a mentor in the B3 course. On that same trip, closer to sunset, we built a fire, played cards, and shared stories. Another student shared their story about a vacation trip to Mexico. As a Mexican myself I could understand the sketchiness of the situation, yet the student was with goodhearted people at the end. The story made me laugh to tears. We had a fire, views of Koma Kulshan (Mt Baker), and were laughing left and right. I felt very happy overall that evening.

Finally, there was a scramble to Three Way Peak where I considered staying behind. I was concerned about making it to the top and not being able to downclimb. Both leaders of that trip are friends of mine. They were patient and encouraging, without being pushy. At the end, the downclimb turned out to be the easy part. I felt in good spirits, in good company, safe, and I managed to push the boundary a bit more.


I'm inspired by how clever and enduring humans can be. Things like the techniques for ascending rope with two pieces of cord. I find that incredibly clever. The amount and specialized knowledge that got passed on over years and years, and also got refined, tried, and everything in between! This is what allow us to do all the activities I love.

Mountains inspire me as well. They flow over time; they grow and flatten. They crumble. It's as if they were alive, just on a completely different time scale. It's always humbling to look at them and be mindful that they are moving, yet they will be (almost) exactly the same for long after I'm gone.


I have benefitted from other leaders who are willing to mentor and teach me skills. I didn't have access to outdoor recreation areas when I grew up, and my family didn't practice these things. I discovered this part of my life all thanks to people who volunteer their time and energy so that others can learn.
As to paying it forward, I aim to help in the future with the courses I have taken. I also like to share my story so that people realize that if I could do it, then really most people can do it as well. I also like to lead non-course related trips which I like to think helps with strengthening the community. Also I'm lucky that my employer matches volunteer hours, so that's a motivation for planning activities for the The Mountaineers!


Adventure to me means all the aspects involved in an experience that will make use of many of my skills. The most obvious one is going to a new place, and the adventure to me starts from the planning phase. Looking at maps and reports for the place and the time of the year. Average temperatures, rainfall, snow levels, weather events, etc. Adventure is also going to a known place, but with people whom I haven't met before. Managing their expectations, dealing with their concerns, decision making as a group. Also a trip with different conditions feels like an adventure - the gear I'm bringing will be different, perhaps I'll plan for less or more water, or for unreliable water sources.

The ideal adventure for instance, I think is similar to the "flow" state (term coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi). These trips will make me use many different resources and skills, such that it cannot be automatic. You are using everything you know, yet it doesn't feel overwhelming. Planning, navigation, careful stepping, first aid/health, reading the terrain to avoid things like setting camp on a gully only to wake up in a small creek.


Sunrise or sunset? Sunset
Smile or game face? Smile
What's your 11th Essential? Camp chair! Pays for its weight by the improved rest I get at camp.
What’s your happy place? Lakes and creeks where I can swim! (I heavily bias my camping trips to have these.)
Post-adventure meal of choice? Beer, chips, and Pad Thai
If you could be a rockstar at any outdoor activity overnight, what would it be? Trail running. Getting ready for an ultra overnight by mystical powers sounds like a dream.

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