Going it Alone

I’m not sure why, but hiking alone is so satisfying. Maybe it’s the shedding of insecurities. I don’t have to worry if my hiking partner is comfortable, if I chose a trail too steep or too easy or not scenic enough. I don’t have to feel insecure about my slow pace and frequent stops for water and photos. Or maybe it’s the feeling of independence that is so appealing, proving to myself that I can accomplish something completely on my own.

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I spent a good hour alone at the beautiful Lake Ingalls with only mountain goats for company.

I haven’t always felt this way. When I first started hiking I would get nervous if my husband was far enough ahead of me to be just out of sight. I was easily distracted by noises and scared of snow or slide crossings. Then one beautiful sunny day in June I decided to leave work early and go for a hike on my own. I was really itching to get out in the mountains. My husband travels a lot for work and I just decided that I didn’t want to wait for him to go on a hike anymore. So I hiked on my own to Heather Lake, a trail that I had already been on twice before and was nearby and short. I felt confident and free as I climbed the switchbacks, but as I hit the early summer lingering snow I was hesitant. There were many footsteps as this is a very popular trail so I mustered up my courage and continued in the post-holed boot tracks of others. I made it to the lake and basked in the sunshine. I thought to myself, huh, this is pretty nice. Since then I’ve hiked hundreds of miles on my own or with my dog. I find that it fills me up when I feel emptied by the monotony of daily life.

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Lonely Lake Ann from Maple Pass Loop
This past summer I was hiking alone on Ptarmigan ridge, a trail near Mt Baker that never completely melts out in the summer and is lauded as a little dangerous in the guide books. There were only a few cars in the parking lot and I quickly passed a few people and didn’t see anymore ahead. I was happy to have the trail to myself. Then, after crossing some lingering snow fields (now more confidently), I noticed a woman hiking ahead of me. She was small and looked a bit older, fit and strong. I caught up to her and said hello, she greeted me back with a foreign accent. I thought, wow, she must be a lone traveller on some kind of pilgrimage. I think her accent sounded a bit Scottish, she probably spends her retirement days taking strolls in the Highlands while sipping coffee and journaling about her adventures around the world. My imagination goes on to make up an amazingly elaborate backstory for this woman.
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Just me and the dog on a secluded Skyline Divide trail in autumn.
I hiked another mile or so without seeing another soul. I came to a nice resting place before the trail steepened and seemed to disappear into the volcanic flanks of Mt Baker. I stopped and got out my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and gave my dog some water. Then I saw the woman again. She passed my resting place with a wave and continued on without slowing up the mountain on a trail I couldn’t see. Oh, I guess the trail keeps going, I thought. Well, I had to keep going on then. After finishing my sandwich I continued up the seriously steep and eroded trail and across more snowfields. By this point I was quite tired, hot and a little confused by the myriad of paths on the moonlike ridge. Then the woman was walking toward me with a smile and said it was beautiful at the end of the trail. It didn’t appear that she had broken a bit of sweat. I smiled back and said thanks. She was right, it was beautiful, and I had the whole place to myself. I wouldn’t have made it all the way up there if she hadn’t gone on ahead of me.
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Mt Baker and Ptarmigan Ridge from my resting spot where the trail seems to disappear.
I’ve thought a lot about that woman since then. What was she doing up there? Why was she alone? What has she seen in her life? Was she a kickass world traveller with a purpose or was she in the wilderness just to remind herself she was still alive, to feel pure earth under her feet? Perhaps she went there to reflect on the loss of a loved one or to contemplate an illness or shortcoming of her own, to escape unpleasant realities in her life? I wish I had the courage to ask her these things.
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A few years ago I treated myself to a solo birthday hike on the Maple Pass loop.
There are lots of reasons why we hike alone. I love that I can hike alone to contemplate these reasons. I love that I have the confidence to hike up any mountain without restriction and have an amazing place all to myself. But as I congratulate myself on reaching a new destination, I also take time to reflect on those who made it possible for me to be exactly in that place at exactly that time. I am so thankful for those who broke the trail before me and for the women who led me to the top.

Bonus Camp Read!

goingalone

Going Alone edited by Susan Fox Rogers

This compilation of stories from inspiring women is sure to motivate anyone to try a solo journey. These women climb Half Dome, sail with sharks, hike the PCT, embark on a long distance backpack in Alaska with only a dog and bike solo in France fueled by adrenaline and thrills. They share their motivations and struggles on the way to becoming true adventurers.

Car Camp, Day Hike or Backpack?  Backpack

This book is specifically made to be tucked in your backpack on your next solo adventure.

 

Read more about my solo hiking adventures on the Outdoor Women’s Alliance website:

The Case for Females Hiking Solo

 

Hikes Featured in this Post (some trails I’ve enjoyed solo):

Ptarmigan Ridge, North Cascades, WA

Heather Lake, North Cascades, WA

Maple Pass, North Cascades, WA

Skyline Divide, North Cascades, WA

Lake Ingalls, Teanaway, WA

4 Comment

  1. You might enjoy a poem by Washington’s poet laureate, Elizabeth Austen, called “The Girl Who Goes Alone.” It’s in her book Every Dress a Decision. The closest I’ve come to backpacking alone was taking my eleven-year-old daughter on a three-day, two-night hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. I remember one moment when I realized I was in charge here, I was the adult, and if there was any danger–from wild animals–in this case, I had to be the protector, even more importantly the decision-maker. Turned out fine–I didn’t get up and build a fire to stave off whatever was howling–and we hiked out in good form the next day. That trip made an impression on both of us.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story, Judy. I haven’t mustered up the courage to go on a solo backpack trip yet, I’m sure taking young children is even scarier as you have so much more to worry about than yourself! I will definitely check out Elizabeth Austen’s poem, it does sound like something I would enjoy. Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. Great post! I think I’ve only ever solo hiked once, but I didn’t have an awesome experience. I had my dog (then puppy) with me, and it was one of the hottest summer days here in Florida – full sun, 90% humidity, 95 degrees, and we were hiking through oak scrub and sugar sand. I was okay, but my puppy was not having it. Halfway in my poor puppy just laid down in a spec of shade in the sand and refused to go on! So, I had to carry my 4 month old golden retriever the rest of the way! It’s funny now looking back, but at the time I was pretty miserable! Haha! Maybe it’s time to give solo hiking another chance.

    1. Hi Steph, I had a very similar experience with my dog when she was a 6 mo old puppy. It was a hot day (minus the humidity, thankfully!) we were climbing up a steep exposed trail and she just gave up and laid down in a tiny patch of shade. I took a long break to let her rest and still ending up carrying her a bit. She needed some encouragement back then but now that she is older she pulls me up the trail when I’m tired and hot!

      I encourage you to try solo hiking again. I don’t think it’s for everyone, but if you really want to do it, you should just go for it. Be safe and always let someone know where you are going (we’ve all seen the movie 127 Hours, right?). I always send an email letting someone know where I’m heading and when I expect to return, then I don’t feel like I’m bothering them and I don’t have to worry about them remembering. Let me know if you give it another try!

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