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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: