Tips for Becoming a Better Outdoorswoman

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By Andrea Willingham

Whether you grew up in an outdoorsy family, or are just now discovering the joys of outdoorsmanship, there’s a lot to know and a lot to learn about this wonderful world of exploration and adventure in the great outdoors. And despite what the media and history books might have you believe, women have always been a part of this world as well, if not perhaps in different capacities at different times. Believe you me, we have always found our own ways to take part in the fun! One of my biggest pet peeves about the traditional pubic portrayal of outdoor recreation is that you have to be tough, or strong, or masculine to participate. I would argue that spending time outdoors can help you become stronger, but it is by no means a prerequisite to getting outside, challenging yourself, or adventuring.

As women, we are so often deeply socialized to believe that it’s not safe for us to be alone or outdoors without a man along with us. I think in recent years this myth has become increasingly dispelled, but I’m still frequently surprised by how many women I meet who struggle with this. That said, because many of us in the US (and many other countries) live in a culture where we do worry about these things, there are some best practices we can follow to ensure our safety, boost our confidence, and maximize the fun.

 

Do your Research

 

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Anytime I’m planning to go out on a hike (especially if I’m planning on going solo), I put in a little bit of research ahead of time. I’m looking to find out things like how long the trail is, if it closes at a certain time, how strenuous, what the conditions will be like, whether there is cell service, what the road condition is, how far away it is, and how crowded or remote it is. A simple Google search can find you most of this information, but many areas also have good guide books, visitor centers, and ranger stations to consult.

Funny story: Last June I decided to solo hike up in the mountains not far from where I live. It was a warm, sunny 80-degree F day. I thought I had done my research – I Googled it, read some blog posts about the trail, looked it up in my guide book. However, when I arrived, I found the road cut off by a wall of snow halfway up the mountain! Turned out, I had completely missed the detail about the trail only being accessible July-September. So don’t just “do” your research. Also keep in mind what to look for, depending on where you’re going! 😊

 

Be Prepared

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Fortunately when I came across that wall of snow last spring, I had come well-prepared for any conditions. I had plenty of food and water, warm layers that I had been sure I wouldn’t need, a change of shoes and socks, and even had a trekking pole in my car. I parked at the edge of the snow, and hiked in another mile or two and had myself a lovely picnic lunch! My friends often laugh at me for being overprepared whenever we go hiking, but I guarantee you about 85% of the time, someone ends up needing something that I just happen to have thought to bring.

Extra layers, rain gear, a change of socks, extra water, extra snacks, first aid supplies, and a back-up plan I think are the best ways you can be prepared for any outdoor day hike or overnight trip. Take a photo of the trail map for where you’re going, too, if there is one. Whether this is on a kiosk sign, in a guidebook, or online, get a picture of that map, because you may want to consult it later!

 

Be resourceful

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Focus on keeping your bearings as you hike. Note which way the water is flowing if there’s a stream or river (you can always backtrack upstream or downstream if you know which way you came from). Keep an eye out for landmarks. Note the direction of the slope if you’re on a mountainside or hill. Listen for traffic if you’re near a major road. If you’re a real nerd like me, you’ll probably try to learn the local flora and fauna ahead of time – what grows near water or in dry areas, which plants are edible, which are dangerous, the geology of the landscape. Being aware of your surroundings and the signs of nature around you is an enormously useful tool for becoming comfortable in the outdoors.

 

Trust yourself

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There’s a lot to be said for trusting yourself, and I think it’s actually easier to trust yourself when you’re alone rather than when you’re in a group. In recent years, I’ve become a lot more comfortable calling it quits even when the rest of the group wants to keep going. If you’re exhausted and your body says, “Nope, I’m done,” or if you have that tingling sixth sense that something just isn’t right, trust your gut. Make a plan with the rest of the group to either wait for them, or meet up at an agreed time and place. Stick with a buddy if you can (usually if you’re hiking in a group, there’s probably at least one other person who feels the same way you do!). Clear communication is essential when you’re looking out for your own needs and safety outdoors. Anyone who makes you feel bad about having to stop or turn back is not worth your time.

 

Attitude is Everything

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Whether you’re hiking alone or in a group, attitude really is everything, and it can be the difference between a great experience, or the most miserable day of your life. There’s a practical component to this as well though – having a positive attitude can actually increase your chances of survival in some emergency situations. Sometimes called “The Attitude of Survival,” having control over your state of mind can help you keep calm, clear-headed, and thinking straight even when you find yourself lost, in a sticky situation, or unsure of things. As difficult as it is sometimes, we are almost always in control of our attitudes; it can be hard to switch from being panicked or upset to feeling determined and upbeat, but it can be done and it can empower you to find the strength and resources you may need to change the situation you’re in.

These are just a few of the “tools” I keep in my own personal mental toolbox as an outdoorswoman. What are some of yours? What kinds of experiences have you had that have made you the outdoorswoman or outdoorsman you are today? What tips do you make sure to follow when you’re out adventuring? It’s always great to learn from others who enjoy similar activities and have their own tricks of the trade to share!

 

Trekking in Bhutan – From Dream to Reality

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View of Haa Valley, not long after we started our trek.

By Mary Lyons

Bhutan had been a dream destination of mine for a long time, since before I moved overseas. Fifteen years ago I saw a quick blurb about it on television and thought, “I have to go there.” Just a couple of years ago, I finally went. Bhutan is more accessible than many people realize, even though it only has two airlines that fly into the country. The government does limit tourism numbers, but they have never reached their yearly limit since tourism began there in 1974. That year, 287 tourists visited Bhutan.

A lot more tourists do visit these days, but you’ll probably never see a crowd the entire time you’re there. What draws people to this beautiful Asian country? Trekking. Bhutan offers numerous trekking options, but all will be a bit challenging because of the altitude, although I did not experience headaches or altitude sickness like I did on Kilimanjaro. The highest point on our trek was 14000 feet, but we didn’t sleep at that altitude.

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One of many spectacular views on the second day of our trek.

My friend Alan decided to join me for this trip, and I was pretty surprised since he lives in Boston. I lived in Kuwait at the time, so the flight was much shorter for me. We decided to see some cultural sights, do some day treks to popular monasteries like Tiger’s Nest, and do a three-day trek. The three-day trek began in the Haa Valley and included two nights camping, three days trekking, and unimaginable views every day.

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Tiger’s Nest Monastery is amazing and not treacherous, but parts of it are steep. So worth it.

Walking the Walk in Bhutan

We started near the small (tiny?) town of Haa Valley where we walked through some farm land and gradually climbed throughout the day. After a leisurely picnic lunch at 12000 feet, we continued on for about an hour and camped at Saga La at 11,800 feet. We arrived at camp around 2:00 I think, and I fell asleep in my tent just as rain started to fall. We had tea and snacks around 3:30 and dinner at 6:00. Lots of time to rest, read, write, and chat. Our guide never stopped talking, but fortunately for me, he shared some fascinating information about Bhutan and seemed willing to answer any question I asked, even if the subject was a bit sensitive.

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Cook, me, Alan, horseman, and in front the helper and our guide, Sonam. Sonam is not shy, but the others sure were.

The next day we started out around 8:00AM and had about five hours trekking, but with frequent rest breaks that we didn’t really feel we needed. It wasn’t actually that strenuous, even though we were trekking between 13000 and 13800 feet nearly all day. We had amazing views of Chomolhari on this day. We arrived at camp just as a hail storm and rain hit, but our guide, Sonam, and the other members of the staff set up our camp and managed to dry our tents on the inside so we could wait out the rain. On this night, we camped at Ningula above 13000 feet where we were surrounded by rhododendrons and had an incredible Chomolhari view the next morning before the clouds moved in. I’m glad I was prepared for the cold at that elevation.

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View of Cholmolhari from our campsite. This photo is unedited.

On day three we started around 7:00AM so we could finish before the afternoon rains, but not to worry! It didn’t rain at all on this day! We ascended to the highest peak of the trek, Kung Karpo, at 13500 feet where there is a small temple highly revered by Buddhists. From there we walked down to Chelela Pass through the thousands of prayer flags where we met our driver. Day three had a couple of steep climbs, but wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. The steep climbs were fairly short and had switchbacks.

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Kunk Karpo Temple at the highest point of our trek at 14000 feet.

We arrived at camp in the early afternoon both days and had plenty of time to read, write in a journal, have tea and snacks, and talk to our guide who has some interesting insights into Bhutanese culture and how it has changed in last 15 years. If you do decide to book a trek in Bhutan, take some time to talk to your guide and learn about the country and the culture. Be prepared for some surprising answers.

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Me at the highest point of our trek at 14000 feet.

Our views were mostly of Chomolhari and the mountains on the border of Bhutan and Tibet. With such stunning scenery, we didn’t miss technology at all. Trekking in Bhutan shouldn’t be taken lightly though, because of the elevation and rain, which when combined with cool temps can be dangerous. My trekking company, Snow Leopard Treks, sent me everything I needed to know before arriving so that I could be prepared.

Preparing for Your Haa Valley Trek Bhutan

Or any trek in Bhutan really…

Preparing to trek in Bhutan is not difficult because the tour operator will provide nearly everything you need. Mine did at least. If your tour operator doesn’t specify what they provide and what you should bring, ask them. Don’t arrive unprepared because, oddly enough, you cannot buy any gear in Bhutan. It’s not like Kathmandu where you can arrive with nothing and buy whatever is needed for trekking, although I don’t recommend that. There are no shops selling gear or even trekking clothes in Thimpu or Paro.

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Welcome to the tiny town of Haa, where nary a decent cup of coffee can be found.

Most likely, tour companies will provide the tent and either a foam or air mattress. Snow Leopard Trekking provided a wonderful foam mattress and even a pillow! But you will need to bring your own sleeping bag, trekking poles, headlamp, and clothes. Although, for my Haa Valley trek, I didn’t even use my poles. I carried them for three days and never once used them. The downhills weren’t that steep and I preferred to use my hands for balance on the brief steep, rocky downhills. Our packs were light, so I didn’t feel the need to use poles.

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Small prayer wheel at the start of our trek. These were a common site at lower elevations.

We left anything we didn’t need for our trek with our driver, who took our belongings to the hotel where we would stay after finishing our trek. While we were not worried about anything being stolen, we didn’t leave any valuables or paperwork behind. Carry these things with you.

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Cholmolhari in the distance, but this was our view, not our destination.

Specific tips for preparing for a trek in Bhutan

1) Shoes are very important and a personal choice. I wore hiking boots, but for the Haa Valley trek, hiking shoes would work just as well. Because trekkers only carry a day pack with the essentials for that day’s trek, the support of a boot isn’t really necessary. The terrain isn’t particularly rocky either. In my opinion, based on my backpacking experience in a variety of terrains, I think trainers, hiking shoes, or hiking boots are all suitable for this trek. I think it depends on what you are comfortable in and the level of support you need.

2) Socks are also important. It’s cold at these higher elevations. Wear wool! Wool socks help prevent blisters and naturally repel water. They keep your feet warm and dry and offer additional padding. I’m a big fan of Smartwool socks. A sock liner can also help keep your feet warm and prevent blisters.

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Smartwool socks on display on a chilly afternoon before tea time at camp.

3) I recommend a sleeping bag with a 0 degree rating or lower. It’s cold at higher elevations, no matter what time of year it is. If you get hot, you can always stick your leg out.

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Our trust steeds and porters on our Haa Valley Trek.

4) It rains all year round in Bhutan, even when it’s not the rainy season. You’ll need a rain jacket and pants, and a pack cover for your day pack. You should carry both with you while hiking. Horses will carry your sleeping bag, clothing, and anything you need at camp, but you’ll need to carry your rain gear, camera, etc. You’ll need to bring a backpack or duffel bag to use for anything you want the horse to carry. Your backpack will be carried inside a waterproof duffel.

5) A headlamp comes in handy in camp for getting around, making a midnight toilet run, or reading in your tent. We had a toilet tent, so as the only female in my group, I was thankful for the privacy, even though it was basically a portable toilet over a hole in the ground. It was fully stocked with TP, too.

6) Other things you might want to bring include a hat, pack towel, bandana, sunscreen, lip balm, and wet wipes for washing your face. The sun can be relentless when you’re at that elevation.

On being the only female…

I would like to add a note here about being the only female on my trek in Bhutan. The guide, horseman, cook, and helper were all male, and they probably will be when you do your trek as well. Women in Bhutan don’t often do these jobs. But not once did I feel outnumbered, threatened, or fearful. People in Bhutan are some of the kindest I have met during my travels. Everyone on my trek, except for my guide, was actually quite shy and reserved, but it could have been because they didn’t speak English. It was a wonderful experience and until I had to use the toilet, I hadn’t given a second thought to being the only female on the trek. But I was very thankful for the toilet tent.

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My friend Alan and me at the end of our Haa Valley trek with helpers and two dogs that trekked with us the entire three days.
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Another view of Haa Valley.

 

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Lunchtime on our trek. This is our cook. He was amazing.

 

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Our handsome horseman preparing our porters, I mean, horses.

 

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This lovely Bhutanese man was a prayer wheel in his village at the start of our trek.

 

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Prayer flags are a common sight in Bhutan. These were near the end of our Haa Valley Trek.

 

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My guide, Sonam, on our last part of the trek, carrying flowers home to his wife.

 

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Another unedited view of Cholmolhari using a zoom lens.

 

The 5 most beautiful sea treks in Italy

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by Alessia Morello

Autumn in Italy has arrived and fortunately it is the perfect season for trekking along the sea paths.

The temperature in these months is mild and the winter wind has not yet risen.

In addition, the incredible phenomenon of foliage has begun, which in contrast to the crystalline waters of our sea will make your trail an unforgettable experience.

Many people think that the sea in Italy is only sand and beach although in reality this is not so. Our coasts are covered with mostly of reefs and rocks that become hills and mountains where harrowing treks exist with breathtaking views.

Here are the 5 most beautiful sea treks in Italy:

 

  1. Rilke Trail – Friuli Venezia Giulia – North East Italy

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This is one of the most fascinating trails in the northeast.

This 2 hour path connects Duino to Sistiana and is totally built on the Adriatic Sea shore.

This trail is close to a very important location: Trieste, a city that rises on the border of Italy and Slovenia and therefore a neuralgic spot during the Middle Ages and the big wars.

This trail reveals so much past history. You finish the trail in a real 1400’s castle still inhabited from the real descendants that founded the castle built on the sheer cliff that faces the blue sea. You can visit the castle and the anti-war refuge, now a museum and enjoy the panorama from the garden that overlooks the sea. Amazing!

 

  1. Trail ring through Camogli Portofino – Liguria – North West Italy

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This incredible 5 hours trek passes through antique forgotten villages built in small gulfs with no car access.

In the past it was normal to stay in places like this, live just fishing and taking the boat to make trades.

Portofino is also so famous for the incredible architecture that the city has. This city is completely built near the sea and every building has a different color and shade. Stunning and incredible to see.

Liguria is a little region consisting of mountains that reach the sea and the inhabitants have been forced to build homes one above the other.  For this reason it is very famous and popular for tourists and a beautiful place to go trekking.

 

  1. Positano Trail – Sentiero degli Dei – Campania – South West Italy

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The “Path of the Gods” connects Agerola, a small village on the hills of the Amalfi Coast, to Nocelle, a small hamlet of Positano, lying on the slopes of Mount Pertuso.

Just the name alone lets you guess how spectacular this trail is!

The front of the panorama of the Amalfi Coast and Capri is like a 60’s movie that comes to life. Even for an Italian to holiday here is an ambitious goal. Anyway we are talking about trails and this one I’m quite sure that is one of the most breathtaking trails of Italy!

Always sunny and famous for the incredible quality of food, this region is perfect for a trekking and food adventure! Bring a slice of pizza with you (like I usually DO – have a look my video eating pizza at 2000 meters in the middle of the Dolomites here ) and enjoy your trail up and down from the beauties of the south Italy. Ready?

 

  1. Il percorso delle Ginestre – Abruzzo – South East Italy

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I was on holidays here something like 5 years ago and I’m still thinking about this magical place. It’s not so famous overseas but Abruzzo has thousands of kilometres of national park that border the sea and is full of trekking trails.

The Itinerary allows you to cross the beautiful Regional Nature Reserve Punta Aderci where the earth meets the sea and the green of nature ’embraces’ the blue of crystal clear waters.

Another amazing thing you can see during a trek here are the “Trabucchi”. Trabucchi are the old fisherman’s houses built totally out of wood, erected on the sea, like palafitte. Now they are real summer houses or very cool restaurants. My advice is to stop your trail here and have a clams spaghetti and a main course with fresh local fish!

Not a real outdoor break? Hey, you are in Italy!

 

  1. Excursion to the Zingaro Natural Reserve – Sicily – Island in the South of Italy

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One hour west of Palermo there are numerous wonderful promontories leading to incredible wild coves: this is the Zingaro Reserve. The first natural reserve of Sicily since 1986 is one of the most beautiful places to discover on foot. Starting from Scopello for a 5-hour trip, which lasts 15 kilometres.

Here you will find 700 species of plants and 40 species of animals and a small museum about the traditional life of the island.

The sunrise is the best part of the day, looking the sun coming up from the horizon is something magic

 

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Alessia Morello lives in the north-east of Italy. After working for several years around the world she decide to stop and come back in her homeland and do the things she loves like trekking into the Dolomites with her dog Giorgino and creating posts and videos for her blog. She grew up doing outdoor adventures with the family and now the nature is part of her life. Other interests? Rock climbing, mountain bike trails, cooking vegetarian recipes and having fun!

Follow her travels at www.theitaliansmoothie.com and on Instagram and Facebook.

 

 

Hiking the John Muir Trail

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Le Conte Canyon, one of our favorite parts of the John Muir Trail

By Kristin Hanes

When I decided to hike 230 miles of the John Muir Trial through the California Sierra Nevada with my boyfriend, there was nothing to warn me how hard it might be.

I joined the John Muir Trail Facebook group, with thousands of members, all of them posting beautiful pictures of alpine lakes, craggy mountains, nests of evergreen trees in valleys far below. They wrote quotes from John Muir, said how much they missed the mountains, what a life-changing experience the hike was. But nowhere was there commentary about the daily grind, the bodily torture, the difficulty in motivating oneself to keep going day after day after day.

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Filtering water before summiting yet another mountain pass

It took months of preparation to hike the trail, which is notoriously hard to get a permit for. While the traditional way to hike the John Muir Trail is from north to south, Yosemite to Mt. Whitney, my boyfriend Tom and I decided to do it the other way around. Not only that, we got a permit that began three days, or about 30 miles, south of the main starting point of the John Muir Trail. It was the only way we could get a permit in a saturated market of hikers.

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The gorgeous Le Conte Canyon on the John Muir Trail, one of our favorite spots

The first day of hiking dawned clear and brisk as we got going at 6:30am out of Cottonwood Meadows, down a dry packed path through manzanitas and pine trees. Our backpacks were laden with 12 days of food, and not all of it fit in our bear canisters. We knew we’d have to hike far enough to find bear lockers to store our excess food.

As I hiked down the trail that day, I realized I’d packed the wrong food. My backpack was way too heavy, beyond the scope of my Osprey 65. The straps cut into my shoulders and waist. I’d later realize the pack was between 50 and 60 pounds, about half of my weight! And that first mountain pass, New Army Pass, was huge.

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Me on top of Forrester Pass, the highest pass on the trail at 13,153

We’d started at 10,000 feet and the pass scaled 11,000. That first day, my body unacclimated to the altitude, my pack super heavy, was one of the hardest. I panted up that hill in the blistering midday heat, stopping every few steps to catch my breath. Then, I got a bloody nose and had to jam part of a tampon up one nostril as I continued to hike, trying to breathe out of my mouth as dust rose around me. At the top, I could barely walk and ate some dried mango as I enjoyed the vista of glistening alpine lakes far below. But we had to keep going, down to a valley, many more miles.

That night we stopped and camped at Soldier Lake, and my body felt like it had run a marathon. Everything hurt, and my lungs were wheezy due to the thinness of the air. On Day 1, the John Muir Trial was already kicking my butt.

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Tom near our first campsite at Soldier Lake

It continued like this for days. There was no break. Every day, we rose with the sun, broke down camp, hiked through amazingly beautiful vistas, then set up our tent, bathed in whatever freezing creek was nearby, and went to bed. Some days, after tramping down miles of loose rocks, my feet hurt so badly I felt like they’d fall off. Where were these stories about the John Muir Trail online? Why was nobody talking about how difficult it actually was?

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Whitney morning. The sun rising near Guitar Lake right before our ascent

On Day 4, we summited Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the continental United States at around 14,500’. We’d left most of our gear at basecamp, Crabtree Meadows, bringing up only the necessities. We started out at 5:30am, motivated for the 4,000 feet of elevation gain and loss and 15 miles we’d have to do for the day.

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Tom and I on the summit of Mt. Whitney

The scenery was breath-taking, with a deep blue lake shaped like a Guitar and views for dozens, if not hundreds, of miles. Wildflowers bobbed among bright green grass. Crystal creeks burbled and curved through meadows. It was some of the most beautiful scenery I’d ever seen.

But when we reached the top of Whitney there was an ominous sight. Thunderclouds at eye level, building up over the valley and the distant mountains. We saw a sign at the summit, If you hear thunder, descent immediately.

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On top of Whitney. You can see the thunderclouds in the distance

We heard thunder.

We immediately started going down, down, down as fast as possible, stopping once to put on our rain jacket and rain pants. It was the fastest descent ever down 4,000 feet, and I felt my breath become ragged, my skin clammy inside my raincoat. The thunder boomed and reverberated off granite as we ran down switch-back after switch-back.

At the bottom, I felt sick. Nausea swept through me, and I threw up near Guitar Lake. I felt dizzy and spent, the altitude and exertion finally catching up with me. I slowly tried to make my way the last three miles to camp, but had to stop several times to throw up. Tom began to get worried, and encouraged me on. It would be dangerous if I couldn’t make it back to camp. He’d have to go alone, then lug gear back to me. I willed myself to keep walking, and collapsed in the tent at 6pm and fell into a deep and exhausted sleep, skipping dinner.

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Me on the day after Whitney, enjoying the beautiful Sierra Nevada

I woke up at 6am feeling refreshed, and started hiking again. And hiking. And hiking. For 22 days we hiked without stopping, up mountain passes, down into valleys, past crystalline lakes and streams. We hiked through rocky cliffs that looked like they belonged on another planet, and through the lush forests of Le Conte Canyon. Taking a dip in a stream at the end of a dirty, sweaty day never felt so good. Hamburgers and beer at Vermillion Valley Resort and Red’s Meadow never tasted so divine. I felt like on this hike, my senses were elevated, with my body experiencing and feeling everything at a primitive, deep level.

The John Muir Trail is an extraordinary hike, one that will take both your breath and your strength away. You’ll feel like you want to quit, but you’ll keep going just to see the beautiful view around the next bend. We even ran into a Pacific Crest Trail hiker who’d been going for two months already, who said the Sierra Nevada slowed her way down due to the difficulty. I knew we weren’t alone in our struggles.

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Gorgeous alpine lakes along the John Muir Trail

So, you want to hike the John Muir Trail? Just be prepared for how hard it really is. Be prepared for your body to take a beating, and to struggle physically and mentally over each hurdle. But also be ready to be in pure awe and bliss at the scenery around you, to cry when climbing a mountain pass because you can’t believe the beauty. And be prepared to stop and just look, soaking it all in, because those tears are taking your breath away.

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Me at Banner Lake near the end of our long hike on the John Muir Trail

 

About the Author:

Kristin Hanes is a journalist and writer who lives on a sailboat in the San Francisco Bay. Besides sailing, she loves anything adventurous and outdoorsy, including hiking, backpacking and traveling. Besides staying active, Kristin also loves cooking, salsa dancing and drinking a good beer. You can follow her adventures on her blog, www.thewaywardhome.com