Several weeks ago on Tiger Mountain, a pair of women stopped to ask me a few questions about my experience of solo hiking as a female. Did I feel comfortable hiking with only my dog as a companion? (Yes.) Did he give me a sense of safety and security in bear country? (Definitely.) Would I be hiking if I didn’t have him around? (Not as much.) What hikes would I recommend for women hiking by themselves? (All the ones listed on my Blog.) Such questions got me thinking about nine ways solo hiking enhances my freedom and joy.
Planning a hike requires checking on roads and routes to and from your destination (including obtaining the necessary forest passes or parking permits). It also involves researching the weather, knowing what gear, food, and clothing you will need, and making sure you have the appropriate skills. The more people in your group, the harder it is sometimes for everyone to agree. Solo hiking provides the ultimate freedom.
- Start and end whenever you want. I am the only early bird in my family, and I hate burning daylight. When I plan trips with other people — including hiking partners, friends, or family — I nearly always end up waiting. One of my very favorite things about hiking solo is getting up without an alarm (sometimes as early as 4:30 a.m.) and heading out the door. All Ajax needs is a bowl of kibble and he’s ready to go.
- Change destination on a whim. Sometimes I plan to do a particular hike but change my mind at the last minute. Last week on Mt. Washington, Ajax and I had perfect cool weather at 6:30 a.m., and after reaching the summit around nine, we descended a different way that allowed us to add a few miles exploring Change Peak to the east. As long as I alert my husband to my estimated return time and the approximate area I’ll be hiking, we explore as much as we want.
- Set an independent pace. Solo hiking is the ultimate exercise in identifying your pace. I like to be first on a path so Ajax can travel off-leash on the trip up. I can always tell from cobwebs tickling my face if we are first on the route. At the summit, whenever the mosquitoes become annoying, we don’t have to wait for everyone else; we simply pack up and leave. If we want to stop for photos or grab a snack, no problem. We can go as fast or as slow as we like.
Unexpected Benefits of Solo Hiking
Sometimes I absolutely adore hiking with a close friend, particularly one on the same wavelength with whom I can share deep, philosophical conversations (you know who you are!) Other times, I celebrate being on the trail alone. Why the difference?
- Enhance senses. Whenever I hike alone, I pay a lot more attention to the birdsong, shadows, lighting, breeze, temperature, and loamy, earthy smells. Even my protein shake and trail mix taste better in the mountains. Solo hiking often results in far better photos, because I can take my time. And I am more attuned to how Ajax is doing, since he is the only one with me.
- Become self-reliant. In today’s fast-paced and high-tech world where everyone is a specialist, sometimes it feels like there is no room for a generalist such as myself. Solo hiking allows me to return to basics and trust myself in a way that I do not in the city. It provides me with a way to get in touch with my roots, akin to gardening or forest bathing.
- Meet strangers who become friends. One of my most memorable hikes the past year started as a solo hike with Ajax along the Kendall Katwalk. I met someone who turned into a client and blog follower (you know who you are!) He challenges me with philosophical insights I would never have had without joining forces on the trail. When you are hiking as part of a group, however, such an opportunity might never present itself.
Solo Hiking Provides Carry-over Into Life
Finally, solo hiking enhances freedom in my daily life, by relieving stress, providing a channel for creative problem solving, and allowing me ways to safely explore new areas.
- Relieve stress. Nothing else gives me as much relief from stress as solo hiking. When I am in the mountains with Ajax, I have zero responsibilities other than taking care of the two of us. We go at our own pace, do exactly what we want, and enjoy nature with mindfulness and freedom.
- Channel creative problem-solving. Over the past year, whenever I feel stuck (in my blog or creative writing, or even my client work) I set an intention to “mull” over the current problem on my next hike. I’ve started to do the same in town if I can’t spare a half-day. Traveling with a pack has become a form of walking meditation.
- Explore new areas. Mother Nature has provided numerous trails in the Pacific Northwest. I can bring my wanderlust to city walks with Ajax, by taking familiar routes in a reverse direction or exploring streets I’ve never been down before. A win for the brain!