Yikes! My First Ever Solo Hike Was Mt. Washington

Solo hiking.  You gotta start somewhere, right?

This was a trip about hiking and solely just that.  Alone. By myself. Sounds daunting?  Heck, yeah.  I don’t know why I chose Mt. Washington as my first ever solo hike in the U.S. However, this became one of the most enjoyable trip moments as a solo hiker. As opposed to a beach trip that can easily be handled via a simple routine of relaxation, hiking trips even in the form of day hikes carry with them an element of risk.

Of course, White Mountains have been known for finicky and unpredictable weather.  The elements can be at their worse especially when you’re atop some peak or summit.  People who are hardcore hikers are said to frequent this area for the purpose of peak bagging various peaks named after U.S. presidents.  For the much more adventurous souls, trekking in this area often means doing the Presidential Traverse.

As a first time hiker in this part of the country,  I was satisfied for the purposes of this trip to do a summit hike in a day of Mt. Washington, which is deemed as the highest point in the northeast U.S.  Indeed, that by itself was enough to give me an idea of the level of difficulty that hiking in this region of the U.S. entails; nonetheless, that realization did not deter me from wanting to return and do a hut to hut trek over a span of days in the near future.

mt27

There are a few ways to reach the Mt. Washington summit but for this trip I opted for the classic Mt. Washington route which starts at the Tuckerman Ravine trailhead, next to the AMC’s Pinkham Notch visitor center and lodge.  The starting elevation at the trailhead is 2,032 feet. Mt. Washington’s summit stands at 6,288 feet.  The ascent via Tuckerman Ravine trail is merely 4.2 miles but the elevation gain is 4,250 feet!  On top of it, the trail is known for being rocky, rugged, muddy and slippery when wet.  Over a hundred people have died hiking it.  In fact, at the time I went, a few days prior, there was a report that a hiker slipped and fell to his death on the Tuckerman Ravine trail.  Given the risks involved and the fact that this was going to be a solo hike, my plan was to play it by ear and cautiously be attentive to the weather conditions.

To ensure I had proper rest for the grueling day hike, I decided to book a bed at Joe Dodge Lodge by Pinkham Notch Visitor Center.   I was lucky enough to be the only one in the two-person room that night.  The facilities include shared toilets and showers, a mini-store, a visitor center full of hiking information and a dining hall.  The place is very cozy and obviously caters to hikers.  One can even pay for a three course dinner for convenience’s sake. The mini-store has all the snacks, last minute gear, maps etc. that a hiker can buy at the last minute before hitting the trail.

The night prior to my Mt. Washington hike, I met a few people from Canada and other parts of the East Coast.  Most of the people were older; nonetheless, we all appeared to have the same agenda, that is, to do some type of hiking in one shape or form in the area known fondly as the Whites.  During dinner, I was lucky enough to get some insight on the trail. I also learned that I was fortunate enough to be visiting that weekend because the fall colors (it was September) were at peak and guess what?  We were supposed to experience a minimally windy and sunny weather over the course of the next few days.  For once, what sounded good to be true turned out to be really true!

The next morning, I woke up around 6 am, put on my hiking attire and prepared my gear.   Before heading out, I ate a full breakfast which was included in the room cost.  My start time was at 7am.

mt5

mt24

Early on, the trail was already climbing up steadily uphill as I passed a few scenic waterfalls.  The trail was definitely rocky so one must carefully pay attention to one’s footing to keep balance.  Along the way, I passed several groups on the trail but eventually I found myself hiking alongside another solo trekker.  Although she’s not a newbie to the White Mountains trails, it was also her first time summiting Mt. Washington via the Tuckerman route.

mt21

After a slow going ascent on the rugged trail, we made it to the first landmark, the Hermit Lake shelter at 2.4 miles.  From Hermit, our next stop in 1.2 miles was the Tuckerman Junction but along the way to that point we had to overcome the so-called “headwall” which is where most unwanted accidents happen especially when there’s rain.

mt25

mt20

mt19

mt22

mt23

The headwall came into view just a few steps away from the Hermit Lake shelter.  As we approached the headwall, we realized that the ascent wasn’t going to be as bad given that we were very lucky to have the sun out and the trail, though a bit wet, was easily manageable. Despite the uphill workout and the maneuvering required to deal with the rocks, we were going to be just fine.

mt18

As we hiked up further to get to the Tuckerman Junction, the scenery became more vast and the rocks much larger.  From the junction, we veered to the right and from there we had only 0.6 miles left to the summit.  Piece of cake?  Not quite.  Despite the low mileage left to get to the top, this turned out to be the most exhausting part due to the fact that by then my level of energy had diminished combined with the need to expend much higher level of energy to scramble over the rocks while trying to maintain a high keen of awareness of what the heck I was doing with my limbs.  Luckily, I was able to replenish my energy with my trail bars and the fact that we had this unusually gorgeous day with such lovely 360 degree vistas surrounding us.  With all that in mind, we pushed forward to the very top.

mt12

mt6

mt10

mt8

Of course, when you get to the top, you realize it’s anti-climatic for the very reason that one can catch the train easily to the summit instead of putting in the hours of work hiking up like we silly hikers did.  Nevertheless, despite the trainloads of clean tourists, I welcomed the hot food and coffee from the cafeteria along with the warmth of the indoors.  We were fortunate to have a sunny weather at the summit even though it was chilly and windy.

mt16

mt15mt14

mt13

mt26

mt17

mt2

mt1

After a meal and the obligatory photo shoot by the Mt. Washington sign, my companion and I started our trek down the mountain via Lions Head route.  The descent via Lions Head trail is about 4.1 miles with an elevation loss of 4,250.  Of course, despite knowing downhill would be less grueling than what we did thus far, it couldn’t be denied how secretly we both wanted to just hop on that train to take us back down.  That thought escaped my mind though after a brief second and off we went.

mt11

mt3

mt4

I’m not going to lie.  The downhill wasn’t that easy after all.  It felt like we were descending forever, so much so that my feet and knees started getting noticeably sore.  Again, the rocky terrain was the culprit for the physical pain.  The nice dirt paths were certainly few and far between.  Every chance we got to be on them felt like heaven compared to the hellish downhill over uneven rocks. The redeeming moments were the 360 degree views of the surrounding peaks and the valleys.  Also, it turned out there were less hikers on this trail compared to Tuckerman Ravine so I was glad I had this companion with me to push me through the ordeal.  Eventually, we reached the intersection that took us back to Tuckerman trail.

Thanks to my trekking poles, my knees managed the brutal and super rocky 4,250 feet descent without an issue apart from the usual soreness.  As we reached the end of the hike, I said goodbye to my trekking companion who I found out to be an avid hiker and a published author of a book called, It’s Not About the Hike.  You can check out her website and book here.  Her reasons for hiking and writing were both inspirational.  It was great for a moment to hear another avid hiker’s personal view on one of my favorite endeavors.

mt9

mt7

By the time I got back to the lodge, the sun was still shining as I sat on the bench chatting on the phone with a friend to let him know I made it back just fine.  As I was sitting there, it dawned on me that I have just put my body through a rigorous ordeal of hiking up and down a mountain with a total elevation change of 8, 500 feet in just a little over 8 miles and the fact that this was my very first significantly strenuous solo hike.   I took a moment just to enjoy the sense of personal accomplishment before driving out to the hostel in Conway for the night.

Again, as always, trekking or adventuring solo never leads to it being done alone.  That may be for the best as a solo trip on this kind of strenuous trail can easily lead to a disaster if the elements are not in your favor.  After all, you can never be certain how the weather conditions will go as you venture further out on the trail.  One’s personal safety must always come first.  Although I would have appreciated the peace and quiet of a solo hike up Mt. Washington, I am glad that this journey was experienced jointly with another person who shares the same level of passion towards hiking.

Finally, on such rare occasion, it is worth mentioning the fact that I owe the rain gods big time for this one as I was without a doubt spoiled rotten on the mountain, prancing around with the sun shining on my face (in my mind, at least).  In a nutshell, the entire experience was an unforeseen state of pure enlightenment.  Just like the weather that day, my Mt. Washington hike was perfectly orchestrated by fate.

To get some tips on how to prepare mentally for your first solo adventure, read THIS ARTICLE.

Follow Brown Gal Trekker via:

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest

Trekking Has Taken Over My Life But I’m OK With It

etna
I’m not going to deny it. Lack of time to do millions of things is akin to climbing up Mt. Etna’s high points. Tough and slow going.

I stopped dating.  It’s not because I’m jaded.  Neither is it about lack of options.  It’s just that I married the mountains.  

Let me explain what I mean.  By profession, I’m a lawyer.  But since June of 2016, I made a bold move in my life.  I obtained a business license and started running a social enterprise to market trekking tours globally. This decision took shape based on over 15 years of traveling whenever I could while still practicing law.  In the past decade, I discovered my passion for mountain trekking.  I’ve been hooked since the start, so much so, that I have decided to dedicate my life to running my business, Peak Explorations, and the non-profit, Trails Without Borders.  The icing on the cake is of course my blog, Brown Gal Trekker.

I say all this to explain to you how I balance my love for travel and trekking alongside my role as a lawyer.  It’s a given that I do my duty as an attorney in my office like I always have since I started 13 years ago.  Every minute of the day outside of that is spent on running my three enterprises.  The upside is that my enterprises allow me to hike and travel.  What’s great about this transition and marriage with the mountains is that any hiking trips I do is part-business and part-pleasure.  So, balancing between these two is a bit strange because I’m doing something as work which is also something I love simultaneously.  I can’t complain really.  It’s the best imaginable syncing of my passion and work that I can possibly conjure in my head.  The thought manifesting into its physical form is happening as we speak!

So, where is the balance?

On a more concrete level, I do allow a couple of weekends for hiking or trekking per month.  I have 2-3 major treks I schedule a year that amount to 4-6 weeks of being with nature on the mountain trails.  I also do yoga at least three times a week and running at least twice a week.  These things are part of my regimen as the CEO of Peak Explorations since on some occasions I’ll be trekking up mountains alongside my clients.  The most relevant means of maintaining balance in my life, however, is to shut my brain and let it rest for sometime. I do this best by meditating which include sitting in a quiet room, dancing, taking a drive or hiking on a nearby trail.  All the rest your brain gets is so important especially when you spend significant time on social media to market and share your thoughts, let alone the amount of time you spend writing and creating.

Ah, this so-called balance can be elusive!  I must admit I’m still trying to learn the best way to balance my life given the new marriage I got myself into.  Right now, due to the newness of my being an entrepreneur and the experience of blogging, I am embracing the need for me to spend considerable time to establish the foundation for my three enterprises.  Interwoven among these three endeavors is my best effort to continue hiking and traveling.  However, as daunting as this task may seem, one fundamental thing I learned is to listen to that inner voice in me.  If I have to devote more time away from work, then that voice within will tell me so.  My job then is to listen.  When I do, my effort to find balance becomes easier.  So yes, I’ve yet to return to the dating scene which is unlikely to happen for a while.  Maybe my passion for trekking has taken over my life, but at least it’s of my own choosing.  Hence, life is as balanced as it’ll get only for now especially when what I do every minute is filled with joy and love.

…Which leads me to say this,

Regardless of the extent in which the outdoors plays a role in your life, there is such thing as overdoing it.  So, make sure to find the kind of balance that suits you.

And, when you’re feeling overwhelmed, just remember:

The experience of transitioning into a life filled with more freedom and a job that is based solely on my terms is analogous to climbing that last bit of summit.  It’s tough and slow going.  More likely than not, you’ll have to make certain sacrifices along the way, but the rewards you get from the views on top are vast and life changing.  I know it’s physically exhausting but I also have to admit that working towards my dreams fills my soul with so much ease and satisfaction that were foreign to me prior to taking this leap of faith.  With that in mind, I trudge along full speed ahead knowing that it’ll all be worth it in the end.

whitney
The views can only get better as you get higher. Keep on trekking – on the trail to Mt. Whitney (USA).

For more, see

Freedompreneurs

I Told My Fears to Take a Hike and This is What Happened

Follow Brown Gal Trekker via:

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest

 

I Hiked Bolivia’s Isla del Sol and Saw Gorgeous Landscapes

As part of my trip to Bolivia, I decided to spend sometime in Isla del Sol, which is a two hour boat right from Copacabana in Bolivia. The island does not have any means of transportation. You’ll have to go by foot via its walking trail that circles the island. Guesthouses abound the island so you can easily pick the one that suits you with amazing views from all directions. There’s no internet and the use of electricity is limited. It’s one special place for a serene experience where you can easily leave behind the usual chaotic pace of city life from the moment you first set foot on the island. Here are the views including the snow capped peaks of Cordillera Real and the stone ruins that I captured on my hike around the island. I’m still at awe at the beauty of this island even to this day. Enjoy!

To learn more on how to get to Isla del Sol, the accommodations, activities, etc. :  Click HERE

On getting to Copacabana: Click HERE

isla del sol 2isla del sol 3isla del sol 4isla del sol 5isla del sol 6isla del sol 8isla del sol 9isla del sol 10isla del sol 11isla del sol 12isla del sol 13isla del sol 14isla del sol 15isla del sol 16isla del sol 17isla del sol 18isla del sol 19isla del sol 20isla del sol 21isla del sol 22isla del sol 23isla del sol 24isla del sol 25isla del sol 26isla del sol 28isla del sol 29isla del sol 30isla del sol 31isla del sol 32isla del sol 33isla del sol 34isla del sol 35isla del sol 36isla del sol 37isla del sol 38isla del sol 39isla del sol 40isla del sol 41isla del sol 42isla del sol 43isla del sol 44isla del sol 45isla del sol 46isla del sol 47isla del sol1isla del sol7isla del sol27

 

Follow Brown Gal Trekker via:

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest

10 Things To Be Thankful For As A Trekker

Gratitude is  a must when it comes to creating a life fueled by positivity.  In the world of mountain trekking, I quickly learned the benefits of maintaining a grateful existence, be it on the trails or in my everyday life.  I know some maybe skeptical about this but over the years I have grown to believe in the notion of attracting whatever vibration we put out there.  Hardly do we meet people for no reason.  Oftentimes, people  and experiences enter our lives to serve a unique purpose.  When we’re grateful and acknowledge the good things happening to us, the more we are likely to attract abundance in our lives.

As a hiker who eventually returns from days of adventuring in the outdoors, I get a little sad at the idea of no longer seeing the vast beauty of nature.  However, being at home also reminds me of the things I’m grateful for.  When not on the trails, I remind myself of how trekking entails some sacrifices which then compels me to feel grateful for the things I do have when I’m home.  Here are some of them:

1. Clean clothes.

Days in the outdoors without access to clean clothes require getting used to.  The good news is that oftentimes when you’re with a group, you hardly notice the smell of anyone or yourself because you are all experiencing the same level of hygiene or lack thereof.  I know!  It still sounds gross but trust me.  When you’re in it, you won’t even notice it unless you somehow managed to shower and clean up – then that’s when you’ll notice that everyone else, but you, stinks.   So a good tip here: Have your group agree to be ALL IN with the level of uncleanliness.  Don’t shower unless everyone else does too!

2.  Hot showers.  

Oftentimes, after a day of hiking or days of trekking, the first questions is – do you shower or eat first?  I guess it all depends.  If you’ve been gone for days galavanting in the middle of nowhere, you’re either famished or too filthy.  Whichever you wish to do first, it doesn’t matter.  Either way, it’ll feel like bliss!

inka
Those smiles meant we didn’t have a shower for 4 days. Happy to be in the hot springs of Aguas Caliente after the Classic Inca Trail.

3.  A variety of freshly prepared meals.  

In the wilderness, you’ll hardly find variety in terms of meals.  Typically, you’re stuck with dehydrated food, trail snacks and cold meals.  If you wish to eat better, you will either have to sign up for a guided tour that provides hot meals or you carry a gourmet of food for you to cook every night which means a heavier pack.  When I think of all the things I miss when I’m out in the wild, the food has to be near the top for me.  Also, I’m a coffeeholic so unless I’m trekking in the Dolomites where coffee is simply amazing, my favorite foods are the ones I long for the most.

food
Good food is like love. Can’t live without it.
coffee
This waits for you.

4.  The coziness of heat and warmth.

My trek in the Gokyo Lakes area of Nepal’s Himalayas and Ausangate in the Andes mountains of Peru were both some of the coldest moments in my trekking life.  In Peru, I had three sleeping bags.  Even with that, every morning, my water bottle couldn’t keep my water from freezing.  The same goes for the cold nights in the Gokyo Lakes region of Nepal.  Once you return to civilization, having more control over the heat in your environment is not something you’ll ever take for granted again.

13388671_144854885922695_639978862_n
Comfortable in the sun but at night it’s freezing cold in the Gokyo region of Nepal.

5.  Oxygen.  

For me, it’s a tie between food and oxygen.  And at times, oxygen has become the first on my list.  As I almost died climbing up Kilimanjaro, I can’t tell you how thankful I was to be able to descend to lower elevations to breathe a good amount of oxygen again.  I’ve trekked at high altitude for almost a month in China and learned much more about the effects of it.  The symptoms from altitude mountain sickness can come in various forms such as sleepiness, headache, insomnia, but can also be much worse as you get higher.  (For ways to prepare for high altitude, see Kilimanjaro Kills: Here Are 13 Ways to Survive).  Although your body eventually gets used to high altitude, it’s still worth noting how amazing it feels to go back to the normal level of oxygen.  Always!

6.  Toilets

I’m stating the obvious… but it has to be noted.  The digging a hole on the ground is too much work.  Same goes for burning that toilet paper and trying to find the right place with enough privacy to do your business.  And you would never really want to step into that group toilet tent again…ever!  All you can think of is your toilet back home.  Some treks will truly make you dream about your toilet like it’s your soulmate.  Don’t feel bad.  This is all normal.

toilet
Yes, you’ll miss it.

7.  Beds.  

Luckily, I’m able to get decent sleep without an actual bed.  But that doesn’t negate the immense joy I feel from walking back into a hostel room to find myself a nice comfy bed with pillows!  The longer the trek, the more you’ll miss this luxury.  Be rest assured that no matter how long the trek maybe, there’s always going to be a bed and a set of pillows waiting for you at the end of the tunnel.

bed
Bed with a living cat heater? Nice way to be welcomed back.

8.  Family and friends.  

They may drive you nuts in your daily life but after a while of being in the wilderness, you’ll start missing the annoyances that they bring  to your life.  You’ll realize they matter to you more than you think and care to admit.  You’ll long to see them again.  The thought of the next time you meet them just excites you the longer you trudge on the trail.   You can’t wait to tell them about the trek and the adventure you just had.

friends
You’ll miss your non-hiking friends – the yogis and yoginis. A different kind of adventure.

9.  Solitude.  

Imagine being with a group for days on a trekking trip.  It may be fun for the first few days but getting away from them starts becoming more appealing.  You’ll soon find out that you need alone time away from your fellow trekkers.  But getting that alone time is elusive.  It isn’t easy to get when you’re huddled together to share that heat from the dung-fire to fight off the below freezing temperatures every night.  Soon enough, you’ll be looking forward to your solo walks near your house and the time you spend reading a good book at home without anyone interrupting you.

IMG_20160528_122341
A moment on your own can be a much needed space…in South Africa’s Drakensberg.

10.  Unforgettable memories.  

So, your trek is over.  You miss the mountains and that favorite trail of yours.  Is there really a reason to sulk? Ah, no!  Not really.  Go to your laptop and open up that memory card. Voila!  There you’ll see the photos you took to capture the moments you had on that mountain peak.  Those memories are part of you now.  Be grateful for the experience. And, when you do, the more you appreciate what you had, the more you’ll have similar amazing experiences in the future.

patagonia
A day hike to Fitz Roy in Argentina meant braving the winds for the sake of this beauty.

Oh, and by the way, be grateful you’re alive and had lived through the adventure, only to do more of it!  Until the next time you trek, say ‘thank you’ every day.  Soon enough you’ll be back on the trail eating leftover dehydrated spaghetti from the night before for breakfast and begrudgingly using the toilet tent.

Anything you wish to add?

Follow Brown Gal Trekker via:

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest

Interested in joining solo travelers for trekking tours to Peru, Nepal, Kilimanjaro & many others?  See PEAK EXPLORATIONS.

Is Traveling Merely an Escape from Reality?

Not everyone agrees with everyone’s view on traveling.  For one, the form in which we travel comes in various ranges.  The length of time we disappear from our daily reality is very relative.  The purpose for it is personal and unique for each and everyone of us.

On a peak in the Ubehebe/La Playa of Death Valley National Park.

However, the perception that traveling is merely an escape, you know, from your own reality is a common perception held by many.  The point raised is certainly valid although it paints a negative view of the individual accused of such perception.  I have been accused of that plenty of times myself. But as I explored deeper into my own motivations for seeing the world more frequently than the average person, the defensiveness I held towards the query dissipated.

13102433_977013772397759_102056531_n
Places like this make you feel as if life is unreal.

Surely, I have flown out to places right after a horrible relationship ending to do exactly what I was accused of, that is, escaping reality.  It was an escape that provided me an ideal way of healing, which arguably people will find healthy. Hence, I suppose when people inquire in that manner, they are worried more so that one has turned into a habitual runner from reality by virtue of traveling.  For a while, I was guilty of that but one can only keep running until he or she realizes there really is no such thing as an “escape.”  There, at that very moment, I had an epiphany in which I had to make a choice to turn my traveling into a reality, a supplemental, rather than a Band Aid, to my daily life that includes my career and personal life.  Once that was accomplished, the flow from my personal daily life to my travel life became much more real and connected.  It must be noted that the flow wasn’t created overnight.  One needs to establish a healthy personal life that is sustained by an adequate level of personal satisfaction and happiness. Only then can traveling be relieved of its role as a mere Band-Aid, and accordingly, assume the role of our favorite “teacher of life experiences.”

Yading Kora Trek
There’s a lot to learn about spirituality even in the outdoors. In Yading Nature Preserve, Sichuan Provice of China.

So, those people who are skeptical about the reason why you travel must understand that traveling at its highest enlightened form is a means of self-discovery.  It’s an extension of ourselves that dates back to the time when we were children – a stage in our lives when we unapologetically possessed an undying spirit of adventure and courage.

Traveling is not an escape for there really is no door to exit out of the existence that we hold.  We are only granted an entry into an exploration of ourselves to find the journey that suits who we are at any given moment while the forces beyond us continually turn the pages of our lives each day.

Follow Brown Gal Trekker via:

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest

Outdoor Woman’s Voice: Magretha of The Clueless Wanderer

Brown Gal Trekker meets The Clueless Wanderer

maretha

I’ve been fortunate to discover a group of outdoor women bloggers via a Facebook group of the same name.  It just so happens that Magretha was one of the women in the group.  Magretha’s blog, The Clueless Wanderer, is merely a month old but she has certainly demonstrated her fine skills as a blogger in such a short period of time.  I have read some of her articles such as What’s Your Biggest Adventure? Life!!! and enjoyed her manner of storytelling as the authenticity of her experience is clearly demonstrated in her writings.  That speaks volumes as to her talent as a blogger.  With Magretha’s unique voice in the blogging world, the future holds an exciting time for blog readers like me.  Magretha happens to also love something I hold dearly: HIKING!

I’m thrilled to share with you Magretha’s personal views on the world of trekking, but first, let’s find out about our 

Featured Outdoor Woman’s Voice

The Clueless Wanderer is named Magretha Penamora Palepale.  She was born in  Los Banos, Laguna, Philippines in 1972 and moved to Kodiak, Alaska in 1975.  Magretha grew up there and lived in Anchorage, AK from 1991-2000.  She is now living in Felton, PA and works as a chemical engineer for the Department of Defense.  Magretha notes that at her job she operates calibrated instrumentation that monitors the environment for any blister agent or nerve agent release when anomalies are being removed.  She travels over half the year for work, both nationally and internationally.   And she sometimes get to blow stuff up!  Magretha has been asked what kind of degree she holds to be able to do something like this.  Her response:

“I have nothing more than a HS education.  I was originally hired on as a travel coordinator to make sure we had personnel on the ground for all the jobs.  My curiosity led me to seek certification (on the job training) in this field while working my desk job and one day the opportunity to travel for a week presented itself.  I left my desk job and have been traveling ever since.”

Based on that, Magretha is already an inspiration for many of us!

As to her hiking life, Magretha is constantly traversing the Mason-Dixon Trail when she’s home. Part of this 200 mile trail is a 5 minute drive from her house, so she’s there every day with her dogs.  Otherwise, she’s constantly looking for places wherever she’s working currently.

Magretha is an engaging blogger and storyteller so it’s best that she chats with you through her own words as BGT’s featured outdoor woman’s voice.

Here are her honest to goodness responses to Brown Gal Trekker’s queries:

When and how did you discover hiking?

“I have always struggled with my weight and, this is silly, but felt I was “too fat” to be on the trails.  I didn’t want people to look at me and doubt that I would be able to hike up this big hill in Kodiak or Anchorage, and it was a long time before I discovered that was just myself being overly critical.  Around 2002, at 5’2”, I was over 250 lbs and that year, I committed to losing weight.  By 2003, I was down 100 lbs and feeling great, but still had an awful body image of myself because when you grow up “fat”, you’ll always be “fat”. “

Magrethra on solo hiking:

“After we purchased our house in PA in 2004, and I discovered the Mason-Dixon trail nearby, I discovered solo hiking.  Solo hiking is so liberating in the fact that you can really look into yourself and discover the important and not so important things.  I have come across obese people on the trails and I secretly cheered them on, realizing this is what could have been all those years ago had I not doubted myself.  Now, I hike every day to “reset” myself and wash off the negativity.”

What is your most memorable hiking experience thus far?

“Hiking around an unnamed military base along the Tennessee River.  We were camping for the weekend and I figured I would go exploring.  So, I followed this road, which led to a dirt road, which ended at an unkempt road with a big sign that said DO NOT ENTER.  I entered.  About 2.5 miles down this deserted road, I hit a barbed wire fence and started hiking along the fence line.  My decision to turn around came when I saw a sign that read: Danger – Small Arms Impact Area.”

What do you like the most about hiking?

“I consider this quality time with myself.  I sometimes get fidgety and start to check my phone while hiking and at this point I stop and remind myself that I need to unplug.  I return home with a clearer head and joyful heart because I feel emotional health is very important.  I would sometimes suffer from anxiety attacks and I feel that hiking calms me down by disabling the “noise”.  I don’t like to take drugs for my attacks and have never taken drugs because of side effects, so I hike instead.”

More on Magretha’s ideas on solo hiking and her preference:

“I like hiking with people and regularly invite them along, but I’m more of a solo hiker.  Nothing brings me more joy than to have someone hike with me and they like it so much, they go hiking on their own or ask me to let them know when I’ll be headed out next.  Solo hiking can be so therapeutic though, I sometimes prefer that.  Just me and my dogs cavorting in the wilderness.”

Magretha on her favorite hiking photos – check them out!

magretha-1
“This was along the Desolation Trail in Utah.  I was just hamming it up for the camera!”
magretha-2
“Overnight backpacking trip on the Mason-Dixon Trail, Pennsylvania.  My pittie, Zoey, is an awesome trail dog!”
magretha-3
“Stone Cuts Trail in Monte Sano State Park, Alabama.  I took this pic with my selfie stick and the 10s timber on my iPhone. “

Magretha on lessons she has learned from hiking:  

“That it’s okay to have conversations with yourself?  Haha, I’ve learned that I’m my best psychoanalyst when hiking.  So many little problems can be solved, by realizing how little those problems really are when you’re in the middle of the big woods!”

What advise would you give to women who are new to hiking?

“Don’t be a gearhead, just get out there and put one foot in front of the other.  New hikers sometimes get caught up in what they should have and may fall into a trap where they don’t feel well enough equipped until they purchase those Black Diamond trekking poles.  Because you see pictures of avid hikers, it doesn’t mean you need everything they have.  Just get out there and figure out what you really need after putting some time in the dirt.”

Magretha on the treks she still has on her bucket list:

“Machu Picchu (June 2017!), a 14er (I’m not sure where yet), and maybe trekking with some Brown Gal Trekker somewhere?  ;)”

Of course, she’s welcome to join us on our treks via Peak Explorations!  

More on hiking, I also asked her, “what is your favorite hiking gear?”

“My Oakley Vigor 2.0 backpack.  It fits everything I need as a daypack, is very versatile, and is orange so I can be easily seen.”

Magretha also spoke about the toughest trek she has done: 

“White Pine Lake in Little Cottonwood Canyons, Utah.  I saw it was about an 8 mile loop and I thought that sounded like a nice AM hike.  Little did I know, it was straight UP!  The scenery changed from mountain aspens, to open meadows, to high desert.  It was an awesome hike, but there was a moment where I didn’t think I would make it to the lake.  I had run out of water, I wasn’t conditioned for this type of exertion or elevation, and I was tired.  Then I thought about how mad I would be at myself if I didn’t finish.  That was the catalyst to get me to reach the lake!  On the way down, I had run into some really fit people from a Meetup.com singles group.  They were also huffing and puffing, asking me how much longer, and I felt even better that I made myself reach the lake.”

When it comes to being a woman on the trail and specific experiences, here’s Magretha’s take on it:

“I was coming down from a hike and ran into two gentlemen.  We talked for a bit and right before I was getting ready to move on, one of them asked, “So, are you here alone?”  He was probably just making small talk, but that totally raised some red flags with me.  I had a big knife attached to one side of my hip and as I answered how my friends had gone down earlier and were waiting for me (I was actually alone), I pivoted my hip so he could see I wasn’t defenseless.  He realized his faux pas and apologized before we awkwardly smiled and all moved on.”

Moving onto writing, what inspired you to start the blog, The Clueless Wanderer?

“I had always toyed around with the idea because I’ve always enjoyed writing.  I founded a FB group called Adventure Some Women and one of the members posted how she had started a FB group called Outdoor Women Bloggers.  I figured I would join to see what it was all about.  It’s such a supportive community that I decided I could start a blog.  If no one reads it, at least I’ll enjoy writing it.  I never considered I would meet so many awesome people in the process and the comments I get are just the cherries on top of the ice cream.  Yes, I can be narcissistic!  Haha!!!”

What do you hope to accomplish with your blog, The Clueless Wanderer?

“I just hope to inspire other people to get out there.  Read my adventures and start adventures of their own to share and have others learn from them.  I want people to realize that you don’t have to be uber fit or a crazy adrenaline junkie to go scale some mountain in Nepal.  Just have the passion.  Have the passion and the rest will fall into place.”

I noted that Magretha has a very unique voice when she writes so I asked her to describe her method of relaying stories in written format. Her reply,  

“I wouldn’t call it a method, I don’t think.  I just write, read, delete and repeat!  I like to keep my blog posts short and try to stay on topic, otherwise I feel it becomes a boring read.  I have a short attention span, so if my writing starts to bore me as I read it, how would readers feel?  I write like how I would speak because I feel it would be fake in any other context.”

On that note, I hope you now feel inspired to hike… AND write your blog, too!  Not convinced?  You can follow Magretha more via her blog, The Clueless Wanderer and her social media accounts:

Instagram:  @mo_likee
Facebook Group: Adventure Some Women

If you know of an outdoorsy woman who you think should be featured on the OUTDOOR WOMEN’S VOICES SERIES (yourself included), please see THIS LINK to find out how to be a part of it.

Follow Brown Gal Trekker via:

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest

Why You Should Hire Mountain Fanatics

While majority of the workforce spends the weekends relaxing in front of the television or reading a book or watching a movie, there’s a sector of the population that religiously go through the ritual of doing a long drive to the mountains, spending an entire day hiking or even hanging out in the vast wilderness the entire weekend from the moment the clock hits 5 p.m. on a Friday afternoon until the late hours of Sunday night. The hardcore ones would even go so far as venture out of state, drive the entire night and get to the office directly at 9 a.m. on a Monday.

In my case, I have gone so far as to catch a flight from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania with two layovers before getting to Dulles Airport in the D.C. metro area and going directly to my first court hearing at 9 a.m. before a judge. What was in Tanzania? Kilimanjaro. Shamelessly, I will admit that I didn’t have a shower since I left Dar es Salaam the 20 plus hours prior. I managed, however, to freshen up with baby wipes and traded my hiking clothes with a clean suit that’s appropriate for a courtroom proceeding. Thankfully, after five minutes into the hearing, my brain shifted back to legal-minded mode and was able to turn off the mantra in my head, “pole-pole”, which is Swahili for “slowly, slowly.” No more mountains to go slow for, after all. Sadly, that is. Yes, I know, it’s crazy.

photo-1
Meeting a fellow 9 to 5-er who loves the mountains on my long weekend solo trek in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Some of your office colleagues, unbeknownst to you, are mountain fanatics. The hardcore ones will be the last of the batch to tell you that for fear of being labeled as being nonchalant about their jobs. Truth be told, mountain fanatics which include hikers, climbers, trekkers, and backpackers are some of the best employees you will encounter. Hire them. As one of them, I would.

Not convinced yet? Here’s why you should hire mountain fanatics:

  1. Mountain fanatics know what it means to chill. And that’s not a bad thing. One of the major perks of being out in the wild for a while is coming back to civilization all refreshed and ready to dive into the chaos of the work world. Detaching one’s self from work by being in nature is one of the most effective ways of rebooting. Next time you noticed someone on a Monday morning looking extra cheerful and exuding a vibrant persona, consider the thought that he or she might have spent an ample amount of time in the mountains. Then, notice if the person gives off some kind of a burnt smell — that’s compelling evidence of someone who was around a campfire. Congrats! You spotted a mountain fanatic. He or she smiled at you in the elevator and engaged in a brief overview of how the weekend went. And, without admitting it openly, you liked the encounter because, you know, that’s rare these days! Then you note to yourself, “there’s no better way to start a Monday.”
  2. Mountain fanatics are goal-minded. After all, why else would we go out there in the wilderness? There’s always a goal. That can range from spending time in the wild camping, doing a leisurely hike, socializing over a campfire, peak-bagging, breaking personal records, or climbing one of the 7 summits. As you can see, we are not devoid of goals. Therefore, come work time, meaningful work to us would require having a road map towards attaining a specific goal. We’re up for the challenge for sure. So, don’t worry about us slacking. We’ll see you at the top!
kili4
On the trails of Kilimanjaro, just like at the office, we have to follow protocols… for safety!
  1. Mountain fanatics are team players. We go in groups usually. So, we are forced to learn how to get along. After all, we need to survive the experience in one piece. Hence, we have to be a team player. You see, one must be in charge of navigation. Another is in charge of planning, and so on and so forth. Decisions are made along the way which prompt the group members to compromise for the sake of everyone’s welfare, as needed. We can’t always get our way if that leads to the demise of the entire group. We know the meaning of give and take. We’re ready to make sacrifices. You’d want us on your team when it comes to do or die mentality.
  2. Of course, there are exceptions to point #3 — the “soloists” who prefer to do mountain endeavors on their own. That’s okay too as there are benefits to that — this means he or she is independent, resourceful, and self-sufficient. Sounds like a winner, too, right? Whether we go solo or not in the wilderness, we’re all inherently resourceful, independent and self-sufficient. The conditioning starts with how to pack our backpacks to carrying our own maps and learning the trails. You can’t go wrong either way with hiring a soloist or a groupie type.
  3. Mountain lovers are resilient. You know how we all complain about stress? Well, in the wild, we tend to deal with critical issues with major consequences such as where to get water for drinking when you’re on the verge of dehydration, how to keep warm in below freezing conditions, how to deal with injury or illness, how to maneuver around boulders next to a cliff, how to deal with symptoms of altitude sickness above 15,000 feet, how to summit at 2 am in the morning with no sleep beforehand, or how to get ourselves unlost. Trust me. After we go through some of these ordeals, dealing with a difficult task is nothing. We’ll gladly say “yes” to the work at hand with a smile. It’s about putting things in perspective in our minds — surviving nature’s challenges makes us untouchable by the stressors in our daily work life.
  4. Mountain fanatics are positive thinkers. We climb peaks to see the best views. But even in the rain or snow, no matter how uncomfortable it may be, we have the tendency to see the beauty in the experience. That can’t be said as to the majority of the workforce. After conquering a peak, usually we are happy just to be alive, and despite the imperfections within our work world, we hardly care because there are so many other things to be grateful for. In my case, I was ecstatic to be back at my job and breathe in an enormous amount of oxygen again after Kilimanjaro. No nasty remarks by the opposing counsel or judge could possibly hurt me after a trek like that!
photo-3
Scrambling and avoiding a bad fall on the edges of Alta Via 2 in the Dolomites require serious focus.
  1. Mountain fanatics are highly determined, efficient and focused individuals. Again, this goes back to being goal-oriented. If we set the goal to climb a summit, there’s no plan B. The summit is the goal. In some instances, we spend tons of money to trek up mountains. Such is the case in my world where I typically go away for two to three weeks to Asia, Latina America, Europe or Africa. The trips come at a price tag. Hence, there’s no room for negotiation when it comes to accomplishing the goal set for the trip. Likewise, on the job, it’s easy to apply that same mentality. You don’t want any time or effort wasted. If I have to win a case at my job as a lawyer, I prepare the best trial strategy and give it my all. It’s all or nothing. It’s conquering the summit or nothing. With mountain lovers, you’ll get someone who will go all the way to the top with you, figuratively.
  2. Mountain fanatics are never boring. Why not? Because they have amazing adventures to tell. Just ask them. They have the most entertaining stories at your work party. I’m sure they will tell you how their weekend went in the wild with some stories you’ll never hear from anyone else. When it comes to the future, they’re imaginative and dreamy. Ask them about what they’re doing next weekend or their next vacation, and be amazed at the ideas of adventure they come up with. Sooner or later, you’d want to have them as friends, not just employees, and join their adventures. Or, you may even want to marry one!
photo-4
Ask a trekker where he’s been.  He may say Bromo in Indonesia.  Better yet, ask about the photos – and be amazed.
  1. Mountain fanatics are a source of inspiration. Their passion and adventurous spirit are contagious. Inspiration is essential for any organization or business to thrive, so much so, that it’s so common now for companies to hire outside speakers to motivate their employees. Some of these speakers happen to be mountain fanatics themselves. So, why not save your company the extra expense, and instead, host luncheons for your employees who happen to be mountain fanatics? We will do the talking for free to inspire one another. As an added bonus, we are used to basic camping or dehydrated meals. No need for fancy food, but if you do decide to feed us well, then know that you just earned points for loyalty. We won’t quit anytime soon and head to the mountains.
  2. Mountain fanatics are an energetic bunch. You want movers and shakers to advance your organization. You don’t want someone who’s complacent. With us, you get creativity and enthusiasm for new ideas. Along with that comes the drive and the passion that we are known to have as we pursue our love for the outdoors. An active employee inside and outside the office is a rare asset. We thrive on productivity and sense of accomplishment the same way we work hard to complete a two or three week trek in the middle of nowhere. Plus, with so much energy and exposure to nature, trekking keeps us young. Who doesn’t want a workforce that’s full of vitality? You get the wisdom that comes with age for the decision-making aspects of the job and the youthful energy that will get the tasks done.
  3. As a bonus, mountain fanatics are some of the healthiest employees you’ll ever have. We take care of ourselves physically and mentally. After all, mountaineering is a serious endeavor that involves a lot of risks. Hiring our kind would mean less people going on short-term or long-term medical leave and having shortage in staff. Sure, we will definitely use up the annual leave to the max but given the first 10 reasons above, I think this aspect can easily be overlooked. I never said we’re perfect…but close enough to it!

So, there you have it. Next time you conduct an interview, ask the person his or her hobbies. If we tell you we hike, trek, climb, backpack or play in the mountains, don’t roll those eyes or give us that confused look. Instead, get excited! Now that you know we’re dead serious about work as much as we’re crazy about the outdoors, you’ll be ready to hire the next mountain fanatic that comes your way.

One caveat: Don’t worry about the campfire smell. It fades away eventually. But, you better start getting used to it.

Follow Brown Gal Trekker via:

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest

Diversity on the Trails is a Gift & Here’s Why

(As published on HUFFINGTON POST and NEWS CAME)

I have had the privilege to organize numerous hiking, backpacking and trekking trips in the Washington, DC area, the U.S. and worldwide for the past 10 years.  In that capacity, I have learned tremendously from the experience about group dynamics in the outdoors.  In any scenario outdoors, it’s important to learn to respect and understand one another and even more so when you have a diverse group of individuals who come from all walks of life.  As the organizer, the diversity I have encountered in my groups has afforded me some of the most enlightening experiences on the trails.

Roraima, Venezuela
Roraima Trek, Venezuela.

Nature is a place for comfort and peace for anyone, regardless of race,  gender, sexual orientation and whatever else.  It is there for us when the current state of our lives lacks the ability to provide us a safe and joyful space.

Today, and on any other day for that matter, as mountain enthusiasts, let’s celebrate the reasons why diversity is such a beautiful addition on the trails.

Diversity is never boring.  

Our varied viewpoints on any subject under the sky will range from a simple one to a complex dissertation of the meaning of life.  It can never get boring when at times people’s opinions clash and we strive to understand the experience that propels the other to think the way he or she does.  It’s just never boring when you have a variety of people from every corner of the world, of different races, and of any ages.  Differences add spice.  Enjoy the process of finding the commonalities amidst the disagreements.  Don’t be surprised if in the end you become friends.

Death Valley
Death Valley National Park, USA.

Diversity is the entry point to learning about ourselves.  

Do you hold prejudices about a certain group? That’s okay.  We can talk about it.  Or, do you feel uncomfortable talking about racism or sexism?  Let’s discuss not just one or the other, but both.  Are you comfortable with your faith or do you have endless questions about religion?  That’s a good topic.  Let’s dive in.  As you sit around a campfire, the scenario can evolve into a place of challenging our own views on various topics in life.  Take this as an opportunity to learn your stance on things as you also gain courage to discuss such controversial topics in the process.  Even better, take this as a way to learn how to treat others who hold views that are different from yours with kindness.  From there, we can go back to our daily lives with a much deeper understanding of the world around us and the people who have a different set of experiences.

Ausangate
Ausangate trail in Peru.

Here’s the amazing tangible benefit of diversity: Sharing and enjoying a diverse array of cuisine!

I have had camping trips where food from far away countries like Iran or Burma have made their way to the camping tables.  Not only that, but the food itself often becomes a great starting point for people to converse.  “Oh, what is this dish?” “It’s the national dish from the Philippines – adobo.”  “Oh, wow.  It’s great. I never had it…so, you’re Filipina?”  “Yes.”  “Are there mountains to hike in the Philippines?”“In fact, there are lots of mountain trails, yes….”  You get the idea.

Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon rim to rim, USA.

Diversity on the trails teaches us a thing or two about being worldly.

If you expose yourself enough to hiking with people from various backgrounds, you’ll then realize at some point how much knowledge you’ve gained about world events and different cultures among all other things that our world holds that we know nothing much about.  The experience renders us to become more knowledgeable.  Imagine impressing your co-workers with your knowledge on eagle hunters in Mongolia or the sky funeral in the Sichuan Province of China.  And, you didn’t even have to spend money, not even a penny, to be this world-savvy of a person at the office.  You’re cool, alright, plus you educate others with what you learned.

IMG_20160511_202330
Yes, eagle hunters. They exist in the western part of Mongolia, near the Altai mountains.
Iceland
Glacier trek, Iceland.

Diversity on the trails teaches us cultural sensitivity.

You will learn to inquire of others about their backgrounds without being offensive.  You will be a better communicator overall, which most of us need to begin with.  You will learn that we can strive for respect and understanding versus mere tolerance as we co-exist with others who don’t look like us or approach life the way we do.  You become open-minded and appreciative of the exponential growth we gain collectively as a group from seeing the value that diversity brings in our lives.

Mt. Whitney
Mt. Whitney, USA.

Diversity on the trails can lead to meaningful friendships or even romantic partnerships.  

Don’t underestimate the power of love.  In my work as an organizer, I have had several partnerships that blossomed over time, not to mention the unique friendships that developed along the way.  Both scenarios depict how humans can overcome differences in a major fashion.  Either way, you’re one lucky hiker because you’ll forever have an invite to dinners and enjoy that special dish from Turkey that most of us only dream of.

As you can tell, diversity is an extra bonus that nature gives us as mountains attract people from various walks of life.  Personally, no matter how time consuming organizing can get, the above noted list of benefits of having a diverse group is what keeps me going as an organizer because frankly, without diversity, life can be a little bit of a snooze.   Now, every trek or hike I go on affords me to discover new things and ideas within the safe space we call “nature,” which leads me to this:

Diversity is a gift.  Don’t fear it.  Embrace it.

Shenandoah
Shenandoah National Park, USA.

Is there anything you would add to the list? Share your ideas below.

Follow Brown Gal Trekker via:

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest

Grand Canyon’s Ribbon Falls

grand-canyon

“The Grand Canyon is truly a natural wonder. Whether from gazing across its open vastness along its colorfully exposed strata rock and stone or by braving the sheer drop of nearly a mile down to follow the Colorado River’s meandering flow, the view from the rim can easily overwhelm one’s sense of scale, leaving a sense of awe and wonder in substitution. But that is just a mere hint of The Canyon’s potential to amaze. Getting up close and personal down below the rim is key to experiencing its diverse personality.

Ribbon Falls, located just below Cottonwood Campground about halfway down the North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Campground, provides a well-timed and well-appreciated respite from the desert sun in the most fascinating way. The falls is hidden from the main trail along a short side canyon easily reached by a quick side trail. This side trail circles around into a tight grotto where a towering moss-carpeted mound of limestone makes its dramatic, scenic debut. And the source of that limestone deposit can be easily spotted spilling over an edge high above the enclosure, sourced from nearby Ribbon Falls Creek. The pool at the base of the mound is well worth a cool dip while a quick climb up alongside and over top the mound to the actual falls presents an enchanting view out into Grand Canyon backcountry. “

-Photo & Article by Aaron C.
As one of our fundraising treks for the non-profit, Trails Without Borders, Brown Gal Trekker and Peak Explorations will be organizing the classic rim to rim trek in the Grand Canyon in 2017.  To join, subscribe to our newsletter to find out how.   

Kilimanjaro Kills! Here Are 13 Ways to Survive

Kilimanjaro almost killed me.

The first time was no joke.  Lessons were taught by the mighty Kilimanjaro on how not to mess with her without proper preparation and a healthy mindset.  At the last hut, Kibo, was when I had to make the painful decision to turn around.  At that point, the symptoms of altitude sickness had increased tremendously to the point I was experiencing symptoms of High Altitude Pulmonary Edemy (HAPE).   It hurt to decide not to go forward because I was just a few hours away from the summit.  However, surviving the ordeal taught me important lessons in dealing with high altitude trekking and ensuring a non-fatal ascent.

kili4

While many mountaineers aspire to trek up Kilimanjaro for very good reasons, one being the peak is part of the 7 summits, it is prudent to keep in mind the dangers involved in climbing this non-technical trail.  Your number one enemy in this case is the altitude, among other possible deterrents that are mentioned below

Here are 13 ways to survive the dangers on the trails of Kilimanjaro and cross it off your bucket list for good:

  1. Before even flying out to Kilimanjaro airport, learn about the symptoms of altitude mountain sickness (AMS) and the appropriate treatment.  The internet has extensive articles on the subject.  You can dive into it as deeply as you’d like but at the very least, you should know the signs to look for to indicate whether your body is experiencing some negative effects from the altitude.  However, only study the topic to the extent it gives you sufficient knowledge on the symptoms and treatment.  I know some people who scare themselves off from reading too much about it.  Although knowledge is certainly useful in this instance, on the other hand, make sure not to overdo it to a  point you cause yourself unnecessary stress and anxiety.  Your mental disposition is one of the key things for a successful ascent as discussed below.  Hence, find a balance between knowing enough about AMS and knowing about it too much.
  2. From knowing the symptoms follows knowing the treatment.  Diamox is one common medication that prevents and treats AMS.  Make sure to talk to your doctor regarding the appropriate usage in your case as the dosage can depend on each person’s medical history and condition.  These days it is easy to obtain a prescription from your primary care physician, which most health insurance covers.  No need to go to a travel doctor, which can be costly.  While you’re at it, ask for antibiotics for stomach issues.  You’re likely not going to need it but it doesn’t hurt to have it just in case.  Another prescription drug which is used for treating HAPE is some form of steroid.  You can ask your doctor about this particular medication and decide if it’s something you wish to bring with you as a treatment measure for HAPE.  Typically, HAPE is treated by descending as soon as the initial symptoms appear.  If you get to a point in which you’re prompted to use medication to treat HAPE, that usually means you’ve already gone much higher than you should have.  This isn’t a smart way to trek given the risk of death resulting from HAPE.
  3. So, the last point naturally brings me to this – learn to listen to your body and be honest with yourself when it comes to your body’s condition.  Sure, you paid tons of money to conquer Kilimanjaro, but will you allow the mountain instead to conquer you?  And leave you dead?  No. Life is too precious to lose over a mountain. Let’s be honest.  We love the idea of success.  We’re obsessed with the the idea of conquering Kilimanjaro and crossing it from our bucket list of peaks to bag.  But guess who’s the one who makes the call whether you go forward or not?  No, not the ego.  It’s your body.  I witnessed runners run up the mountain like they’re jogging in the city. I’m not sure why they would do that but as days progressed, I realized it was their ego talking.  The ego in their heads told them to go fast so they can be the first to arrive at the hut every night.  Sure, they did get there first.  But once they were above 12,000 feet, they realized the inevitable – your body needs to adapt to the altitude.  Instead of listening to their bodies, they acted against their bodies’ natural state.  Hence, I wasn’t surprised later on to find out that they didn’t make it to the summit.  Kilimanjaro is the kind of mountain that will punish you for being a speedy Gonzales.  Keeping the ego in check will serve you better.
  4. How will the mountain reward you? By going the opposite- “pole, pole,”  which is Swahili for slowly, slowly.  Every local says it, chants it, preaches it, and even yells it at those who refuse to listen. There’s a reason why.  It’s the only style of hiking that will make you conquer Kilimanjaro.  Practice the idea now so when you hear your guides say this, your tendency to go fast will be put on sleep mode by the time you start the trek.  In our hiking lives, we are prone to wanting to go faster.  It’s just in our nature to work on our speed.  In this case, you must throw that idea out the window.  And trust me, it sounds easy but it’s actually hard.  Your adrenaline is pumping.  You see other hikers on the trail and like most people you don’t want to be that last one to arrive.  To reverse that thinking is unnatural.  Hence, I would emphasize one more time- practice your walk now at a lesser than normal speed.  That way you would not have any difficulties adjusting when you’re on the actual trail.  You’ll have one less thing to worry about.
  5. Drink plenty of water. Get into the habit of drinking even if you’re not thirsty.  This is especially important when you are taking Diamox as this medication causes dehydration.  You need to make sure you are drinking enough water.  For altitude, sufficient water intake is also deemed to help.  It’s a general rule in life that is definitely worth practicing on the trail, no matter which peak you’re bagging.  Drink enough water.  Always!
  6. Eat well on the trail.  This is not so much of an issue given that most trekking operators feed you more than enough nutritious food, especially carbohydrates.  Eat enough carbs but don’t overfeed yourself.  Snacking on protein bars is a great way to supplement you with energy so make sure to bring trail bars with you because the town, Moshi, where you spend the night prior to the trek, is devoid of any nutritious trail snacks.
  7. Get good rest and sleep.  I cannot emphasize it enough how important this is.  Enough sleep every night is going to determine your body’s overall functioning the next day.  It’s the best means of preventing or treating any illness on the trail.  Know that it is cold at night so make sure that you bring the right gear to give you enough warmth to allow you to have a restful sleep.  Sleepless nights on the trail can certainly impact your chances of making it to the top.  Likewise, rest is important during the hike each day.  As noted above, you must listen to your body.  If it tells you to stop and rest, then you do so.  When it tells you it’s ready to move, then go.
  8. Do the longest route possible to the summit of Kilimanjaro.  I made the mistake of doing the shortest route, Marangu, which takes you to the summit in 3-4 days.  This is the only route that has huts and so no tenting needed.  It might have been warmer at night time via Marangu but the ascent was suicidal given the elevation that you gain from 1860  meters to 5895 meters in 3-4 days.  The success rate for summiting stands at less than 30% whereas the longest route via the newer trail, Northern Circuit, has a success rate of around 80% as it gives you 3-4 extra days to summit.  Of course, the longer route would mean it’ll be more costly.  One thing I learned from all this though is that climbing Kilimanjaro is such a major endeavor that you should do it properly the first time around.  Otherwise, if you don’t summit, then you do it again which means you end up spending more money than if you did it right the first time.
  9. Get medical and emergency evacuation coverage.  Considering the risk factors of climbing this peak, it’s a no brainer, really.  Make sure you are covered by adequate insurance in case of medical emergencies.  Luckily, in my case, the guide was able to arrange for porters to bring me down the mountain via a stretcher. In other cases, a more immediate evacuation may be necessary and require a helicopter rescue.  It’s worth investing in having the appropriate medical insurance and emergency evacuation for these reasons.  Also, do keep in mind only certain insurance companies offer medical and emergency evacuation for trekking that involves high altitude.  Make sure to check that they cover the activity and the specific altitude as some only cover trekking up to a certain elevation.
  10. Provide any relevant medical information to your guide.  It may not be altitude that gets you on the trail, but allergies of some kind.  Make sure that you inform your guide or trek operator ahead of time if you have medical conditions that should be noted. THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO BE SHY ABOUT IT.  Failure to disclose can cause you your own health, and perhaps, life so be honest and upfront.  Trek operators are expected and required in most instances to ensure confidentiality of their client’s personal information so there’s no need to worry about others finding out.
  11. Work on your cardio and stay active.  Being fit may not keep altitude away from pestering you and causing you to experience symptoms but the fitter you are, the less issues you’ll have on the trail, besides the altitude, that is.  After all, walking up from 1800 meters to over 5000 meters requires tremendous amount of cardio and fitness, and more so at high altitude.
  12. Know your blood type and carry a medical card with said information.  Let’s go back to basics.  If you don’t know your blood type or have forgotten it, find out before your trek.  If any injuries occur that would require blood transfusion, this is a critical piece of information that can save your life.   It’s worth knowing that in some countries, certain blood types are rare to find.  You can find out more about altitude and it’s impact on blood types and about organizations globally that can help with rare blood types via this article:  High Altitudes Can Change Your Blood
  13. Finally, learn to let go of the pressures of making it to the top.  Those who do make it to the top of any high altitude peak are usually calm and deliberate in their efforts to be stress-free in their journey to the top.  If it’s not the altitude that will stop you from summiting, then my next bet would be the mental challenge that is inherent in this endeavor.  I know of people who were physically fine and could easily have trekked up to the top but didn’t because fear stopped them.  Don’t fall into that trap.  Don’t compete or succumb to the pressure of comparing your abilities with others.  Don’t bother questioning who will make it or who won’t or canvassing among your peers who will be the first or last to make it.  Seriously, just don’t.  Their journey on this mountain or any mountain for that matter, is totally different from yours.  Respect that and just focus on your own path.  Preoccupying yourself about others’ abilities eats up energy that you can be using towards hiking up to the top and is merely a distraction that serves no purpose in your own unique journey.   The healthier your mind is, the less ailment and stress you’ll experience on the trail.  Meditate, nap or listen to music to relax you when you get to camp.  While you take care of your physical body by eating and sleeping, your mind also requires the utmost attention while on a trek that is as strenuous as one that will take you to the highest point in Africa.  Yes, so much pressure, indeed.  But your best approach is to stay calm and focus on trekking up that peak, one step at a time.

kili3

With all the above pointers, you’re ready to conquer Kilimanjaro.   Either way, the mountain will always be there.  You, on the other hand, have one life to contend with.  Take care of it, and the peak will show itself to you sooner or later.

And remember, Pole, pole!”

As a side note, Brown Gal Trekker is going for part 2 to trek up Kilimanjaro in February, 2017 via the Northern Circuit route as referenced above.  It’s a 12 day trip with other fellow solo trekkers via her social enterprise, Peak Explorations.  You’re welcome to join her and her group of adventurers. See more via this link: KILIMANJARO (NORTHERN CIRCUIT)

Follow Brown Gal Trekker via:

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest