Tag Archives: Hiking

V-PODCAST EPISODE 1: On My Way! From a Lawyer to a Mountain Nomad

EPISODE 1: Should I Stay or Should I Go? Reasons for Leaving my Career

Welcome to Episode 1 of the V-PODCAST SERIES: ON MY WAY! FROM A LAWYER TO A MOUNTAIN NOMAD.  In this episode, Brown Gal Trekker tackles the question, “Why leave a stable career for pursuit of an unconventional dream?”

Tune in and share with us your own reasons or thoughts about the topic! Thanks!

To learn more about what this v-podcast is about, check out the INTRODUCTION.

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

WOMEN TRAIL LEADERS: Summer & Lezley of Fat Girls Hiking

The outdoors appeal to most of us as a safe haven to let ourselves go from our day to day routines and stress in life.  But the reality of it is that life in the outdoors is not as perfect as any paradise we conjure in our minds, especially when, as a female hiker, we don’t fit the looks of women as portrayed by the outdoors media.

That has been the case until Summer and Lezley came into the forefront of leading women entities in the outdoors world to serve as the voice for women who may feel different, weird, strange, unsuitable or unacceptable.  Summer and Lezley not only love hiking but they also made it their mission to encourage women of all backgrounds to find pride in who they are as women hikers.

From my own personal experience, my being featured on Fat Girls Hiking’s Inspiring Women series clearly demonstrated that feeling of belonging and self-acceptance.  I’m no exception to feeling different as a woman of color who continues to wait for inclusion in the media.  Fat Girls Hiking provided a voice on my behalf and echoed my presence to the social media world of the outdoors. That’s a good start towards a long road in promoting diversity and women in the hiking world.  For that reason, I’m absolutely delighted to come across these two lovely souls and be a part of their mission to promote diversity in the outdoors.

Women Trail Leaders: Summer & Lezley of Fat Girls Hiking

Summer is from Minnestoa while Lezley is from New Mexico. They currently live in Portland, Oregon.  Off-trail, Summer works as a nanny while Lezley is a Data Analyst.  They typicall hike in the Portland area, and around Oregon and Washington states.  They also have traveled overseas for on trekking trips.  Summer is also a writer, a photographer, crafter and reader while Lezley is a sports enthusiast, daredevil, traveler and a board game and film geek.

When and how did you first start hiking?

Summer: My love of hiking started about 4 years ago.  I had been on a few hikes before then but not on a regular basis.   At first, I didn’t like it.  But it grew on me. 

Lezley: I started hiking 10 years ago while living in Nevada after getting a taste of hiking while in Zion.  My uncle was an avid hiker in New Mexico & would take me with him but I didn’t appreciate hiking until I got older & moved to Nevada. Now I hope to hike more in my home state to experience the things I missed when I was younger.

What do you like the most about hiking?

When we hike, we feel strong & capable.  Worries & stresses of everyday life are wiped clean.  We hike to be connected to nature & our selves.

Do you enjoy hiking solo or with others more?

Summer: I like hiking alone a lot. There is something therapeutic about being out there by myself that makes me feel self reliant. When I face challenges & solve problems on the trail, I feel empowered.  But I also love leading hikes with Fat Girls Hiking, I love watching other people gain confidence & feel inspired in the outdoors.

Lezley: I prefer hiking with a group or another person. For me, I feel safer being with others. Plus, I like getting to know people or spend quality time with people away from the distractions of everyday life.  Also, having another person on the trail with me motivates me to keep going when the trail gets challenging.

What are some lessons you’ve learned from hiking?

Summer: Hikers are creative problem solvers.  When I am miles away from civilization on a hike, if something goes wrong, I have to figure it out.  Also, I love feeling small in the grand scheme of the world. It puts any silly or trivial problems in my head in check when I can look around from the summit of a mountain and say, “Those things don’t matter, not really.”

Lezley: Sometimes trails can be intimidating but if I keep on pushing myself forward, then there always seems to be a reward at the end.  It’s a daily reminder of life off the trail: keep pushing forward, no matter what might scare you.  The other lesson I’ve learned is to appreciate the aspects of nature that we often take for granted.

Summer and Lezley share with us their favorite hiking moments.

Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park, Montana. 

We had spent the night before the hike sleeping in the back of the truck in a 24-hour grocery store parking lot because all the campgrounds in the park were full.  We wanted to get up early to beat the crowds because we heard this was a busy hike. 

On the hike in to the lake, we counted seeing only 5 people. It was amazing to witness the sunrise over the mountains onto the clear lake cluttered with logs at the bottom. We ventured around the still lake and the mountains were reflected perfectly.  There were glacial waterfalls above us that we heard would be extinct in less than 10 years.

Then we met another hiker who was gathering sand from the beach, he said he proposed to his fiancé at that spot & they were getting married later that day in the park. As we were heading back to the trailhead & the sun began to shine onto the lake, it was a bright green color that matched the leaves on the trees.  On the way back to the trailhead, we counted 207 people making their way to the lake.  So glad we hiked early!

Saddle Mountain, Oregon.

We were so excited to do this hike.  It was the day after Thanksgiving a few years ago & we were ready to conquer one of the Oregon Coast Range’s biggest mountains.  The hike starts out really steep & 2 minutes in we were taking layers off.  This is the most elevation gain we’ve ever done on a hike, it felt good & really difficult.  We were stopping a lot but enjoying ourselves.

About 45 minutes into the hike, Summer’s stomach started to ache.  Oh no.  The trail is mostly switchbacks & there isn’t any spots off-trail to dig a cat hole.  Ugh.  Finally, we found a spot where Summer scrambled up to some bushes for privacy to “use the bathroom.” 

Much better…Ok, let’s do this.  We get to the summit & WOW what an amazing view.  There’s the ocean to the west, and it’s a clear day so Mt. Rainer, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood are visible.  It was incredible.  Then we notice the trail keeps going.  Oh. Shit.  This is what they call “the false summit.” Ok, we can do this.  We are tired & the rest of the trail feels painstakingly steep.  The trail is covered with chain-link fencing, and there is ice in some spots, but we make it to the real actual summit. 

The exhilaration of the view, being up there with the wind as it whips our hair around. We know we are strong enough to carry our bodies to the top of a mountain. This is the reason we hike.

Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, Canada.

We knew this hike was busy & touristy.  The photos we had seen online were amazing & we really wanted to see it for ourselves.  So we got up really early to beat the crowds.  The trail is paved almost the entire way. There’s no “roughing it” on this trail. There are catwalks along the side & bottom of the canyon that allow access to the canyon in a way that usually could only be accessed by repelling.  The natural beauty of the rock & the pure clear water was stunning.  However, the trash & plastic water bottles underneath the catwalk were less than desirable. Nature Tourism is over rated.

Sometimes the crowd of inconsiderate tourists can overshadow the beauty around us. Well, at least it changes the experience. We carry on. There are three waterfalls along the trail that we enjoy & then decide to turn back & head to a less busy trail.  The trail was really crowded  the last half mile & there is a group of twenty slower hikers ahead of us.  We just want to get out of the crowds.  Summer finds an opening & jogs around the tourists & Lezley gets stuck among the crowd. 

After Summer jogs by one of the men Lezley gets stuck behind says, “Wow, you could really feel the ground shake when she went by.” It’s attitudes like his & comments like these that intimidate plus size people from feeling safe in the outdoors.  Even though we are avid hikers, most likely more experienced than the man who commented on Summer’s body size, this comment changes our experiences on trails.  It’s easy enough to shake off an ignorant comment from someone who arrived via a tour bus & carry on with your love affair with the Canadian Rockies.  Needless to say, we found many other gorgeous places to explore while we were in Banff National Park but Johnston Canyon was the most memorable.

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

Start out on some easier trails with a fabulous reward at the end (waterfalls & viewpoints are good).  Don’t worry about how fast or slow you hike.  It’s not a race.  There are no prizes at the end.  Research the trail & the weather before you go. Have more than one source of information on hand (a screenshot on your phone is good, but a backup is never a bad idea). Print out driving directions & don’t rely on Google maps.  Many trailheads do not have cell service which is a blessing in our overly “connected” world, so make sure you know where you’re going.  If you are hiking alone, tell someone specifically where you are going & when you are expected to return.  Bring enough water, snacks, and weather appropriate clothing. Most importantly, listen to your body.  If something isn’t feeling good, don’t do it.  Savor your time on the trail & have fun!

What treks do you have on your bucket list?

Summer: All the hikes are on my list.  Seriously, all of them.  If I could travel endlessly & hike everywhere I went, I would. I definitely want to spend more time in the Canadian Rockies & Glacier National Park. 

Summer at Falls Creek Falls.

Lezley: Patagonia and Machu Picchu are on my list. But any time we travel, we like finding a hike in the area so we get to enjoy that peaceful part of a city.

Lezley at Oregon Coast.

What is your favorite hiking gear and why?

Summer: As a plus size hiker, finding gear that fits is not easy.  There are such limited options for women’s plus size outdoor gear that I usually end up buying men’s gear. Ill-fitting raingear is the only option I have.  However, I do have an amazing Granite Gear backpack that fits well and has hip pockets for little things that I need accessible while hiking.  And I love my Platypus hydration bladder—it’s really easy to clean & dry out. Black Diamond trekking poles are my new favorite gear…wish I would have gotten them sooner.  And of course, my Canon 5D.

Lezley:  I like my Granite Gear day pack.  Everything else I’m still testing out.  I haven’t found the exact right gear for me yet.  My $1 bandana is pretty sweet though!

What is your favorite quote that motivates you on and off trails?

Summer:  As an avid reader with a degree in writing, words always motivate & inspire me. Mary Oliver, Cheryl Strayed and Audre Lorde are among my favorites. My recent favorite quote is by Judith Thurman, “Every dreamer knows that it is entirely possible to be homesick for a place you’ve never been to, perhaps more homesick than for familiar ground.”

Summer at Mt. St. Helens.

Lezley: “Why you crying? Are you bleeding? But did you die?” –traditional Mexican words of inspiration.

Lezley at Oregon Coast.

Have you run into any challenges personally as a “female” hiker?

There are many challenges to being a female on the trail.  Often in our society, women aren’t taken as seriously as men. In any athletic endeavor, women can be even more patronized.  The idea that women aren’t as tough or as knowledgeable about the outdoors is merely an extension of our sexist society.  Women are still treated as novelty in the outdoors. We face these challenges by going outdoors anyway, by proving them wrong.  For the most part people are kind on the trail & there’s a wonderful community feeling while hiking but these challenges can be intimidating for women to face on the trail.

Summer and Lezley are the women behind Fat Girls Hiking – an important female led entity in the outdoors world that promotes diversity.  Below they tell us more about FGH. 

Fat Girls Hiking started on Instagram in early 2015.  We were hiking a lot & looking to social media to find outdoor communities that represented us, but they didn’t exist.  There were a few accounts that focused on women but they were very homogenized & always featured a specific type of woman that we couldn’t identify with.  We are both fat queer women.  One of us is covered in tattoos, one of us is a woman of color.  We do not look like typical hikers.  But the lack of any diversity was staggering.  So, we decided to change that.  We wanted to celebrate all these amazing, beautiful people who aren’t usually featured on blogs or outdoor Instagram accounts.

What is the mission of FGH?  

Fat Girls Hiking is a body positive outdoor community. We believe that all folks should be represented in outdoor media.  We want to take the shame & stigma out of the word FAT & empower it.  Our motto, Trails Not Scales is to focus on self love in the outdoors instead of weight loss.  Trails Not Scales reminds us that the more we hike, the more love we have for ourselves & our bodies just as they are.  We want all people to feel comfortable outdoors & to be able to claim their space on the trail.  We know that bodies of all shapes & sizes are capable of anything.  Our community is for those folks who have felt like they didn’t fit the typical hiker mold. We encourage & support folks who want to get out & hike, to do so!

How do define success with respect to FGH?

Empowering people through group hikes is how we define success.  Any time we get an email saying “thank you for including people who look like me” is how we define success. People who don’t feel represented in outdoor Instagram accounts commenting on a photo & saying, “I love this account” is how we define success. Watching people who come on group hikes grow & gain confidence is how we measure success.

What are the current and future projects that you have for FGH?

Fat Hiking Club is a documentary about Fat Girls Hiking that is still in production.  Some amazingly talented filmmakers from Vancouver, BC contacted us about FGH & filmed a hike we did with our group & interviewed us about body image, the outdoor community and why it’s important to create this space for fat folks, queer folks, people of color, trans & gender non-conforming people and women.

The Fat Girls Hiking Adventure Club is a new endeavor that is starting January 2017.  We love hiking & will continue to lead group hikes once a month but we also want to have other outdoor adventures with folks in our community.  Parasailing, fat tire biking on the beach, kayaking, snowshoeing, high ropes, climbing and many more activities are on our bucket list of adventures.  The Adventure Club will sometimes be a body positive yoga or dance class, other times it will be a weekend getaway with outdoor activities or a group camping trip.

Besides Fat Girls Hiking, Summer and Lezley also have a blog called Be Heard and they tell us below what it’s about.

We have a blog called Be Heard.  On the blog, we post photographs (taken by Summer) of people in the Fat Girls Hiking community or other body positive folks & have them answer a few questions about themselves.  We want to hear people’s stories & photograph them in a space that feels comfortable for them.

Thanks Summer & Lezley! Fat Girls Hiking certainly symbolizes the awakening of women to loving themselves more in the outdoors.   Without your organization, the hiking world would be less celebratory and appreciative of women who are different and unique in their own way.  I can’t wait to see what other projects you have in store for us.  So, keep doing what you do to inspire women of all types.  After all,  for the rest of the world to love us, we have to first love ourselves.

You can follow Fat Girls Hiking via their website & social media: Facebook & Instagram,

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

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

9 Things Every Traveler Can Do in Kentucky

A Guest Post by Louise Brown

The first thing that people think of upon hearing Kentucky is probably fried chicken. Although that’s a very valid association, there’s a lot more to this state than that.

Bourbon, horse races, tobacco, and bluegrass are just some of the popular things that make up Kentucky’s character. Aside from that, there’s deep love for music, arts, food, and the outdoors.

Here are some of the things you should do when you’re in Kentucky.

#1 Have a Taste of Good Old Kentucky Bourbon


The Russians have vodka while the Americans have bourbon, and Kentucky is one of the best states for it.

You can stop by any distillery, but for an even better experience, go on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. It’s probably one of the unique experiences you’ll have in Kentucky.

The Bourbon Trail consists of 9 of the state’s top distilleries. It lets you experience the culture of Bourbon, from the ingredients, to the process, to having a taste of the best Bourbon.

Many facilities have stunning surrounding landscapes too! If the trail doesn’t interest you, that’s okay. Just don’t leave Kentucky without having at least, a taste of Kentuckian Bourbon.

#2 Saddle Up

Horses are not only a big thing – they are one of the defining things of Kentucky. This state is, after all, the Horse Racing Capital of the World.

All year, you can enjoy horseback riding in the hundreds of miles of horse trails in the state. It doesn’t matter if you are a pro or a beginner, there’s a trail just right for your skills.

Many stables offer horse rentals, as well as horse camps for those who have horses of their own. Horseback riding is also a great way to see the outdoors. Most horse trails and horse camps offer stunning scenic views and peace and serenity.

#3 Kentucky Derby

Every year on the first Sunday of May, crowds of people from all over the nation and the world, come into Kentucky. The Kentucky Derby is one of the state’s most popular event, which takes place at Churchill Downs.

Either before or after the event, you can visit the Kentucky Derby Museum to learn even more about the sport.

#4 See the magnificent Cumberland Falls

Cumberland Falls is also known as the “Niagara of the South.” The waterfall is 125 feet wide and has a drop of 68 feet into the Cumberland River.

The Cumberland Falls State Resort Park also offers other activities and attractions aside from the waterfall. It’s an outdoor lover’s paradise! It has hiking trails, rafting, horseback riding, fishing, and camping.

#5 Go camping

The Kentucky State Park System has 31 campgrounds all throughout the state, so wherever you are, you’re never too far from one. Most grounds are open year-round, with sites for RVs, cabin tents, traditional tents, and even hammocks.

You can even lay your sleeping bag right under the stars. Also, many of the campsites are also equestrian-friendly.

After you set camp, you can do some exploring. Depending on which park you’re in, you might be able to go hiking, see lakes, rivers, and waterfalls, go horseback riding, or go biking.

#6 Explore Mammoth Cave

Did you know that the world’s longest cave system is Mammoth Cave, which is in Kentucky?

I didn’t know until just recently. From simple walking tours for families to strenuous spelunking for experts, there are lots of opportunities for exploration. It’s one of the many unique activities you can do in Kentucky.

#7 Go extreme at Hidden Rivers Cave

Another cave adventure you should do is the one at Hidden Rivers Cave. However, this one is not for the faint of hearts. Part of the adventure is zip lining across the cave’s sinkhole.

You can also go rappelling from the start to the mouth of the cave. That’s about 75 feet high!

The tour doesn’t get easier, but it’s still worth the thrill. A guide will lead you on a walking tour of the cave where you’ll be passing through wet and muddy surfaces.

Along the way, you’ll see some eyeless cave creatures too! Be ready to bear crawl, scramble, and have a memorable experience!

#8 Eat Hot Brown

We all know world famous food chain that originates from Kentucky – KFC! However, the state has other food that they are proud of. One of this is Hot Brown.

It may not sound so appealing, but this open-faced sandwich is a must-try! It’s made of turkey, bacon, tomatoes, and covered with Mornay sauce.

Many restaurants serve Hot Browns. However, there’s no better place than where it all began – the Brown Hotel. Nevertheless, do not leave the state without having a Hot Brown.

#9 Explore The Music Scene

Music in Kentucky runs deep, especially since it is the birthplace of Bluegrass music. It’s also the birthplace of many stars, including Billy Ray Cyrus, The Judds, and Loretta Lynn.

Being so musically inclined, the state has many museums that showcase the history and the music culture. At the end of your visit, you will have a new level of appreciation for this genre of music.

If you’re lucky, you might visit during the music festival.  If it is, don’t miss it! Many international and local artists share the stage and play all sorts of genres.

Conclusion

You’ll find Kentucky has so much more to offer than fried chicken and horse racing. It’s a state that is so diverse and has something for all sorts of travelers. It’s also surprisingly such a great place for outdoor adventures.

I’ve only named a few, but I’ll leave the rest of the exploring to you. Don’t miss out on what Kentucky has to offer!

Author Bio

Louise is the founder of TheAdventureLand.com, where she and her associate’s blog about Outdoor experiences, tips & tricks that will help you have an exciting adventure. She is also a tour guide of travel company where she learned many things about wilderness. “Let’s pack our bags and explore the world!”. Follow her on Twitter and on Google+

If you are interested in submitting a guest post, please see the guidelines here.  Looking forward to your articles!

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

V-Podcast Series: On My Way! From a Lawyer to a Mountain Nomad

Do you wish to quit your career and change shifts? Have an off the beaten path kind of dream? It’s never too late to change paths.

Marinel (Brown Gal Trekker) starts on her journey towards retiring from her 14 year career as a lawyer to become a mountain nomad and run her mountain trekking/adventure travel social enterprise, Peak Explorations. She plans to go full time as a nomad in August, 2018 at which time the podcast/vlog series will end to launch her into the world of a nomadic lifestyle.

Tune in via YOUTUBE (subscribe HERE) every 1st and 3rd Sunday of the month for her ongoing updates on her journey to becoming a nomad including her reasons for the decision to make this shift in her life, the steps she’s taking, her future plans as a nomad, challenges, joys, ups and downs of the process to get to an off the beaten dream plus featured guests to inspire her to forge ahead.  If you’re planning to quit the 9 to 5 and go for your dream as an entrepreneur or a nomad, Brown Gal Trekker would love to hear from you!

For more inspiration, check out her article, She Becomes a Judge, I Become a Mountain Nomad.

 

Follow Brown Gal Trekker via:

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

WOMAN TRAIL LEADER: Rebecca of Hike Like a Woman

I must admit – life can be hectic.  But what happens when your passion takes over most of your waking life?  Since the inception of this blog and my social enterprise, Peak Explorations, any minute I get outside of my legal career has been dedicated to building the foundation for both entities.  Luckily, my effort to do so is inspired by so many wonderful women who thrive in the spirit of the outdoors.  Rebecca happens to be not only an inspired hiker, but also an INSPIRER for many women who love the outdoors.

To be honest, life before meeting Rebecca was like living in a bubble with the presence of such frequent thoughts in my head:

Am I the only one who is obsessed with hiking?  Why can’t I be normal like the rest of the single girls back in Washington, DC?  Why do I preoccupy myself with the idea of mountains and summits?

Shortly after launching this blog and Peak Explorations, I met Rebecca through her women-focused outdoors website, Hike Like a Woman.  This discovery was completely by accident which happened through a network of bloggers on Facebook.  From the HLAW website, I gathered that there are more women who care about hiking that I could have ever imagined.  In fact, I discovered through HLAW that there IS a community of women supporting one another in their pursuit of the outdoors.  How did I overlook the idea of the existence of such a community?  From there, I gained interest in getting involved and contacted Rebecca about the Ambassador Program with HLAW.  I then contributed a few articles to HLAW and eventually became a contributor for the website.

The thing is I never really thought of the possibility that networking with other outdoor bloggers/leaders would be feasible.  But, Rebecca through HLAW managed to pave the way to connect many of us and create a community that continues to grow as time passes.  As I learned to get to know Rebecca and her mission behind HLAW, I began to sense that Rebecca’s role within the hiking community for women is irreplaceable.  

Rebecca embodies the role of an icon for women as a reminder of the possibilities out there for us, be it in the world of the outdoors or in our personal lives.  There is no limit to what we are capable of as women – whether we choose to be a trail leader, an entrepreneur, a wife, a mother, or to simply be a hiker.  In the most authentic version of ourselves, we have the power to be what we wish to become.  HLAW is a testament to the empowerment of women that we embody individually and celebrate as a whole.  The sum of all the parts leads to HLAW as the vehicle to promote the voices and the relevance of women in the outdoors.  HLAW’s success, of course, goes back to the founder herself.  It’s a reflection of Rebecca’s commitment to be of service to the community of diverse women who share her passion – hiking and the outdoors.

There are plenty of individuals and organizations I’m grateful for since the start of my blogging life and entrepreneurship.  As such, undoubtedly, Rebecca and HLAW are on top of the the list of those who I’ll always be grateful to in terms of inspiration and support.

So, with all that said, I’m thrilled to share Rebecca’s hiking story, her role as  a trail leader and her experience as an entrepreneur in the outdoors world.  As I learn about Rebecca’s insight and passion for all the above endeavors, I quickly came to this realization:

When our passion takes over our lives, it may very well be so damn exhausting. Yes, indeed it is.  And yet, alongside with it, is a feeling of immense joy- after all, it is all about going after what is truly dear to our hearts.  Hence, we rest, if needed, but no matter how tired we may be, we never stop forging ahead.

Outdoor Woman’s  Voice, Woman Trail Leader & Freedompreneur: Rebecca of Hike Like a Woman

Rebecca Walsh grew up in Bozeman, Montana.  She currently lives with her husband and two children, ages 5 and 3 in Laramie, WY.  As our feature, it’s a pleasure to have Rebecca because she not only is a voice for outdoors women, but she is also fitting as a feature for the Women Trail Leaders and Freedompreneurs series of the blog.  Rebecca has founded several outdoors entities: Hike Like a Woman, Little Laramie Hikers and Just Trails.  She’s also a published writer.  Rebecca’s love for the outdoors is unquestionable as any activity that she partakes in almost always has everything to do with the outdoors.  Talk about passion!  It’s amazing how she manages to find time for all these things.  It must be true love!  So, let’s read on about Rebecca’s hiking life and learn about her amazing projects that have become instrumental to the hiking community.

When and how did you start hiking?

I grew up in a really outdoorsy family so I don’t really remember when I started hiking but I’ve seen a lot of picture of me as a baby in a backpack carrier on my Dad’s back. So I guess it started from before I was born. It’s just kind of in my nature to want to be outdoors and on the mountain.

What do you like the most about hiking?

I like that it’s something that can be done almost anywhere there is a dirt path and that there’s minimal equipment required. After all, a hike can be nothing more than just a walk in the woods. You can make it as extreme or as easy as you want just by varying the terrain.

Rebecca shares with us her most memorable hiking experience to date.

A few years ago a group of my Mom friends and I decided that we needed a break from hiking at the pace of our toddlers and young children. So we planned a quick trip to Colorado where we climbed four 14ers in one day. Mt. Democrat, Cameron Lincoln and Bross. We showed up at our campsite late at night on a Friday after working all day and then woke up at 4 am to begin the climb. It was a long day, with breathtaking scenery and lung-busting ascents. The whole adventure lasted maybe 24 hours but it was exactly what we needed to do something a little bit challenging and have some fun together.  

See the full story here.  

14er trip/Democrat: Twice/year the moms in our hiking group plan a girls-only trip where we leave the kids at home and do something epic. Mt Democrat was our first 14er together.
14er trip:The entire group.

What are some lessons you’ve learned from hiking?

The biggest lesson that I’ve learned lately is how to slow down. When I’m on the trail my email isn’t buzzing, my phone isn’t ringing, my to-do list disappears. It’s just me and the trail with nothing to do except enjoy the beauty that surrounds me and become lost in my own thoughts. My best ideas don’t come when I’m busy, they come when I’ve taken a few minutes to slow down, breathe and walk.  I’ve also learned to listen and just be at peace with who I am.

What advise would you give to those new to hiking?

Just lace up your boots and go. The hardest part for me is getting out the door, so I have to put hikes on my schedule so the space doesn’t get filled up with work. If you’re new to hiking find an experienced friend to show you what to pack and where to go. If you’re a new Mom and looking to start hiking with your baby don’t wait, hiking is so good for children of all ages.

Rebecca shares with us some of her favorite family photos while playing on the trails.

3 year old Finn
5 year old William
We don’t shy away from difficult trails as parents because we like to push ourselves. This is the summit of Medicine Bow Peak at 12.016 feet.

What treks do you have on your bucket list?

Definitely Kilimanjaro. I turned down a trip there last year and totally regret it. I’m also planning to do Rainier in a few years to celebrate my 40th birthday.  But yeah, if there’s a big mountain I want to climb it.

What challenges have you faced if anything as a female hiker?

This is an interesting question, because after all I do have a website called Hike Like A Woman. But honestly, I  grew up in a family where all of us hiked. I live in a place where I see just as many women (if not more) on the trails as I do men. I feel really comfortable and safe on the trails, and I’ve never experienced any sort of gender discrimination on the mountain.  I guess I’m lucky, not all women experience that.

You have a hiking group called Little Laramie Hikers in Wyoming. What is it about?

Shortly after my husband and I left our careers to move to Wyoming I noticed a few things. First, I noticed that my entire town seemed to hibernate for the winter. I rarely saw any women and children on the trails once the snow started to fly. Second, I noticed that occasionally I’d see a family on the trails but only on the weekends. There were a lot of outdoorsy women in my town who love the outdoors but weren’t comfortable taking their children on a hike without their spouse. I wanted to change this culture so I started a family-friendly hiking group.

The friendships that my children are developing with other children in our hiking group are invaluable. I think they will explore with this group of children for a long time.

What made you decide to start this group and tell us what activities does the group do? 

I started the Little Laramie Hikers because I’m passionate about connecting women and children with nature and local trails. I also wanted a way to make friends who had similar interests (like the outdoors) and I wanted to provide a fun way for parents to meet up and hike.

Right now, we hike together every Friday morning. We alternate between different trails, we have a lot to choose from and sometimes we throw in other activities or environmental education lessons. Our hiking group went to look at dinosaur bones and fossils with a paleontologist last year and that was amazing for the adults and the children. We’ve also learned about pikas with a wildlife biologist, tadpoles, hiked with a senior citizens hiking group, hiked in Halloween costumes, had picnics, learned about wildflowers, and sometimes we hike deep into the woods and read our favorite children’s outdoor books. We’re fortunate to live in a college town so grad students are always looking for fun ways to come out and hike with our group.

The kids in our hiking group love hiking to a place and then stopping to read outdoor stories. I like combining literacy with the outdoors, it’s fun.
This was a joint hike with the Little Laramie Hikers & a local senior citizen hiking group. It was a huge group, we had so much fun. Multigenerational hikes are great.

Do you have other folks organizing?

Right now it’s pretty much just me. There are 200 families in the group, but someone always steps up to lead if I can’t make it to a hike or to help plan a fun outdoor adventure for the group. It’s really a sub-community of outdoor families within our larger community and I like that.

Where do you hike with the group?

Everywhere! We try to keep the driving distance to less than an hour but we’ve hiked all over Southeastern Wyoming and Northern Colorado.

What do you like about being a trail leader?

I feel like one of my goals as the leader of the group is to make sure that I get to know everyone who hikes with us and to make sure they feel comfortable and welcome. I like meeting new people who who up for a hike the first time.

What are some of the challenges of being a trail leader?

Naturally I wish I could do more for the group. I wish I had more time to find us gear sponsors for our lending library, or more time to coordinate hikes with other groups but that’s just life. I do what I can.

Also, our hiking group is really family-oriented but since we usually hike on Friday mornings we tend to attract the work-from-home and stay-at-home spouses, so it’s usually a big group of Moms and children. Once we got mistaken for a daycare! I actually love having the support of a good solid group of outdoor women and mom’s and I’ve found that they have developed into my closest friends. My biggest challenge is being able to lead hikes on weekends so I can get more women who work during the week involved.

What advise do you have for women who are interested in starting a group?

Go for it, set up a communication platform that is easy (we have a private Facebook page to communicate) and tell your friends to come out. For the first 6 months only 2 women joined me on hikes and sometimes no one would come at all but that’s okay, we kept on hiking and planning hikes and eventually the group grew. Now I think our hiking group is one of the best things going on in my town for families.

Name 3 qualities that will help to be a successful a trail leader.

Patience, kindness and organization.

You started an enterprise called, Just Trails. What is it about? 

In 2012 my husband and I left our careers are Army officers. We had deployed to Iraq a bunch and had a new baby and just needed some time to decompress. We also loved to hike, cross-country ski, mountain bike and explore so we wanted to combine our love for the outdoors with a small business that we could pursue while deciding what to do with the rest of our lives.

What is the purpose of Just Trails?

Our goal was and always will be to help people explore. We had noticed that wherever the Army sent us we had a hard time finding accurate and useful trail information so we spent our precious weekends researching where to go instead of actually exploring. So our goal was to map out every single trail in Southeastern Wyoming and Northern Colorado to provide a mega data base of local trail information.

What made you decide to initiate this enterprise?

Honestly I think we were just in this weird transition phase after leaving the Army where we just weren’t quite sure what to do. We had saved some money and wanted to work for ourselves so we just went for it.

How has it been like for you running this enterprise?

It’s been amazing. It’s been hard and we’ve learned that it’s not a sustainable business model, so we made a lot of mistakes financially. But at the same time everyone in our local area knows that they can find reliable trail information on our website so it’s quite popular locally. I don’t really know what the future looks like for Just Trails but we really enjoy it.

What do you enjoy about your role in running Just Trails?

I like working closely with my husband on a project. I think it’s been good for our marriage, it’s taught us both how to communicate with each other better.

What are some challenges?

The biggest challenge is funding Just Trails. After a few years with my husband and I running it together we decided that he needed to go back to school and find other employment, so for the past 2 1/2 years while he’s been in law school the bulk of the work has fallen on me. As a result we haven’t been able to put up any new trail maps, or launch a few other projects we have brewing on the back burner. But we’re hoping to hire a few employees someday to help us expand and grow. There’s interest in it, it’s just a matter of being strategic with our funds.

How did you overcome them?

I think it helps to have a long term vision and strategy. We’ve built the brand, we have a solid reputation, the next step is just growing smartly. We’ve cash-flowed the business and are committed to keeping it debt-free. Because we want to keep the risk low it limits the speed by which we can grow and expand.

What 3 tips would you give to outdoors women who are thinking of starting an outdoors-related business?

Chose your business partner wisely. Have a plan. Don’t go into debt, it’s just not worth it.

How do you define success as an entrepreneur?

Do you work hard to provide a good service that helps people? If so then you are a success.

What keeps you motivated in running a business?

I guess it’s selfish but I really like being my own boss, I don’t really want to work for someone else.

How hard is it for a female to run a business in this niche?  Any challenges?

Since it’s been a partnership from day #1 I haven’t noticed any challenges related to being a female. I like to think that if you want to pursue your passion and work hard nothing will stop you.

As I met Rebecca through her organization, Hike Like a Woman, I definitely had to ask her about HLAW, its beginnings and  how she envisions it evolving over time.

What inspired you to start HLAW and tell us about its mission?

A few years ago I felt like I needed to find my own voice in the outdoor community so I started HLAW.  The mission of HLAW is to build a community of outdoor women inspiring each other with stories, tips and advice.

Where do you see the group heading in the future?

My ultimate goal is to have all-women guided trips and tours. I’d especially like to start something geared toward helping female Veterans, because as a Veteran myself I know that there’s a huge need for that.  But HLAW trips, tours, retreats –  it’s on my horizon. For now, however, I just want to keep building the community, sharing experiences and providing good information for outdoor women.

You have successfully launched a community for women in the outdoors.  Can you share what factors led to the success of HLAW?

Bringing a group of women on board as Ambassadors & Contributors to help share their experiences is the first thing that comes to mind. It helps the website feel less about me and more about the community. The next thing would be partnering and collaborating with other outdoor bloggers, especially my friend Amelia with Tales of a Mountain Mama. I love bouncing ideas off of her and a few others. The last thing would be to know your people, I have a photo shared by one of my readers. She’s a heavy-set middle aged woman who hikes in a blue jeans, she’s a real woman. Her photo is printed off and I look at it when I write blog posts and record podcast episodes. She reminds me to speak to her when I write and podcast. It’s not about her, it’s about the thousands of women just like her who read my blog and listen to my podcast.

Rebecca then shares with us some of her favorite moments through HLAW

Since it’s a visual community one of my favorite moments was the first time when my group of Ambassadors hopped on a google hangout. It was like meeting my readers for the first time, I couldn’t stop smiling.  

See the article HERE.

What have been some of the challenges along the way in running HLAW?

Sometimes I get haters and everyone is always pointing out typos. I do my best but I’m not perfect. If someone wants perfect I’d prefer the they didn’t read my blog 😉 If someone wants honest and real, then they are in the right place.

Tell us about some of the upcoming projects for HLAW.

I launched the podcast earlier in December, 2016. Growing the podcast and getting to know my readers is my goal for 2017. In 2018, I’d like to take the show on the road and maybe travel across the country hiking and interviewing inspiring outdoor women.  Maybe a kickstarter is in my future.

You have expanded the HLAW community through the creation of the Ambassador program. How does it work?

Last summer I took Darley Newman, the host of Adventures With Darley, a show on PBS on a hike when she was in town filming an episode of her show. I noticed that while the show had her name in it, it wasn’t about her. It was about the areas she was exploring and the locals who were guiding her. At the time I decided that I needed to change HLAW, it needed to be a place that wasn’t about me, that’s boring. It needed to be a place where others could come and share their stories. So I invited my community to apply for a chance to be an Ambassador for HLAW, basically someone to contribute to the website and be more involved with planning on the back end. I thought no one would apply but 118 women did! I selected 35 of them from all over the world. Since the program is new I’ve decided to add a group of contributors, as well.

How can women get more involved with HLAW?

Definitely follow along the website and hang out with us on Facebook 🙂

This is a photo from a trip last winter where we skied or snowshoed into backcountry cabin for the weekend. There was wine, chocolate and a lot of fun.

You also write yourself.  To date, which piece of writing by you is your favorite? 

Speaking of haters, a few years ago I published a post about hiking with kids on HLAW. One women freaked out about it in Facebook, she said something about how it was dangerous to hike with kids. Her comment got me all sorts of fired up so I wrote a post called, “Why I Put My Babies At Risk By Taking Them Hiking” it’s been my most popular post to date. And while I wrote it out of anger, it was super honest and I think that’s why people love (or hate) the post.

What advise would you give to female bloggers who are new to writing or blogging?

Find a blogging mentor, someone who has been around that you can throw ideas at or find a blogging group that is supportive and fun.

Share with us your favorite quote that keeps you going whether on or off the trail.

“What if you fall, but darling what if you fly?

                                                      -Erin Hanson

How do you see yourself in 5 years with HLAW, Just Trails and Little Laramie Hikers?

I hope I’m just still getting outside as much as possible, encouraging others to get outside and having fun.

I love camping with my family and just being able to unplug and focus on what’s most important in my life, them.

On that note, I think it’s clear that Rebecca’s passion for the outdoors will continue forward for a lifetime and is easily a calling for her.  Not only does she create the world that is safe and supportive for us women hikers but also she lives life true to her passion for trekking.  That, in and of itself, is the real inspiration that she sheds on all of us.

Going back to my initial thoughts before discovering HLAW and knowing Rebecca, I’m happy to say that they have dissipated in my mind.  After all, the hiking world turns out to be pretty darn amazing for women!  I’m no longer the only insane person who is obsessed over hiking and neither am I alone in my continued pursuit of my own calling and commitment to living an authentic life.

Thanks, Rebecca!  I look forward to seeing you flourish in your momentum of empowering women.  I can’t wait to see your creative ideas come to fruition as you forge ahead to inspire the hiking community.

You can follow Rebecca via Hike Like a Woman and Just Trails.

Hike Like a Woman is one of the collaborators for BGT’s Film Project, Don’t Date a Girl Who Treks.  Learn more about the project here.

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

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The Top 5 Camping Ideas for Couples

A Guest Post by Isabella Beck

Do you want to improve your relationship by camping? Are you aware of the best camping ideas for couples that you should try? If you are planning to camp as a couple, then you must know ideas that would work best for you.

Making the right choice will always make you happy together as you enjoy these unforgettable moments. Here are the top 5 camping ideas for couples to try on your next vacation:

1. Understand their misgivings by preparing for them 

For those couples who have zero desire to camp, it is important that you prepare well to ensure that you enjoy your stay after making a decision to visit the place.

Why is this important? You should ensure that you carry luggage as well as issues that you are likely to experience once you make a decision of camping in your preferred destination.

In addition, it will help you to work together by strategizing on ways to avoid encountering these issues. For example, you must put a working plan for both of you especially if you want to enjoy your stay in the camping as a couple.

Couple tent camping in the wilderness

2. Incorporate activities you already love together 

Camping can be hard if you lack activities that you enjoy both together. Why is this important? You must ensure that you come up with list activities that would keep both of you together while having romantic moments.

For instance, you can come up with list outdoors activities such as place for photography, biking, painting, camping game, swimming in nearby pools, cooking, sketching, craft cocktails to enjoy your camping.

Couple in a camping site playing guitar and singing – Lovers on a wekk end vacation in the nature

3. Cooking with fire

Having a good campfire can inspire a visceral response. How can do this? Maybe it is your cave people roots, however, breaking out the cast iron, roasting marshmallows and roasting a bunch of veggies or a big slab of meat just feels right. With fire, you will be certain of experiencing such amazing moments by creating moments that you will remember together as a couple after camping.

This tactic may work mainly well on a husband who is obsessed with cooking or kitchen toys. You might also have to listen to a debate on merits of different types of fireside meat preparations during your vacation stay. You will be certain that you would be in a place where you can have unforgettable experiences with your spouse by celebrating life.

Portrait of a couple making coffee on the bonfire in the forest

4. Snuggling

Having outdoor snuggles is always something romantic that you can try as a couple. From an inspiring sunset to “catching” shooting stars, you will get into this romantic mood.

In addition, you can zip two bags as a couple together. This will give you an opportunity to have endless jokes at the same time discussing things that inspire your love significantly together.

This will create unforgettable moments together when camping as a couple. Never forget to share light moments with your partner by reminding one another the best and worst days of your relationship as a couple.

The Love story of young people outdoors.

5. Make sure you have the right gear

There is nothing worse in this world than going camping when you are unprepared. Why say this? It is worth the effort and time to either rent or buy an appropriate gear before traveling with your partner.

The absolute worst case is getting cold especially in the tent camping—talk about that romantic buzzkill. What should you do? Make sure you have sleeping bags, which are rated for the given temperature range that you expect to encounter during your vacation. You should also check the temperatures on the listing before you head out.

Another pro-tip to remember is to make sure that you have sleeping pads for insulation. Why is this important? When you have what you need before traveling, you will always be certain that you will enjoy your moments in your preferred place for vacation.

It is important that you get help from traveling experts who will give you an overview of the place where you would love to visit, thus helping you to prepare psychologically. If you are not sure what you need, make sure that you include a checklist of the things that you need in your preferred destination.

In conclusion, the above are the top five Camping Ideas for Couple to try on your next vacation if you want to enjoy an unforgettable experience.

About the Author

Isabella is a hiking enthusiast who has an in-born love for nature.

She is the editor of MadOutdoorist.Com, a blog that provides crucial information about outdoor adventures.  You can follow via Twitter & Instagram.

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The Holy Pilgrimage Trek: China’s Yading Nature Reserve

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The Discovery of Yading

How I feel about Yading is incomparable to all the other trekking or travel experiences I ever had.  It was in many ways the highlight of my trekking experience in China and I cannot express in words how relevant Yading has been in my life.  Yading is within the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) and is part of the Sichuan Province.

Let’s start from the beginning.  How in the world did I find out about Yading or to be complete, Yading Nature Reserve in Sichuan Province of China?  It was due to a blog that I ended up making my way to this part of the world with determination.  I had no idea about this place until I read this blog.  In fact, the discovery of the blog was accidental which happened during my research on treks that I could do in Sichuan province.  As it was venturing into an off the beaten path, I wasn’t so sure how I could make it materialize itself into a real trek.  The blog contained such astounding photos of Yading that I couldn’t resist.  Could it be that this place looked THIS stunning in person?

But not only was I captivated by the beauty of the place.  It was the notion of walking around mountain peaks on a trail known as a kora or holy pilgrimage trek.  The local Tibetans treat this place as a highly spiritual place.  Along the trails, you’d see evidence of their wide-known respect of the nature that can be found here.  The mountain peaks, the lakes and everything else were treated with respect the way mother earth intended.  Prayer flags abound in some portions of the trail which signify the depth to which the local Tibetans show their lasting connection to this land.

On a more practical level, Yading lured me for the sense of adventure that it brings.  Simply put, “How does one get to this heavenly place alone without speaking a word of Mandarin?”  From Chengdu, it is a 24 hour bus ride.  However, one can split the travel days by going to Kangding, another town in TAR, from which you take a 12-13 hour bus ride to get you to Daocheng and from Daocheng you take a bus to Riwa where you pay your entry fee and then from there you take the final bus to take you to Yading Village.   The bottom line is it takes a significant amount of time and effort to get to Yading, that is, if you are lucky enough to manage the transports as a solo traveler who could hardly speak the language.  I took the challenge, so to speak, and had not regretted it one bit.

So fast forward to the days leading up to my arrival in Yading.  It is important to note that my adventure in this place entailed meeting a lovely soul in the form of a solo traveler who had once trekked the Himalayas in Nepal.  Her name is May.  She is from the northern part of Thailand near Chiang Rai.  May was on the bus with me along with other travelers who were leaving Rilong town where people stayed to visit the Four Girl Mountain National Park.  I expected no English speakers on this bus en route to Kangding where I had to catch the next leg of the trip.  In fact, May’s English is perfect and later I learned that she is an avid learner of foreign languages.  What a treat, I thought to myself.  How did I get lucky (yet, again)?  So, May told me she had been traveling solo in China and had just a few more weeks left.  She had been to China before but mostly for sightseeing.  I told May about my plans to trek Yading.  She didn’t plan on going to the same place but upon hearing about my crazy intention to do an overnight trekking to complete the kora trail that was 30 kilometers long, and with the altitude being no lower than 4,000 meters, she excitedly asked to join me.  Other than her noting that she trekked in Nepal before, I didn’t really know anything else regarding May’s experience with hiking.  I figured that for safety reasons, having someone join me on this adventure was more beneficial than not.  Also, May happened to speak Mandarin as well! So, I took the risk and hoped that with  my new found trekker friend, we would be lucky enough to rent a tent and other trekking gear upon reaching Daocheng, the biggest town before heading out to Yading.  After all, based on my research, I was told gear rental is possible in Daocheng.  Well, that turned out to be false.  More on that later.

Meanwhile, May and I had a smooth ride to Kangding where we were fortunate enough to find a couple of spaces at a hostel.  Upon arrival at the hostel, we quickly walked to the bus station to get our tickets to Daocheng.  It turned out there was no such thing as a scheduled “bus” to Daocheng.  It was more of hiring a personal driver.  We ended up having to bargain hard and after a few minutes of haggling, we secured our ride for the next day.  The next day came rather soon as we had to be up so early to catch the ride.  It was an SUV with a few other passengers and most of them were Tibetans.  Interestingly, we had to transfer to another SUV at about midpoint in Litang.  The second ride was unusually slow, so much so, that one of the passengers was fuming mad.  It had been a long day of being cramped in a car and when we were nearing night fall, tempers were starting to flare.  May and I were astonished at our predicament but didn’t wish to create any tension with the driver so we remained quiet.  When we got to Daocheng, the originally chosen hostel turned out to no longer be in existence; hence, May and I had to decide at the last minute on our hostel for the night.  We ended up finding a basic and crowded hostel that was able to arrange our private transport to Riwa.

The next morning was so much better as we were able to have a bit of rest the night before.  I was also getting excited to finally enter Yading.  The ride was not that long and on the way, the scenery of the mountains just got better and better.  When we got to Riwa, we had to buy our tickets and from there we hopped on a big tourist bus.  At that point, we were finally entering the outskirts of Yading village.  I already could tell that we were going to have a magical experience with the views.  We also arrived at such a perfect time as the fall colors were in full showing and the peaks had snow on them.

Upon arriving in Yading village, we realized we didn’t book any accommodation but thought it should be easy.  We quickly learned that we came during peak season; hence, the accommodations were almost at full capacity.  The hostel we wanted to stay at was full.  We were then advised to walk around the village to find spaces.  After about 40 minutes or so, May and I settled on a guesthouse with a Tibetan family.  The room was shared with a few others but we did get our own beds.  That night the guesthouse was full and the next day we all had to experience the unwelcome aftermath concerning the condition of the toilets.  Of course, as usual, they were the typical Chinese toilets where water runs gently through a hole on the ground.  Certainly, this was effective enough to wash away #1 but not #2; hence, I opted to avoid the toilet the entire time we were there.   I had managed to deal with the toilet situation in China up until now; this was when I finally found myself reaching my tolerance limit of the so called “Chinese” toilets.

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Pillow!

Moving onto much more pleasant thoughts, a sweet black cat resided at the guesthouse who chose my company and bed that night. The cat showered me with affection and warmth as it snuggled with me all night.  It was a nice reminder of how I missed my furry roommates back home after being away for almost three months.

Yading village appears to be a hub for tourists as opposed to it being a natural village.  The area is owned and ran by Tibetans and no Han Chinese can own and operate any business in Yading.  It is quite a remote area apart from the tourists visiting at certain periods during the year. I can only imagine how quiet it can get during off seasons.  But for now, we have to brave the influx of Chinese tourists.  As always,  the sight of a western or non Chinese tourist was uncommon, which makes the experience great in its own way.

During our first day, we decided to take it easy as we were already at a significantly high altitude.   We decided to use up the rest of the day by visiting the reserve.  As usual, the reserve had very well marked trails and they had golf carts moving people up and down the park and to different platforms to view the surroundings.  We managed to get as far as the starting point of the kora trek that we planned to do so we had a clear idea where to go.  Despite the cloudy weather, the views were spectacular, nonetheless.  See the photos –  Yading Nature Reserve Photo Gallery.

The next day, we managed to get beds at the originally chosen  hostel.  After dropping our bags and breakfast, we did a practice hike to Frog Lake.  It was again a superb hike with gorgeous views and the lake was pretty.  Hardly did we see people on the trail.  This was also an opportunity for me to assess May’s hiking abilities especially given the altitude.  It turned out quite well for both of us.  I did notice on my end that at that point in my China trip, I was very much well acclimatized which tremendously helped with raising my level of enjoyment on the trail.  See the photos – Frog Lake Gallery.

Back at the hostel, the manager, Andy, was very helpful in planning out our kora trek.  So going back to the gear rental – well, I was wrong again.  Andy told us the only tent he had was an old and simple one. He even refused to let us use it for its lack of utility.  When we told Andy about trekking the kora, he looked at us like we lost our minds because most people only hike up to the famous Milk Lake and then turn around.  Andy advised that as a day hike, it can take more than 12 hours to do the 30 km kora trail so attempting to do this in one day is insanely risky given the low temperatures at night in the event of hiking in the dark, the lack of people on the trail and the lack of easy access to getting help.  The other problem is the fact that the last bus leaves at sunset so we were very limited in terms of time.  The only saving grace is the fact that there is a guesthouse near the park entrance to which we can walk should we miss the last bus.

With no gear at all to use for overnighting, May and I had a tough decision to make that evening.  Do we push through with doing this so-called kora in one day?  Or do we do the usual hike to that Milk Lake and back?  I was, however, so convinced that the best part of the trail was what lies beyond Milk Lake.  We had come such a long way and to not even give it a try just felt downright unacceptable.  So, May and I decided to go against Andy’s advise.  We were going to complete the kora in a day but depending on the weather, our pace and our physical condition,  we allowed ourselves to revisit this decision once we got over the first pass beyond Milk Lake.  That night we prepped our gear and made sure to get to bed earlier than usual as we had to take the first morning bus in order for us to have the maximum time possible to finish the kora before dark.  I was very excited and nervous all at the same time.   Finally, the trek was materializing despite the hurdles along the way.  It was a cold night so I didn’t have the best sleep and the excitement also contributed to the sleeplessness.

The Kora Experience

Early morning we were aboard the bus to enter the Reserve.  From the entrance, we decided to take the golf cart to Luorong Grasslands as our starting point.  From the starting point, we were already afforded views of the three holy peaks – Chenresig, Chana Dorje, and Jampelyang, even if behind the morning clouds.  We started hiking at sunrise at which time the temperature was rather low and I felt my hands and feet semi-frozen, even feeling numbness at some point.  I had to just remind myself that as the morning progresses, the sun will be up and all will be heavenly.  An hour more and that became a reality.

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The hike started with trying to get to the first highlight, the Milk Lake, at 4480  meters from Luorong Grasslands (4180 meters).  Even if our trek that day had to end at Milk Lake, I would have been satisfied as Milk Lake was a phenomenal sight to see.  It was such a gorgeous lake that deserved more time so we decided to eat our lunch next to it.  Next to the Milk Lake was the hill that took us to the nearby lake, 5 Color Lake at 4530 meters.  It was a pretty sight, as well, but not as wonderful as Milk Lake.  After lunch, we proceeded to walk further to hike up the first pass.  As we walked further away from Milk Lake, it became increasingly apparent that there were only the two of us now trekking on the trail.  This was to be the case for the rest of the time for we didn’t see a single soul from that moment onward.

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We successfully made it to the highest point,the first pass, at 4700 meters, without much delay and observed the place to be filled with prayer flags complemented by the 360 degree view of the peaks including the southwest face of Chenresig.  At that point, we decided given our pace and the decent, albeit cloudy, weather we were going to move forward with our trek.

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The next couple of hours consisted of walking a very gradual descent and then ascent with more lakes to be enjoyed along the way.  The clouds moving in fast worried me as May notably slowed down her pace.  We were walking for about 6 hours at that point and we just made it to the one and only shelter along the way that was made of rocks.  At that point, May and I had to assess how we wanted to proceed as the clouds above us seemed to indicate potential for snow.  She reassured me that she was doing fine and could continue on.  So we did.  The hardest part of the trek was just about to start.

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As we trudged along up a number of uphills and false summits, I was relying on the blog write up that I had on my phone to remind us of the landmarks and how far along we were on the trail.  I was also concerned we have yet to make it to the second pass which was only a few meters lower than the first one and after hiking for about 8.5 hours at that point, the trek was starting to feel rather slow going.  Eventually, we came around a bend and the trail became more downhill with another hill for us to climb.  I suspected at that point we were nearing the second pass.  At times, we were also losing track of the path as there were some snowy patches on the trail which made the path harder to decipher.  May reminded me that the trail was a loop so we need to keep the range of holy peaks to our right side at that point.  We eventually rediscovered the actual path and from there it was just a straight steep uphill.  I felt more difficulty with my breathing which signaled that we were gaining a much higher elevation and that we were nearing the highest point of our trek.  At that moment, snow flakes started coming down upon us as we reached the second pass at 4665 meters.    The pass itself was a much smaller area than the first one, almost just an opening between two hills or rocks.  But on top, it was filled with prayer flags. May and I were ecstatic that we made it this far even though we still had a little less than one third to go.  May and I snapped our photos and off we went down to the other side as we worked our way down with mostly a downhill trail the rest of the way.

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At that point, we still had clouds above us but the flakes were short-lived.  The sun came out intermittently which allowed us glimpses of the holy peaks as we descended at a regular pace.   Soon enough, we were below the treeline and inside a pristine forest.  We were making our way to the next landmark, Pearl Lake, which alerted us that we were close to the end of our trek.  After Pearl Lake, the last stretch took us back to a trail near the main entrance which then led us to the steps where the usual Chinese tourists are usually seen; but as it was late in the day, the place was deserted.  May and I were fortunate to have made it to the last bus with just a minute or two to spare.  We were exhausted after 11.5 hours of trekking at such high altitude.  But we did it.  And as the bus rolled out to take us back to our hostel, May and I smiled at each other contently.

At the hostel, Andy was so delighted to see us back and made sure to prepare us our meals to recover from the grueling day.  We learned that Andy was awaiting our return and that he intended to send for help in the event we didn’t make it back to the hostel that night.  We were delighted to hear that gesture but glad it never headed that way.  At dinner, May revealed to me that she trekked Nepal years ago and that she had not done much high altitude hiking since then.   Had I known this, I might have decided not to do the kora with May. I would have second guessed the idea because I prefer not to put someone in danger.  In some ways, I felt responsible for May’s safety the entire time as it was my plan to begin with.  But she did exceptionally well, and I was proud of her achievement as I quietly thanked the world for our safe journey.

may and i

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We were such strong trekkers that day and for sure it felt like such a feat!  But the truth is the highlight of the experience was the golden moment we had to ourselves as we enjoyed nature’s finest.  In many ways, that moment captured the essence of life, which we were reminded of every step of the way.  We were in perfect harmony with our natural surroundings and ourselves that day. I knew then that Yading was a life altering experience as I forged an everlasting friendship with my new friend, May.

And YES.  Yading is hands down gorgeous.

Yading and the Kora Aftermath

andy may and i 2

May and I left Yading the day after we completed the kora.  We took a photo with our kind host, Andy, and bid him farewell as we hopped on the bus to move onto our next destination.  In Riwa, we managed to get a private SUV to take us to Daocheng where we spent the night before parting ways.  May wanted to go to another town, Soda, in TAR to witness the sky funeral, a local Tibetan tradition, while I had to get myself to Daocheng airport, the highest one in the world (and the coldest), to get back to Chengdu to meet my American friends for the start of our journey to Lhasa; and then Nepal.

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Coldest airport I have ever been…better to be hiking in this temperature than waiting for the flight.

That night we stayed at a different hostel and indulged in traditional Tibetan cuisine which consisted of their traditional bread, yogurt and grilled meats.  We spent sometime chatting about life and where we envision the road leading us from there on.  We were delighted at the spontaneity of our adventure – two female trekkers/travelers who crossed paths to do one of the most amazing hiking experiences ever.  I knew my heart was heavy to say goodbye yet again, especially this time because I connected with May in many ways as a hiker and a friend.

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Simple but delicious! Bread, yogurt and yak millk.

But as life goes, I woke up the next morning earlier than my friend to catch the taxi to the airport.  I bid farewell to May and suggested she meet me in Chengdu after her adventure in Soda.  After all, I was curious about the sky funeral and a bit dismayed at not having extra days to join her.  My journey was shifting yet again.  The next chapter would entail having to reconnect with people back in the U.S.A. which felt at that point in my travels a bit strange.  It was something to have to get used to again after months of traveling alone and meeting random people along the way.  Truth be told, the notion of  this shift scared me a little because I was fully enjoying the time spent alone and the spontaneity of my experiences; hence, I didn’t feel I was ready to give that all up.  This was the first time that I completely grasped the beauty of solitude.  Having to part from it was scary for the first time.

Travel bloggers can be heaven sent and that became evident in my case.  For that, I am grateful.  For full details on Yading and the Kora Trek, please visit the website, The Land of Snows, which I used as my personal reference for this journey.

Without further ado, here is the gallery of photos on our Kora Trek in Yading Nature Reserve:

Read also: FILM PROJECT: Don’t Date a Girl Who Treks, which was launched based on BGT’s trek in Yading.

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

OUTDOOR WOMAN’S VOICE: Kaila & Wyatt

One is never too old to hike.  But then, can one ever be “too young” to hike? 

Our next feature, Kaila, found inspiration from hiking through making a choice to live a healthy lifestyle and discovered hiking in her adult life.  However, joining Kaila, is her 4 year old son, Wyatt, who started hiking at 8 months!  Of course, not literally as he was too young to walk then but his parents have exposed him to the outdoors from that very young age.   So, are you ever too young to love the outdoors?  According to Wyatt, no.

Before officially meeting Kaila and Wyatt, my first encounter with Wyatt was through reading a Huffington Post article on him.  Wyatt aims to hike Mt. Kinabalu in Malaysia’s Borneo – the  youngest to do so.  I personally did a solo hike of Mt. Kinabalu years back and it’s a strenuous trail not to be taken lightly as it goes as high as over 13,000 feet.  Luckily, it appears his parents are mindful of his safety and deems that to be the number one priority.  Wyatt’s pursuit of hiking and just being in the outdoors is certainly inspiring for the young and old alike.  Also, it’s a testament to the fact that having kids should not halt our passion for the outdoors as adults, especially for women.  After all, it’s the healthiest way to raise a young person.   So, I’m rather excited to hear from both Kaila and Wyatt about how hiking has been instrumental in their lives.  In addition, their hiking stories take us to the Philippines and Asia (for now).  In case you do wonder if there are trails to trek in that part of the world, the answer is yes, most definitely!  It’s not the easiest terrain either with frequent muddy conditions and steep climbs.  Nonetheless, it’s a heavenly place for any avid hiker.

Outdoor  Woman’s Voice

Kaila (& Wyatt)

Kaila Sharlene de los Reyes – Bedural was born in Santa Cruz, Manila and grew up in Quiapo, Manila.  She is currently residing in San Pedro, a city in the province of Laguna.  Kaila is a freelance web developer, web designer, SEO specialist, and marketer.   Kaila started hiking in 2011.  She hikes in nearby mountains and around Batangas, Laguna and Rizal as time allows.  She also has ventured into the Cordillera mountains in Benguet and explored some of the peaks in Mindanao.  When off trails, Kaily loves collecting banknotes of the countries she has visited and old Philippine banknotes.

How did you discover hiking?

I saw the hiking photos of my officemates and I suddenly feel envious with them. I didn’t tell anyone that I wanted to join but I suddenly got invited by one of them, so I immediately said yes!  After that, I didn’t join them anymore and I just searched for groups and events on facebook where I could join and I eventually became a solo hiker.

What do you like the most about hiking?

I was born and grew up in a city so I seldom experience being with nature during my childhood and teenage days. When hiking, I loved how I can see different views of nature. Also, there’s an overwhelming joy once you reach the top of the mountain. Next, it helped me have a healthy lifestyle. Our family is prone to being obese. In fact, I’ve been overweight since I was a child. But because of hiking, I’ve lost a lot of weight. However, in 2015 when I became too busy with work and we seldom went hiking, I gained back some pounds again. Third, hiking helps me relieved some stress, especially when spending the night camping in the mountain. Fourth, hiking is our major family bonding.

Do you enjoy hiking solo or with others more? 

When I didn’t have my own family yet, I enjoyed hiking solo. Hiking with big groups delayed the itinerary and I want to follow my own pace. If spending the night in the mountains, sometimes it’s too noisy at the campsite if there are too many people. So without a doubt, I loved hiking alone. However, it changed when I’ve got a husband and a baby. Hiking as a family is the most enjoyable thing for me now. I no longer care about my own pacing because we enjoyed every step with our Wyatt.

Kaila shares with us 3 places locally and abroad that she and Wyatt have hiked. 

Fansipan in Sapa Town Lao Cai, Vietnam is our first ever hike outside the Philippines. It is called the “Roof of Indochina”. It was winter season (December) when we went there and although there’s no snow, the climate is really cold especially at the top. But we’re prepared and equipped with proper gears so we didn’t worry about the cold weather.

Next is Mt. Talomo traverse to Mt. Apo. It is known as Mindanao Megatraverse because of its tough trails. Mt. Apo is the highest mountain in the Philippines and potentially-active strato-volcano. There are a lot of trails to get there like the Kapatagan trail (easiest), Kidapawan trail (a little challenging) and a lot more. We did the Mt. Talomo-Apo traverse when we decided to hike Mt. Apo because it’s like hitting two birds in one stone. Before getting to Mt. Apo, you have to hike a series of mountain peaks so it’s hard. The usual itinerary for it is 4 days and 3 nights. But because we have a toddler with us, we extend the itinerary to 5 days and 4 nights

Third is Mt. Ulap Eco Trail. It is one of the most famous hiking trails in the Philippines because of its spectacular views. There are pine trees, grasslands, ridge, hanging bridge and you can also see burial caves. It is just near Baguio, the summer capital of the Philippines.

What are some lessons you’ve learned from hiking?

Never underestimate the mountain. Be prepared always. Learn not only the basics of hiking but also the advanced skills. Have more patience.

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

Enjoy the trail and the nature in general. These are the things that no amount of money can buy. So we, as a family, invest on these experiences rather than gadgets and other unnecessary things in life.

What is your most memorable hiking experience to date?

Every hike is memorable for us. But the most memorable perhaps is our Mt. Kitanglad traverse to Mt. Dulang-Dulang. It is also a tough hiking trail in the Philippines. And because we have a toddler with us, it is much harder than usual. The weather forecast in the place was sunny but we still experienced moderate to heavy rain in the middle of the trek. We couldn’t go back anymore because we’re too far already so we have no choice but to go. There are steep descents and ascents so we have to use ropes. There’s a part with big rock with cliffs on both sides. An existing rope is available but it’s too muddy making it slippery. Same goes with the rock. We couldn’t ask any help as well because the local guide already went ahead of us and there are no other hikers during that time. I wasn’t afraid for myself but for my husband and our little one. I went first and I managed to surpass that obstacle. While at the top, I kept praying to God and saints to protect both of them. Thankfully, nothing bad happened.

What treks do you have on your bucket list?

We have lined up Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia, then Lantau Peak and Dragon’s Back Trail in Hong Kong for 2017. Hopefully, more international climbs for 2018. Nothing specific yet because we’re just relying on promo fares and we’ll go whichever place I get the most affordable fare. Of course for the bucket list, we have the Himalayas – Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Base Camp; but that’s too expensive so not a priority.

Have you run into any challenges personally as a “female” hiker? 

When I was still a single woman, there are people who underestimated my capabilities as a female. I was turned down to join a hike simply because I was a newbie and a woman; they thought that I couldn’t do it. I felt so hurt so I decided to go on my own way and proved to them that I can do it just like them (men).

Wyatt

When did Wyatt start hiking?

He was only 8 months old when we brought him to our hiking activity.

How did he get started on hiking?

When we already knew that I was pregnant, we stopped all the outdoor activities until my CS wound was completely healed. We were on hiatus for about 1 year and 5 months. We really wanted to go back to what we used to do before and we really missed outdoor activities. We don’t have a nanny for Wyatt, and since there are only three of us in the house, we decided to go camping with our baby. Surprisingly, Wyatt showed interest being one with nature. He’s really happy with the trees, the environment, and the people we meet on the trail. The funny part is that he didn’t want us to stop walking. Yes, he didn’t want to rest. We had fun climbing together as a family so we decided to do it often when the schedule and budget permit. Aside from the fun that climbing brings, we noticed that Wyatt’s stamina is getting stronger and he was able to resist a lot of sickness. Unlike other kids, he seldom gets sick and never been hospitalized.

What trails has Wyatt hiked to date?

A lot. 43 mountains as of this writing. You can find his hiking log here: http://www.wyattmaktrav.com/climb-log/

What is the terrain like for these hikes?

Mountainous, grasslands, mossy forest, open fields, muddy trail, and river crossings.

How do you coordinate and plan his hikes?

Of course, extensive preparation has been done before we go on a climb. We consider the type of mountain whether it’s only a dayhike or a multi-day climb. We avoid mountains that are rocky and have limatiks (leeches). We choose mountains where baby Wyatt can walk/climb by himself in most parts. As a result, his legs are full of muscles even as a baby. There are more preparations in major climbs because we need to make sure that we won’t run out of supplies for the entire duration of the hike. Aside from the allotted food for the estimated days, we also have some buffer supplies (emergency food) just in case there are unexpected circumstances. We have to know the weather forecast on the location of the mountain, although we know that mountain has its own weather that we can’t control. In fact, we have scheduled climbs in the past that we aborted due to bad weather in the area. We’re also searching for some locals in the area who will assist us, especially for the logistics such as the transportation going to the jump-off and processing of permits so that our focus will be on our internal preparation – mostly for our baby.

As parents, how do you ensure his safety?

We carefully choose the trails that we will hike. As parents, we don’t want him to be in danger. So when hiking, both of us are very attentive to his every step. If there are hard parts on the trail and he’s too tired, we carry him. If the mountain is a major one, we used to seek help from friends to accompany us so we have somebody to rely on in terms of cooking of meals, etc. so our focus is purely on our son. We also take time in the trail. Before, we used to run but now, we just follow our son’s pacing. Very enjoyable!

You also launched a website – what is the goal for your site?

At first, it was a private site because Ed and I were both busy so we couldn’t write anything to be published on that blog. We just wanted to compile Wyatt’s photos of his climbs, travel and other adventures through it. I’ve purchased a domain with his name and made it public in May, 2016. Then eventually, the website helped us establish media presence for Wyatt (TV shows, magazines, and other blogs).

How has the outdoors community responded to your son’s love for hiking?

We’ve been receiving both positive and negative comments about bringing our child in the mountains. For the positive comments, they said they are inspired, amazed and wanted to do the same. For the negative, there’s a lot. They said we are putting our child into danger, some even said we’re not a good example, that it’s a bad parenting, etc. Even so, we’re not really affected with the negative comments because they don’t know us, they don’t know what kind of preparation we do, and they didn’t experience it themselves.

You can read more about this topic via this article on Wyatt’s website.  What future hikes do you have planned for Wyatt?

For nearby mountains, we usually go unexpected. For those that need airfare tickets, I’ve already booked promo fares in advance so we have plans for Mt. Kinabalu in Malaysia (May), Lantau Peak and Dragon’s Back Trail in Hongkong (July).

What are some of Wyatt’s favorite hikes?

 Wyatt loves water so his favorite hikes are those with falls, river, and lake.

What advise do you have for parents who have a child who’s interested in hiking and who wish to start going outdoors?

Hiking with a child, let alone a toddler or infant, is not an easy task. So if you are interested to start going outdoors with your child, make sure that you have tried it yourself. The most important thing is that both parents should love what they are doing. Be prepared not only with the supplies but also physically and emotionally.

It’s been a pleasure to have Kaila and Wyatt on this feature and learning more about the hiking life in the Philippines.   The outdoors are meant for any age and stage of life as long as preparations are made.  Wyatt sure has more hikes to pursue and so it’s worth following him via his social media accounts:  Facebook, Instagram & Twitter.  You can also read about Wyatt’s adventures via his own blog.

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.

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

Are You Brave Enough? Summiting a Peak That Almost Killed You

I can see IT, touch IT, smell IT.  

“THIS”

The summit, that is.  In just a matter of days I will once again come face to face with a mountain or a volcano rather that has instilled this lingering fear in me.  Her name is Kilimanjaro.

A few years back, I made an ambitious attempt to summit Kilimanjaro via the shortest route – Marangu.  By shortest, I mean 2.5 days to go up the summit.  Sounds intense?  It’s more than intense. I almost died from the onset of symptoms of pulmonary edema.  By the time I hit the last hut, Kibo, on the night I was scheduled to summit, I barely could lift a fork to feed myself pasta.  To be frank, that was one of the scariest night of my life.  A German doctor who happened to be at the hut that night looked me over and said rather bluntly, “You know you’re not making it right?  You’d die if you continue on.  Well, that is if you can even walk at this stage.”

She was right. I couldn’t walk anymore.  My lungs were starting to fill up with fluids and my breathing was significantly limited.  As the night progressed, I started coughing and fever set in.  The minimal amount of oxygen left me devoid of any ability to even fully comprehend my surroundings.  Unbeknownst to her, in silence, I cried that night while the hikers and I made our attempt to get some sleep before the midnight start time for the summit.  My younger self then was consumed with a sense of “failure” – one that I dreaded on the trek.  After all, I came to Kilimanjaro to conquer the peak.  Being only 6-8 hours away from the goal was heart-wrenching.  I was that close to possessing the prize.  But I knew I had no choice except to quietly lay on that top bunk bed struggling to keep myself conscious and awake.  Minutes before midnight, I could hear the noises coming from the adrenaline-fueled hikers that were hastily preparing their gear for the ultimate hike up the summit.  Their day of hiking would take anywhere between 10 and 14 hours to complete whereas my activity for that day took a different shape, one in which I have to be transported down the mountain as soon as daylight arrived.

As they left the room, I felt a sense of disappointment at myself. I could barely stand the thought that I allowed the journey to lead me to this –a distraught, debilitated and hardly functioning version of myself – fully surrendering to the defeat.  I recalled laying in silence for a long time while fearing that if I closed my eyes, I may never open them up again.  Never.  In other words, it dawned on me that quite possibly I might die tonight. 

I thought about my family and friends, how far away they were and without a clue of the predicament that I was in.  Fear mixed with despair wasn’t something I ever conjured in my mind until that night. My only goal at that moment was to survive.  I preoccupied my mind with thoughts, no matter how random they maybe just to avoid the allure of sleep. I reflected on how events unfolded leading up to that point.  Perhaps I became too overly confident that I can conquer any peak I so desire in light of the fact that I successfully trekked up Thorung La Pass on Annapurna Circuit in Nepal just months prior.  Now, as fate intended, I was learning the hard way that being overly confident in Kilimanjaro worked against me.  The decision to hike up over the shortest amount of time worked against me. Now, I myself was against me for making such reckless decisions that led me to this unwanted fate.  I was angry at the situation and myself while placing most of the blame on me.  What was supposed to be an ordeal with summiting had turned into one dealing with survival.

As daylight came the next morning, I was notified of the porters’ arrival at the hut to lift and carry me back down the mountain as a means for me to survive.  The plan was to transport me back to the lower hut where I was expected to reunite with my hiking companions.  To add insult to injury, the transport down via a homemade stretcher was quite a bumpy ride as the porters, my saviors, hurried down the rocky trail as if I was as light as a feather.  Speeding down the mountain did mean a quicker recovery, however.   In fact, within minutes of arriving at the lower hut, I felt completely functional again without a hint of any of the symptoms I endured earlier at higher altitudes.  I survived physically.  But then I wondered, “Would I survive the feeling of failure?”

This all happened in 2009.  Eight years went by and the experience continued to haunt me. I reflected on the sense of defeat while the passage of time which carved out the space I needed to detach from the horrific experience allowed me to grow as a person.  That process of growth afforded me the chance to see the incident from a more mature view point.  Over time, I found a way to release my pent-up frustration and fears that caused me to question myself as a hiker.  I hated every second that I felt this way.  I was scared that if I ever make a second attempt to reach the mighty peak of Kilimanjaro that I will be forced to bare the utmost sense of failure yet again.  Eventually, I learned to forgive myself which proceeded to restore my sense of self-worth.  This process then led me to realize that the power of fear to deter our ability to function to our fullest potential was in essence merely an illusion.

And so, years went by.  Life moved on.  I continued to hike and trek other parts of the world.  But, still, I continued to debate in my head the ultimate question – will I ever make a second attempt?  I promised myself that if I ever decide to do so, it will be for the right reasons.  For 7 years, I hardly considered renewing any commitment to returning to Kilimanjaro and even decided at some point, “Hell no, I will never go back.”  

However, from out of nowhere, I found myself inspired to return.  An epiphany unexpectedly entered my psyche dictating that I should go and make a second attempt.  This time around it’s not so much about proving to myself that I can summit.  Instead, it’s more about proving to myself that I’m fearless and that no matter what the outcome maybe, my self-love is strong enough to resist the pull of the ego to define my inability to summit as “failure.”  Since the fiasco, I’ve been sheltering my heart and mind from the lingering frustrations of the experience.  Eventually, this constant denial left me feeling weary of this baseless fear and my constant subconscious effort to shield myself from it, so much so that one day I decided, “what the hell, it’s time to go back to conquer this fear once and for all.”

As you can see, it took 8 years to finally muster the courage to revisit this unfortunate circumstance.  Whatever reluctance I might have had in the beginning have all dissipated at this point.  Now, I’m genuinely looking forward to the moment I set foot on Kilimanjaro’s trails again armed with my new sense of self – scared but courageous enough to conquer that very same fear.

I am of course returning to Kilimanjaro equipped with lessons from the first attempt.  The lessons include devoting some serious mental preparation for it in addition to the physical training to ensure that my body is at its best shape to overcome the challenge that lies ahead.  From running a half marathon to walking 30 miles in one day with my usual intense hot yoga and cardio workout in between, I am facing this personal fear of Kilimanjaro with the best mindset and physical capabilities that I can possibly have.  I have been diligently preparing for this moment including my extensive research on the best route that will guarantee a higher level of success.  I also added at least 4 more days to the ascent to ensure proper acclimatization to the altitude.  I even wrote notes to myself about how best to prepare for the altitude from a mental standpoint.  Finally, my trekking gear has been upgraded and replenished to withstand cold and windy conditions, which should make the experience less excruciating.

Completing the Charleston half marathon to prepare mentally and physically.

In a few days I’ll be en route to the summit of Kilimanjaro.  As I do so, I intend to remind myself of a meaningful conversation with a random unnamed fellow hiker who shared with me some wonderful wisdom – “what makes one courageous is not the first time experience of successfully climbing a peak; rather, it’s failing at it the first time and yet making a second attempt at it despite the fear of failing yet again.”

If he’s right about that notion, then this only means one thing – that I was courageous then, but more courageous now for facing the same challenge the second time around after a failed attempt.  With that in mind, I forge ahead with my head up high. Trekking Kilimanjaro or any mountain peak for that matter has taught me first and foremost to face my fears. Second, success is defined not by what we do in a physical sense but rather what we tell ourselves regardless of the direction the journey takes us.  Hence, no matter the outcome  the second attempt of Kilimanjaro yields, one thing is for sure this time around – either way, there is no defeat but only life lessons and gratitude for the experience.

So, are you brave enough to go back and tackle that mountain that you didn’t summit?  You are.  You will.

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The Grand Canyon Rim to Rim: Risking It All In The Heat

If there is a trek that has taught me well as a trekker, it would be the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim Trek.  Sure, it’s a classic 4 day trek and every avid hiker wishes to experience the grandeur of this terrain but Grand Canyon can be a danger zone if you don’t properly prepare for the potential hazards that are inherent in the trek.  I learned the hard way and so did my trekking companions.   As a trek leader, it was one experience that I will never forget for good reasons.

The Trek

The plan was simple.  As an organizer for meetup.com, a well-known social platform that allows people to organize events to meet and do activities, I intended to organize a classic itinerary of the rim to rim trek of the  Grand Canyon. In our case, the plan was to start at the North side and finish at the South Side in a span of 4 days.  The mileage was moderate in length with the first and fourth days requiring the group to work on the elevation loss and gain – a descent from the North Rim and the ascent to the top of the South Rim.  Perfect short multi-day trek.  The only issue was that I obtained permits for the late June-early July time frame.  Hence, we were going to trek the Grand Canyon at the hottest time of the year!

Yet, despite the heat, a group of us ventured into this unique opportunity.  We survived.  At the same time, one of our members suffered heat exhaustion.  This leads me to say to all those who are considering to trek this mighty landscape to keep in mind the potential hazards. If you can avoid the hottest time of the year which normally falls in July and August, do so.  If you decide to go and battle the heat, then make sure to do all the necessary research to prepare yourself and to avoid heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

Of course, the experience we had and even the incident itself did not minimize the tremendous beauty of the Grand Canyon as the photos depict.  In trekking the Grand Canyon, we experienced a rather unusual situation where one member of our group, John, suffered from heat exhaustion which occurred on the third day as we all hiked out of Phantom Ranch to proceed to our last campsite on the third night.  During that time, John and Aaron, who volunteered to be  our sweeper, unfortunately became separated from the group.  In the end, we caught up with one another and were all ever so grateful for the safety of everyone and for the lessons learned.  Below, Aaron shares the experience to remind us all about the inherent risks of trekking in the heat and the measures we can take when we find ourselves in the unfortunate situation of dealing with heat exhaustion.

The Grand Canyon Rim to Rim: Risking It All In the Heat

(as narrated by Aaron)

The day before the onset of heat exhaustion.

Well, as the camera hog of the group, it’s only natural that I was designated the sweeper out on the trail. So, by the time I got into Phantom Ranch that second day, I had never really caught on all that day as to how Johns was holding up during our hike into Bright Angel camp. I had no idea during the hike if he was having any issues or managing just fine. I just know that I was the last person in line throughout that day’s hike and nobody lagged behind enough to be swept up. Probably the first real sign that caught my attention was how John was doing once the temperatures started to cool down. Getting into Phantom Ranch just before noon, the campsite thermometer had already reached some 130F! Most of the crowd waited out the afternoon sauna inside the dining hall while others welcomed the dry heat by taking turns napping in Bright Angel Creek.

Once the evening started to creep over, I did notice that John seemed a bit lower key than others in taking advantage of the cooler air. He didn’t speak or add to the conversation much and his gait didn’t have the same ‘bounce’ that most of us still carried. Back at camp, I remember asking him if he had yet much to eat and his response didn’t demonstrate much enthusiasm at the idea. The apparent apathy for food and his lethargic demeanor that evening were clear signs that his body hadn’t managed that day’s hike and the camp’s subsequent dry heat as well as it should have been. While some of us were contemplating a quick morning hike overlooking camp, I suggested he take the rest of the evening easy, eat as much as he could tolerate before turning in, and sleep in the next morning while some us caught the sunrise. I was sure through some food and sleep that he’d recover well enough to make the hike out the next day and manage the shorter albeit uphill trek to Indian Gardens Campground.

It was a rough night for most of the group, trying to comfortably sleep through 100+F heat with barely a breeze to console us. After getting back into camp from a spectacular sunrise hike, it was nice to see John already breaking camp. He was moving a bit slow but that was understandable; it took most of us a bit of extra effort to really get in gear. But John’s disposition did seem to have a bit more pep than the previous evening. He expressed some confidence in the day’s hike out in front of us. And he did say that he already had some breakfast, though I didn’t press him for any details.

Heat exhaustion.  Noticing the symptoms.

As the group hiked out of camp, John was out there in line somewhere. I, per usual, hung around until everybody was well on their way out and brought up the back of the pack. Hiking out of Bright Angel Campground, it’s about a mile crossing over and then hugging west along the Colorado River before getting to Pipe Creek, the point of the trek that distinctly signals the start of the climb up towards the South Rim. Pipe Creek as it drains downward into the Colorado includes a section aptly named the Devil’s Corkscrew, about another mile or so up from the river.

It was barely a few hundred yards up Pipe Creek though that I spotted John up ahead taking the climb at a noticeably slower and more deliberate pace than everybody else out on the trail. Barely a quarter of the way to Indian Gardens with plenty of incline still ahead, I found his lack of progress concerning. His pace had become slow and deliberate with frequent rest breaks. 

I eventually caught up with him. He was sweating profusely, which was not necessarily a bad sign. I asked him how he was holding up and what he was thinking. He admittedly expressed how surprised he was to have so much trouble from yesterday through this morning. I assured him to just take his time, pointing out the lower mileage for that day, and that I would be with him for the rest of the day.

The thing with heat exhaustion is that it can strike a person practically on the spot in mid-activity or take over a person through a length of time as that person may go through periodic waves of strenuous activity. Fortunately for John, it was more the latter. He was noticeably less energetic that evening at Bright Angel, appearing to easily tire with basic physical activity such as walking back-forth between camp and Phantom Ranch while the rest of us had obviously completely recovered from that day’s hike into camp. And he exhibited not just a lack of an appetite but an apparent aversion to just the very thought of food. Generally, he had an apathetic manner about himself, based mostly out of fatigue. The less warm air that overnight (one could barely call it ‘cooler’) plus time off his feet seemed to do him some good come the following morning.

It can only get worse before it gets better.

I let John know that we would spend the rest of our hike together and that the pace would be dictated by how he was feeling, noting that although the climb up to Indian Gardens was significant the mileage was shorter than the previous day’s and there was plenty of daylight ahead.

Unfortunately, after a short while, it soon became clear that John’s exertion was causing more harm than it was safely worth for him. His rest breaks eventually turned into seats of him bent over between his legs. He was using his hiking poles more to maintain his balance than to purposefully push himself forward. And most concerning is that he started to slur his speech and became unable to string together coherent thoughts when I engaged with him. His physical grind had been apparent for a while but his mental status was starting to fail him as well.

My hike out of Bright Angel camp to the point of meeting up with John probably took about an hour, give or take. The hike back with John took several hours, partly by design as well as necessity. The most important thing was to take our time. As much as possible, I wanted to minimize the physical exertion it took him to make it back into camp, not too concerned with how long it would take us. This included multiple catnaps, transferring much of his backpack weight onto myself to carry, and taking advantage of any seats in the shade from the sun as we came across them.

Along the way, I encouraged hydration (he refused to eat) and regularly saturated his body with water, all to allow his body to control its core temperature. I also tried to regularly engage with him, whether by conversation or just by occasionally holding his shoulder or arm. I offered encouragement but I was hoping that just the physical interaction itself could help him stay focused and determined.

John and I spent a second night at Bright Angel camp, giving him a full afternoon and evening of physical recovery as well an opportunity to nutritiously replenish his body. I suspect that he didn’t eat well that previous evening after hiking into Bright Angel and whatever meals/snacks he had the next morning was lost out on the trail.

Once back in camp, he was physically and mentally spent. The rest of the day saw him recover well, though, especially once we periodically settled down for a while to recover, alternating between the cool dining hall, dipping in the nearby creek, and relaxing in camp. He was still obviously very fatigued and not at all motivated to do anything all that day. But slowly he became more mentally alert and aware, forced himself to snack and eat what he could stomach a bit more each time (and kept it down), and eventually able to manage himself on his own feet with little concern. By the end of that evening, he seemed more like he was early that morning when he was breaking camp.

After assisting John back to Bright Angel Camp and assuring he was stable enough to rest up on his own, I sought out the on-duty ranger for advice. It was through his radio that I was eventually able to contact the rest of the group after they had made it to Indian Gardens CG. After that, John and I were pretty much on our own until we could meet the group back at the North Rim the next day, which was a bit of an adventure in itself. Fortunately, once back at the North Rim, I could call them from the North Rim Lodge and arrange a pick up.

That evening went relatively well. In a few hours’ time after getting back into camp, John recovered well enough to walk around with little issue, although still in no hurry, and eventually could tolerate eating some food. John’s night ended fairly early as I can’t recall if he even stayed up much past sunset.

The game plan.

After I chatted with the ranger that day and then conferred with John that evening, we decided to push for a pre-sunrise hike out the next morning. Partly to help beat most of the hot weather (especially when considering The Box) and partly to give us enough time to safely cover the 14miles to the North Rim. I encouraged John to eat a full dinner so we could break camp as quickly as possible and take in our breakfast on foot.

Options in hiking out of Bright Angel camp were pretty limited. Direct NPS assistance was only available in immediate life-threatening situations, which did not apply to John by the time he ably recovered. And the South Rim route was not practicable, as even John admitted he doubted he could make the steep climb in the day’s heat, especially considering we’d have to catch the day shuttle back to the North Rim by a particular time. Heading back north was our only real option.

The most appealing factor in hiking out to the North Rim was that the group would be there waiting for us. I was confident that John could handle the relatively even hike through Cottonwood camp with little problem. And I felt that if he could at least get through half of the climb up the North Rim from Cottonwood then at least I could get some help to carry him up the rest of the way, if necessary.

Also, I felt like there would be more available water sources along the hike out the north side. That would allow us to carry a bit less and the easier access would allow me to treat any symptoms of heat exhaustion, if necessary.

The exit out and hike back to civilization.

The morning hiking out of Bright Angel found both John and I a bit slow. We decided to break camp well before sunrise to beat the heat and cover some 14 miles to the North Rim before sundown as soon as possible. But we got going soon enough. And John physically seemed in much better shape than the previous 36 hours, complimenting my sense of urgency to get through the first half of the day’s mileage with a quick pace.

We didn’t spare much time that morning preparing for the day’s hike. The most pressing need was to get out on the trail as soon as possible. So, we didn’t bother with a full breakfast, opting instead for a full dinner the night before and just snacking on our breakfast while on foot. We quickly reviewed the day’s plan and options at hand if/when he reaches the point he can no longer continue.

The hike out of Bright Angel camp was pretty straight forward, even somewhat businesslike. With me taking up the tail end, we pushed the trek to Cottonwood as fast as John felt he could take it. We only took breaks to occasionally snack on some food and sip our water. I wanted to get through that part of the day before the heat really bared on us and also so that we could save as much daylight as possible for the actual hike up the North Rim. I figured that John wouldn’t appreciate getting stuck hiking up the North Rim in the cooler air much more than hiking up the South Rim in the day’s heat. Once at Cottonwood, we both napped a bit and took our time to recover under some shade. Even if a bit slow and tired, John was doing well enough to take in a full lunch and still exhibited some urgency upon hiking out of camp.

Back on the trail, I’m sure I got on John’s nerves as I constantly bugged him to regularly snack and drink. A short while past Cottonwood, the trail profile noticeably steepens and John’s hike started to significantly slow down. I tried to play with him a bit by making a deal in that every time we took a rest break he had to nimble on a snack bar. That lasted a short while. As we continued the climb, John struggled to keep moving forward. I took on as much of his heavy gear as I could handle myself. Rest breaks became more often. Fortunately, that day’s heat didn’t seem as intense as earlier in the trip. But battling up through the sharp switchbacks just before the Supai Tunnel, it became clear that he wasn’t going to clear the North Rim before dark. He was physically hitting the wall hard and pushing him through the trail in the dark by myself wouldn’t be safe.  John and I made it to Supai Tunnel some 1.5miles short of the North Rim about an hour or so before sunset. I can’t recall the exact time I hiked over the rim but it was well over an hour past sunset.

Upon reaching the Supai Tunnel, I told John that he should keep a temporary camp while I hiked up the North Rim and reached the group for assistance. I set him up as best as possible to preserve his energy and body heat before hiking out on my own. Dusk was just settling in when I left and so it was completely dark soon enough before making it out on top. I was able to hitchhike to the North Rim lodge to call the group over for assistance.

It’s a mental, as well as, a physical challenge.

Any challenges early on for that day’s hike was not unlike what one would expect for any other typical day hiking out of the Grand Canyon. Time above all else was a concerning factor. We wanted to get through past Cottonwood the sooner the better so the day’s heat would be less of a factor. And we wanted to get up the North Rim with as much daylight and warmth as possible still available left to us. And, of course, the relentless climb up the North Rim would be a challenge. That made getting past Cottonwood as early as possible even more important since we knew the climb up would likely be a slower than usual ascent.  

John’s particular challenge was more about his body’s ability to physically complete the day’s hike. Although his day started in much better shape than the previous day and a half, I knew his body could replenish only so much of its energy reserve in such limited time to recover. That became apparent with us still a few miles short of the North Rim. And with his body battling the climb, his appetite again turned very defunct. Any food outside the occasional sip of water became intolerable.

The end of John’s hike presented a couple challenges, one of keeping him warm while I hiked out by myself and brought back some assistance and then the actual hike out to get in touch of my group for some assistance. Up along the North Rim, the temperature dropped quickly as the sun hid behind the canyon walls and John’s body could get in trouble from hypothermia after working itself so hard the past couple days.

Addressing and alleviating John’s symptoms.

We managed our time as best as we could by getting out of Bright Angel before sunrise, pushing the day’s early pace as much as John could take it, and rewarding ourselves with a good rest break and meal at Cottonwood camp. And then just took whatever time necessary for John to make it up the North Rim as far as he could.

Knowing John’s body would be near its physical end the closer to the North Rim we hike, I did my best to get John to regularly snack and feed his body through the day’s hike, to the point I’m sure he picked up his pace just to stay away from me.

Making camp at the Supai Tunnel, I did my best to assure John could maintain his body warmth while waiting for me to bring back some assistance. I had him sit on a sleeping pad atop of a large rock while I cooked him a small meal and covered him in a reflective blanket as he ate it. Before leaving, I laid out a sleeping bag for him, gave him a Nalgene of hot water and told him to sip it slowly and encouraged him to snack on some bars with it.

John’s determination to beat the heat from an observer’s standpoint.

Considering what John went through that evening at Bright Angel camp through the following day up Pipe Creek and recovering afterwards, John did fairly well. He fully trusted my guidance and understood the situation we were in at every major step of the way back to the North Rim.  His motivation level on the return hike to the North Rim was very high. Upon reviewing our plan the preceding evening, he clearly understood how difficult this hike back could be for him and exhibited confidence in making it out fine as long as we managed the hike and time efficiently. That morning we maintained a good steady pace upon leaving Bright Angel all the way through just past Cottonwood. Naturally, as the climb progressively became a challenge for him and his body couldn’t help but give out on him, his motivation level dipped significantly.  His hike for some two-thirds of the way was strong and steady. But the last five or so miles saw the trail start its climb up the rim and John’s body eventually worn down too much to finish out the trail.

As I noted earlier, John was just physically depleted by the time we got to Supai Tunnel but he never really lost his mental state. As fatigued as he was, he was still obviously aware of his situation and was responsive whenever I engaged with him. Otherwise, I would’ve opted to not leave him and wait out the hike until the next day.

Motivating John was not easy. Fortunately, while the hike up the North Rim may have been physically too much for him, he was still able to stay mentally sharp. So, the dwindling chances of him coming out on top the rim became pretty obvious to both of us as he continued to struggle up the climb. One motivating factor I was able to use was when the Supai Tunnel became within striking distance. Knowing it would be a camping spot for him while I hiked out for some assistance, we used that fact to motivate him to at least make it up there.

The availability of outside help.

Out on the trail, many hikers passing by John and I offered plenty of advice. But once we got back to Bright Angel, the ranger was very helpful with some medical guidance, establishing communication with Indian Gardens to contact the group, and pointing out our limited options for the next couple days.

Upon hiking out of the North Rim and calling my group for assistance, my hiking buddies helped me pick up John and assist him up the final leg of the hike, as well as carry out our backpacking stash.

 The lessons learned.

Experience helps, whether it is for yourself or in order to help others. Fortunately, I had hiked that route a few years earlier and was familiar enough of the route to make some rational decisions, like choosing to hike back out the north side instead of trying to continue through the south side.

The most obvious answer is just to honestly judge your physical hiking capability. The R2R hike is not impossible and is very doable. But it is a physical challenge that very few day hikers have ever experienced, especially when considering the desert weather climate in the middle of the summer.

It is always a good idea to take on such challenging routes for the first time with somebody else or even a group, especially with somebody/a group with experience in that type of hike.  Basic first aid/back country knowledge and common sense is invaluable for any type of hike. Always review and be aware of it.

As the person who’s handling the crisis, I was pretty fortunate as far as potential emergencies go. That assistance was always fairly nearby whenever I figured we would need it most gave me no reason to lose my composure or to panic. Losing one’s composure is probably the worst way to handle any emergency. As easy as it to just say, stay cool and calm. Making the decisions while distressed about the situation hardly helps.

In closing, the best means to avoid an unfortunate circumstance is to be prepared.  You can find valuable tips here for wilderness backpacking and here for traveling.  I would add as a group, it is prudent to research the means of communication in the event of an emergency, whether via radio or walkie talkie, cell phones, via ranger assisted means or hiking together closely.  Make sure to be aware of the means of assistance available through the park and the exit points along the trail.

AARON- THE SWEEPER EXTRAORDINAIRE – No worries, he got your back.

Thanks Aaron for such a thorough overview of the experience and insight as to how to manage an unexpected crisis on the trail.  You’re one hell of a sweeper extraordinaire!

Photo credits: Aaron Crawford & Ian Macurdy.

P.S. – DON’T BE “THIS” GUY!

 

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