***Under no circumstances do I advocate solo hiking WITHOUT the proper emergency equipment and precautions***
I had hit a split in the trail when my mind started doubting itself. I had studied the trail map before embarking into the woods and even followed along the trail map periodically checking that I was heading in the right direction. But here I was, feeling unsure of which direction to go and doubting where I was on the map. It was late in the afternoon. From my estimation, I had about 2 hours of remaining sun. I decided to take the left trail and reassured myself this was the right direction.
Thirty minutes later the trail took an unexpected turn. The grades become increasingly steeper and pockets of snow begin appearing. This is the moment when worry starts to creep into my head. I was new to the pacific northwest and the thought of snow at higher elevations had not even crossed my mind. I begin to think how foolish it was for me to begin this hike and not be prepared. I had no first aid, I had told no one of my whereabouts and was not prepared to spend a night in the woods if I couldn’t find my way back to the trail head.
Further along in the trail, the snow began to cover its entirety. I was wearing mesh trail running shoes. Not what you want in a snow covered trail. I had no snoeshoes, crampons, or microspikes to help with traction. The snow began to seep into my shoes and soak my socks. At this point many would probably ask why I didn’t turn around. Well I had been hiking most of the afternoon. So at this point in the trail I was 4-5 hours from the trail head if I reversed my direction. I kept thinking in my head that if I pushed forward I would would reach the other end of the trail which looped back to my car.
Points of the trail became extremely dangerous. Large drop offs just on the side of the trail. On several occasions I would begin to slip and grab ahold of a tree to regain my balance. I was beginning to sweat profusely with nervousness as I made my way on the trail. I hit another intersection in the trail and studied my trail map to figure out where I was. I had no clue. With despair setting in, I sat down on the trail to try and come up with a plan. Thankfully at this moment my phone binged notifying me of an email. I realized at this moment that I had cell service. I was able to google better maps of the trail and look at pictures to pinpoint where I was. I was able to see that if I took a right at this intersection that I was only a mile and a half away from my car. I was lucky.
I was naive to go out that day and am thankful nothing went wrong. Countless times a year you hear of solo hikers perishing. Sadly many could be avoided.
But with the proper precautions, solo hiking is an amazing experience. It allows one to deeply reflect on your inner soul. It awakens you. Being out there with no other soul around releases all the worry and stress of daily life. It also tests you. Tests your preparedness. Tests you knowledge. Tests your sanity (I often talk to myself on the trail haha).
However cliché this is to say, you will learn about yourself when you hike alone.
But there are a few precautions/ steps that need to be taken before embarking on a solo hike.
1) Leave a Detailed Itinerary
Whenever going on a solo hike. I let someone know where I am going, what trails I plan on hiking and what time I expect to be back. That way if its 8pm and they know I was expecting to be back at 4pm, something is not right. Let them know what gear you are carrying for safety and what they should do if you are not back by an agreed upon time.
2) Carry the Proper Necessities
-Rescue beacon (if you are going on a hike that takes you deep into the wilderness or if you are hiking in winter where minutes can mean the difference between life and death)
-Extra clothing or blanket (may need it if you are stuck out there during the night or if you get wet and need dry, warm clothing)
-Flashlight or headlamp
-First aid pack
-Hydration (always have more then enough water)
-Nutrition (jerky or a couple energy bars)
-Repair kit (Mutli tool and duct tape can accomplish a lot)
3) Trust your Inner Voice
It you don’t feel comfortable, avoid the situation. If the trail looks to dangerous, turn around.
4) Familiarize yourself with the hike before attempting it
Don’t get 2 hours into the trail and open the map for first time to realize the map is poorly made. Understand the degree of difficulty, trail conditions and distances before embarking on the trail
5) Know the Weather
This should be done whether you are solo or group hiking. But it is imperative to do. You do not want to be caught in a thunderstorm or a snow storm while hiking solo.
6) Know your Experience and Limitations
Don’t try to do a three day back pack trip solo if you have never done backpacking ever. Don’t try a snow shoe trip if you never have done snow shoeing. Use commonsense and get the training/experience before doing something solo.
7) Start Small
My first solo hike was too far and too steep. Since then, I have started with popular short trails to get comfortable. I gradually moved up too all day and overnight trips.
With proper precautions and planning, solo hiking is a magical experience. Enjoy the solitude and peace you will find! Please comment and let me know tips and advice you offer to those starting out with solo hiking!