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The Lonely Hiker: An Essay on Solo Hiking

hiking Colorado

CDT Near Berthoud Pass, Colorado - Photo Credit Ryan Choi

John Muir said, "The mountains are calling and I must go", but what if I'm used to going as part of a "we"? After 12 years and close to 10,000 miles of backpacking I have found myself in a strange situation...time off in the summer and the desire to go hiking. What could be better? Well, the truth is that I am used to sharing high ridge walks, dips in alpine lakes, hail, snow, ice-cold springs, and the deep, black starry night sky with others. My husband, also a thru-hiker, has his heaviest workload in the summer. My other faithful hiking companion, Gimpy the dog, passed away last spring after 14 years of vagabonding with me, his tail wagging and his giant, velvety ears always on alert.

hiking with dogs

Solo hiking is nothing new in the hiking world, but it is new for me. I guess I could say I hiked the AT as a solo hiker, but that is not a solitary experience. Whenever you set foot on a long trail, in the same direction as most thru-hikers, you are bound to share views, water sources, and stories with kindred spirits. The idea of going to many of the wild places that I've been dreaming about seems somehow less enjoyable without at least one of my two favorite companions in tow. When you are used to being part of a team, even if the other member of your team has four legs and can't help you put up the tent, it takes a lot more effort to venture out alone.
hike Wind River Range

Hayley Pass in the Wind River Range - Photo Credit Sarah Zhang

It's not that I'm afraid to go by myself; I just want to share the breathtaking views with a fellow enthusiast. My other thru-hiker friends are working and have only a couple of days on the weekends. I have tried forcing some of my colleagues (teachers) out into the backcountry - and they loved it - but their not itching to do trip after trip after trip. As I finish this short essay, my backpack sits ready by the door for a three-day middle of the week adventure high on the divide. I'm pretty sure it is going to be the first of many amazing solo trips. I'm pretty sure the views will blow me away. And I'm pretty sure I'll miss my two favorite hiking companions just a twinge when I settle into the tent alone.
hiker mountain goat

POD with Goats on the CDT in Colorado - Photo Credit Ryan Choi

The mountains keep calling...and I'm going to go. I'll enjoy sharing the views with lichen and dwarfed flowers and alpine butterflies. This post was contributed by Trail Ambassador Felicia Hermosillo who goes by the trail name POD or the Princess of Darkness. 

9 Responses to The Lonely Hiker: An Essay on Solo Hiking

  1. JerryW September 30, 2014 at 1:34 am #

    If you go walking on your own you merge into, and become, part of the environment. If you go in a group, even of only two, you take your own environment with you, and can only peer out from it at the real thing.
    I encourage everyone to try it. Yes, you will miss the companions you have been used to having – but please do look for and find the compensating feeling of being truly at one with the wildernesss, for the first time.
    Good luck!

  2. Brad Boll October 3, 2014 at 3:17 pm #

    I recently did a four day trip solo, my first in more than a decade. What I found was that during the day, while I was hiking, gathering water, doing yoga, etc., I was super content, and had moments of bliss. I often found myself alone on the trail for hours, reveling in the lack of “City Sounds.” I did run into other hikers, and it was nice to briefly say hello. What I found more challenging was evening times, when I had put up my tarp, cooked, and taken care of other pre-sleep tasks. It was then, often as I sat alone around a small fire, that I missed company. I’d go solo again, but I think I’d prefer company. Perhaps you could reach out to others in your area online? Maybe you could find a new hiking partner.

  3. ritagranger October 4, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

    I’ve just spent 61 days solo hiking for some of it. My dog was with me for all but 2 weeks. It was totally wonderful, but better with the dog. It’s my first long distance thru hike (650 mile) and I am getting ready for the next one. Best thing I have ever ever done.

  4. ritagranger October 4, 2014 at 2:43 pm #

    Perhaps you could get another 4 legged friend to accompany you?

  5. Drew Watts October 6, 2014 at 5:59 pm #

    I ventured on my first 3 day solo trip on the Oregon PCT this summer and found that during the evenings, while it was time to find a camp and set it all up, I grew a little lonelier each day. Heading southbound didn’t allow for me to hike with anyone, unfortunately. I would resort to taking more pictures or video of the area to keep my mind off of the lack of companionship. A dog ( at least) would have been nice…

  6. Tanika Roy October 28, 2014 at 11:37 am #

    I’m somewhat in the same boat. None of my friends here in California (I’m a
    NH girl) have the time to go backpacking. I have camped a week solo up in the redwoods but it was absolutely a challenge. I’m planning a solo AT thru hike In spring and still don’t have a partner for that. It’s a tough thing and you really test your mind, your abilities and your safety when you do this stuff alone. I just keep telling myself that historically it has been done and I can do it too. Good luck and safe travels

  7. CJ February 4, 2015 at 11:08 pm #

    As a recent widow in my mid 60s, I had never done anything ‘big’ on my own or out of my comfort zone. This spring I hiked over 700 hundred miles on the AT – I had never hiked or camped prior to this. Having to always be detail oriented, I chose to take it one day at a time – no set miles per day, no food drops, and no hostel/ hotel reservations. The hike was one of the most enjoyable things I’ve done. I think that going solo I met more people than I would have otherwise, could choose Nero or long days and met the challenge of being self sufficient. I am currently planning gear for the Colorado Trail. Apprehensive? A little, but that beats wondering if I could do it.

    • JerryW February 5, 2015 at 10:47 am #

      Good for you, CJ. That is how to get the most out of life. My grandfather used to say “If you think worrying will help, do lots of it…”

  8. Glen K Van Peski August 11, 2015 at 9:22 am #

    POD – I have been thinking about the same things myself. I almost always hike with others, and I enjoy having someone to share the experience with. My current strategy is that I keep a list of people that I know have their act together and are good company in the backcountry, and then when I have a trip planned, I blast something out to the list to see who can join. Usually there are a couple who can come along. Looking at retirement in 3 years though, I expect to do more hiking, and some longer and/or midweek trips, and I’m suspecting my current strategy may not be as effective as most of the people on the list will still have jobs. So I may end up doing more solo hiking myself. I’ll check back in with you before then to get your updated thoughts!

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