Sunday, June 26, 2011

solo on the western rim

Every so often, a woman needs a solo trip. Solo, you can pick your own campsite. You can decide how far you want to go. You can get up as early as you want and hike before breakfast. While I like hiking with a group, sometimes I get bogged down by its complexity. It's easier to go alone sometimes.

I am always amazed by how few women will backpack alone. Ones that do often say it is "empowering." I respect their feelings, but I have never felt un-empowered,so going on a hike doesn't change the way I feel about myself.

When I was a wilderness ranger in Idaho, other hikers would often approach with questions. "Aren't you afraid of bears?" they would ask. Or just, "aren't you afraid?" They would never ask this of Andy, or Doug. I never understood that line of thinking.

This weekend  I went for a quick solo hike on the Western Rim Trail. It drops steeply off a mountain road down to a saddle outrageously decorated with flowers.

Snow patches still dotted the north-facing parts of the trail. I found a nice campsite on a ridge and settled in to watch the sun slowly drop over the canyon.

It's bittersweet, spending the night alone in the wilderness. I want this, to be under the robe of sky, to fall back in love again with wind and trees and silence. There is a pull though, now, to the person I love and miss. I used to say I could never love a man as much as I loved the mountains. I am beginning to believe that this is no longer true.

Readers, men and women alike, do you backpack alone? If you do or don't, what are your reasons?


  1. Not alone, for a few reasons.
    1. I'm afraid of the dark, maybe not the dark itself, but what lurks in the dark. Makes me a sissy, but such is life. :)

    2. I like going backpacking with my husband because he understands the disabilities I have and can help me out when I need it. (Simple things like putting the pack on and off are really hard for me.)
    3. I also just like the simple act of sharing something that I find so special to me with someone else. It's our way of bonding to each other and nature.

    That said, I love running alone and having "me" time while outside. Just me and my thoughts. I probably would go solo if I weren't such a sissy in the dark. :P hehe

  2. Love's a continuous process, finding a balance among all the things you love. Now it's good to go out alone, and it's good to have the one you love to come home to. Best of worlds!

  3. I've only backpacked alone one, but I plan to do more of it this year. I loved it, and it wasn't scary at all.

    I love hiking alone too, I find it much more relaxing than hiking in a group. I'm the only overweight person of my group of hikers so I am usually the slowest, which stresses me out sometimes and makes me push too hard and get into a walk/stop/walk/stop routine. When I'm alone I can walk at my own pace and actually end up at my destination faster since I'm not stopping to rest all the time.

    A lot of the female hikers I know that I've always viewed as strong, confident women have told me they would never dare to camp or even hike alone. That's one of the reasons why I love reading outdoorsy blogs, I find lots of strong female role models that inspire me to push my limits. :)

  4. I've backpacked, camped, and traveled solo and with groups and feel there is a time a place for both. Many of my decisions are if I feel the trip will be better as a group experience or solo, or not finding someone to go with me.

    Your experience of others asking if you are afraid while not asking that of a male companion I think many can relate to. I've had it asked of me multiple times. I was solo camping in Bryce Canyon one October when a retired couple approached me to ask if I was alone and if I need help. I had just come off a trail and was sitting on my truck tailgate eating a chunk of cheese with a knife. I had to smile and inform them I was quite alright.

    I always have the question of safety and what if something happens (I don't carry a beacon, something many people argue with me about and don't respect my choice on). One can get into trouble just as easily with a second companion and their presence does not always ensure safety. And by now there are plenty of examples of the misuse of beacons not to mention the false since that just because you have one means you will be rescued.

    I was planning to do the Wonderland Trail last year with a friend, but we pulled out after 2 days because she kept sitting down in the middle of the trail ever few hundred feet. We no longer talk since that trip and my next attempt will be solo. But in May I had a great trip with a group of friends to Havasupai, a place I feel I want to enjoy with others while Mount Rainier has always been my Fortress of Solitude (up until last year of course).

  5. I have never backpacked alone. I think part of that is a lack of motivation, I spend a lot of time alone anyway so when I get to go backpacking it's nice to be able to share that time. My other big hang-up as far as backpacking alone is that I am not big on camp chores. I do not like cooking or dishwashing in the woods as lame as that sounds it is just the truth. I like to have someone to split the chores with.

    However, I hike and trail run by myself all the time. To the point where it feels strange and awkward to have someone with me. The only times I feel afraid when I am by myself are when I see bears too close by or when my dogs get into trouble (walking on ice, barking at wildlife, porcupines, etc). I have had more encounters with fear when I am traveling with others either due to not being able to trust my companions to make the right choices and take care of themselves or if they are afraid and I worry about them and that leads to more worry in general.
    I take precautions, carry a first-aid kit, cell phone, etc and let someone know where I'm going and when I expect to be back but for the most part I am most comfortable being on my own on the trail.

  6. Love backpacking solo. It is empowering and not as dangerous as people might think. I think driving puts me in a lot more danger than being out there by myself.

    I see quite a few solo women backpackers in Yosemite but nowhere else. Wonder why.

    While I will love to have my son with me on JMT (I think), at times I wish I was going by myself, just to see if I could do it. There is always a chance I will strangle him on the way if he annoys me too much. :)

  7. Oh, forgot to tell you that e-mail subscription works quite well. It basically sends your post, not only a link, to my mailbox.

  8. I have camped alone, and enjoyed the solo time, though not for a long time...really too long. I don't think it's about fear, unless in a place where group parties might occur, but more the "miss those left behind" aspect.

  9. A girl at an REI in Henderson, NV just told me about your blog last week and now here I am reading it.

    My dad took me on my first over night backpacking trip during the summer of 2009...We did the Tahoe Rim Trail and I've been an avid outdoor enthusiast ever since. For a long time I have wanted to do back country hiking on my own, but have been told countless times that it isn't safe for me.

    Thank you for being a voice of strength and support :). I am planning my first solo trip this fall. Fingers crossed for Tetons.



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