Growing up, my parents helped me build a strong foundation of appreciation and respect for the outdoors. As an adult, this later transformed into a desire to explore more and, ultimately, a love of hiking. In this article, I’ll share more about my journey to becoming a hiker, rediscovering it after time away, personal hiking mishaps and challenges everyone can learn from, and what is currently on my hiking bucket list.
Early Outdoor Experiences
My earliest family memories are times we spent outdoors together – my parents teaching me to ride my bike, playing at the beach, pulling our dog in a bright red wagon. When we traveled, my parents made sure that we incorporated some outdoor adventures along the way in the form of national parks and other natural wonders. One of my favorite memories was a campground we would regularly visit that had a lake with a 50 foot tower in the middle with a zipline into the water. It was so much fun. That no longer exists now that we live in such lawsuit-happy times but it was priceless!
Through these experiences, my parents passed on their appreciation and passion for the outdoors and helped me develop my own. In going through family albums recently for a photo project, I was filled with gratitude at seeing just how many places we had been able to experience as a family over the course of our lives.
When we would enjoy the outdoors, we would take in the views, watch wildlife, and walk a bit on easier trails. As we got older, we started doing more short hikes during trips. The most memorable of them all, was hiking to go see a thermal feature in Yellowstone during bison mating season. We got a certain point on the boardwalk to almost be trampled by a male bison chasing a female bison. Both of them seemed completely oblivious to us! My brother and I ran back towards the parking lot in terror.
After much convincing, we tried again to hike to the thermal feature only to get just past that same spot and in the way of another pair of frolicking bison that came out of nowhere, right at the boardwalk. This time we ran away from the parking lot and toward the thermal feature. Immediately after that, we heard what sounded like a roar from the woods up the hill. I expected it to be a bear. We waited for the source of the sound to reveal itself and out came the King of Bison, the largest one I’ve ever seen. He proceeded to roll on the ground and dust himself off and went on his way without any drama.
I am so thankful for memories like these as well as for basic skills that I learned during those times. Even though I didn’t use some of those skills again until much later in life, such as setting up a tent, just knowing that I had done this many times before was comforting.
How I Came to Love Hiking
Throughout my life, I had enjoyed the occasional hikes here and there during our family trips but it wasn’t until I lived on my own closer to places with more trails that I started to venture out a bit more. Living in Northern California had the most impact on developing my interest in hiking. There are so many incredible places to explore over there including two of my all-time favorite locations – Yosemite National Park and the Lake Tahoe region.
During one of my first visits to the Lake Tahoe area, I visited Fallen Leaf Lake. Behind it, an impressive mountain dominated the landscape. That day, I thought to myself, “someday I’m going to hike up there.” I had done some casual short hikes at that time but I had no idea what this mountain was called, if there was a trail, or if this kind of more serious hiking to mountain tops was even something people often did.
I began taking advantage of my weekends to take day trips to these locations to fit in short hikes. The trails that I stuck to were all well marked. I would always go with friends during safe times of day. Looking back now, we had backpacks with some basics but did not have all of what are known as the “10 Essentials” with us. If you are just starting out hiking, I recommend taking an introductory class at R.E.I. or any similar outdoor recreation centered organization to familiarize yourself with these kinds of safety best practices. See the end of the blog for the full list of the 10 Essentials. Always have these with you for safety, just in case something unexpected happens and a short, easy day hike becomes an emergency situation.
My knowledge and confidence grew as I began taking more classes and began doing more hikes. The shorter hikes became half-day hikes. Within the next year or two, I started hiking more seriously and learning more. With the help of a guidebook, I learned what the mountain was called – Mount Tallac. I stopped there one afternoon, unplanned, during the end of a short trip to Tahoe. A friend and started some of this trail just to see what it was like. We didn’t even make it a few miles in. It was a mosquito disaster and we were not prepared.
After that, I decided to plan appropriately to make this hike a reality. I knew I would need to allow a full day, to be prepared to combat mosquitoes, that appropriate bear protocols would need to be followed, and that hiking to a higher altitude would cause us to go slower.
When I finally returned, as prepared as possible, it was a more thrilling adventure than I could have ever imagined! No mosquito issues, perfect weather, and zero crowds. The views in every direction were incredible. I could see Lake Tahoe, Fallen Leaf Lake, and the Sierra Nevadas. I remember this hike like it was yesterday! Ever since then, I’ve been hooked.
I loved the feeling of peace that I felt from being out in nature. The chance to reset and let the stresses and worries of everyday life be on pause for a while. Sometimes a hike is the perfect time to think through a solution to things that are causing me stress and worry. Either way, this time away from my phone, computer, and constant technological connection, always helps me feel grounded. This allows me to be more present, clear-headed, and to have better ideas than when I don’t take this time for myself to get out in nature. Since I often hike with friends or family, this usually gives me a chance to connect with people, sometimes those that I don’t get to see very often. With all these benefits, is it any wonder why I love hiking?
The opportunity to see and hear nature out on the trail, especially wildlife, is one my favorite aspects of hiking. I take comfort in the calming sound of the wind rustling through the trees or the birds singing. The headphones I carry with me are rarely used because I like the natural soundtrack (and want to maintain an awareness of my surroundings). The occasional wildlife sightings always leave the biggest impression, such as seeing a moose eating aquatic plants in Fishercap Lake in Glacier National Park.
While living in California, I started to dream of hiking another, more famous, California mountain, Half Dome. This mountain is located in Yosemite National Park. It is a 14 to 16 hour hike depending on the route, has 4800 feet of elevation gain (amount of feet ascended during the hike), and requires obtaining permits in advance. I didn’t have any friends at the time that were willing to do this hike with me and didn’t feel comfortable doing it alone. It was also difficult to plan to do with an outdoor club due to my work schedule. When I moved away from California, this dream remained unfulfilled. I regretted it for years.
Years later, I was looking at an ornament that I had purchased during a Yosemite visit. The ornament was for people who had completed the Half Dome hike. It was meant to inspire me to do it. I mentioned to my husband how sad it made me and he asked me why I didn’t just do the hike now? I didn’t have a good answer. I’d been hiking much less since I left California. Over the course of several moves, my access to trails had varied significantly. I let myself fall into a funk of thinking that I didn’t feel like hiking since it wasn’t as easy to get to the trails, which ultimately wasn’t true. I missed it, a lot!
That day, I decided to go for it. I put in for permits and got them for September. After that, my best friend agreed to join me. We started training all summer. Over the course of that year, I began to enjoy hiking again by discovering new trails in my area. That fall, we went to Yosemite and I had the chance to introduce my friend to the park that I consider to be like a second home. Finally, after all those years, I stood on the top of Half Dome taking in the views of one of my favorite places in the world from a mountain that had held a special place in my heart since childhood. A full blog post on this hike will be coming soon.
Hiking Mishaps and Challenges
No matter how well prepared you may be for a hike, there is always the possibility that things will happen that are outside of your control. That said, it is best to be as prepared as possible for those unexpected situations when they arise.
Along my journey as a hiker, I have acquired a few lessons learned from challenges that I’ve encountered. One of which is to always watch my footing. Some people can take in a view while walking on uneven terrain but I am just too uncoordinated for that. I have learned that when I try to do that, it doesn’t end well. If I want to see the view, I know I need to pause to take it in.
In Alaska, I had a very serious mishap when I lost my footing. This time, I was fully focused and still lost my balance. I was descending from hiking Flattop Mountain just outside the Anchorage area. This hike is about an hour and half each direction, however at the top it is very rocky with tight switchbacks. As I was coming back down the last of the switchbacks, I thought to myself, “You are past the worst of it, but you still need to watch your footing.” Then, BAM. Next thing I know, I am 20 feet forward from where I had been and about seven feet lower. I had tumbled straight down rather than descending several switchbacks worth of the path. I sat there stunned.
For this particular hike, I was by myself. I was on a very popular trail on a weekend, so I felt safe. [No one was around at the moment.] I sat there for five minutes assessing if I would be able to stand. My left leg and ankle did not feel right. I finally limped to a stand. It was painful but nothing was broken. Unfortunately, I still had almost the entire hike back down and did not have trekking poles on this trip to help me balance out the weight. It could have been much worse and this was a good lesson to me as to why it is so important to stay focused on the trail (and to have a hiking buddy).
Another mishap that I’ll note here that I am not proud of but will mention so that it may serve as a learning experience for others, is that I ran out of water on the day I summited Half Dome. My friend and I hiked half way up to Little Yosemite Valley Campground for a night and then planned to summit the next day. That next morning, my friend woke up not feeling well, so we started out slow to see how things went. She ended up deciding to stay at camp for the day.
With the delayed start, I think I only filtered the water in my Camelbak pouch and not in my water bottles because I was in a rush to get started. I am a slow hiker and wanted to be up to the base of Half Dome before the cables were crowded (these are steel cables that are the only way to the top of the mountain and are dangerous when crowded).
Whatever the reason, it was a stupid move. I should have ensured I had enough water. It wasn’t even hot since it was late September but there was smoke in the air from wildfires and I was hiking at a high elevation – both of which made me thirsty. I was out of water by the time I reached the base of Half Dome. The hike still included going all the way to the top (which is strenuous) and all the way back to camp, where the river was, to be able to filter water. I ended up having to take advantage of the kindness of strangers here and there for a few sips of water. Their generosity is appreciated but that is not the way to get through a hike. I will never make that mistake of time over safety again.
Most Loved Hikes
The type of hikes that I enjoy the most are those that take you through different ecosystems and end with a great view. The Kuliouou Ridge Trail in Oahu, Hawaii is a great example of this combination. This trail travels through several types of forests to stunning cliffside views of the lush green mountains, a volcano, and the ocean.
Some of my other favorite hikes include:
- Havasu Falls (Havasupai Reservation, Arizona) – This is honestly one of the most beautiful places in the world! The colors of the water and the vegetation against the backdrop of the rocks is unimaginably stunning! Even though I’ve been there, I still can’t believe the beauty of this place is real. I will also be doing a full blog post on visiting this incredible location soon too.
- Half Dome (Yosemite National Park, California) – Permits are required for this 14-16 mile iconic hike, which requires ascending the infamous “Half Dome Cables” to take in spectacular 360 degree park views.
- Sentinel Dome (Yosemite National Park, California) – This 2.2 mile trail off of Glacier Point Road leads to sweeping views of the Yosemite Valley.
- Highline Trail (Glacier National Park, Montana) – Epic views abound on this 11.8 mile trail. The beginning is fun but not for those with a fear of heights as it is carved into the side of the mountain. I’ve done the first four miles of this trail as an out-and-back. I look forward to returning soon to do the full loop.
- Trolltunga (Norway) – This full day hike has stunning scenery the entire route before ending at the famous Troll’s tongue cliff over Lake Ringedalsvatnet.
Hiking Bucket List
In truth, my hiking bucket list could probably be a whole other blog post because during every trip I learn about more amazing places to explore. Each day through friends or online, I hear of new places. For the sake of time, I’ll narrow it down to a top ten of places I’d like to explore – both trails and general locations:
- Grinnell Glacier Hike (Glacier National Park, Montana)
- Incredible mountain scenery with glacier blue lakes ending at Grinnell Glacier
- Olympic National Park – specifically, the Hoh Rainforest
- This park is three parks in one with mountains, lakes, coastline, and rainforest. This is the national park that I would like to visit the most. The enchanting Hoh Rainforest has been calling to me for years.
- Banff, Jasper, and Yoho National Parks
- I want to see it all! This will need to be many trips to explore this mountain paradise of lakes and waterfalls. I’d like to visit in multiple seasons, including winter to see the famous methane bubbles frozen in the alpine lakes.
- Grand Canyon – Confluence
- This amazing location is where the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers come together. It has long been a sacred location to many Native American tribes.
- Grand Canyon – Rim to Rim
- I never thought this would be on my list but after visiting the North Rim last year and hiking Havasu, I would like to explore the full spectrum of beauty the Canyon has to offer.
- Pico Durate
- This tallest peak in the Caribbean, standing at over 10,000 feet. I’d love to see the views from the top over the lush inland region of the Dominican Republic!
- Teton Crest Trail
- I have my eye on this as a potential first through hike. Grand Teton National Park is one of my most loved national parks. The scenery would be spectacular. Bugs, bears, and elevation gain/loss would be the main challenges.
- The Wonderland Trail
- This is another through hike I have on my mind. The Mount Rainier area truly is a wonderland of waterfalls and wildflowers. I can’t think of a better place to spend a couple weeks.
- The Tahoe Rim Trail
- I love Lake Tahoe! If I ever have enough time off to complete the loop around this majestic spot, I will take full advantage of it.
- Tour de Mount Blanc
- This is the ultimate dream! Hiking the alpine regions of Italy, France, and Switzerland. Not only that, but you don’t have to carry camping gear and can spend each night in a village eating warm bread and cheese and sleeping in a proper bed! Where do I sign up?!
How I Fell in Love with Hiking Highlights
- Become familiar with Leave No Trace principles. At a basic level, these principles focus on being respectful of the land you are recreating on and leaving it as good as you found it – or better!
- Know the regulations for the locations you are visiting and abide by them. Some delicate ecosystems have permits in places to keep the number of visitors to a sustainable level to preserve the future of that location. Please abide by these to help ensure the survival of that ecosystem for the future.
- Leave No Trace – https://lnt.org/
- National Park Service – 10 Essentials – https://www.nps.gov/articles/10essentials.htm
- If you or someone you know is starting out hiking, check out this post on what gear I recommend getting started with https://expeditionswithevelyn.com/12-best-gifts-for-beginner-hikers/
Expeditions with Evelyn Exclusives (EEE)
It is always recommended to carry the “10 Essentials,” even if you think you won’t need them because you are “just going out for a short day hike.” No one knows when an unexpected injury or emergency is going to strike. These items are:
- A headlamp (plus batteries)
- Some form of navigation (map, compass, GPS, etc.)
- Sun protection
- Shelter (can be small, like a lightweight bivy)
- First aid kit
- Fire starter
- Extra water
- Extra food
- Additional clothing
While not part of the official list, I would also advise that you carry a signal mirror and a whistle. These items both come in most emergency kits. Some backpacks have a whistle built into one of the chest buckles. A method to filter/treat water is also extremely beneficial.
Do you love hiking?
Is hiking an outdoor activity that you have come to love? If so, what made you love hiking? Do you have any favorite trails? What is on your hiking bucket list? Let me know in the comments!