The sudden changes in weather patterns, physical intensity, and elevation make hiking one of the toughest challenges both mentally and physically. It is an activity where you can always expect the unexpected and no matter how hard you try to prepare for it, sometimes you find something unexpected — which you should already be expecting.
I’ve started too many hikes in shorts and a t-shirt in scorching temperatures worrying if I have enough water to make it to the top only to get snowed on near the peak. The elevation change can have a drastic effect on temperatures alone.
To make matters more complicated, mountain ranges seem to have their own unpredictable weather patterns. It can snow, rain, hail, lightning, wind gust, or any of these five combined. None of these can usually be found on any weather app, website, or channel ahead of time.
It can remain warm and sunny in the surrounding city or even at the base of the mountain while the storm rages on at the top unreported and unnoticed by those not venturing upward that day.
If it were just the weather that was unpredictable it might not seem so tough, but we haven’t even began to examine the physical exertion required for hiking. Every hike is a test of endurance and energy conservation.
Can you make it up the 5 mile winding trail that climbs 4000 feet but more importantly can you also make it back down? How long will this trip take? Did you pack enough food and water? Are you physically capable of making it? These are just some of the questions that may cross your mind, hopefully before you go up the mountain.
In the above, the total distance of 10 miles alone on just a walk might be exhausting for many. How about adding unpredictable incline, elevation (lack of oxygen), and a hiking pack with supplies for some extra weight?
Needless to say, you’re up against a clock on a day hike, unless you plan on camping up in the mountains. All things must be taken into consideration so you’re not tired and stumbling down the side of the mountain in the dark where you’ll more than likely end up injuring yourself.
The solo hike takes courage (or stupidity), you are essentially alone in the wilderness, oftentimes without even cell phone service. Even with a cellphone the chances are not very good that anyone will be able to get to you in time for an emergency.
The wilderness, yet another unpredictable element of the solo hike, where you may encounter bears, snakes, wolves, mountain lions, and many other things that could cause you harm. It would seem wise to always prepare for these encounters by carrying a weapon or some other defensive tool. Think of it like medical insurance, we hope we don’t have to use it, but when/if the time comes, we’re glad to have had it.
It’s always a good idea to carry a medical kit that includes things for insect bites or allergic reactions as well, like I said above, the ambulance might be a bit delayed in coming to get you on the side of a mountain, so be prepared as you can be, but realize, things happen to you that you can’t prepare for.
I have always thought of hiking as a great metaphor for life.
In essence, we are all climbing a mountain. Sometimes the mountain we are all climbing doesn’t happen in a day hike, sometimes it happens over a period of a year, give or take, less or more, we all have our own mountains in our sights and our own hikes in progress.
We struggle up the mountain, some days are harder than others, sometimes we stop and take a break, and sometimes we even make it to the top. Just like an actual hike, the base of the mountain can be warm and sunny while on the climb the storm tries to rip you apart and turn you away.
You may stumble down out of the mountains wet, cold, hungry, bleeding, and exhausted — receiving the strangest looks from people. While you were battling your mountain, they were enjoying the warm sunny day in their shorts and t-shirt.
If and when you try to engage in conversation with them to explain what you went through, some may be polite and listen, some may think you’re crazy and distance themselves, but no one will truly understand what you went through.
If you wait long enough though, there will come a day where you are dressed in your t-shirt and shorts and you happen to come across a weary traveller that resembled you at one point; wet, cold, hungry, bleeding, and exhausted — and although you will never truly understand what they went through, you will have a deeper understanding and appreciation for their journey, hell, you may even be able to relate to them.
We all wear the scars of the battles we’ve fought, whether they are internal or external. These scars will heal in time and the pain will fade away, but the mark will remain, sometimes forever.
If only to serve us as a reminder that we are NOT human beings having a spiritual experience, but rather, we are spiritual beings having a human experience, and humans are fragile creatures — we break, we bend, we hurt, and we cry, but as long as we breathe, we get back up again to fight another day.
There’s just something about making it to the top of that mountain that gets me everytime. There’s no one around, you’re all alone, you can see for miles, you can hear yourself breathe, there are no other sounds, it’s just you up there, and for a minute you feel…free.
No traffic, no obligations, no distractions, nothing…but somehow everything. It is sometimes when you get lost that you truly find yourself and it is in hiking into the wilderness alone that I’ve been able to reflect on my life and make important changes.
Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to work your judgement will be surer. Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance and a lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen.”
Rain or shine, at the top of the mountain is where I find my serenity.