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Dealing with Post-Hike Depression

Finishing a long trail is complete joy. Transitioning back to the real world is not.
Finishing a long trail is complete joy. Transitioning back to the real world is not.

At first, being home will be great after your long adventure. Endless food. Endless Netflix. No more foot/leg/back/what-have-you pain. Temperature control. Roof. Your family wants to hear about your hike and see photos. But after about 2-3 weeks, they’re over it. You’re over Netflix. And your thru-hike is still all you think about.

You’ll be homesick for a place that doesn’t have a roof.

You’ll be homesick for a home without a roof.
You’ll be homesick for a home without a roof.

Post-hike depression is a real thing.

I’ve seen it happen to some of the happiest, kindest, most unlikely people in the world. It is documented in retired elite athletes, so it makes sense it would happen to long distance hikers, too. Yet, I’ve also heard deniers (even very prominent hikers) say, “Get over yourself. There are people in the world with life much worse. You are an ungrateful first-worlder sad because your trip is over.” Like any form of mental illness, “Depression is in your head” or “others have it worse” are among the least helpful things you can say.

Hard exercise triggers the release of endorphin, a chemical that triggers good vibes.
Hard exercise triggers the release of endorphin, a chemical that triggers good vibes.

 

 

 

A major chemical change is going on in your body and mind

Post-hike depression is brought about at least partially by a major chemical change going on in your body and mind. Exercise and being outdoors are great for our bodies and minds. To suddenly no longer have that can be a big hit.

Face it: Thru-hiking is your community and identity.
Face it: Thru-hiking is your community and identity.

 

 

Post hike depression isn’t just biological

When you return to the real world, you lose your community and your identity—two elements correlated to happiness.

I don’t mean to suggest that hikers necessarily suffer from major depressive disorder, which is a diagnosed condition which requires psychiatric treatment. If you at all believe what you are experiencing is major depressive disorder and/or it existed before your hike, please seek medical attention.

Thru-hiking gives us the power to make our own decisions. Photo by Naomi Hudetz
Thru-hiking gives us the power to make our own decisions. Photo by Naomi Hudetz

For many thru-hikers, after months of living in a world where you’ve had a lot of control over every detail of your life (on a thru-hike), you’re thrust into a bad world full of bad people and bad things. It may seem like people who live in the “real world” have never known another lifestyle and thus don’t get how different the world can be. On a thru-hike, life is simple and, to paraphrase Thoreau, that simplicity is the key to happiness. Back here in the real world, things are complicated. The desire to give up all the advances of society to go back to a “better world” is strong.  You are likely to be hit with what one article on depression calls a sense of “powerlessness with an absence of hope.”

Ironically, sometimes we feel the most lost and alone when we aren’t on trail. Photo by Kate Hoch.
Ironically, sometimes we feel the most lost and alone when we aren’t on trail. Photo by Kate Hoch.

According to an interview with Dr. Adam Kaplin from John Hopkins University, “The worst part of depression is that it narrows the field of vision into a very small tube so [the person] can’t see the options. A lot of [the goal of helping] is giving people a hope that things will get better.”

While many of those living with depression are often doing everything they can to feel better (and  actively hate it when folks suggest some of the things below), my experience (and totally non-medical perspective) suggests that simulating the things that you loved the most on trail that are lost in the real world can be a very helpful tonic.

The thoughts below are all about reminding yourself that things can get better.

Find a support group, preferably other hikers

While it’s impossible for others to know exactly what you’re going through or why, other hikers are bound to realize that post-hike depression sucks a lot more than your civilization friends will. One of my favorite parts of the thru-hiking is the community—a place where people from all walks of lives come together, irrespective of their socioeconomic class or background. On a thru-hike, we have a shared self-imposed struggle that brings us closer. Real society, for all of its comforts, is lacking that.

A hiker get together at Allgood’s house.
A hiker get together at Allgood’s house.

Depending on where you live, there may be other long distance hikers near you. Get together in person and talk trail. You’ll feel a little bit like your identity and community are being restored by being back with your tribe (plus—when you inevitability gain back all the weight you lost hiking, they’ll remind you it’s a normal part of a hikers’ life and nothing to be ashamed about). Reconnecting with actual humans is bound to make you feel better than sitting in front of a computer.

Do activities that are mentally challenging—preferably with others

Some hikers have this box checked already: If you were lucky enough to have a job lined up right after the trail, keeping busy can save you from the post-hike rumination that reminds you how much the “real world” sucks compares to thru-hiking. For some, this means treating “looking for a job” like it is your job. For others, this can mean hitting the next hike planning with a vengeance. Set a goal and get to it.

Even in January, it’s possible to get out and hike. Photo by Tom Gathman.
Even in January, it’s possible to get out and hike. Photo by Tom Gathman.

 

 

Go hiking

If you’re a hiker, by now, you’ve already figured out that being outdoors can stimulate hormones that make us happier. Physical activity and exercise also trigger happy hormones. When you go for a thru-hike and then suddenly stop moving, your body and brain are getting a huge withdrawal of hormones that make you happy. Give your brain a rush of the good stuff and go for a hike or run.

Show Your Gratitude

Nita and Kathy, two generous, kind, good souls and trail angels on the CDT.
Nita and Kathy, two generous, kind, good souls and trail angels on the CDT.

Numerous studies show (here, here, and here) that being thankful and showing gratitude can really make you happier. As a thru-hiker, you have a lot to be thankful for: public lands, the fact that trails exist at all, and for amazing trail angels.

I always put together thank you cards for those who helped me on my hike (side note: this can be pretty time consuming and can fall under the “giving yourself a challenging mental task” noted above). If you’re not already a member of the trail organization associated with whatever hike you did, becoming a member can be a great way to thank them for all the trail work and maintenance.

Barney “Scout” Mann and Meadow Ed are trail angels and recipients of the Martin D. Papendick Award. Photo by either Miguel Virgo Aguilar or Nabor J
Barney “Scout” Mann and Meadow Ed are trail angels and recipients of the Martin D. Papendick Award. Photo by either Miguel Virgo Aguilar or Nabor J

In addition to sending trail angels thank you letters and cards (they’re usually thrilled to hear you made your goal), I also like to send them a check or Paypal. I get it: when you’re thru-hiking, the temptation to not leave as much for trail angels as you’d like is strong. You legitimately may not be sure you have enough cash to make it to Katahdin/Canada/Mexico. But once you have a job again or are back at home and still have a few bucks to your name, send the trail angel some cash and you’ll feel some of that guilt go away. I’ve  sent some post-hike cash to trail angels and it’s filled some post-hike guilt.

Give Back

Peter “Czech” Sustr teaches a class on fording at the American Long Distance Hiking Association-West Ruck in Colorado.
Peter “Czech” Sustr teaches a class on fording at the American Long Distance Hiking Association-West Ruck in Colorado.

 

 

 

 

 

Another way to show your gratitude is to give back to the future generation of hikers. Try to meet with prospective hikers in person, give them gear shakedowns, and share your trail experience with them. Believe me—they’ll be a lot more interested in hearing more about your hike than your friends and family.

Ryan “Dirtmonger” Sylva gives David a pack shake down to help lighten the load he carries on backpacking trips.
Ryan “Dirtmonger” Sylva gives David a pack shake down to help lighten the load he carries on backpacking trips.

Talking trail and helping others is a great way to restore your identity and give thanks for all that you have learned on your journey. It’s also a great way to meet other hikers—seasoned and yet to head on their journey.

Realize the Journey Isn’t Over

Sure, you spent 4-6 months with a single goal: getting to Katahdin or Canada or Mexico or wherever. And suddenly, your goal—your life’s meaning—is gone.

Sometimes, the goals you set for yourself will be just to walk across town. But it’s these accomplishments–as much as your thru-hike–that remind yourself you are strong.
Sometimes, the goals you set for yourself will be just to walk across town. But it’s these accomplishments–as much as your thru-hike–that remind yourself you are strong.

But you also proved you can complete whatever challenge you set for yourself! Sure, you won’t be able to go back to the pure bliss of PCT 2016. But you can take that “can do” attitude and set a new goal (say, CDT 2017?). There’s a reason why thru-hiking has such a high recidivism rate.

An essential aspect of “getting over” post thru-hike depression is setting new goals. Whether that goal is going back to school or saving up for your next thru, having a dream to keep yourself motivated is important. As my friend and super-hiker Bobcat quotes his grandma as saying, “Having something to look forward to” is one of the pillars to happiness.

Let your hike change you for the better

For what it’s worth, most thru-hikers I talk to say that the post-hike depression they experienced was worse after their first very long hike. The more hikes someone has under their belt, the shorter and less pronounced post-hike depression becomes—so much so, that some hikers even forget it exists.

When the joy of the trail can travel with you wherever you go in life, then you have found the secret to happiness.
When the joy of the trail can travel with you wherever you go in life, then you have found the secret to happiness.

 

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard was from Stacey Matthews, a repeat thru-hiker and beautiful person inside and out. She told me the true lesson of a thru-hike is to take the happiness and beauty that the trail brings you and bring it to your non-trail world. You’re still on trail, just taking 180 zero days.

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or trained counselor or therapist. Seek professional medical help.

 

 

 

The 12 Stereotypical Hikers You’ll Meet On the Trail

 

You know these hikers. You speed up or slow down to get away from them. They never seem to go away.

Inspired by this hilarious story from Runner’s World, I bring you 12 odd long distance hiking types.

The FKT hiker may look like he’s out to break a record, but chances are when you finally catch up, he’ll be found taking a nap.
The FKT hiker may look like he’s out to break a record, but chances are when you finally catch up, he’ll be found taking a nap.

FKT

He’s running at 4 miles per hour, taking no breaks, and traveling light and fast. You may think the FKT is out to break a record, but chances are he is just trying to impress a potential trail suitor (see Pink Blazer) and will be lounging in each trail town for a few days, hanging with the Party Animal (see below).

Pink Blazer

He may have told the folks back home that he is hiking for the adventure, but he’s really looking for some trail tail. What better time to connect with others than when you’re at your fittest, creating shared memories as you travel in a beautiful place?

 

Hiking with the Sponsored hiker isn’t all bad. He can make it rain. In Chocolate.
Hiking with the Sponsored hiker isn’t all bad. He can make it rain. In Chocolate.

Sponsored

This hiker knows every company in the industry and loves telling you how he’s sponsored. The quality of the gear he’s using doesn’t matter so much as letting everyone on trail know that he got it for free.

Party Animal

It’s this 20-somethings first time on her own and she’s going to drink like there’s no tomorrow and hike like there’s no daylight left. These work hard-play-hard hikers are out to prove there’s no time to thru like your 20s. Unless, this person happens to be in her 60s.

This instrument was really heavy to pack out.
This instrument was really heavy to pack out.

The Artist/Musician

This hiker lives for breaktime in nature. He brings a guitar and sings or spends the afternoon watercoloring. While the Artist/Musician may not be the first to finish, he has some beautiful mementos to share when he is done, and builds lovely goodwill and warm-fuzzy feelings among the hiking community.

Gearhead

A Backpacking Light regular, she knows the weights of all her gear down to the tenth of an ounce (and can even convert that number into grams…although, so can High on the Mountain).

Om.
Om.

Yogi

Hiking is all about being in nature. And getting awesome photos for Instagram included with a John Muir quote.

Blogger

He’s got a bunch of electronics and knows how to use them. He’ll stay up past midnight in town uploading photos. The blogger may be hiking in the wilderness, but somehow, that Instagram account gets updated several times a day. Often accompanied with Oversharing and Too Much Information, as well as a bunch of creepy desktop followers.

 

Fancy here is shown in a hat by Maison Michel, sunglasses by Prada, scarf by Burberry, sundress by Oscar de la Renta, shoes by Altra.
Fancy here is shown in a hat by Maison Michel, sunglasses by Prada, scarf by Burberry, sundress by Oscar de la Renta, shoes by Altra.

Mr. and Ms. Fashionable

Just because she’s living in the dirt for a few weeks doesn’t mean that she can’t wear Prada. Mr. and Ms. Fashionable were a frequent sighting last summer on the John Muir Trail, where their favorite hiking costume was Lululemon yoga pants.

High on the Mountain

It may not yet be legal on federal land, but this thruhiker is high on hiking. She doesn’t need snowshoes in early spring because she’s floating on the snow.

 

You’ll never get a Triple Crown if you yellowblaze your way across the state.
You’ll never get a Triple Crown if you yellowblaze your way across the state.

Yellowblazer

She loves the hikertrash culture, but finds the whole walking aspect of long distance hiking to be hard. This trail skipper sails his way into lies about the distance and speed he’s hiked, yet somehow manages to smell as bad as if he has just thru-ed.

The Expert

How can you tell if a long distance hiker has thru-hiked another trail? Don’t worry. He’ll tell you. Without you having to ask first, this guy will tell you every trail he’s hiked and how long it took him. Chances are, he’ll tell you a lot about the AT.

 

 

Rim to Rim to Rim in a Day Nutrition and Hydration

The food I brought with me on Rim to Rim to Rim in a day. I didn’t end up eating everything here and will discuss what worked for me and what didn’t work during the actual hike.
The food I brought with me on Rim to Rim to Rim in a day. I didn’t end up eating everything here and will discuss what worked for me and what didn’t work during the actual hike.

 

Nutrition and hydration were key to making Rim to Rim to Rim possible. When I did R2R2R in 2013, I never thought it would be impossible, but did not finish strong. This year, I knew hydration and nutrition would make the difference and was very strategic about it. A few days before I left, I went to the grocery store and went crazy getting the foods that I thought would help me the most. And it was totally. Worth. It. I finished R2R2R this year feeling strong, fast, and like I had done (almost) everything right.

In the past three years, I’ve learned a lot about keeping myself hydrated and maintaining a salt balance. Indeed, I overheard rangers talking to dayhikers at each of the water stations, warning them that there is more to hydration than water. The rangers suggest eating salty snacks along with the water to avoid hyponatremia—a condition where you actually drink too much water when doing an endurance activity. This time, I used salt tabs, which are empty pill cases filled with salt, to make sure that I was getting a lot. Salt tabs are an old ultra marathoners’ trick and I’ve used them on some bigger dayhikes on hot, sunny days. I knew they would serve me well on R2R2R.

For me, the secret of nutrition on R2R2R was making sure I got enough calories. The body can usually absorb up to 300 calories per hour during exercise, but as a hiker, I usually only eat every 2 hours. On R2R2R, I decided to attempt eating ever 1 hour.

The problem is that I have a hard time choking down food, especially if it is hot and I am exerting myself. Last time I hiked, I brought bars and usual hiker fare food.

This time, I knew I needed to drink my calories. I always have thirst, but rarely have an appetite on a dayhike.

Although it’s pricey, I bought a large container of Hammer Perpetuem and Navitas Coconut Water Powder and mixed them together to create a Super Powder. My friend Leo who I hiked R2R2R with and is also a cyclist said that Perpetuem had been a life saver for him on a 17,000 foot gain endurance race.

On R2R2R, I drank a serving of Perpetuem+ Coconut Water Powder+Water every hour. The Super Powder made up about half my calories on the R2R2R. I never felt like I bonked or had run out of energy. Although Perpetuem and Navitas Coconut Water have no caffeine (or at least the flavor I got has no caffeine), I didn’t realize it until after I got home and checked the ingredients. The Super Powder gave me a boost that I would have expected from caffeine.

I think the Navitas Coconut Water made a big difference in boosting the Perpetuem to help with electrolyte balance. Leo used just the Perpetuem and afterwards said he wished he had had a little something extra, especially between Cottonwood Camp and Phantom Ranch on the return, a section that is hot and exposed.

Another lifesaver for me on R2R2R was moist instant foods that I would rarely consider bringing on a thru-hike. I loved having the Munk Pack instant oatmeal squeezes. I could down in 30 seconds and it didn’t require any chewing and saliva left in my mouth. The Clif Shots worked the same way—quick calorie boosts that didn’t require chewing. I also wanted some bland, easy to digest “real food”—stuff that backpacker would never usually carry. For me, that meant boiled eggs and new potatoes that I covered in salt. They were so moist and easy to digest. The ProBar Bolts and Natural High freeze dried banana served a similar function. They’re so easy to stuff in my face, down some water, chew, and swallow, that I would be able to roll into a water stop, eat an entire pack of ProBar Bolts or the entire freeze dried bananas, and chug some water in just a few minutes.

It’s funny, but when I’m pushing hard, I go for sentimental foods. The only solid food I ate the whole trip was some Blue Diamond Almonds and Navitas Mulberries. Blue Diamond is based in the town I grew up, Sacramento, and I ate a ton of them as a kid. Before my boyfriend and I were dating, he sent me dried mulberries. I had never ever seen dried mulberries before and they were such a luxury to have a such a superfood. Ever since, mulberries have had a special spot in my heart, and I knew I wanted them on this trip.

I didn’t end up eating the Boom Chicka Puff or the Pop Chips. They just seemed like they required too much chewing but to be quite honest, I couldn’t be bothered to open the bags. One of few things I wish I had done differently is to repackage those chips into a ziplock bag. I was that lazy—saving every bit of energy for pushing hard and fast. I also didn’t eat my Epic Bison Cranberry bar while I was hiking. I had specifically purchased it as a luxury item to help with the big R2R2R hike—perhaps as motivation to get to the next checkpoint. While I was hiking, the idea of eating a meat product just didn’t seem like something my stomach could handle. But as soon as I finished, I downed it in what seemed like one bite. I hoped that it would help me rebuild muscles by eating it within the golden hour.

In total, I drank 14.5 L during my hike. I drank 1.5 L before I started and 1.5 L when I finished. Most of the liquid was as the Perpetuem. At each water station, I downed at least 1 L on the spot to “camel up.” Then, I left each water station with 2 L of water.

The nutrition and hydration for the R2R2R is a little different than I would have expected, but I feel like I’m getting closer and closer to the strategy I need to be my best.

 

Rim to Rim to Rim Gear List

Gear for a dayhike of Rim to Rim to Rim of the Grand Canyon
Gear for a dayhike of Rim to Rim to Rim of the Grand Canyon

Tomorrow, I head out to hike the grandaddy of all Grand Canyon hikes—Rim to Rim to Rim in a Day. Depending on what source you look at (and what route you take) the hike can be up to 48 miles and 11,000 feet of gain. Exposure, dehydration, hyponatremia happen often, which is one reason why the Grand Canyon has more deaths annually than any other national park.

Having hiked Rim to Rim to Rim once before, I knew there were some things I wanted to change about my choices in gear that I carried. With that knowledge and experience in mind, here is the gear that I took.

CategoryItem/ModelWeight (in oz)
BackpackGossamer Gear Type II15.65
Emergency Shelter/Rain GearMountain Laurel Designs Cuben Fiber Poncho Tarp with Stuff Sack5.0
Extra ClothingMontbell Tachyon Anorak1.7
Buff
1.5
Possum Down Gloves1.4
Montbell tights3.95

Extra Pair of Darn Tough Ultralight 1/4 crew Merino Socks (aka "Lucky Socks")
1.4
Montbell Plasma 1000 Down Jacket4.0
IlluminationPrinceton Tech Vizz headlamp3.35
Sun Protection
Sawyer SPF 30 Sunscreen
Sawyer SPF 50 Sunsrceen
1.35
Lip Balm SPF 15
.35
HatWorn
SunglassesWorn
First Aid KitAche and Pain Urgent RX.05
Tylenol (x2).05
Immodium (x2)
.05
Benadryl (x2).05
Sharpie
1.3
Leukotape Sports Tape (for blisters)0.05
Safety Pin0.0
Hand Sanitizer0.25
Qi Whiz potty trowel1.4
Toilet Paper0
NavigationMaps0.3
Suunto Core Watch(Worn)
Hydration1 L Platypus1.1
Platypus Hoser (cut) 1.65
a href="http://amzn.to/254kfgp">Sawyer Mini Filter2
Vapur 1 L bottle
Vapur 1 L bottle
1.4
Gatorade Bottle (.8 L)1.5
Total(In Ounces)44.85
(In Pounds)2.8

A few things that I did differently this time was to carry an emergency bivy. A friend of mine who ran the R2R2R a few weeks ago bonked and wished he had carried one, especially with bad weather. You never know when you’re going to bonk and even the most prepared can have bad things happen to them, so I was happy to bring that.

The time, I am also bringing  Suunto Core watch to track my elevation gain and progress up the canyon.

I also opted to take a daypack this time instead of a bigger pack.

Note: now that I have finished the hike, there are a few things I would change. First, I would be sure to put NEW batteries in my headlamp before going. Even with a full moon, it was too dark. I would also opt to not take my potty trowel–there are bathrooms everywhere (that being said, I suppose if I couldn’t hold it or got a case of diahhrea, the extra 0.4 oz isn’t too much to carry). I would also consider carrying a smaller pack as the 26 L daypack was too big for all my stuff. Many runners get away with small Camelbaks or even vests. That being said, the Type 2 fits me like a glove and is very comfortable, and maybe it is better to have a pack that feels good than one that is slightly smaller.

Hike Like a Girl Weekend Was Awesome. Now Let’s Make Some Societal Change.

Last week, I wrote in the High Country News about why closing the gender gap in the outdoors is important and steps women can take to reclaim the outdoors.

This weekend, I joined women around the country (and world!) in an effort to do just that. Hike Like A Girl Weekend, May 14th-15th, was designed to encourage women everywhere to push outside their limits. Whether that means going to a new area, going solo for the first time, or hiking an especially difficult route, women all around the country joined to show their presence.

Walking and marching have long been a part of protest. But if a protester walks in the woods, does it create any change?

YES.

On my hike, I saw women of all colors and shapes reaching for new heights. Although I was hiking solo, I eavesdropped on a few groups and heard women say, “Who knew that hiking could be so much fun?” and women say, “I never knew the mountains could be so beautiful!” These women’s minds were changed.

 

A photo posted by Minty Winty (@minty.winty) on

A photo posted by Teresa Baker (@teresabaker11) on

 

Hike Like A Girl Weekend changed women themselves, too. I heard so many people say, “I never thought I could make it all this way.” In fact, I was one of those women. My original hike (trip report to follow later) was an ambitious 6-peak, 8,000 foot gain hike over 25 miles. The full extension of the hike—which I’ve only done once, 10 years ago—adds 3 more peaks and seemed far out of my reach. But, on Hike Like A Girl Weekend, I surprised myself. I was faster than I expected and added on those last 3 peaks with relative ease. I found out I was stronger than I thought. I know other women discovered their strength this weekend, too.

 

A photo posted by JoAnn (@joannkelmaz) on

A photo posted by Katie McGinn (@kerinmcginn) on

A photo posted by Chelsea (@chelkyrie) on

While upping the number of women in the outdoors is a great help in closing the gender gap, a more equal and just outdoors world is impossible without cultural change. This means not just changing the way that women think about the outdoors, but changing the way that men think about women in the outdoors. It means changing media portrayals of women outdoors. It means changing perceptions of what it means to be an outdoorsy woman. It means, most importantly, removing barriers to entry for women in the outdoors, especially legal and professional obstacles.

I’m talking about how women get paid less than men—even in the outdoor industry: how women have to work harder to prove ourselves as able as men in a series of outdoor jobs, from rangers to gear sales reps to athletes. I’m talking about women rangers still getting harassed in this day and age. These are the real obstacles to society’s perception of women being equals in the outdoors.

Hike Like A Girl Weekend was Step 1. Now, asking demanding more for women is Step 2.

 

My Book is Finally Out! Best Dayhikes and Overnighters on the Continental Divide Trail

The Best Hikes on the Continental Divide Trial: Colorado by the Continental Divide Trail Coalition and Liz Thomas, Colorado Mountain Press, 147 pages
The Best Hikes on the Continental Divide Trial: Colorado by the Continental Divide Trail Coalition and Liz Thomas, Colorado Mountain Press, 147 pages

After 1.5 years of work, my book, The Best Hikes on the Continental Divide Trail: Colorado by Colorado Mountain Press is out!

This book highlights 20 dayhikes and overnight trips on the CDT in Colorado. Hikes range from 2 miles to 30 miles with family friendly strolls to Colorado-style extreme trips.

Hike #13 Cottonwood Pass to Tin Cup Pass. photo by Johnny Carr.
Hike #13 Cottonwood Pass to Tin Cup Pass. photo by Johnny Carr.

To decide what hikes to include, I interviewed dozens of former CDT thru-hikers and asked them what were the most memorable and scenic spots on the CDT–the type if spots you would want to take your friends or family on a dayhike to show them what the CDT is all about. These are the spots where hikers felt alive, where wildflowers were out of control, where elk viewing is primo–the exact image of what you expect to see when you’re on the CDT.

Family friendly hike #5 Arapaho Bay to Knight Ridge. Photo by Johnny Carr.
Family friendly hike #5 Arapaho Bay to Knight Ridge. Photo by Johnny Carr.

While thru-hikers may be big on remembering the big, scenic spots, they aren’t always great on details like “where is the turn?” or “is there any water on this stretch?” and most importantly, “how do I drive a car to get here?” Detailed route descriptions, water and trailhead camping info, and driving and parking directions are included. For hikes over 10 miles, I include camping info for those who want to turn the trip into a overnighter, or even a 3 day adventure.

Hike #3: Parkview Mountain offers some of the most epic views in the area. Photo by Johnny Carr.
Hike #3: Parkview Mountain offers some of the most epic views in the area. Photo by Johnny Carr.

The book also features great photography by CDT thru-hikers. Collecting so many photos, stories, and route descriptions from current hikers makes this book a shared work of many hikers’ ideas, brought together b a love of the trail.

The Best Hikes on the Continental Divide Trail: Colorado goal is to open the CDT to a whole set of people who haven’t before had a chance to explore it. Until now, data for the CDT has been very thru-hiker focused. With this book, the CDT is meant for everyone to explore and experience–from the Boy Scout Troop (check out hike #20, Cumbres Pass to Blue Lake), to the family visiting from out of state (Herman Gulch or Stanley Mountain), to the extreme Colorodan looking for a new test piece (#18, the Knife Edge).

Hike #15: Snow Mesa, is relatively flat and feels like walking on another planet. Photo by Steven Shattuck.
Hike #15: Snow Mesa, is relatively flat and feels like walking on another planet. Photo by Steven Shattuck.

As many of you know, I thru-hiked the CDT in 2010 from Canada to Mexico. In the process of writing this book, I was able to re-visit the CDT in bite-size chunks as a dayhiker. For anyone who has thru-hiked, I can not recommend revisiting the trail as dayhiker enough. There are things you miss as a thru-hiker because you are busy thinking about food or the next shower. Even the grandest scenery can lose a little spark after you’ve seen it day after day. When you revisit the CDT as a dayhiker, you come to it with new eyes, fresh legs, and an open mind.

Hike #8: Herman Gulch is just a 45 minute drive from Denver
Hike #8: Herman Gulch is just a 45 minute drive from Denver

Whether you’re just getting into hiking, looking for a new place to explore, or dreaming of the day you can thru-hike, there is something for everyone in the book. I encourage you to tackle hikes way beyond your ability (worse case scenario: turn around very early) and to explore hikes that may seem too easy for you (worse case scenario: you’ve got extra time to hang out at the restaurant afterwards). All the hikes in this will inspire you and give you something to dream about.

I will giving a presentation and signing books on Tuesday, May 24th at 7 Pm at the American Mountaineering Center in Golden, CO. The event is free. More info here: https://www.cmc.org/Calendar/EventDetails.aspx?ID=33084

You can buy Best Hikes on the Continental Divide Trail: Colorado on Amazon here.

 

Day 11: Wildwood Trail Trip Report

With caffeinated excitement, we start at the trailhead
With caffeinated excitement, we start at the trailhead

 

 

For many years, I’ve wanted to do the 30-mile long Wildwood Trail in Forest Park a day. But like Portland locals, I haven’t done it because the Wildwood requires a full day’s dedication, and (I justify) if I’m going to spend a whole day hiking, I might as well do it in the Columbia River Gorge. (Among locals, there is even uncertainty on the length with some Portlanders even thinking that it is 40 miles long.)

That’s why I made it part of the Portland Urban Thru-hike—to put myself in a situation where I would have to do the Wildwood. And it’s why I planned to hit it on a Saturday—so other locals who want to hike the Wildwood could join, too.

My friend Dave achieved his first 20 mile day on the Wildwood Trail!
My friend Dave achieved his first 20 mile day on the Wildwood Trail!

Virgo, my friend Dave, who moved to Portland from Colorado, and I walked to the Goose Hollow Max Station and took the train up to the Washington Park stop. It’s only one stop, but avoids the long and dangerous walk from downtown up the hill. There are many styles of urban hikes, and for the Portland urban hike, I opted to take public transit in a few rare cases where the alternative was much longer or dangerous. By taking the Max up to the trailhead of the Wildwood, it allowed us to start earlier.

At the station, we met my hiking buddy from the PCT, Miss Info and her husband, Adam (who we stayed with at the end of Day 5 We also met Triple Crown Hiking Legend Steve Queen. Steve has done the Wildwood many times and is a geo-cacher in Forest Park. He easily led us to the trailhead.

From Mile 11 to 14, the mud on the Wildwood was pretty intense. This is where I had a lot of fun in the mud with my <a href="http://www.lunasandals.com">Luna Sandals</a>. The trail was otherwise dry and in great condition.
From Mile 11 to 14, the mud on the Wildwood was pretty intense. This is where I had a lot of fun in the mud with my Luna Sandals. The trail was otherwise dry and in great condition.

From there, it was pleasant walking through sequoia groves, the Hoyt Arboretum, and above the Portland Japanese Garden (called the most authentic Japanese garden in the US–so much so that they actually have the url Japanesegarden.com). As Miss Info pointed out, there were plenty of invasives to see, too. Miss Info and Adam had been planning on only hiking 6 miles, but we were having so much fun with Miss Info that we didn’t want her to leave. I’d like to publicly acknowledge that Adam wins major awesome husband points for letting Miss Info hike with us all day.

What’s funny about the Wildwood is how many people on that trail were lost. There are maps everywhere on that trail. Every intersection is signed. People would ask us for directions since we looked like we knew what we were doing.

Forest Park was also filled with runners. Like many hikers, I found the runners to be a distraction to the hiking experience (we always had to pull over for them and so many of them seemed to be asking for directions because they were lost). Several of my fellow travelers were annoyed, but I told them the experience was nothing compared to when I was hiking the PCT and ran into the Cascade Crest Ultramarathon. I had to pull over every minute for another racer. My trail experience was pretty strongly impacted, but I at least partly forgive the race because the organizers fed me generously at the aid station.

The Wildwood Trail provided us a day of urban-hiking that felt like all the best of a (non-urban) thru-hike: laughing, joking, gossiping, playing tricks on one another, and pulling big mile days without any snack shops in site. I hadn’t hiked with Miss Info since we parted ways at Cascade Locks in 2009 on the PCT. My buddy Dave had never hiked a 20 mile day before, and it was an honor to be there with him as he achieved that. The reunions, the accomplishments, the mutual support, the trail culture: that’s what thru-hiking the major trails is about. Wildwood took us to a PCT-like place where we could be ourselves. Portland is so lucky to have such an amazing resource in the city and accessible for all to use, free of charge, and to reach by public transit.

Portland Urban Hike Day 10: Hiking among Mansions and Treehouse Cathedrals

Miles: 15.26

Starting: Multonomah Village

Ending: Goose Hollow

Neighborhoods Visited: Multonmah Village, Hillsdale, Corbett-Teriwlliger-Lair Hillsdale, Homestead,Terwilliger Parkway

Healy Heights-Southwest Hills, Council Crest, Portland Heights,Goose Hollow

View of downtown Portland from Council Crest
View of downtown Portland from Council Crest

After a festive night spent talking at Next Adventure outdoor store speaking to a group of outdoor enthusiasts and people following my hike, the start of the day was bittersweet. Virgo and I returned to Multonomah Village and proceeded on hands-down the most pleasant day of urban hiking on the trip—if not any urban trip anywhere.

Multonomah Village is adorable—if anything twee. Had we not eaten robustly before we started the day, we could have had our pick of numerous cafes and breakfast places on this little commercial street.

From there, we walked through beautiful residential. A flaw on my part with the mapping took us back to the Stephens Creek Natural Area and disc golf park that we saw on Day 1—admittedly, a highlight of that day, but an urban hiking no-no as far as backtracking.

From there, we went through the heavenly George Himes Park and to a fun staircase described in the Portland Stairway Walks book as “party on top, business in the back.” While my maps had suggested that we would need to backtrack here—that there was no way to get from the bottom of the stairway on SW Barbur Blvd down to the SW Trail 3. This trail uses the 169 step Iowa stairway to connect the Marquem Trail to the Johns Landing neighborhood that is cut off from a lot of natural areas and the park. We bushwhacked from Barbur down to the trail (not recommended—if I were to do it again, I’d take the trail from the end of SW Parkhill Drive to the George Himes Trail to access the Iowa stairs).

Ok—so the George Himes Trail to SW Iowa Street may be one of the coolest things I’ve seen in Portland. This area that one would expect to be a dumping ground instead has this beautiful, well-taken care of trail and beautiful stairs under an old-style bridge. Truly an unexpected gem and wonder of the neighborhood.

Well-cared for new-ish trail connects George Himes Park to Iowa
Well-cared for new-ish trail connects George Himes Park to Iowa

The trail started looking more commercial and industrial near the Seymour stairs—an unlikely, slightly sketchy, path in the bushes that leads to Corbett over I-5. From there, we climbed the OSHU hill again (and yet again, I found that my route had made some mistakes that had me hitting stairs I had already completed on Day 3).  Terwillger Blvd was beautiful but the highlight was dashing into the trees on the Marquam Trail and getting spit out by the KMHD-FM radio station. What I love about being an urban hiker in Portland is seeing all the radio towers from the east side and then climbing up to those radio towers a few days later. They look so impossibly far away and high up on the hill when viewed from the east. It makes their climb (though an easy one) feel like a big accomplishment.

This neighborhood was just rad and the best part of it all was SW 18th Ave Drive. It’s this hidden road inaccessible to through traffic and fairly steep and narrow without any turnarounds. This makes it a perfect forest path for the urban hiker. The houses on this hill are each a tree-house mansion. They’re a church of the forest. They’re a retreat center in the middle of a city. Each one would be a hippie billionaire’s dream.

A thru-hiker’s dream resupply town! Everything a thru-hiker needs with a library and an All You Can Eat Chinese restaurant right next door.
A thru-hiker’s dream resupply town! Everything a thru-hiker needs with a library and an All You Can Eat Chinese restaurant right next door.

After lunch in downtown Hillsdale—a cute walkable mini-downtown are that would make any thru-hiker’s dream resupply town (see photo)—we went back into the hidden pathways, alleys, and woods of the southwest. There’s a beautiful ravine bridge at the northern end of Hillsdale Park near the Robert Gray Middle School that reminded me of similar ravine bridge at Lewis & Clark College or Reed College.

One of the largest stairways in all of Portland connects SW Trombley Drive to SW Melville. The climb kept going and going. My favorite stairway of the whole climb was at 4100 Ches to Waputo and Fairmount. They were wooden steps and went past the King of the Treehouse Cathedrals.

The Tree House Cathedral–my favorite house in all of Portland.
The Tree House Cathedral–my favorite house in all of Portland.

It was a surprise to top out at Council Crest—a green steep hill park (as approached from the south). It offered a fantastic view of Portland and lots of people were out. From there, we took the Marquam Trail to connect some stairs in the Southwest Heights.

The shoulders for pedestrians to walk weren’t great on SW Broadway, but otherwise offered some fun walking through ridiculously mansioned neighborhoods. I had no idea Portland had such opulence—especially when we reached SW Hillcrest Dr. I wondered aloud who could possibly afford to live here, and the Virgo told me, “That’s where Kurt Cobain killed himself.” He proceeded to say there was a famous photo of a loft above a detached garage in a residential area at the corner of SW Hillcrest and SW Ravensview. It seemed a lot more likely he killed himself in Seattle, but it seemed like only someone of Kurt Cobain’s legendary status could afford to live in that house.

 

And then he started laughing and it was obvious he was pulling my leg. In my defense, the photos of Cobain’s house in Seattle (at least the loft above the garage) look fairly similar to the house in Portland.

The neighborhood was home to what SoFar (the bike tour guide we hiked with on Day 5) calls “Portland Royalty.” An older couple told us an unreal-y heavenly house we walked past was Pittock’s other mansion. There’s something exhilarating about walking through ritzy neighborhoods with a backpack and a purpose. No one gives you eyes that ask “what are you doing here?” You’ve got to love Portland! Everyone just assumed we were training for something.

The Goose Hollow stairs were my favorite of the day. I had been falsely led to believe by Allgood that Mt. Adams was never visible from Portland (after all, Lewis and Clark never mapped Mt. Adams, though apparently their journals mention it). I was jumping up and down in excitement to see from the top of SW Cardinell. These are the best views in Portland: Mt Adams, Mt St Helens, Mt Hood, and downtown in the foreground. The big house had a plaque from the National Historic Register, but I couldn’t find it on this thorough and engrossing list of places in Portland on the Register.

Vertical garden growing on a fence
Vertical garden growing on a fence

A highlight of the day was descending our last stairway and seeing my friend Dave wave at us from his desk. Every time I’ve been over to Dave’s, I’ve dreamed of the day I’d be on those stairs as a Portland Urban Thru-Hiker. How accomplished I felt to finally be making my dream come true! The feeling was not at all unlike how I felt walking the PCT through a climbing area in Truckee. I remember using the PCT as an approach trail to this climbing area and had dreamed of the day when I would actually get to hike the PCT.

 

Portland Urban Hike Day 9: Hidden Trails in the West

 

 

Last night, we stayed with my friend Heather, whose positive attitude turned around our day. We had dinner on what she called “Trendy-third street” (NW 23rd) where I actually chose not to get Salt & Straw Ice cream because the line was curled around the door—even at 9 pm in the rain on a Wednesday.

To make up for lost miles yesterday, we started earlier and hit the Washington Park stairs and those in the neighborhood. Our plans were stymied when a trail that led down to the Japanese Gardens was closed for construction related to the gardens, so we had to take surface streets there.

The sun was perfect and Virgo was having a field day filming in the park. We started on the official map for Day 9 around 9:30—the same time we’ve been generally starting each day after I finish my morning work.

From here, we hit up the classic Northwest Hills stairs. This are big stairs in beautiful neighborhoods. They are the kind of public stairs I love and am familiar with from other cities—take a big hill, put a grid on it, have every road deadend with a public stairway up to the top of the ridge.

 

After breakfast, we met up with our friend Carrie, who lives in the area and would run the stairs for training during her lunch break. It was fun using the map to show her a few new stairs—including on the strangely named Circus (yes, Circus is used as the directive instead of ‘Street’ or “Rd” or “Way” or “Ave”)

Despite the previously bluebird sky, it rained and rained hard for a good ten minutes as we entered Forest Park on the muddy and super steep Holman Trail. It was SUCH a respite to be in the peaceful park and just put one foot in front of the other.

That was—until it spit us out at the curvy, high speed, no shoulder 53rd Ave. We walked down to the even scarier Cornell Road near the Bird Sanctuary until veering off at the Collins Trailhead.

This was one of those days where everything works out. According to Google Maps, there are no trails that connect the Bird Sanctuary down to Skyline Drive except the Wildwood (which I am saving for Saturday and goes way out of the way). It looks like there is private property south of the Bird Sanctuary. But some sleuthing, looking and topo maps, and hiking forum searches turned up a little visited trail owed by the Bird Sanctuary that connects them all—the Collins Trail.

I wasn’t sure if it’d work and the intersection we ended up veering off on was for an unmarked trail, but it ended up leading exactly to where we wanted. We were spit out in the neighborhood far south that we needed—except there was a big gate separating us from the neighborhood. It looked like we were urban cliffed out behind private property. We reinvestigated, and the gate is to prevent people from the neighborhood from driving to the a water pump area, not to prevent pedestrians from accessing from either side.

The Meriden Ridge neighborhood boasts the newest stairs in Portland—long, never ending stairs up practically up to the OPB radio tower near Skyline Blvd. The houses in this neighborhood were ridiculously large. But that’s one thing I love about urban hiking and the sometimes seemingly foolish persuit of stairs—it forces you into neighborhoods you would never go. Where the wealthy may be inclined to think of public roads and public sidewalks as amenities of their own enclave of the wealthy—to start thinking of the neighborhood as an exclusive not-gated community—there was still public resources used there. The road and sidewalks and stairs there are built with public funds for everyone’s use, so it’s important that pedestrians go there to visit.

The walk down Skyline Blvd to Burnside was scary and fittingly hugged a cemetery. It was a relief to veer off into a neighborhood and take 58th Ave all the way down to US 26. After a long lunch, we braced ourselves for the fate we had ahead: walking Scholls Ferry Road.

Scholls Ferry Road has no shoulder, no bike lane, and twists and turns as cars go quickly down hill. There are no connector alternates from US 26 south that would work otherwise. Googlemaps said it was the best bike route simply because it’s the only route in that area. The road made me so mad—that for millennia, people have been able to access all sorts of places with our feet and hands and only relatively recently in history have we built these places where feet and hands do us little good in the face of large machines.

We finally veered off into a neighborhood and it was like night and day. We actually made jokes about how we had been hit by cars and gone to the urban thru-hiking afterlife: the road was carless, wide, downhill, with lots of sun, and there were flowers everywhere. It was so beautiful—especially in contrast to Scholl’s Ferry Road—that it was hard to imagine that the two places were so close to one another.

The rest of the day was a fun series of hidden stairs, alleys, and pedestrians paths signed by the SW Trails Association. We frequently saw the numbered SW Trails signs again. An AT hiker, Prefontaine, came and joined us for the last pleasant bit to Multonomah Village. It was fun to see what these locals described as “old Portland” or “90s Portland”—fun art, colorful yards, a little hippie in a Pacific Northwest kind of way.

From Multonomah Village, Prefontaine drove us to Next Adventure where I gave a talk on urban hiking and about my hike so far. It was a fun crowd of mostly thru-hikers, but there were a few people who were thru-hiking aspirationals who told me afterwards how inspiring the talk was. We stayed up late talking trail and gear. Day 9 was a varied day—a day of extremes—but that’s always been what I love about thru-hiking, whether in the mountains or in the city.

Portland Urban Hike Day 8

Virgo holding up his broken sunglasses
Virgo holding up his broken sunglasses

Miles: 12.5 miles

Starting: Grant Park

Ending: Nob Hill

Neighborhoods Visited: Grant Park,  Irvington, Steel Bridge, Old Town, Chinatown, Downtown, PSU, Goose Hollow, Southwest Hills, Burnside Bridge, Morrison Bridge, Nob Hill

So…for the 1st time in 7 urban hikes, I’ve been accosted. Virgo, who is thru-hiking with me and filming the Portland hike (and hiked the Seattle urban hike with me and made this great video), and I were headed from NE Portland over to the Steel Bridge. Now, this is a very public area and it was a sunny day. We were walking in broad daylight and there were tourists and families about. It happened in a place where I felt very safe. We were pumped about the day and about crossing over to the west side.

We were headed down some stairs towards the pedestrian bridge entrance and Virgo, like usual, had found a beautiful angle for me to walk through and was setting it up to get the lighting right. A guy came walking up the stairs saying, “Don’t f-ing take a photo of me.” Virgo told him, “Sir, I am not running the camera right now and wasn’t taking a video of you. I am just metering the camera.” The guy then did a high kick towards the camera and stepped on Virgo’s foot and got into his face as if he was going to fight him. Virgo remained calm (though I could tell he was holding back) and reassured the man that he had not been filming him. The man then lunged at Virgo’s face and grabbed his Ray Bans off his head and threw them to the ground, shattering them. Meanwhile, I watched on, shocked and too scared to be of much help. I was really impressed by how cool and respectful Virgo was. The man proceeded to make overtly sexual comments towards me while insulting Virgo’s masculinity (he must have assumed we were a couple). It was really awful, but we played cool, respectful, and waited until he left to continue filming.

We were both in shock. I really want pedestrians and urban hikers to reclaim their city, but I guess this was bound to happen sometime. I just didn’t think it’d be in Portland.

Not 10 minutes later, we were on the west side of the Steel Bridge and needed to go up some stairs. There were three homeless people sitting on the stairs with their shopping cart-ful of belongings blocking the entrance. Virgo knows that I’m a purist about getting all the stairs on an urban hike—a “rule” I’ve imposed on myself even though no one is watching (and no one cares, either). Even so, I told Virgo, “let’s just skip this stairway.” I was too shaken from the earlier incident to have another confrontation.

I’m so lucky to be doing this hike with another person, and one as street savvy as Virgo. He kindly and respectfully asked them if it was ok with them if they would move. They were actually very, very kind. Yet, when we walked between them, it was clear they were using drugs at the time. One guy was bloody behind his ear and on his hands and arms. It looked like he had just gotten beaten up. It was really heartbreaking to see, and yet I was still scared. People who don’t have the ability to get proper sleep due to laws or fear of being attacked are going through sleep deprivation. Having done a sleep study, I get that. You can be angry, irritable, unpredictable. Virgo told me afterwards that he was concerned they may try to stab him with a needle for his camera. It seemed like there were so many people, desperate and needy and addicted to drugs, who eyed his camera.

The stairs along the Morrison Bridge proved to be frustrating and dangerous. My Portland Stairway book calls these stairs infuriating—requiring pedestrians to go up and down sets of stairs so that cars don’t have to stop. These suspended stairways were filled with trash and needles. There were so many needles and tops of needles everywhere today.

Despite our dampened mood, nonetheless, we made the best of our time today. We visited Hair of the Dog Brewery. We walked through PSU’s campus and the North Block Park.

A highlight was visiting the Portland Montbell store on 10th and Yamhill and seeing Tommy and Panorama. I got some more warm and lightweight clothing before heading out back into the rain.

We visited the famous foodcart island and grabbed grilled cheese sandwiches before doing a mandatory ice cream stop at Ruby Jewell and visiting by Powell’s bookstore. Then we crossed over to the NW quadrant for the first time. I had kind of expected to feel safer in the NW quadrant, but we walked along a sidewalk stair near the stadium instead of taking the stairs because a couple was what appeared to me as having sex on the tunnel-like stair we needed to be on. Virgo said it looked like they were doing drugs. Either way, since it was a sidewalk stair, we could still get where we needed to go by walking the other sidewalk right by it. Yes, I know, now my urban thru-hike is invalid 😉

The trees today were gorgeous and as we went uphill into NW 23rd Ave, it felt like we were walking into a completely different planet than we had experience today.

The stairclimbing community in LA always told me that the best way to prevent crime in public spaces is to have people out and about walking—families, petwalkers, tourists, commuters. I still believe that and ultimately, one guy who clearly was having a rough day, shouldn’t make us forget about all the wonderful experience an urban thru-hike can offer.

What surprises me the most about the event was that outsiders—people who don’t live in Portland—never thought this could happen in Portland while locals were not surprised. Portland definitely has an identity bolstered by the TV show Portandia and by the trendiness of Mississippi, Albina, Williams, Alberta, Clinton, NW 23rd Ave. Outsiders were willing to forgive Portland and refuse to believe this could happen in Portland (myself included). For seasoned world travelers, what happened to us is not terribly notable. It just has never happened to me, and that’s why I found it so upsetting. Urban hiking—I suppose like backcountry hiking—is a game of numbers. Eventually, something is bound to happen, even if you make smart decisions. I’m just glad that no one was hurt and the only property loss was a pair of sunglasses.

Yet ultimately, it is a city with all the good things and all the bad things. We just ran into an “urban grizzly,” and although we were bluff charged, we didn’t get mauled.