Tales from the trail—hiking alone as a woman

By Linda Rose

Over the summer, I had the great opportunity to fulfill one of my long-time goals and hike the Pacific Crest Trail. While the trail runs 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada, I felt that 500 miles would give me an experience I was looking for without taking five to six months to complete the entire thing. My plan was to hike parts of Oregon and Washington alone, so I could gain a new perspective on life after 25 years as a Microsoft partner.

Linda on Mount Hood in Oregon.

Going solo was important for me as I wanted the time to reflect on the past and to think about my new life and plans for the future. Even before I began this venture, I was really intrigued at the questions and observations (both men and women) made about this upcoming sojourn. Here are the answers to the most commonly asked questions about going solo as a female hiker on the PCT:

  1. Aren’t you afraid to hike alone as a woman? No, should I be? Roughly half of section- and thru-hikers are women. Many women (a lot younger than I) are here from foreign countries like Germany, France, the Czech Republic, Australia and beyond. None I met were concerned to hike alone. We are all here to enjoy this wonderful experience and to help each other throughout this adventure.
  2. What will you do if something happens to you? The same thing a guy would do, lean on a fellow hiker for assistance or use my Garmin to communicate a SOS signal as to my whereabouts.
  3. Will you bring a gun to protect yourself? No, not sure if that is to protect myself from cougars, bears or just other people (all of which can be found on the trail) or all the above. Instead, I use good common sense; hang my food in the tree so bears don’t bother me, camp with other PCT hikers when available, cross raging rivers with others and only hitch-hike with another person. Yes, some hitch-hiking is required (getting into towns to resupply or in the case of Oregon, scooting around a forest fire on the trail). Pretty sure the guys would answer the same, except they would hitch-hike with a girl for a better chance to get a ride.
  4. Your husband is going to let you do this all by yourself? Yes, because he knows that even women are versant in setting up a tent, purifying water, reading a map, starting a campfire, crossing rivers and scaling the side of mountains (crampons, ice-ax, etc.). We have tools (satellite communications) to touch base daily should there be an issue. And most importantly, my husband has always been supportive of my goals and this one is no different.
  5. And my favorite, the unspoken one: I thought just young people did that? You see two different generations on this trail; Millennials and Baby-boomers. Gen-Xer’s are almost nowhere to be found as they are at home bound to family and work obligations. I will have to admit, that I have not found any other women in the 50+ category so far on the trail, but I have found men in the 60+ category and several in their 70s. I think women at my age either feel climbing mountains is too much of a stretch or it is no longer something of interest, or maybe they feel their bodies just cannot handle it. (I certainly had my concerns about my hips.) Granted, my first week was difficult for sure. Packing 30-35 pounds on your back and the daily vertical changes of anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 feet take their toll on your body.  Everything hurts! But, once I got my trail legs, my daily mileage increased from 10 miles per day to up to 22 miles per day. My excuses about weight gain in the past (slow metabolism, change in hormones, etc.) were no longer valid. Weight, regardless of what I ate, just dropped off. My legs became so much stronger and my waistline shrank before my eyes. Who wouldn’t want that in their mid- 50’s or at any age! And the guys….well they have the same aches and pains, lose weight, shrink their waistline and grow muscles, too. Seems like the trail has the same effect on everyone.

Photo by Vladimir Hanak.

Now looking back at these questions and answers, doesn’t it seem strange to differentiate women from men on the trail? And certainly going “solo” as a woman is not so daunting. We are all capable of anything and everything, so don’t let that fact you are a “woman” stop you from any dream or quest in business or in life. There will always be excuses or reasons why you shouldn’t do something (solo or otherwise), so go out there, strap on the tools you need for success and conquer that mountain! SOLO if you must!

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Read more of Linda Rose’s writing on Linkedin.

Photo by: Nathaniel Middleton