Solo Adventuring in the Outdoors as a Female: Is it Safe?

An Open Letter to Every Woman in the Wild

"Feminism isn't about making women strong. Women are already strong. It's about changing the way the world perceives that strength."

G.D. Anderson

A water crossing over Piute Pass July 2019

A water crossing over Piute Pass July 2019

  • “You are going by yourself?”

  • “Is it safe?”

  • “How do you protect yourself?”

  • “What if something goes wrong”?

These are just some of the many questions most females, including myself, are asked when we exclaim that we are going on a solo adventure. I see so many posts on social media about how so many women are nervous about hiking alone or how their partner will not allow them to adventure solo. This sense of fear and uneasiness makes me sad and I hope this blog can empower at least one female to get out there by her badass self and conquer any trail, crag or mountain she desires. The majority of the folks in the outdoors are extremely pleasant, friendly and humble but sadly there have been multiple cases this past year of physical and verbal attacks on women, and as a result we need to be smart.

Views of Mammoth August 2019

Views of Mammoth August 2019

Snow fields and sun cups for days July 2019

Snow fields and sun cups for days July 2019

The harsh reality of being female

As females, we live in a society where unfortunately we are taught from a very young age to always be “on guard”, to pay attention to our gut feeling and to be careful. I grew up with a badass younger brother and we were both raised by the strongest woman I have ever met and although it was always instilled in me that I should be aware of my surroundings and be in touch with my intuition, I never grew up in a household where fear was instilled. My mom never taught me to be scared of certain people or of certain environments and I think this is one of the main reasons why I live a very fearless and a very fulfilling life. She told me from day one to be independent, to make my own money, to stand up for myself and to “never let a boy touch you where you do not want to be touched and if he does, punch him in the mouth”. My mom says some ridiculous things!

Yes of course, as women, we always have to be on guard and sadly, men do not understand this. We have to wait for our Uber inside the bar just to be safe, watch our backs in a gas station at night, be weary of being date raped at parties or bars, be mindful when we are walking or running at night or walking through a parking lot, walking to our car etc. In other words, as women, we must always be careful and mindful of our surroundings even if we are not fearful. Guys do not understand the risks we, as women, take on a daily basis. I have had conversations with my brother and best guy friends and have asked them if they ever worry about being mugged or attacked while walking down the road or waking home; men simply do not need to take the same precautions we do. Is it fair? Nope. Is it reality? Yep! I have had friends who have been attacked and raped and I am sure many women who are reading this are victims themselves or know of victims. It is the sad reality and my heart goes out to every female who feels she is no longer safe, but I truly believe being safe in the “real world” and being safe on the trail are two very different things that simply cannot be compared. Trail safety is a thing, a big thing, but this should never ever discourage you from getting out there on your own!

Deer Lakes August 2019

Deer Lakes August 2019

But are we safe on the trails?

When I am asked if I feel safe going into the wilderness by myself, I often chuckle, roll my eyes and make a snarky comment about how I am more at risk of getting into a car accident on the freeway or having an unsafe encounter in a gas station at night. As women, we are always at risk, and more so in populated cities and public places. I have had a handful of dangerous encounters with creepy men in big cities but when I am on the trail, I feel so much more at ease.

Guys play a major role in women empowerment

I know a lot of men who do “not allow” their significant others to go hiking, climbing, skiing or backpacking alone. I say dump these dudes, seriously! But in reality, it is totally normal for our loved ones to be concerned about our safety, happiness and well-being. But seriously, guys please support your female partners in their solo adventures in the outdoors. You can play such a huge role in empowering the women in your lives!

Duck Lake August 2019

Duck Lake August 2019

A stunning alpine lake at sunset

A stunning alpine lake at sunset

My definition of “glamour shots”

My definition of “glamour shots”

Getting personal: How do I protect myself on the trail?

Conceal and carry…or not

I am often asked if I carry a weapon or pepper spray and the truth is I do not. I do not feel I am in any sort of danger on the trail to the extent that I have to go to these extreme measures. I truly believe the outdoors is a safe place and with enough street smarts, grit and intuition, we as women, can conquer the trails.

I once considered (for about 10 minutes while standing in Moab Gear Traders in Utah) purchasing a knife but in reality I truly believe I will not be able to get to my weapon in a timely manner to actually do something to my attacker. I wonder “if my attacker saw my weapon, would he be more prone to shoot me right there?” Fumbling with a knife, even if it is in my pants or attached to my body or grabbing my pepper spray off my pack strap makes me wonder, “can I potentially cause more harm to myself because of my slowed reaction time, and my clumsy hands combined with potentially making my attacker more violent”? I also wonder, “what if they grab my weapon and use it on me?” I personally am extremely anti firearms of any sort (please refrain from the gun debate and politics) so carrying a gun is just not my jam.

With that said, I have many girlfriends who do carry a weapon on the trail and I believe if it makes you feel safe and if you are comfortable using your weapon (and actually know how to use it), then by all means, go to town…

Wear headphones…sort of

My main line of defense is my wit, my gut, my two fingers and my 12-pound terrier mix. Let me explain. I get around, literally. I have traveled all over the world and have hiked thousands of miles in the backcountry by myself so I can handle a creepy dude here and there. For the most part, I do wear headphones on the trail because I simply do not want to be asked a million questions about my pup, but what many do not know is I rarely have any music on. A tactic I picked up while traveling across India by train. People think you are unaware of what is going on around you because you are listening to music, when in fact, you know exactly what is happening but just do not want to be bothered. Sure, I will smile and wave and have the one off conversation here and there on the trail but my solo outdoor time is not my idea of a happy hour. Side note: If I do have music on, I only have one ear bud in so I can be aware of my surroundings while jamming out to some nonsense Justin Bieber. For that same reason, I do not wear earplugs when I sleep on the trail. I want to be able to hear if something or someone is out there and I want to be able to hear my dog bark.

Follow your gut

This leaves me to my next line of defense, my intuition. I can smell a creepster from a mile away. If you are a dude on the trail who is giving me the creeps then I will kindly step aside and let you hike in front of me. I may even sit down and eat a snack and watch my pup run around in circles. Basically, I do not want any creepy dudes behind me, ever. I feel that if they are in front of me, I have the upper hand.  I seldom tell people I meet on the trail where I plan to camp that night, sure sometimes I meet some incredibly rad people and I want nothing more than to tell them my life story and become best friends but I vibe it out. If my gut is telling me, “this guy is cool and is harmless” then I have no problem talking about my journey. But if I meet a creepster who wants to know where I am camping or where I am hiking to, I will often make something up or simply respond, “not sure yet, wherever Mother Nature takes me”.  In terms of camping, I have unfortunately camped next to some creepy dudes (who set up camp after me). I considered moving my tent but did not feel I was in any imminent danger. I have had friends who have straight up, picked up camp and moved because they pitched their tent next to creepy McCreepster. Do not hesitate to move your tent, trust your gut.

Go for the eyeballs

My pointer finger and middle finger on my right hand are my secret weapons. I have been told by many self-defense instructors to go for the eyes. If I ever get into a situation where I feel physically threatened, these two fingers will take out someone’s eyesight. I can guarantee that.  Sometimes I tell my guy friends this and they tell me “Kristen, you need to stop going around telling people this, it is weird”. Sure it is super weird, but I know any guy can physically overpower me but not one guy is going to physically overpower me when he is blind. Let’s talk about self-defense classes because I am a huge fan of these. I think it is super empowering for women to learn how to get out of violent physical holds by men and I encourage every woman to take one of these classes.

Get an “attack” dog

If you did not know, I am overly obsessed with my pup, Moo. She is the cutest, sweetest, hilarious and most adventurous canine I have ever met. Although she has no viscous bone in her body (and she weighs 12 pounds) she sure does know how to spot creepsters. She is by no means an attack dog and she rarely ever barks, but every so often she will stand next to me and bark at a random individual on the trail until he/she is literally out of our sight. She has chased weird men out of my campsite and she makes it very obvious she wants nothing to do with you if she senses you are a creepster. I have hiked almost 1,000 miles with my pup so I am incredibly in tune with her as she is to me, especially in the outdoors. We are a team! Dogs can truly keep you a little bit safer on the trail and I feel so much more at ease when she is with me.

Moo, the “attack dog”.

Moo, the “attack dog”.

Whistles, alarms and air horns

I actually have a whistle on my running pack and my backpacking pack (but not any of day packs, useful huh?). I actually have these two whistles to scare off furry creatures rather than creepsters but a noisemaker is always a good idea to alert that you are in potential dangers. Growing up my mom always used to carry this heavy “rape whistle” on her keys. She would even tell me, at my ripe age of 9 years old, it was a rape whistle and it sort of made me chuckle but as we get older, we clearly become more like our mothers, right?

I have seen people carry alarms that attach to their back pack strap and also know people who carry mini air horns; which I think are way less annoying than the constant jingling of those damn bear bells!

Crags for days…

Crags for days…

In my backyard…

In my backyard…

Other safety precautions to take when you are solo adventuring

  • Tell someone where you are going, when you expect to be back and who and when to call in case they do not hear back from you.

  • Baby steps: maybe start with a 2-mile solo hike first to build up your confidence

  • Know your limits

  • Have some experience in the backcountry before you adventure solo

  • Be knowledgeable about back country navigation

  • Carry a photo ID on you.

  • Carry a Garmin InReach, it can truly save your life.

I recently had a guy friend tell me that if women needed to carry a Garmin InReach in case they needed to activate the SOS button, then they probably should not be in the outdoors. I thought this was one of the most ignorant comments I have ever heard. No matter how experienced or knowledgeable you are, Mother Nature is stronger, faster and wiser and there may be a time when you need to activate your SOS button and do not ever feel ashamed for that.

For a review and my personal experience using my Garmin inReach, I have included both links.

I am the first person to jump in an alpine lake…

I am the first person to jump in an alpine lake…

Wildflowers in the Eastern Sierras

Wildflowers in the Eastern Sierras

Remember, you are a QUEEN

Of course, tragedies do happen because well there are creepy guys everywhere, even in the wilderness. But in my 16 years of adventuring solo I have had two encounters in the backcountry where the hair on my neck stood up and my gut was twisting and tumbling. As women, we are the queens of intuitive feelings however often times we do not follow our gut and we end up in danger. So my biggest word of advice when adventuring in the backcountry solo is TRUST YOUR GUT. If something just feels off, then it probably is so either take a different trail, allow the weird creepy dude to go ahead of you, move your tent to a different campsite or worst case scenario, get off the trail. But never allow fear to keep you from getting into the wilderness by yourself. You are more likely to be hurt driving on the freeway, walking home at night or going out to a bar. I truly believe with my whole heart that solo adventuring as a female is not only safe but incredibly rewarding and empowering and I encourage every woman to get out there on her own and experience it for the first time.

Packed Moo in on mile 11 out of 15. The previous day she did 12 miles.

Packed Moo in on mile 11 out of 15. The previous day she did 12 miles.

To read more on why I love traveling solo, here is another cheeky but informative blog post written by yours truly on why women should embrace their bad-asser-y more often!

"I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life's a bitch. You've got to go out and kick ass."Maya Angelou

Thanks mom, for instilling this sense of empowerment in me!

(I honestly do no even know if she is aware I have a blog)

Hope to see you on the trails

Xx

Kristen

Ridiculous Trail Lingo That Every Hiker (and non-hiker) Should Know

“She wanted more, more slang, more figures of speech, the bee's knees, the cats pajamas, horse of a different color, dog-tired, she wanted to talk like she was born here, like she never came from anywhere else” 
― Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Summit of South Sister in Bend, Oregon. A snow filled caldera. A caldera is a large cauldron-like hollow that forms following the evacuation of a magma. So I am terrible at remembering the word  cauldron  but I always think of a witches pot to refresh my memory.

Summit of South Sister in Bend, Oregon. A snow filled caldera. A caldera is a large cauldron-like hollow that forms following the evacuation of a magma. So I am terrible at remembering the word cauldron but I always think of a witches pot to refresh my memory.

The other week I was perusing a hiking Facebook group and I literally laughed out loud when I saw a post on trail lingo, common words or phrases used on the trail that common folk would never understand. I have had so many conversations with friends, strangers and my MOM in regards to the outdoors and when I start dropping words like “trail magic”, “cathole”, “alpine start” and “sweep” I tend to get some pretty ridiculous looks. Usually I just ignore the looks and go about my conversation regarding my most recent adventure. But seriously, how ridiculous are some of these terms?  I think this would make the BEST drinking game around a campfire; whoever shouts out the wrong description to a term has to drink. I thought I would drop some knowledge by sharing the meaning of some trail terms I often hear from others and use myself. Do you know the meaning to all these terms? I really hope my mom reads this!

Cat Hole: A small hole (6-8 inches deep) a hiker digs to bury their poop in the wild.

Alpine start: Getting an early mountain ascent start (midnight-3AM) to avoid lightning or rock falls.

Alpine Start (1AM) to summit Mt. Langley, a Fourteener located in the Eastern Sierras.

Alpine Start (1AM) to summit Mt. Langley, a Fourteener located in the Eastern Sierras.

Gogirl: A device women can use to allow them to urinate standing up aka pee like a man

Sweep: The last hiker that takes up the rear in a group to ensure the entire group makes it safely to their final destination (I love my sweeps on group hikes!)

Trowel: A shovel to dig a cat hole.

Summit fever: When a hiker will do anything in his or her power to reach the summit, even if they put themselves or others at risk of injury or illness (we have all been there).

GORP: Good old raisins and peanuts aka trail mix.

SOBO/NOBO: Southbound or Northbound in reference to the direction a hiker is traveling on a trail, usually on a thru-hike. FYI I am hiking the John Muir Trail NOBO next summer =)

SAR: Search and Rescue volunteers that are trained in backcountry wilderness and give up their time to rescue lost or injured hikers.

Widowmaker: Trees that have already lost limbs or have a potential to fall; don’t set up camp or sit under one of these!

Glacier Lake National Park. Another trail term is NPS which stands for National Park Service, the organization in charge of running and maintaining all the beautiful National Parks.

Glacier Lake National Park. Another trail term is NPS which stands for National Park Service, the organization in charge of running and maintaining all the beautiful National Parks.

Wag bag: A bag you carry your poop in when you are forbidden to dig a cat hole aka one of the many reasons why I do not enjoy Mt. Whitney.

Scree ski: That shitty loose tiny gravel that is difficult to walk on but would be more fun to ski on.

Switchback: Oh Lord no! The never-ending zig-zag pathways that lead to the summit (top of the mountain). These apparently make the climb easier and prevent erosion. Do people actually enjoy switchbacks?

Cairn: Those ridiculous looking man made rock towers made to direct hikers in the correct direction on the trail (trail markers). They should be close enough to see the next one in heavy fog and high enough to see above fallen snow. Unfortunately the general public likes to build these for “fun” or as a form of expression, without understanding the actual meaning behind them. This confuses hikers and breaks the rules of LNT.

Dirty Girls: The most colorful and best hiking gaiters on the market!

Shuttle hike: When you have to drop one car off at the end of the trail and leave one car at the beginning of the trail when you plan on going on a one-way hike. If you do not shuttle then you will have to hitch a ride back to the trailhead!

My mom met me on the PCT, a true definition of a Trail Angel.

My mom met me on the PCT, a true definition of a Trail Angel.

Cowboy camping: Sleeping under the stars without any form of shelter. Just a sleeping bag and mat does the trick in warm weather (watch out for bugs).

Scat: Animal poop

Scrambling: This term does not just apply to eggs but it also applies to using your hands and feet to climb up rocks and boulders. (I despise scrambling).

Crampons: Yes this term sounds like menstruation but it actually refers to a spike like traction device you put on your hiking boots in order to hike through snow and ice.

Bear canister: A container that you store food and scented items in that is bear proof (if you use it correctly).

Blaze: A colored mark, usually painted or nailed to a tree, about 4 inches tall by 2 inches wide. These are used to help guide hikers if the trail gets hard to follow or makes an abrupt turn. White blazers refer to the trail markers on the AT (Appalachian Trail). Pink blazers refer to guys chasing attractive women on the trail.

Bonus miles: Extra miles you end up hiking to re-supply or when you made the wrong turn. Nobody likes these! (Shannon this is YOUR term).

LNT: Leave No Trace, a set of 7 guidelines hikers must follow that prevents trail and outdoor destruction. Don’t pee in a river, please bury your poop, don’t camp on new green growth and please carry out all of your trash (including toilet paper).

Posthole: Hiking in deep slushy snow usually without snowshoes or skis where you leave large holes behind, a sloppy way to hike but sometimes unavoidable. When I was hiking Mt. Bierdstat (A Colorado Fourtneener) last spring in the snow, I was postholing to my waist the last 3 miles WITH snowshoes and it was the longest and most painful 3 miles of my life. At one point I became stuck and had to dig myself out.

Single track: A trail made for one-way traffic, think follow the leader and pull over for other hikers trying to pass you.

Slackpacking: Lazy backpacking aka only carrying your daypack while porters, mules or vehicles, haul your gear.

Trail candy: Eye candy but on the trail aka an attractive hiker.

Sleep tight, Moo! Dirt bag dog!

Sleep tight, Moo! Dirt bag dog!

Triple crown: No, not a horse race! A true badass bucket list item: to hike all three major National Scenic Trails, Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail. I am guessing this is just less than 8,000 miles.

Ultralight: Carrying the lightest backpacking gear possible. Usually base weight (sleeping bag, mat, tent, clothing) is less than 10 pounds.

Fun Factor: The amount of fun you are actually having on the trail. I always say if there is no fun factor, it is not worth the hike and it is time to turn around and go home.

Zero: The best term ever when you are on a long trip/thru-hike, taking a day to rest at camp or stay in town to eat, shower, drink or do whatever you want that does not involve hiking.

Wetted out: When all your waterproof gear is no longer waterproof. Hope you have a trash bag handy!

Alpine zone: The zone above the tree line at the top of a mountain that is characterized by rocks and soil, which resembles the moon. This can range in elevation, usually between 9,000-11,000 feet above sea level.

Alpine Zone landscape characterized by some scree. Doesn’t this landscape resemble the moon? This summit required Class 3 scrambling.

Alpine Zone landscape characterized by some scree. Doesn’t this landscape resemble the moon? This summit required Class 3 scrambling.

Dirt bag: A dirty hiker. I was walking into El Pollo Loco to get my burrito fix after finishing a 4 day hike on the Lost Coast Trail, I camped 2 nights beforehand, so I did not shower in 6 days, my clothes were dirty and my hair was a wreck. I basically resembled a homeless person wearing expensive brand-named hiking clothes ordering a burrito without a care in the world. This is the ultimate description of a dirt bag.

Glissade: An incredibly fun way to descend a snow capped mountain slope, sitting and sliding down, usually holding an ice axe to be used to slow or stop the slide.

Woofer: WFR or Wilderness First-Responder, which requires a weeklong course of moderate outdoor training on rescue scenarios and backcountry emergencies.

Death March: A long boring hike with no views in 90-degree weather or an uninteresting trail you must take in order to reach the desired trail. I consider fire roads a death march but yet we must take them in order to get to the beautiful trail.

Fourteener: A mountain that stands above 14,000 feet in elevation. My mom still thinks this refers to a hike that is 14 miles long, no matter how many times I explain this concept to her.

Bear burrito: Hammock. I have an obsession with burritos so this is my favorite term.

Blowout: No, not a diaper blowout. When your hiking boots take a beating and you need to repair them with duct tape or string to hold the sole and shoe together. It is now time for a pair of new shoes!

Dry Camp: A waterless camping spot. In other words, you have to carry all of your water in aka backpacking in the desert. I have had my fair share of dry camping trips, some were fun, others were just plain aggravating.

Trail magic: When something spontaneously wonderful happens on the trail; you meet a fantastic person, someone gives you food or supplies (in my case beer), or you are offered a ride from a passing stranger. Trail angels are often people who give out trail magic and let me tell you; trail magic goes around and comes back around to you.

Moo, my definition of Trail Magic.

Moo, my definition of Trail Magic.

What are some of your favorite hiking terms? I would love to know!

Thanks for reading and hope to see you on the trails!

Xx,

Kristen

Trail Talk: Life Lessons and Hiking Bloopers From the John Muir Trail

Because nobody is #sweatydirtyhappy all the time

“Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet”.

-Roger Miller

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People are fascinating! I use the term, “fascinating” in the most colorful way possible because humans are the only living species on this earth that can make you laugh, cry, scream and feel as though your life maybe ending all within one short backpacking trip in the wilderness. Nature is by far, the least of any hiker’s concerns. I have learned over the years through some hilarious and challenging hiker bloopers that we must be extremely cautious of our fellow nature human travelers because nobody is #sweatydirty happy all the time and REI sadly does not sell Cranky People Spray.

But seriously, I have hiked and backpacked with some pretty nutty people so I have gotten pretty good at taking punches in the outdoors. I had a guy I was backpacking with race to try to catch up with me on the trail even though I was behind him the entire hike ( he didn’t realize he was in front of me until I found him waiting at the trailhead), I had a gal scream at me in the middle of our campsite after hours of meeting her because she felt like she was the fifth wheel in our group (this was the very first time ever we all actually met each other), and I recently had a camp neighbor scream at me and call me “trash” for stepping too close to her cabin while I was searching for a cell signal so I could send a work email.

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Some trail names should always be left unsaid

I knew we were in for a treat when I had to unexpectantly jam pack five people, five 65-liter backpacks and my dog into my Honda Accord for a six-hour drive up to the Eastern Sierras (our carpooling plans got a little jumbled last minute so we had to play Tetris with our bodies and gear). We were off on another adventure to backpack 26 miles on the John Muir Trail over 3 days and within an hour into the drive I knew we were in for a “treat”.

One of the gals in a sheer panic (after jokingly stating that two of my friends in the backseat, who are moms to a gaggle of kids, were child abusers because they were on a trip without their kiddos) exclaimed that she forgot her headlamp and her solar lantern. Easy fix: just buy another headlamp when we get into Mammoth and forget about the lantern (an unnecessary backpacking item).  As soon as we arrived (after another grueling five hours in the car) to my favorite mountain town, we picked up our wilderness permit from the visitor center and grabbed food and beer from Mammoth Mountain Brewing Company. At lunch, the topic of trail names came up. A trail name is a nickname that is given to you on the trail usually by someone who has hiked with you before. One of my friends in Colorado gave me the trail name, Trail Goddess and with a mischievous grin on her face, “Ms. I forgot my headlamp” quickly exclaimed that her trail name was Problem Child. 

Something always happens to me on the trail or I am always forgetting my gear,” she stated.

During our 6-hour car ride, she was constantly telling us how experienced she was as a backpacker, but I have learned over the years that backpacking is like scuba diving…you never really know someone’s experience level until you actually see them in action.

 The words “You are so SCREWED, Kristen” kept circling around in my mind.

I made a mental note to myself that I would just need more vodka for this special trip and I could handle anything for four days…its four days, what could go wrong?

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That one time when my car alarm was actually helpful

We made our way to our campsite (after stopping by an outdoor gear store so Problem Child could purchase her headlamp) since we decided to spend a night tent camping in Mammoth so we could get an early start on the trail in the morning. Upon arriving to our gorgeous campsite and meeting up with two other friends who were adventuring with us, we all quickly learned that Problem Child was overly terrified of bears, did not know how to set up any of her gear, and didn’t bother reading any of the detailed pre-trip emails I sent out. I quickly opened another beer and said a few positive mantras to myself because I knew I was in for a challenging adventure. We helped her set up her tent and spent at least 45 minutes going through all of her gear and teaching her about “bear safety” in the outdoors. After a couple of hours of explaining that scented lotions and baby wipes are in fact, “scented”, and needed to be kept in her bear canister, it was clear our group needed a break and I needed another beer. Most of the gals went to find the bathroom and the camp store and a couple of us stayed behind to watch a California black bear meander into the forest only a few feet from our campsite.

“At least all this scented vs. non-scented talk was not a waste of time”, I jokingly said to my friend standing next to me as I watched my 14-pound dog bark excessively at this bear.

Problem Child missed the bear sighting because she was in her tent and somehow didn’t hear the loud commotion of people screaming (people go NUTS over bears and it’s quite entertaining to witness). When she finally appeared from her tent and heard about the bear sighting she freaked out, said some overly ridiculous comments about bear spray and bear bells and stated that she better not see a bear on the trail (of course I was quietly hoping we would run into lots of bears).

You know a bear is looking for food in the campground when you wake up in the middle of the night to loud banging noises. That same night, I awoke to our camp neighbors banging tin plates and cups together to scare away the bear from their campsite at 2AM and all I could think of was,

“I hope Mr. Bear leaves soon so I can get out and go pee”

After 10 minutes of impatiently holding my bladder, my car alarm was set off and of course my keys were locked in the bear box. I looked outside of my tent and all I could say was

“Holy Fu$K, there is a bear on my car”.

His front paws were on my driver’s window and he was peering into my car looking for food. Problem Child started yelling loudly from her tent and I told her to be quiet since she had nothing to worry about since the bear was clearly looking for food IN MY CAR. I thanked the car alarm gods for quickly scaring the bear off my car after a 90 second ETERNITY.

I was on my feet, tearing my car apart at the crack of dawn the next morning to discover that chocolate candies and lots of food wrappers were left inside Problem Child’s backpack in the trunk of my car. Bear safety lesson #1 was clearly a fail.

Now I am that neurotic person who makes you search your backpack in front of me if you are storing your gear in my car in bear territory.

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Raise your hand if you peed today

We arrived at the trailhead and after ensuring my car was 100% bear proof, we gathered our packs and started off on our adventure; two nights, three days and 26-ish miles in the some of the most beautiful backcountry in the United States. We we were so excited to be section-hiking the John Muir Trail! We were planning to camp at Ediza Lake on night one in the backcountry and to camp at Thousand Island Lake on night two but when we were only two miles from our night one camping destination and we found out (thanks to a very nice hiking fellow we came across on the trail) that there was no bridge to cross over to get to Ediza Lake. The bridge to Ediza Lake was out which put a huge wrench in our plans. The water was swift and high, we had a very difficult scramble in front of us and I was already dragged through so much drama that I knew making a dangerous attempt to either boulder over rocks or cross fast moving deep water was not going to happen. I already had a backup plan but I stayed quiet and listened to my friends talk about options as I apologized to my pup, Moo, for an unexpectedly long (and very hot) hiking day. My friends asked for my opinion of what we should do and I quickly stated we should definitely hike to Garnett Lake where we will camp for the night. Ediza Lake was completely out of the question!

“Yes, it is going to make for a longer day, yes it is super hot right now and yes we have to cross another 10,000 foot ridge but not everyone in our group is prepared to scramble over rocks or wade through swift moving water with 40-pound packs and I do not feel comfortable putting Moo through that”, was my game plan and explanation and everyone agreed (we really did not have another option).

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We had six more miles in the very exposed heat to go so everyone filtered more water, put on their big girl pants and made their way to Garnett Lake. Problem Child was extremely irritated about our game plan but we were shit out of options and we were all in the same boat so I tried to explain we have to just roll with the punches because backpacking trips never go as planned. I decided to hike with Problem Child because it was clear she was irritated and it didn’t seem she was doing well. We were about 45 minutes behind the rest of the group, keeping a very slow 0.8 mile per hour pace and within one mile of starting out toward Garnett Lake; she exclaimed,

“ I think I am out of water”

 Now how can that even be possible? We all each filtered 3-4 liters of water when we decided to head towards Garnet Lake because we knew there would be no more water crossings for another six miles. I was very confused and beginning to get very annoyed. I literally asked if everyone had at least 3 liters of water for this next leg of our hike before we made our way to Garnett Lake.

“What? When was the last time you filtered water?” was all I could ask her.

“At lunch”, she replied.

I was repeating about every swear word in the English dictionary in my head because lunch was approximately 6 miles back, 3.5 hours ago. She never filtered water before taking off for Garnet Lake. She just sat back and watched everyone.

We had 6 miles to go and 3.5 liters of water between the three of us including my dog. I knew I could spare at least a liter for Problem Child but I wanted her to understand the importance of hydration on the trail. I was officially pissed. She complained, moaned, bitched and groaned for another two miles and finally exclaimed,

“This is the worst trip ever, and I hate this”.

I kept asking her if she was feeling okay and she adamantly stated that she felt fine and she had already drank plenty of water for the day. She said she knew she was hydrated because she was “sweating a lot”. We started going back and forth about this, I told her she was dehydrated and she was adamant she was not. We were going in circles and I knew if I tried to explain the physiological process of sweating aka perspiration, it was going to go in one ear and out the other.

I started asking her more specific questions about her fluid intake and output for the day. I didn’t care that she was having a horrible time or that she hated me because I was too concerned that she was now putting herself and our group at risk. I quickly rushed into my doctor mode, calculated her fluid ins and outs and decided this girl is getting evacuated off the trail as soon as we catch up to our group. 

 I was about to give her a liter of my water when we came across a stream.

“Halleluiah”, I thought to myself.

 We walked PAST the stream and I almost lost my mind.

“This chick is not going to filter water. She is just going to keep on walking in her damn dehydrated state”, I thought to myself.

I asked her if she was going to filter any of this water and it dawned on her that she probably should. As I was getting eaten alive by mosquitoes waiting for her to filter water, she loudly demanded that I help her because she could not manage her water filter on her own. I held her Smart water bottle and the clean end of the filter as she pumped water through her MSR filtration system. After we were finished pumping water and 38 mosquito bites later, I told myself she would of course thank me when we got to camp for helping her filter water and making sure she was safe on the trail (she did not have a map or a navigation device). Let’s just say that was wishful thinking.

Four miles to go at a 0.8 mile per hour pace in 90-degree temperatures up a 10,000-foot ridge behind a woman who literally hates my guts and is a dangerous hiker… “It’s a beautiful day to be alive”.

“Who has cell phone service right now”?!

That was all I could muster out of my mouth when we finally reached the top of that 10,000-foot ridge and I saw all my friends waiting. Each one of my friends looked at me without saying a word. They knew I had steam coming out of my ears and I had to take quite a few deep exhales to prevent myself from crying out of frustration. Two gals had cell phone service and I quickly asked them to call the two mule companies we saw at the trailhead to get Problem Child off this trail. That quickly opened up a tall can of worms but I was 100% done hiking with her.

“Raise your hand if you have peed on the trail today” I asked our entire group, as if I was a third grade teacher.

Everyone raised their hand and began saying how many times they peed on the trail over our 9-hour hiking day, except for Problem Child. I knew she didn’t pee all day and I wanted the group to clearly understand the situation we were in. We were a group of seven women backpacking together in the wild and we all needed to understand what was unfolding in front of us. I then explained to Problem Child that I was extremely concerned for her hydration status and also very concerned about the decisions she was making on the trail and if she came into my ER I would stick a needle in her arm and give her a 1 liter bag of normal saline. Right then and there, the rest of the group understood the gravity of the situation. Every gal in the group searched for a way to safely get Problem Child off the trail but the quickest way was to finish our loop through Thousand Island Lakes, and this was only day one. We had two more days to go.

I was done sweeping for the day and I needed a beer. I picked up my pace and hiked next to one of my girlfriends while another gal stayed behind Problem Child to make sure she didn’t jump off a cliff or do something else completely off the wall. We all came to the beginning of Garnett Lake and quickly chatted about filtering water. We all asked how much water Problem Child had left and her response was “I don’t know” and she kept walking. One of the gals told her to stop and check because we were at a water crossing. I guess my trail hydration lesson didn’t sink in. Throughout the next two days we made Problem Child take out her bladder from her backpack at every water crossing and visually show us how much water she had left.

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Does anyone have an extra spoon?

Problem child continued to ruffle everyone’s feathers when we got to camp and for the duration of our trip. She refused to keep her scented items in her bear canister at night, she still could not figure out how to set up her tent and she slept with her bear canister next to her tent (after watching every single one of us find places to store our bear canisters away from our campsite). The next morning she realized she was out of camp stove fuel and convinced someone in our group to boil her water for every single meal from here on out. She continued to complain about the tremendous chore of filtering water and although I kept my distance, every single gal in our group would tell me some ridiculousness Problem Child was getting into. I started to respond, “I don’t care anymore”.

Day two was glorious because I refused to hike next to Problem Child, I met my trail Jesus, a very kind thru-hiker from Eastern Tennessee, (I should write a blog post entitled “Trail Magic” about this amazing man) and our group spent most of the day swimming in crystal clear water and basking in the sun at Thousand Island Lake. As we were getting ready to cook our food before sunset on night two, Problem Child asked the group if any of us had an extra spoon. She forgot her headlamp, did not bring enough camp stove fuel and forgot her spoon. We all blurted out in unison,

“No!”

We were all officially done with her nonsense.

 Of course I asked myself, “How is this girl eating her food without a utensil? “

I quickly thought to myself “she could use her bathroom shovel if she really wanted to”.  

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Always bring an extra pair of pants

The morning of day three, Problem Child could not figure out how to get all of her gear in her pack, I managed to completely break a BearVault bear canister that I borrowed from a friend and we were hiking out of camp before sunrise in order to make it home at a decent hour (I hate tearing down my tent in the dark). My friend helped Problem Child pack her backpack and within a few hours we were safe and sound back at my car. Problem Child was staying in Mammoth to visit friends so I dropped her off at the Starbucks, wished her good riddance and the rest of us drove to Bishop (much more comfortably in my car compared to the drive up) to grab lunch. Of course, we just could not stop talking about the sheer ridiculousness we endured on the trail. It was straight out of a movie! After finishing lunch, I checked my phone and noticed I had about a dozen text messages from Problem Child regarding her iPad that she left in my car. She insisted on bringing her iPad on the trip (even though there was no service) because she couldn’t live without it. I explained that I am not responsible if something happens to this iPad and if I were she, I would leave it at home. I knew her iPad was not in my car but I needed witnesses in case she tried to report me for theft. All four of us tore apart my car, looking for this iPad and I texted her back explaining that it was nowhere to be found, told her to use the app “find my Ipad” and wished her good luck, once again. She insisted that I must have taken her iPad when I rummaged through her backpack after the bear set off my car alarm and at that point I gave my cell phone to my friend sitting in my passenger seat and asked her to handle the rest of this texting conversation because I was done.  We were all dumbfounded once again and shaking our heads in disbelief but I knew I had witnesses and these gals would back me up in case Problem Child took this any further.

“Kristen, did you know that she tore her pants on the first day getting out of the car at the trailhead”

 I just about swerved my car into oncoming traffic because I could not control my laughter.

 “She did what?”, I exclaimed

“Yes, when she was stepping out of your car at the trailhead on the first day, she split the back of her pants right down the middle and did not bring an extra pair of clothes so every time she bent down I got to see her rear end. She had to backpack in split pants for three days”

“Well karma is a bitch, isn’t it?!”

 Problem Child found her iPad a few days later; it was in her backpack after all. No apologies or words of gratitude were ever expressed.

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Take home lessons

  • Always bring an extra set of clothes

  • Write a packing list and follow it, then double and triple checked that you brought everything

  • Don’t brag about your trail experience

  • When everyone in the group is filtering water, taking a bathroom break, eating a snack or setting up camp; you should be doing that too

  • When someone sends out a pre-trip detailed email, read it.

  • Learn the name of the trail you are hiking on and the campsites you are staying at before you set foot on the trail.

  • If you have never used your gear before, set it up at home and watch a You Tube video if you need help.

  • If you don’t enjoy backpacking, that’s okay, don’t partake.

  • Don’t throw your food waste in the bushes.

  • California black bears want to eat your food; they have no desire to eat you.

  • If you did forget something, make a mistake, or have a question; use your manners and be nice about it.

  • You are responsible for your own safety on the trail, no matter what.

  • Always bring more alcohol than you think you actually need.

This was definitely a memorable and beautiful trip however this was by far the most challenging backpacking trip I have ever endured. I arrived at my mom’s house to pick up by grumpy Shitzu (my saint of a mom watches my older dog when I travel) and I shared every detail with her over a couple of bottles of wine. I was sun burned to a crisped and had over 200 mosquito bites on me, but my mom and I still laughed so hard that we cried. This trip has officially gone down in history and it is just too good not to write about (in stride of course).

Thanks for reading and see you on the trails,

Xx

Kristen

Backpacking the Lost Coast Trail: The Quick and Dirty

"There's nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it's sent away."
-Sarah Kay

Seals and sea lions on the trail across from Punta Gorda Lighthouse

Seals and sea lions on the trail across from Punta Gorda Lighthouse

The Lost Coast Trail is a force to be reckoned with. From hiking with sea lions and elephant seals, talking sweet nothings to the resident sea otters in Cooksie Creek, staring at the Milky Way in the night sky and observing all the washed up sea life to watching the deer and bear meander down from the mountains to visit the campground creek, the wildlife, night sky, washed up sea stars, sea urchins, whale bones and fish vertebrae are just a taste of the beautiful uninhibited terrain that is known as the Lost Coast. The Lost Coast is mostly a natural and development-free area in Humboldt County California, specifically in the King Range wilderness. In the 1930s this area experienced depopulation and as a result, it was named the “The Lost Coast”. In addition, the steepness and related geotechnical challenges of the coastal mountains made this stretch of coastline too costly for state highway or county road builders to establish routes through the area, leaving it the most undeveloped and remote portion of the California coast. This trip has been on my bucket list for some time and when I saw permits were available for early September, I snagged a solo permit and dove deep into the planning process. From scheduling a shuttle service, understanding the tide tables and mapping the impassible zones on my Gaia GPS, I had my work cut out for me. I decided to do this trip solo since the planning process was a bit intense and frankly, I wanted some time alone to unwind and fall off the grid. From Mattole beach to Black Sands beach this hike is just over 25 miles and I wanted to take my time on the trail, sleep in, make breakfast, have plenty of time to cross the high tidal zones, take in the salty air, watch the waves, and be lost in my own thoughts so I decided to do this trek over 4 days and 3 nights however this can easily be completed in 2 nights and 3 days.

Clear blue skies on an overland trail, day 1.

Clear blue skies on an overland trail, day 1.

Bearikade bear canister, Goal Zero solar panel and battery back and an incredible memoir written by Trevor Noah; all must-haves for backpacking trips. Big Flat campground, night 2.

Bearikade bear canister, Goal Zero solar panel and battery back and an incredible memoir written by Trevor Noah; all must-haves for backpacking trips. Big Flat campground, night 2.

Obtaining that coveted permit

A permit is required to camp overnight in the King Range Wilderness and permits can be obtained at Recreation.gov You can print your permit a week in advance of your start date.

Night 3 at Gitchell Creek

Night 3 at Gitchell Creek

Washed up sea urchin on the trail.

Washed up sea urchin on the trail.

Washed up sea star on the trail.

Washed up sea star on the trail.

Love is truly everywhere, if you look hard enough…

Love is truly everywhere, if you look hard enough…

 Shuttle service, please?

Since this is a one-way hike, you must book a shuttle that will drive you from Black Sands beach to Mattole Beach. Starting from Matthole Beach and hiking the 25-mile stretch back to your car at Black Sands Beach is the way to go because you are hiking in the same direction as the wind and the road to Black Sands Beach is paved and maintained unlike the road to Matthole Beach (an unpaved mess). The shuttle will pick you up at Black Sands Beach parking lot and the driver will give you a 10 minute orientation on proper trail etiquette and the quick and dirty on the tides. He will also give you a tide table book, which is golden for when you are on the trail. The road to Black Sands Beach is windy and narrow and can make you nervous especially if you decide to do this drive at night. I arrived at the parking lot around 11:00PM the night before and quickly discovered that all campgrounds in the area close at 9 PM so I slept in my car since I had a 7am shuttle departure the next morning (not the most ideal situation but sometimes you have to roll with the punches). I booked a shuttle with Lost Coast Adventure Tours (cost about $70) but keep in mind that if they do not have at least 4 people booked for that shuttle time, they will cancel your shuttle or place you in the next shuttle that is full. I was moved from the 7AM shuttle to the 8AM shuttle which meant I was going to start an hour later than scheduled but again, you always have to roll with the punches. Make sure you call them 48 hours before your departure to confirm that your shuttle is full.

Mamma and baby deer crossing Cooksie Creek, night 1.

Mamma and baby deer crossing Cooksie Creek, night 1.

Tide tables and impassible zones

So this is the part where it gets tricky. There are two, 4-mile and one, 0.25 miles stretch of coastal zones that cannot be passed during high tide, and there is one totally impassible zone that cannot be crossed period, regardless of the tide. It is important to study the tide table and understand your hiking windows. The impassible zone is about 0.5 miles from Sea Lion Gulch and there is a small flat rock sitting on top a large boulder referred to as “hat rock”. This “hat rock” is a sign that you must look for the overhead trail that takes you up and over this impassible zone. If you come to the impassible zone like I did, and discover huge boulders that are impossible to climb, retrace your steps and look above for that overhead trail. Once you are about half way up the overhead trail you will notice a trail sign that points you in the correct direction. Remember the ocean is always on your right and the mountains are always on your left (if you are hiking from Matthole to Black Sands).

Now for the 2-mile impassible zones at high tides, the rule of the thumb is to stop hiking 2 hours before high tide and to begin hiking 2 hours after high tide. There is an AM and a PM high tide so you will begin your hike 2 hours after the high tide in the morning and will make sure you are through the impassible zones 2 hours before the PM high tide begins. Here is where it gets tricky; you must deduct 52 minutes from the high tides for the Shelter Cover area and keep in mind the tidal heights. My high tides were all within the 4-foot range so the 2-hour windows were safe for me (for the most part). However if your high tide is within the 6-7 foot range then you may need to give yourself a larger window (most likely 3-3.5 hours before and after high tide). I would suggest going over your hiking schedule with the rangers beforehand if you find this confusing but once you start hiking, you will get the hang of it. I would recommend setting up camp at the beginning of these tidal zones so you can hike through them in the morning after the first high tide so you do not have to worry about getting stuck or waiting out the tide. There are also camping sites within the impassable tidal zones, which are great places to camp as well.

Tide table book.

Tide table book.

Tide table example:

AM high tide 4AM 4.5 tidal height (minus 52 minutes)

PM high tide 7PM 6.5 tidal height (minus 52 minutes)

Start hiking through the “high tide impassible zone” after 5AM and make sure you are through this 4 mile impassible zone by 3PM (see how there was a 3 hour window in the evening because the tidal height is much higher).

One of the “impassible zones at high tide”. Day 2-4 were overcast and gloomy.

One of the “impassible zones at high tide”. Day 2-4 were overcast and gloomy.

Backcountry campsites on the Lost Coast

The “campsites” are basically the creek areas where you are able to filter water. Even if the area is not marked as a campsite on your map, you are still able to camp there as this whole area is considered BLM land.  

Getting stuck in the impassible zone

The first night, I decided to camp at Cooksie Creek, an adorable little area where sea otters play in the river and deer roam around in search of a drink from the stream. I met two super nice guys and hiked with them the first day, sharing stories about India along the trail. Cooksie Creek is about 2 miles into the first impassible tidal zone and we had about 2 hours to clear these two miles before we had to worry about the high tides. Seems easy right? Well, hiking over boulders and sand can slow you down, more than you think. Unfortunately we ran out of time and we had 0.2 miles left until we reached camp but we were stuck on a jagged boulder hanging on for dear life as the waves crashed around us, soaking us from the waist down. One of the guys I was with decided to check around the corner to see how far we had to go. When he realized we had less than 0.2 miles to go, we waited for the next set of waves to crash into us then made a run for it. We made it to camp safe and soaked but my heart was filled with pure joy when I came across a family of three sea otters playing at our campsite. I was in animal kingdom heaven! We quickly learned our lesson about the impassible tidal zones and I gave myself plenty of time the next day.

Day 2-4

On the second day, I solo hiked 10 miles to Big Flat where I set up camp for the night. Big Flat is about 1 mile from the second impassible tidal zone, a very quiet campsite with gorgeous ocean views and a large flowing creek for filtering water. The next morning, I was at the beginning of the second high tide impassible zone so I started my hike with fresh legs and with plenty of time to spare in between the high tides. After hiking a quick and easy 4.5 miles on day 3, I set up my camp at Gitchell Creek, which is right after the second tidal zone. I was the only person camping at Gitchell Creek which was magical (this was most likely because it was only 3 miles from the end of the trail). Day 4 made for an easy 3 miles back to my car at Black Sands Beach. I arrived at my car around 10:30AM and drove to San Jose, checked into a hotel and took a nice long shower before meeting a friend for drinks.

Punta Gorda lighthouse, day 1.

Punta Gorda lighthouse, day 1.

Sunset on our only clear evening.

Sunset on our only clear evening.

 Answers to commonly asked questions

  • This is bear country so make sure you store all of your scented items in an approved bear canister.

  • There are streams about every 2-3 miles along the trail to filter enough water for that distance.

  • Camp at a stream (they are called “creeks” on the trail maps).

  • My starting pack weight all in with 3 liters of water was 32 pounds.

  • It was very sunny the first day and very windy and overcast the next 3 days…the weather changes on a dime.

  • I did not use my tent fly once. If there is no rain in the forecast, I would recommend leaving this at home as it did not drop below 50 degrees at night.

  • Most of the trail is on sand and boulders which will slow you down. I recommend very sturdy and high ankle hiking boots. I wore my LOWA Renegades and my feet felt great the whole trip.

  • There are tons of poison oak and ticks on the trail. Be mindful where you step and check your body for ticks when you get to camp.

  • Although this was a relatively easy trip in terms of physical endurance, the planning and logistics were quite tricky so I would not recommend this as a first-time backpacking trip.

  • No I did not bring any alcohol and yes I started and finished an entire book, “Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah.

Wet sea otters in our first campsite.

Wet sea otters in our first campsite.

After he dried out… hehe. They were SO cute!

After he dried out… hehe. They were SO cute!

Thanks for reading!

Please feel free to reach out with any questions.

Hope to see you on the trails,

Xx

Kristen