Hiking is one of the few activities where there is no shortage. There are countless mountains to conquer, waterfalls to see and views to take in.
Nature offers something that being indoors simply can’t. It is motivating to walk among the trees and tramp along the trails, focusing on nothing more than the path ahead. You notice the shape of broken tree branches, how a blade of grass reacts to the wind flowing through it, and how clouds form into shapes and images.
There are some of us that like to experience the world alone. We need solitude occasionally, some regularly, and find the best opportunity for getting it is by taking a hike. Of course, with the adventure comes a heavy dose of responsibility.
What happens if you get lost? Are you knowledgeable enough to know what to eat if your food runs out? How do you get down the mountain if you’ve hurt yourself?
The great counterweight to the lure of the outdoors is the fear of the unknown, but with the proper preparation and safety procedures, seeing a warning sign may not even faze you.
I’m often told that I’m crazy for hiking alone. They say, “Aren’t you afraid to go hiking alone?”
The answer is both simple and complex.
I hike alone for the serenity and quiet of the journey. Being afraid doesn’t come into play. Being out in nature allows me the time to contemplate my next move. Hiking solo also serves to nurture a special relationship with myself, and with the natural world. No other space offers me what nature does. It’s my reward for not losing my way and giving in to the constant badgering of a world that expects me to conform to its expectations.
There have been days where I wake up well before dawn, drive a long way on the freeway with hardly anyone on it, exit to a winding highway, turn onto a dirt road and drive for miles, and end up the only car at a remote trailhead.
Many times my head, in the first few miles, works out whatever problem has been bothering me and the rest of the hike I slip into a zen state. For most people, this is the biggest benefit of hiking alone. There is nothing like solitude while surrounded by nature to confront your demons and examine your life. Not everyone likes this or needs this. But, if you do, you’ll find hiking alone can do wonders for your sense of self.
Some may see it as being too introverted, or anti-social, but it is in fact empowering to embrace the beauty and wonder of relying on my willpower, in spaces that I may be in for the first time, learning my way as I go, being unafraid to travel a new path or to experience life in the wilderness.
At this point, I usually don’t feel afraid when I set off on a solo hike. The excitement of the trip and my confidence in my abilities overcomes any innate fear I may have. But there are those moments on certain trails where I have had to face my fears. For me, those fears usually come in the form of dark holes like caves, dark water, and tunnels.
I really don’t like heights, so climbing out to the edge of Point Dume, in Malibu, California, was not easy for me.
Did I hesitate?
Did I climb ridiculously slowly?
Did I finally reach the end?
Admittedly, the view was spectacular. But it was all the more majestic and powerful because I had to face a fear to get to it. If I hadn’t hiked there alone, I don’t think I would have appreciated that moment as much.
It’s amazing how you can feel so small in these spaces, so insignificant compared to the beauty and grandness that surrounds you. There is something invigorating about feeling the oneness in the wild spaces that surround you and encompass you completely. There you stand, completely vulnerable to the elements around you — and yet, you feel at peace, even serene.
A lot of people won’t hike alone as they worry that they may hurt themselves, get lost, or have a run-in with certain wildlife. While these scenarios are certainly possible, they are not likely—especially if you prepare in advance.
Of course, communing with nature can lead to encounters with wildlife and while thrilling, it can also be dangerous. Deterring an attack, or surviving one, requires different behavior depending on the animal you encounter.
Fear of wild animals doesn’t need to prohibit you from hiking a new trail. Most hikers can safely enjoy their time in nature without worrying about attacks from anything more vicious than the blood hungry mosquito.
However, encountering wildlife while hiking is almost a certainty, whether it is a flock of birds flying overhead or squirrels rustling in the trees. But there are larger and deadlier predators that you must be both aware and cautious of while hiking. While animal attacks are highly uncommon, they are still possible and sometimes happen due to:
- Not making enough noise.
- Approaching or surprising an animal at close proximity, especially bears.
- Getting close to an animal carcass or another food source.
- Venturing off a trail or at dusk or night.
- Startling a female bear with cubs.
Just always keep in mind that while hiking in the great outdoors, it is crucial to remember whose home you are stepping into: bears, rattlesnakes, mountain lions, and an abundance of other wildlife.
ALWAYS Keep A Watchful Eye: Be alert and aware of your surroundings at all times. Watch for signs of large animals such as tracks, droppings, rocks rolled over, scratch marks on trees and logs torn apart. Scan ahead periodically. Rattlesnakes can often be heard from a distance. Wait for rattlesnakes to pass before proceeding forward on the trail.
Don’t wear headphones. I see this a lot out on remote trails. Instead, tune into your surroundings so you can hear approaching animals. When I hike alone, I pay attention to every tree, boulder, turn, and fork in the trail. I am capturing the entire experience in my mind.
Benefits of Solo Hiking:
Own Pace – A group can only move as fast as its slowest member. That means everyone is either going faster or slower than they would like to be. A solo hiker moves as fast as he desires and can alter his pace whenever he wants.
Challenge – Push yourself to hike faster, farther, or longer hours than you’re used to. Build up to more difficult trails, uncomfortable weather, and rough environments.
Meet your Fears – Many of us have fears that have little basis. Whether you’re afraid of wild animals, heights, darkness, storms, being alone, or whatever, a solo hike can help you overcome those fears.
Responsibility – The solo hiker can say, “I did it myself” when finished. Responsibility for the success of the adventure is completely his, as is the pride of completion. Along the way, responsibility for minimizing impact, caring for the trail, staying safe, and being self-sufficient is also his alone.
Since my current location is the southwest, I’ve listed a few tips for wildlife found in the area.
If You See a Mountain Lion
- Stop – don’t run, and stay calm.
- Talk loudly and firmly to the lion in a low voice.
- Face the lion, but avoid direct eye contact as this may be interpreted as a challenge.
- Back away slowly if you can do so safely.
- Make yourself look large – raise your arms or hold a jacket or backpack above your head.
- Pick up your dog (if it’s small enough) so it does not run.
- If the lion behaves aggressively, throw stones, branches, or your belongings at him.
If You Are Attacked by a Mountain Lion
- Don’t run – fight back.
- Use what ever is available to you – your backpack, jacket, sticks, tools, keys, knife, or even your bare hands.
- Protect your head and neck.
If You Meet a Coyote
- Coyotes typically hunt alone or in pairs, so keep an eye on your surroundings.
- Calmly, but slowly back away and maintain eye contact. Don’t turn your back.
- Don’t run.
- Raise your arms or hold a jacket or backpack over your head to make yourself look bigger.
If You Are Attacked by a Coyote
- If the coyote shows signs of an impending attack act aggressively – yell loudly, and throw rocks, sticks or your belongings at it.
- Throw dirt, gravel, sand – anything you can find – in its eyes
If You Meet a Rattlesnake
Back off and don’t challenge the snake. Give it space. Some rattlers won’t make their characteristic “rattle” sound, which means you could be standing right next to one and not even know it.
– Wear boots and long pants when hiking to help block rattlesnake venom.
– Stay on trails when hiking, away from underbrush and tall weeds.
– Always look for concealed snakes before picking up rocks, sticks or firewood.
Rattlesnake bites can produce extreme pain and swelling at the location of the bite, excessive bleeding, nausea, swelling in the mouth and throat making it difficult to breathe, lightheadedness, drooling, and even collapse and shock in rare cases.
Do not apply ice, do not use a tourniquet or constricting band, do not try to suck out the venom, and do not use any device to cut or slice the bite site.
Do you hike alone, or do you prefer to hike in a group?