My hiking ‘career’ didn’t exactly have an auspicious beginning. When I was about eight, my family took a holiday in Yorkshire. One day we went for a hike (which we just call ‘walking’ in England) and stopped at a pub for lunch. In mid-afternoon we came to a big field, and my parents sent my sister and I out to find a yellow arrow that we’d been following to show us our route. Both my sister and I found one. She insisted that hers was the right one so we followed it – right back to the pub where we had lunch. When we finally made it to where we were staying, my Dad calculated that we’d walked about 20 miles.
My second major ‘hike’ was more of a ‘scramble’ to the bottom of Black Canyon in Colorado when I was 19, on a trail called ‘S.O.B. Draw.’ The way down was easy to navigate because all the gullies come together into one big drainage. It started to rain when I got to the bottom; I was wearing jeans and tennis shoes. On the way back there are lots of places where you have to decide which gully to go up as they split off from each other, and there was no signage. I went up the wrong one and had to scramble a good portion of it and barrel through poison oak at the top. I cried. I was hooked.
I hiked all over Colorado in the 18 months I lived there and it’s been a theme in my vacations ever since. I’ve attempted to climb Mount Rainier but while I do have stamina, I decided I don’t have enough tolerance for cold or being uncomfortable to be a serious mountaineer.
My last semester at Berkeley was a ‘study abroad’ at Lincoln University in New Zealand. There was a possibility I was going to get sent to a university on the North Island, at which point I would have said ‘thanks, but no thanks.’ The South Island is incredible, and I spent every weekend making the most of the hut system.
Some time later friend suggested I float the idea of a hiking ‘bucket list’ to Alvin – a list of places I’d want to go before I would consider having baby, in case I couldn’t do those kinds of trips any more. That’s how I got to go to Patagonia which, unfortunately, did not end exactly as planned. I was blown over by a 60mph gust of wind with a 30lb pack on my back, ripping open the entire width of my forearm close to the elbow. I got the help of an English-speaking German guy whom I knew was just behind me on the trail to bandage it up, hiked four miles to the nearest ranger station, spent 90 minutes in an ambulance getting to the
closest hospital only to find there was no anesthesiologist available, so went another 3 hours to the next largest town with a private clinic. 5 hours of surgery, 25 stitches, and luckily no gangrene later, and I was on the mend. The lesson Alvin took out of this trip: When you go away by yourself, bad shit happens. The lesson I took out of the trip: When bad shit happens, I can get myself out of it.
I followed up the next year with a hike of most of the Haute Route. I had to skip some sections due to poor weather conditions, but I camped out in improbable places and got to Zermatt under my own steam.
I hiked throughout my pregnancy and even climbed Mount Tamalpais four days after my due date – Carys was not keen to come out, though, and she hung on for another three days. Half way through my pregnancy I also conceived the idea of hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc during my maternity leave. I had to wait and see what kind of delivery I was going to get (C-section = no trip, as I wouldn’t have been able to recover before the end of the hiking season), as well as whether we could figure out eating and sleeping. We managed did figure out eating and sleeping and Carys and I hiked the majority of the trail along with my friend Sarah, when Carys was 8-10 weeks old. It was – and will likely remain – one of the most incredible experiences of my life (lots of photos of that here and here.
Carys and I spent four days by ourselves in Idaho in October 2014; my maternity leave was coming to an end and I wanted to go out with a bang. A week earlier and we would have enjoyed balmy temperatures instead of early snow, but we had a good time anyway.
I planned two trips for 2015 because Carys was getting heavy and I wasn’t sure how much longer I was going to be able to carry her. In May we hiked most of the Dingle Way in Ireland, and in late August/early September we hiked from Breckenridge to Aspen using the 10th Mountain Division huts.
In 2016 we will hike Cinque Terre in Italy by ourselves, unsupported; there are ferries and trains between the towns so there are lots of bailout options should my 45+lb pack become too much for me to carry. And in July we will hike most of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path in south-west Wales (one of the few places on the planet where I won’t have to explain the pronunciation or meaning of Carys’ name, which is Welsh in origin).
It’s too soon to say what 2017 will hold; Carys can hike over a mile on flat ground at this point but like any toddler she is easily distracted by…everything, and it remains to be seen whether she will be interested in going with me if I can find a trip that she might be physically capable of doing. If she can’t, perhaps it’ll be time for her first vacation with the grandparents while I go somewhere alone?