When I was growing up, “Take a Hike” was a rude way of telling someone to leave. But I have found that taking a hike is a great way to exercise – or if you are training for a marathon, a great way to cross train. It can get boring when all you do is run on the same routes. Hiking changes things up, gives you a chance to see some new scenery and work your muscles in a different way.
Last year when I was training for the Rim to Rim of the Grand Canyon, I went hiking every weekend on the Appalachian Trail (AT). The AT is a 2,180 mile footpath that stretches from Georgia to Maine. Hiking on the trail was a great workout – much more enjoyable than doing the Stair Master at the gym. The portion of the trail that I hiked is particularly challenging with lots of ups and downs that gave my quads and hamstrings a good workout. I was happy I had hiking poles with me. They were like another pair of legs.
The AT attracts people from all over the world. I met hikers from the UK, Germany, and all over the United States. Several of the hikers were also marathon runners so we compared experiences at various marathons and they gave me recommendations for races. Some hikers were planning to hike the entire trail (thru hikers) including a large group of German men who had seen a documentary on hiking the AT. Most people don’t have the time to commit to a thru hike and end up doing it in phases. If you are interested, Bill Bryson wrote a very funny book about his thru hiking experience called “A Walk in the Woods”.
With my broken arm, I can’t hike right now so I did the next best thing this week. I watched a documentary called “Mile . . . Mile And a Half” about a small group of five photographers and videographers who hiked the John Muir Trail (JMT) in California to capture the beauty of the trail. The JMT runs from Yosemite National Park south through John Muir Wilderness and Kings Canyon National Park, ending in Sequoia National Park. This is the same area made famous in photographs by Ansel Adams. Although the JMT is only 219 miles long, it includes 10 mountain passes, 6 of which are in excess of 11,000 feet. The pass at Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous US, is at the southern end of the JMT and is over 14,000 feet. The altitude and strenuous hiking proved to be too much for one man in their group and he dropped out.
The hikers were carrying their food, camping gear and all their camera equipment. When completely full their backpacks weighed between 55 and 75 pounds (they had 4 cache drops of new supplies along the way). The year they did their hike was a 200% snow year, meaning that there was two times more snow than average years. They were hiking in July and the snow was still deep in places. The conditions were so difficult that many other hikers they met along the way had turned back. But this group kept going, even when all they could cover was one mile an hour. It took them 25 days to hike the JMT; 14 of those days they were hiking through snow. There were also many river crossings and a couple were down right scary because the water was higher than normal and flowing very rapidly.
The thing I found most fascinating was that during the hike, their group grew to 12 and included teachers from Colorado; a brother and sister who had brought 128 pounds of paint and canvases so they could paint the incredible scenery; musicians; and a Japanese woman who was hiking the trail alone. The Japanese woman asked to join their merry group because she didn’t want to drink a beer by herself when she finished.
When they finished, the group had over 5 hours of video, 2,967 photos, and 25 finished canvases. The four hikers from the original group had lost a combined total of 55 pounds too. It was an experience that they will remember for a long time.
I can’t say that I have the ambition to hike the AT or even the JMT. I am more the day hiker type. But I enjoy hearing about the adventures of others who do. I can live vicariously through them.