Hiking Maven: Nika Meyers ’11 on reaching great heights

Ever since I was a young child I have enjoyed spending time outside no matter where I am. After college I discovered thru-hiking — hiking a trail from start to finish — and the experience changed me, my values and how I relate to people and my surroundings. Hiking helps remind me that I am so very small, can control so very little, yet can dream so big. I am humbled by trails and the trail community, where caring for others and paying it forward is a way of life. I love the simplicity of thru-hiking — carrying everything I need on my back and relying on my body and a little planning to get me to the finish. 

As all of us know from climbing Mt. Holyoke on Mountain Day, hiking can be enjoyed by almost anyone. You don’t have to plan a several-hundred-mile journey across many weeks. You can start close to home — maybe right from your front door — and find adventure and beauty in your path. Here are some tips for getting started. 

Make a plan:

Embrace the curiosity that you are feeling to experience something or someplace new, and go for it! Consider how much time you have, your fitness level, time of year, distance, elevation gain and loss, and needed permits or regulations. Knowing where you’re starting from and what you’re comfortable taking on are important guiding factors when choosing a route. Many state parks have wheelchair-accessible trails, audio-guided tours, braille trail maps or trails lined by rope railings or other accommodations that can make navigating a trail an activity accessible for many outdoor lovers.     

Find a trail: 

Orient yourself with the trails and routes near you or near the place you are visiting. Consult maps, trail guides and online resources, or talk to someone at a nearby store where outdoor gear and equipment are sold. Word of mouth can be an incredible hub of knowledge.  

Invite a friend: 

Hiking alone can be wonderful and very special, but when starting out on a long or challenging hike it can feel overwhelming and intimidating. Find a friend or a community to join to share in the process of gaining confidence and strength while hiking. Joining with a friend can also be great motivation for getting out there, in addition to providing a level of safety — and fun.  

Leave no trace:

Consider the impact you have on the places you hike. Carry out everything you’ve carried in, of course, and also do your part to take care of the trails. Stay on marked paths, pack out found trash and be aware of wildlife that may be around. If you fall in love with hiking, consider supporting an organization that creates and maintains the trails in your area, as most of them are volunteer/member supported.

Gear up:

With a few simple items in your pack you can prepare yourself for a safe and enjoyable adventure. Each hike, depending on its length/location, will require a different gear set, but a good starting place is: 

    • Comfortable footwear/socks (running shoes or hiking boots)
    • Fast-drying clothes (wool or synthetic)
    • An extra warm layer, like a puffy vest or fleece
    • Enough food and water (you will surprise yourself with how much you can eat and drink while hiking)
    • A rain coat or poncho
    • A map and/or guidebook 
    • A small first-aid kit
    • Sun protection (sunscreen, hat, sunglasses)
    • A headlamp (in case you go a bit longer than expected)

 

After each hike, think about what you may have been able to do without and what you should have had with you. This process will help you create the best packing list for your next hike.

Nika Meyers ’11 lives in Aspen, Colorado. She has hiked more than 9,000 miles, including thru-hiking — over the past five years — the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, the Appalachian Trail, Vermont’s Long Trail and the Arizona Trail. She has worked as a backcountry caretaker, on trail crews, as a naturalist guide and is an artist. Learn more at nikameyers.com.


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