Women Hiking: Oh Yeah

Gail Lowe, AT hiker, atop Mt. Washington in New Hampshire

More and more women are hitting the trails these days. From hard-core AT through-hikers to ladies doing casual day hiking in their nearby parks and on neighborhood trails, it seems that nature offers a spiritual renewal for most women that take up hiking, as well as a sense of empowerment and accomplishment.

I was not athletically inclined as a child. Taking up backpacking and hiking in my 30s literally and spiritually grounded me, and taught me self-reliance and self-respect. It also increased my physicality and my physical tolerance to carrying a lot of weight. I backpacked many miles of rugged trails and trail-less areas in some of the most remote wilderness in the lower 48. I day-hiked to places most people could only dream about–places fantastical in their colors and rock formations–and so beautiful that they could not be imagined or dreamed. It took will and curiousity to hike to some of places I’ve seen, and in doing that I became athletic for the first time in my life.

I was taking a couple from Canada on a hike one morning when I owned my guide service in Escalante. The woman had run in marathons and 5K and 10K races all over North America. She said that I, too, would be able to run a marathon. I was incredulous, but after considering it while we were hiking up a two-mile long route on steep slick rock, I started to think that she may be right. I would have never considered such an activity before (full disclosure: I still have not undertaken a marathon or 5K race).

Julia backpacking in the canyons.

In short, hiking forever changed my life, for the better. It gave me a new professional direction, made me healthier physically and emotionally, and opened up a world not seen or lived by most people. It pushed me out of my comfort zone on many occasions, and even though the discomfort was temporary, the overall benefit and memory of the entire hike was never tarnished by aching muscles, bad weather, or people that were crappy. No, the hike and its beautiful experiential moments are always the parts that come forward in my memory.

I was laid low by a severe ankle injury in 2010, and I was concerned that I would never be able to hike for miles or backpack again. This May, as I hiked up the Mist Trail at Yosemite National Park, I was grateful and happy as my feet and my ankles performed admirably without issues. I am back to my old self and hiking at 100% –and perhaps this time I’m even more inspired to find new hiking adventures, and once again push myself out of my comfort zone.


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