How I Got the Nerve to Go Backpacking Alone
My first solo backpacking adventure.
Doing anything alone is hard for a lot of people - we are social creatures, even us introverts, so it takes courage to decide to be alone. Only, doing something by ourselves is the biggest test of our resolve. We face the opinions of other people - expressions of concern, lack of encouragement, or intimidating expectation of success. Yet the more times we do something alone, the more we practice putting our foot down and doing what is the best for us. This is what I did on my first time backpacking alone. The results were exhilarating.
My crazy idea came one day at the dining hall in college. I’m a graduate of Adventure Education, so most of my friends are very experienced outdoorsy individuals. My friends were discussing the Presidential Traverse, a famous route in New Hampshire that only experienced hikers should ever try. The best part was that they weren’t going to invite me - as far as I recall they were discussing possibly doing it over our next break, and I wasn’t included in the conversation. Then it occurred to me that I had two years of experience under my belt and I would like to do it. I had just returned from a summer internship that left me in some of the best shape I had ever been in my life. It dawned on me that if I could borrow a car and study the weather excessively, I could accomplish this over the break. I didn’t know what the cost would be until I started planning.
As I began to plan I realized my family had made plans to go apple picking - it was fall in New England, and it would be my first time seeing them in months. I knew this trip would take me two days to complete, and I had a range of five days to decide when to go. The very day I wanted to leave for the mountains was the same I went apple picking. With grim resolve, I left my grandparents, sister, and mother before I had spent even thirty minutes with them. I lost it when I got into the car, crying, in denial that I could turn my back on family. Then I drove.
The expedition to the mountains would be my first time adventuring alone. I parked at the trailhead at 3:00 pm in the afternoon, already missing most of the day. I hauled it up the trail, bypassing families, a former high school teacher, and other struggling hikers. I relied purely on my fitness from my summer internship and I reached the Mizpah Spring Hut at 4,000 ft in only three hours. I hurried inside the Hut to ask after the weather, then learned that the emergency shelter at Lake of the Clouds Hut was unlocked. I made a reckless but informed decision to book it there. My motivation pushed me to summit Mt. Pierce at 4,300 ft shortly after - and I lost my breath.
When I broke treeline, I saw the White Mountains sprawling for hundreds of miles in any direction. After seeing only forest for four hours I was met with blue sky. I looked around frantically trying to take it all in. I was alone - I was free. And the sun was setting. As the wind buffeted me I finally made it to the Lake of the Clouds as the sun dipped below the horizon.
I hit it off with a woman who was also hiking alone - she came in an hour later and she had been hiking for 400 miles of the AT with a broken foot. She had come north all the way from Georgia. I thought she was nuts, but she had to make it to Mt. Katahdin in Maine and nothing was going to stop her. Her company was welcome, and the bunk I was sleeping in meant I didn’t even need my tent. I fell asleep.
The next day I hiked over Mt. Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast and home to the worst weather in America. My planning paid off - I had the privilege of clear skies and I got to see the train crawling up the mountain. Then I hiked over Mt. Clay, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Adams, and finally Mt. Madison. The weather was clear, the path was filled with wobbly rock fields, and near the end of my traverse I befriended a hiker.
We silently made the mutual decision to finish the traverse together. When we finally reached the base of the traverse, after descending about 4,000ft, it was dark and we relied on the dim lights of our headlamps. I was blessed twice that evening - first to have companionship in the dark woods, second to hitchhike south to my car with a married couple who had no problem helping us out.
Back at my car I drove home, worried about a weird sound the car was making rather than thinking about anything in particular. To this day, that was an act of freedom in my own life. My advice I will give is this: go on an adventure alone at least once in your lifetime. If you get bogged down with all of the articles out there on why hiking alone is dangerous you will never have the courage to undertake the journey.
If there is anything you take away from my journey, I hope it is that with the right amount of experience and good judgement you can go anywhere by yourself, regardless of what others will say. I can’t promise each of the adventures you go on will be life changing, but I can guarantee they will give you reason to believe in yourself. If you were inspired by my story, please feel free to check out my blog.