Women who Became a Force of Nature through the 52 Hike Challenge

For the New Year (2014) I, Karla, decided to hike once a week for the year. Phillip called it "the 52 Hike Challenge."

In that year,  we had many adventures. Most importantly, I found forgiveness, strength, confidence through the trails and mountains. 

The journey was so powerful that we decided to share our challenge with people and encourage them to go on their own 52 hikes. One of our goals is to share the powerful testimonies we receive of how making the outdoors a lifestyle can have a positive impact on the mind, body, and soul.

In partnership for #ForceOfNature and REI today we bring to you one story of how the #52HikeChallenge has helped our community and one, of many women to find their place in the wild.

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 “It was suggested to me that my body did not have the strength to do all of the outdoorsy things because I simply was not capable. For years I allowed myself to believe these suggestions as facts, and found solace in food and loneliness. It took letting go of this person to finally also let go of the idea that I was broken and see that my body was capable of all the amazing things it has done over the last year and a half while completing the 52 Hike Challenge.

I daydreamed of my feet pounding the dirt trail, chasing new waterfalls and just being outside. At the time I was stuck, paralyzed with fear because I really thought my body could not do it. I was always waiting for the right time to go hiking.

When I found myself newly separated and alone, I stopped waiting. 

Despite the fear, and there was a lot of it, I laced up my hiking books, and went for it. Hike number one was also my first solo hike. 

Those 3.5 miles wrecked me. I snapped a photo of myself half way through the hike and now smile every time I see it because I’m able to see, not just how far I have come in strength and endurance, but also because the person in that photo started a journey that has lead me to where I am now.

The fear I felt on that first hike never really went away. That fear stopped me from lacing my boots many times. It woke me up at 4 AM begging me to cancel that day’s hike. It followed me to the trailhead driving up mountain sides. The fear was amplified after the first time I came across a snake on the trail, and then some more after I heard the distinct sound of a rattlesnake while standing in the middle of a narrow trail with tall grass on both sides of me. 

For my 52nd hike I needed to do something big. This was the hike that would prove I was not broken. I would no longer need to prove my strength or endurance to anyone, including myself.

For the first time there was no fear, or morning jitters. I knew I could summit Mount Wilson. I had the strength, stamina and 51 hikes behind me to prove that I could do it. 

There is no victory photo at the top of Mount Wilson. I managed to snap a single shot of Mount Baldy off the horizon still covered in snow. I just wanted to get back down that mountain. Fifteen and a half miles behind me, I sat in my car stuffing trail mix and oranges into my mouth, exhausted, dirty and satisfied. As much as that mountain kicked my ass, I kicked its ass too.

I’ve had trails make me cry. Times when I thought I wouldn’t make it back to the trailhead because the trail was too steep, or it was too hot, or I simply didn’t believe I could. That was before the 52 Hike Challenge. I completed each of these hikes without a single tear because I believed that I could. I hiked 214.38 miles over 18 months. I hiked in the sun and in the rain, through ice and snow. On sand, on rocks, on volcano ash. My hikes took me to 3 states and 6 countries. I lost 50 pounds and 5 pant sizes. I gained strength, confidence, and a desire to keep exploring.” -  Natalie Sanchez

After Natalie's 52 Hike Challenge, she quit her job and went on to travel and hike the Camino de Santiago. She is now living her life to the fullest. To read more about Natalie's 52 Hike Challenge visit her website here. 

TimBuk2 Muttmover Backpack Review

I was given a Timbuk2 Muttmover Backpack for my dachshund Louie who loves hiking, but can tire out when it's warm. I've had to carry him down the trail before like a baby in my arms.

I was window shopping in SF when my girlfriend, Kristina, said we should check out the Timbuk2 store. As I was looking at the backpacks, I saw an ad that made me squeal with joy!

A doxie in a backpack... 

A doxie in a backpack... 

To my surprise, I was gifted one so I could test it out -thank you John from Hayes Valley store! 

  Taking Louie out for a hike. 

  Taking Louie out for a hike. 

It was time to put the Muttmover backpack to the test. I unzipped the sides and Louie fit right in. 

P.S. The head openings can accomodate a shorter and higher position, make sure to pick the correct opening before you zip them in... Haha. ;)

Zipped him right up... 

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And away we went...

...to be greeted with this magical view.

This is one of our favorite hikes: Top of the World in Laguna Beach, CA

This is one of our favorite hikes: Top of the World in Laguna Beach, CA

Review: 

I think this is a great backpack if you have a small lightweight pup (max of 20 lbs)! The reasons why I liked the backpack is that it was super easy to get Louie in and out of. He didn't complain once, and quite frankly, I think he enjoyed it too much! The inside has a waterproof liner which makes any mess easy to wipe. Also, the straps can be customized to evenly distribute the weight of your pup and the ventilated back panel allows you to keep cool. If that wasn't enough, there is a built in bottle opener, and a foldable water bowl that is included too. :P The price for the bag is $118, considering the lifetime warranty, the fact that you can take this on airplanes, it is well worth the investment.

Other Details:  It has a removable sternum strap, built in leash to keep your pup in place, multiple external pockets for your iPad, book, wallet, keys and your pet’s snacks, leash, etc. Elasticized external side pocket for water bottle or U-lock. Has a grab handle for easy lifting.

While at the San Francisco store, I also learned that Timbuk2 bags are manufactured in the city. Some of their bags are customizable in colors, and they have a lifetime warranty on all their bags! I was very impressed with the company's ethics. 

Check out a sample of a backpack I was able to customize online, pretty cool right? 

Thanks Timbuk2 for the gift for Louie, we're looking forward to many more hikes together! 

To learn more and shop for Timbuk2 packs, click here. 

*While I was gifted this bag, we only write about the items we endorse and would purchase ourselves. This post may also contain affiliate links which helps to fund the 52 Hike Challenge. Thank you for your support. 

Leave No Trace Ethics Explained: Principle 2: Stick to Trails and Camp Overnight Right

While hiking is an extremely beneficial activity, as hikers we need to be mindful of our impact on the outdoors and how to minimize that impact on the land, wildlife and other people. A great way to minimize impact is to use the seven Leave No Trace principles developed by the Center for Outdoor Ethics, an “organization that protects the outdoors by teaching and inspiring people to enjoy it responsibly”. Over the next weeks, we’ll be blogging about the seven Leave No Trace principles, detailing one principle per week. Check back every Tuesday for a new post! Please leave your comments about how you put the LNT principles into practice in your outdoor endeavors or feel free to ask questions about the principles or how to put them into practice. We look forward to your feedback and discussion!

Now that you’ve done your planning, it’s time to hike! In order to preserve our outdoor areas for our and others’ enjoyment, we have to be vigilant about where we travel, in both the front and back country. This week we’ll discuss hiking and camping that results in the least impact to the environment. Like last week, we’ll define front country as day hiking and back country as adventures that take you into the wilderness for one or more nights.

Principle 2 in the front country country is:

STICK TO TRAILS AND CAMP OVERNIGHT RIGHT

In order to protect outdoor recreation areas for ourselves and generations to come, stick to established trails and campsites. This simple act minimizes plant and animal displacement and ensures natural environment is conserved.

1.       WALK AND RIDE ON DESIGNATED TRAILS TO PROTECT TRAILSIDE PLANTS

Believe it or not, a lot of thought, planning and work goes into building the trails we use for day hiking. These trails are built with the purpose not only of showing us incredible scenery and working around tricky obstacles, but also to minimize impact to soil, plants and trees. It’s important to stay on the trail! Just this spring, trails though California’s super bloom had to be closed because too many hikers were leaving the trail and trampling wildflowers. Help preserve the beautiful things you see while hiking so that everyone can enjoy them!

Photo taken at Barataria Preserve, Louisiana

Photo taken at Barataria Preserve, Louisiana

2.       DO NOT STEP ON FLOWERS OR SMALL TREES

Our great big environment is actually quite delicate, and once damaged, plants may not grow back for long periods of time – if ever. These small plants are not only beautiful, but may also be critical to erosion control. Leaving the trail, especially to cut switchbacks, can have a detrimental effect on the general landscape. Once again – stay on the trail!

Enjoy flowers from a distance

Enjoy flowers from a distance

3.       RESPECT PRIVATE PROPERTY BY STAYING ON DESIGNATED TRAILS

Leave no trace isn’t just about respecting the outdoors, it’s about respecting people and their property as well. There are plenty of great public trails to see and explore. Stick to those and avoid leaving trails for private/ restricted areas.

4.       CAMP ONLY ON EXISTING OR DESIGNATED CAMPSITES TO AVOID DAMAGING VEGETATION

Just like with trails, it’s important to set up in a designated campsite to conserve plant life and respect your follow campers and their space.

Photo: Natural Bridge/Lexington KOA, Virginia

Photo: Natural Bridge/Lexington KOA, Virginia

5.       GOOD CAMPSITES ARE FOUND, NOT MADE

Don’t dig trenches or build structures in your campsite. Modifying a campsite by adding to, removing from or altering it can have a significant impact on the general environment as well as fellow and future campers. Your campsite should look the same when you leave it as when you found it. 

 

The back country version of this principle is similar:

TRAVEL AND CAMP ON DURABLE SURFACES

Like in the front country, it’s important to stay on established paths and appropriate campsites.

1.       DURABLE SURFACES INCLUDE ESTABLISHED TRAILS AND CAMPSITES, ROCK, GRAVEL, DRY GRASSES AND SNOW

When backpacking, your trails might be a little more isolated and primitive, or non-existent. Make sure to try and stay on maintained or existing trails when possible and ensure you camp on a durable surface as well. Avoid camping in meadows and untrampled vegetation.

Camping in Joshua Tree

Camping in Joshua Tree

2.       PROTECT RIPARIAN AREAS BY CAMPING AT LEAST 200 FEET FROM LAKES AND STREAMS

Areas near water are highly susceptible to pollution and are not only affected in one location but can carry impacts downstream. The 200-foot buffer also protects campers from flash floods or other water changes, slows erosion and allows wildlife a clear path to water sources.

3.       GOOD CAMPSITES ARE FOUND, NOT MADE

Just like when camping in the front country, you should look for a durable, and if possible, established campsite, in the back country. When searching for a campsite, try and look for areas of rock, gravel, sand, ice or snow.

In popular areas the following apply:

A.      CONCENTRATE USE ON EXISTING TRAILS AND CAMPSITES

Look for areas lacking vegetation. Those are typically existing areas of heavy use that should be used by as many people as possible in order to concentrate and minimize overall impact.

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B.      WALK SINGLE FILE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE TRAIL, EVEN WHEN WET OR MUDDY

Walking in the center of the trail helps prevent wearing away at the edges and destroying plant life both on the ground or that may be hit or broken with backpacks or walking sticks, thus minimizing the effect of humans on the environment.

Photo by Kristina Frost

Photo by Kristina Frost

C.      KEEP CAMPSITES SMALL.

A smaller campsite generally means a smaller impact. While it’s necessary to find a place to sleep overnight in the back country, it’s equally important to keep environmental disturbances to a minimum. If you choose to use a hammock, make sure to use “tree saver” straps.

In pristine areas the following apply:

A.      DISPERSE USE TO PREVENT THE CREATION OF CAMPSITES AND TRAILS

Larger groups typically mean more impact as they travel and camp in the same area. Try hiking in smaller groups and setting up camp with ample space between each tent and at least 200 feet from water.

Photo by Kristina Frost

Photo by Kristina Frost

B.      AVOID PLACES WHERE IMPACTS ARE JUST BEGINNING

If you notice that another group has used an area as a campsite or recognize the beginnings of a trail forming, choose an alternate location to camp or hike to allow for vegetation to recover. The more spread out and dispersed activities are in undisturbed areas, the more opportunity the environment has to recover from any human impacts. This is the opposite of hiking and camping in high traffic areas, so be sure to research your route before heading out to ensure you’re acting and looking for appropriate trails and campsites.

Want to learn more about Leave No Trace or the principles in this post? Check out the Center for Outdoor Ethics and their online awareness course, or find a course near you.

We’d love to hear how you’re ensuring you hike and camp with as little impact as possible, and how you incorporate these Leave No Trace steps. Leave us a comment below sharing your process!

Article by Chrissy Livergood and Karla Amador

Women of Color in the Outdoors

When I, Karla, first started getting outdoors I did not know of a lot of culturally diverse women who were avid hikers or adventurers. As time progressed, and once I started the #52HikeChallenge, I started using outdoors based hashtags and found a plethora of inspiring women in the outdoors who are a #ForceOfNature!

One woman I really admire is Georgina Miranda, when I think of her, I think that anything is possible for me as a Hispanic woman in the outdoors. Born to Nicaraguan and Salvadorian parents, she discovered the outdoors in her mid 20’s. (My parents are also from El Salvador, so this made me uber excited!) Miranda is an adventurer, entrepreneur, speaker, consultant, activist, and founder of Altitude Seven- an adventure lifestyle media platform for women inspiring them to live an adventure filled life and helping them find relevant stories, products, experiences, and community.

So why is she so admirable? She has climbed six of seven summits around the world, including Mt. Everest. (This seems impossible for someone who could barely run a mile in 2007.) Currently, she is attempting the Explorer Grand Slam which includes all seven summits and skiing the last degree of the North and South Pole, her goal is to complete it by 2018!

Miranda on Mt. Everest - the highest mountain in the world!

Miranda on Mt. Everest - the highest mountain in the world!

I took the time to interview Miranda, and here’s what she had to share about her journey in climbing:

Which of the seven summits have you completed? 

“To date I have climbed six of the eight summits, including Mt. Everest (2011 & 2013), with Antarctica (Mt. Vinson + South Pole), Carstensz Pyramid, and the North Pole left to go. Yet there are endless mountains to climb in the literal sense and in life.”

Why did you decide to start climbing mountains? 

“I was inspired to get serious about climbing back in 2007 after reading Eve Ensler's account of her visit to Democratic Republic of Congo documenting the issue of gender-based violence that had plagued the country. The stories were hard to read, but shed light that awareness and resources were needed. These women were incredibly strong and resilient and Eve’s mission was to turn their pain to power.”

What about that story made you want to climb mountains? 

“I thought to myself, what’s the most challenging thing I can put myself through to raise funds and awareness for a cause? I was reading up on different things I could do, and none excited me. Since I was a hiker and wanted to visit the seven continents as a kid, when I learned about the summits and read not a lot of women had done it- I thought, now this is something I can do.”

What was the first major peak you climbed? 

“My first mountaineering course was Mt. Rainier in June of 2008, we made it 200 feet from the summit but had to turn around due to a storm. Then I climbed Mt. Elbrus in Russia July 2008”

What was your training program to get you to the first peak? 

“Physically- lots of hiking. I was living in LA at the time, and I would summit Mt. Baldy, San Jacinto and San Gorgonio every other week for eight months. There was also running.”

Were you ever afraid? If so, how did you get over the fear? 

“I wasn’t afraid of failing or not completing the challenge, I was more afraid of not trying.  I would have more regrets sitting at home, so might as well go do it.”

One of the biggest reasons we become afraid is that we look at the end goal, instead of breaking down the goal to manageable steps. As the saying goes, “If You Fail to Plan, You Plan to Fail.” -Benjamin Franklin. One of the reasons we believe the 52 Hike Challenge is powerful is because we’ve laid out a plan for success. The goal is 52 hikes, the baby steps to getting there is to commit yourself to one hike per week. Apply this concept to any other goal and you’re halfway there.

Miranda also had a plan for success, she took her time, and saved money to start her journey. However, as the unexpected occurs in life, she hit a bump along the way and got “derailed.” In 2011, she had to turn around when climbing Mt. Everest due to altitude sickness: hypoxia. Then there was timing: financially she got laid off and felt she had a lot of unexpected delays. In 2013, she started her company Altitude Seven. It took her years to get back to her goal with all the detours. She now hopes to complete her Explorer Grand Slam by April 2018.

What advice do you want to give to someone who wants to follow your footsteps? 

“Start somewhere, get your fitness level up. Endurance-wise start by running 3 to 5 miles, train with weights, and breathing at altitude. Start with smaller mountains and work your way up, take courses, get comfortable walking eight hours plus, and train your mind! Take the time to educate yourself on what to expect when you get out there. Reading “No Shortcuts to the Top” by Ed Viesturs and David Roberts was inspiring. Learn from people who are doing what you want to do, and educate yourself about the things you’re passionate about.”

Miranda on Mount Kilimanjaro

Miranda on Mount Kilimanjaro

Education is an investment that I believe is important to taking the next step in one’s outdoor endeavors. Right now, REI is offering various #ForceOfNature women's classes and events. You can find classes on backpacking, map and compass, meetups and more. You can also learn some of these skills at their Outessa summits.

Is there anything else you want to add? 

“Always remember why you started - that is what keeps you going.”

Miranda and I share the same theory on starting a big project or goal… Set your sights high and acknowledge fear will be present. However, you can work to break down the goal to manageable steps and learn to sit with the fear (it’s only a feeling.) “Working on facing your fears is like working out a muscle.” Once you overcome one small fear, you can move through the feelings and push a little more out of your comfort zone until you are victorious. You’ll never know what heights you can reach if you don’t try.

I’m thankful I have culturally diverse outdoor women role models who are a #ForceOfNature. This community and climbing mountains have changed my life in ways I never knew possible. We can all take a life-changing journey, all it takes in one foot, in front of the other and realizing, if she can do it, so can you!

 *This post was brought to you in sponsorship with REI and may contains affiliate links which help fund the 52 Hike Challenge. 

Leave No Trace Ethics Explained: Principle 1: Know Before You Go

While hiking is an extremely beneficial activity, as hikers we need to be mindful of our impact on the outdoors and how to minimize that impact on the land, wildlife and other people. A great way to minimize impact is to use the seven Leave No Trace principles developed by the Center for Outdoor Ethics, an “organization that protects the outdoors by teaching and inspiring people to enjoy it responsibly”. Over the next seven weeks, we’ll be blogging about the seven Leave No Trace principles, detailing one principle per week. Check back every Tuesday for a new post! Please leave your comments about how you put the LNT principles into practice in your outdoor endeavors or feel free to ask questions about the principles or how to put them into practice. We look forward to your feedback and discussion!

This week is all about preparation. LNT isn’t just about what happens on the trail; it includes planning to responsibly and safely enjoy the outdoors. Each principle has a front country and back country component. We’ll define front country as day hiking and back country as adventures that take you into the wilderness for one or more nights.

Principle 1 in the front country is:

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

Before taking even a quick, familiar day hike, there are a few steps you should take the ensure a safe and successful hike.

1.       PACK FOOD, WATER AND APPROPRIATE CLOTHING

Weather, trail conditions and accidents can all have unexpected impacts on our hikes, and it’s important to be prepared for delays or environmental changes. One of the most important ways to prepare for conditions, good or bad, is to make sure you’re carrying adequate water (2-4 liters per person per day), food and clothing. If you’re hiking in an area that experiences sudden, frequent weather changes pack warm/waterproof layers even if the weather is looking sunny and warm at the start of the hike. A great resource to check when preparing for any hike is REI’s 10 Essentials list. It includes tips and suggestions for carrying food, water, clothing and other important hiking gear.

2.       USE MAPS

Again, even on familiar hikes you should carry some form of map (and a printed copy as a backup!) Some great map sources are the USGS that provides topographic maps for free download or the AllTrails app that provides maps that can be downloaded to view offline (with paid subscription) and handy GPS so you can see your progress along the trail.

3.       LEASH PETS, BRING WASTE BAGS

Hiking with pets can be a wonderful relaxing and bonding experience, but it’s important to make sure to minimize our pets’ impact on the trails. Make sure to have pets on a leash and always carry out pet waste and dispose of properly off of the trail.

Human, leash & poopie bag

Human, leash & poopie bag

4.       RESEARCH AREA BEFORE VISIT

In order to know what kind of weather, trail and environmental conditions to expect and plan accordingly (like how much water to carry), it helps to conduct a bit of research about the trail area before heading out. In addition to providing maps, AllTrails is a great resource for conducting this research. The app allows users to leave reviews, photos, etc. that can be helpful when planning to know what kinds of conditions to expect on a certain trail.

5.       LET SOMEONE KNOW WHERE YOU’RE GOING AND WHEN YOU’LL RETURN

This is a simple but important step to take before any hike. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just a quick text or post-it that says where you’ll be hiking and when you plan to be in touch. It may sound overly simple or silly, but it’s important safety step to take. In the event of an accident or emergency, this simple information can save valuable time and effort in locating you or others along a trail.

The back country version of this principle is similar with a few more involved steps for overnight travel:

PLAN AHEAD AND PREPARE

1.       Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you'll visit

Once you’ve picked out a place you will be backpacking, you will need to know if a permit is needed to enter the area, if fires are permitted, or if you will need bear canisters, etc. You will most definitely want information on water sources, route options, weather etc. It’s important to check with the agency that manages the land you will be visiting. We’ve also found it helpful to check with recent hikers on trail conditions using Facebook, Instagram and hashtags.

2.       Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies

As we mentioned earlier it is imperative to be up to date on weather before you head out the door. You will want to note if the area you are visiting has any hazards, avalanche, fire dangers, or flash floods, etc. You should always have a plan in case of inclement weather, including having phone numbers to local agencies in case of emergencies. We also recommend having a SPOT or similar GPS device just in case.

3.       Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use

It is a good idea to think about visiting high season vs. low season, many times parks implement a permit system to minimize the amount of people on popular trails. If you plan to visit in the high season you will most likely need to apply for a permit and you are not guaranteed a spot. Whenever possible, consider visiting when it is the low season to maximize your chance of visiting your desired destination, sans the crowds.

Visiting Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest during the low season... We had the place all to ourselves.

Visiting Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest during the low season... We had the place all to ourselves.

4.       Visit in small groups when possible

Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups. Trails are subject to erosion, the more people on the trial the bigger the impact. When planning group trips and hikes, try to keep the groups small or break out into several smaller groups. This also gives other hikers the quiet time and solace they go to the wild for.  

5.       Repackage food to minimize waste

Take food out of the original packaging and try to find ways to reduce the trash that you would need to carry back out. For example, you can take several oatmeal single serve packages and place into one larger bag for several days, thus cutting down on trash.

6.       Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging

Before you head into the backcountry you should know how to use a map and compass. Always carry a printed map because you can’t count on cell phone GPS due to battery life, potential loss, etc. Plus consider that cairns can’t be trusted. Remember leaving no trace includes leaving the environment in its natural state. Don’t know how to navigate in the backcountry? REI offers classes in store.

Photo Cred: Alice Donovan Rouse

Photo Cred: Alice Donovan Rouse

Want to learn more about Leave No Trace or the principles in this post? Check out the Center for Outdoor Ethics and their online awareness course, or find a course near you.

We’d love to hear how you’re preparing for your hikes and how you incorporate these Leave No Trace steps in your prep. Leave us a comment below sharing your process!

Article by Chrissy Livergood and Karla Amador

*This post contains some affiliate links which help fund the 52 Hike Challenge