All right, laugh all you want but the first hike of my life – the one that made me realize how good this lifestyle is – turned out to be a disaster. At least, the first three and a half hours… Here’s a beginner’s story.
Mountains Are Calling and I Must Go
On what turned out to be a snow packed December weekend, a friend of mine – one that knew what he was doing while hiking – invited me to this awesome cottage in the mountain to spend the weekend there. We go up there on Friday night, have fun, drink beer and eat goulash, maybe do another little hike the next day and back on Sunday so we can have a little rest before Monday kicks in and Office calls again. There we were, a very nice group of around 12 people in four cars going to the Mountains up to the point where you have to leave cars, and rely on your feet to get up to the Shelter.
The Cottage (Chata MR. Stefanika) in Slovakia’s Nizke Tatry is one that can be accessed only by foot, by an approximately 2 hour long hike uphill. When you are in good shape that is. When you are a hiking monster, you can run up to the top of the mountain in one hour. Or 35 minutes as some Terminators do. There’s also a possibility to take some supplies with you and you get rewarded. A keg of 50l beer is the most precious I believe, but yeah, taking it up hill is no childs game.
And when you are out of shape – as I was at the time – you realize that even with a light backpack it’s not that easy at all.
Was it Really that Hard to Hike for Only 2 Hours?
Okay, so let’s get the facts straight so that you know what are we dealing with here:
- The distance from “leave your car here” to the Cottage is an approximate 2 miles (3,5 km). Piece of cake. But then comes the twist:
- The elevation is 1800 ft (600 m). And another twist:
- The snow really doesn’t make it easier. Not at all.
But for an experienced hiker, or someone at least a little in shape, it can easily be done in 2 hours. Btw. check this awesome hiking time calculator, turns out it’s pretty accurate. Also, if you still don’t believe it’s kind of a good exercise too, check this calories calculator too. Using up 700 calories in 3 hours when you are an office rat (like I was) with no prior training is your worst nightmare.
So the first time we went there – because once I fell in love with the place I was going there for the next 10 years – I have had multiple problems.
Rookie Mistakes that I made
First and foremost, I was seriously out of shape – this is an unforgettable sin, I know, and from that moment on I knew better, started going to gym regularly and running outdoor and on treadmills to get fitter.
Then my gear was shitty: except for awesome Merrel mid waterproof winter boots that I have bought maybe one month before we went to the hike, everything was just improvised.
And an old, heavy, bad backpack (instead I should have brought this one) full of unnecessary things. Like clothes for 5 days instead of one.
Are We There Yet?
Aka: That Feeling When You Are Ready To Quit
I’m not a quitter, hopefully you aren’t one either. But that time, only half an hour has passed and I heard that small voice in my head saying “this is too hard, gotta go back”. Of course, we all feel that at some point. Even with the slightest running you come to the point where you say, this is it, I’ve had enough.
Best case scenario, that breaking point happens only once, during our first hike I think I’ve had 30. But I didn’t stop. There was always someone with me (which is sort of important when you are hiking in the middle of the night) to keep me “entertained” (read: telling me we won’t die in the middle of the cold night) and to lift the spirit in me (read: telling me there is liquor and beer waiting for us up there).
Every now and then when I stopped to drink a little water (was carrying way too much of that anyway) or to take my gloves off because I felt my hands are burning and sweating, a friend would stand by and tell me that there ain’t much left. Of course he was lying, but with each step I took I felt that I am closer to the goal. I felt that I am making progress and even though it was painful and full of stops that I had to take to rest my heart, soul and shattered body … every step of it was worth it.
What’s the funniest of all, I wasn’t the last one. We had people in our group who were behind. And they didn’t give up either.
Conquering The Mountain Of My Own Fear
It took me 3,5 hours to do the 2 hour hike. Was I proud? Well, yes and no. No, because I underestimated the difficulty of this ‘walk’. And seriously overestimated my own capabilities.
But in the meantime I was also very proud because I didn’t quit. I didn’t give up and I did make it to the place where there were good people waiting for us with beer and food and fun and the whole weekend was one of the best in my entire life.
But it was then when I decided, that for the next one (because I knew there will be a next one), I shall prepare properly for the hike. If you only want the highlights, here they are:
Short Tips for First Time Hikers
Here’s what I have learned from my own disaster. Do this, so you can avoid feeling utterly helpless and weak and angry and frustrated. That is, if you’re not a regular outdoor person:
Before hiking do get some exercise. Get at least a little in shape. There’s nothing wrong with being slow if you are not the only one. But if you will be hiking in a big group, it’s very frustrating both for the group and yourself to slow them down just because you didn’t take time to get yourself in decent shape. Do some cardio routine so you can at least walk uphill at a normal speed.
Make sure you don’t go hiking without proper gear, because that is a heavy weight to carry and it will slow you down very much.
And on the day of your hike, make sure you:
Pack less, and have a good backpack (the one that leans to your body, is lightweight, can carry all the gear you need etc etc)
Invest in lightweight sleeping bag (if there will be sleeping in bags at the place you are going)
Have a good lightweight jacket, possibly gore-tex but definitely windproof. Gloves, pants, and t-shirts and fleece and even your underwear can be special for hiking occasion, if you have the means, get at least some essentials.
If you’re hiking at night, make sure you have a good headlamp.
Shoes are very important, never be cheap on the shoes!
Eat right, take some energy bars with you.
And never hike alone, unless you’re a pro. Friends motivate each other, and more importantly, they wait for you if you’re too slow. That means a lot in the beginning.
Finally, if you loved it, and you will, then don’t stop. Go other places, meet other people. For some reason hikers are much cooler than “regular” people you see in the City. And why wouldn’t you want to be among cool people, right?