How to Hike On Your Own & Why it's Empowering

Hey everyone! This is the first guest post written by my very good friend, Emily Creek. She recently moved to the mountains and has some spectacular tips on how to be properly prepped when it comes to hiking by yourself, and also the tremendous growing experience that comes with it. If you're also interested in writing on An OKay Life, feel free to submit some ideas!

Thoughts that swirled in my head when I decided to move from Chicago to Denver: “Ahhhh yes! So many places to hike and camp on days off this is so good.”

You see, the good ol’ outdoors are where I find my peace and release from stress. And physical activity balances me out, so I was feeling ready for this new lifestyle.

When exploring, friends are super helpful to have when you want to adventure in the big outdoors because LET ME INFORM YOU, Colorado ain’t no Lake Geneva, Wisconsin or Starved Rock, IL. There are warnings up for mountain lions, powerful male elk mating battles, rattlesnacks, thousands of feet of incline, way less oxygen (and that’s before you start to go up), waterfalls cutting through trails, lots of rocks, unexpected storms at high elevations, crazy drives to trailhead, etc.  

But here’s the deal, I have Thursdays and Saturdays off. And of the three people I know here, it has proven difficult to find time to join together on adventure. So for the first two Thursdays off, I tried going on little walks through prairies where there were a lot of people walking dogs or jogging. But this Thursday and Saturday I decided I was fed up with sun beating on my back in the prairie…. I had waterfalls to see and yellow Aspens at 10,000 feet to get to before peak colors passed!

So... Thursday I went on my first real solo journey, I packed up Lou (my jeep) and drove an hour and a half away to the little town of Green Mountain Falls just past Colorado Springs. I hiked for two hours, peak elevation was 8500 feet up or so. Through this journey I learned a few things on the trail alone so I thought I’d share them here:

Let someone know your plans.

I tell my roommate and my mom.

Use Airplane mode.

There’s often no cell service, remember at least the last leg of the drive there so you can be en route home and turn on airplane mode to save phone battery.

Quiet woods are eerie.

You hear everything…breathe deep and soak in that quiet

Because you are alone...play music out loud if you’re feeling anxious.

Also to let wild animals like bears and mountain lions know you’re there...

When you can’t find the trail, DON’T PANIC.

Take a drink of water, calmly look around for the indicator (cairn, yellow mark on trees, etc) by slowly doing a 360 of where you are last certain of the trail, try the two or three possible routes just a little bit and go back to where you were …you will find it.

Go a bit slower than you’d go with friends.

With no service and no support, you don’t want to get hurt. As much as I wanted to sprint up the rocks to the waterfalls as I began to hear them, I went very slowly, watching my step so as not to injure myself.

Bring SO MUCH water, layers, and food.

OK, I was on a two-hour hike and needed only one bottle of water and my apple. But, if anything happened, I had layers and food.

ENJOY IT.

Take all the pictures you want. Sit and watch the waterfall. Laugh out loud at your own trips. funn

Number 8 is the most important. SOAK IN THE TIME THAT’S JUST YOU + GOD + (NATURE, MOVIE, BOOK, NEIGHBORHOOD). Learn about yourself. Do you breathe heavy when slightly panicked? Do you let yourself rest? Do you talk to yourself to sort through things. Do you dance a little bit when you walk? Do you feel sad? Excited? Content? Take record of YOU and then grow.

Now after I did that “real” drive through the mountains and a “real” hike alone, I felt more confident. So Saturday I drove up to 10,000 feet to Kenosha Pass in the Pike National Forest to see the Aspens. This journey was especially empowering for me because I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t realize I was going to be so high up…and felt sick while driving. Because I didn’t realize that, I wasn’t dressed properly for a hike. What did I do, I grabbed a blanket and a book and sat and read under the yellow aspens. What empowered me about this, was trusting my gut. I hadn’t researched properly, so I wasn’t ok to do the full hike to summit. Relaxing and resting in the mountain air made for THE BEST fall afternoon I’ve ever known. And I drove further up and on windier + crazier roads than I’d ever driven alone!

I still have a lot to learn, and probably won’t do a 14er alone or even camp alone quite yet…but the empowerment I felt on the trails this was unreal. I had real moments of fear…a noise, dang it they were right about the mountain lions, storm rolling into the Rockies, and so on. But by remaining calm and trusting my instincts, I overcame them. And that’s huge.

So next time you want to do something: be it hike a trail, explore a new neighborhood in your city, or go to a movie alone…do it. If you’re plan requires planning, do that properly, but trust yourself, go out there and live! Being alone is scary, and that’s why it is important to be alone once in a while.

-E


Emily Creek is a 23 year-old academic wanna-be pursuing her Masters in Cultural Anthropology at the University of Denver. She is Midwest born and raised, but finds herself most rooted in the Mountains, an ever changing painting of God’s splendid handy-work. She wants to study dance in Iceland. Right now, she is learning to be on her own and what it means to be intentional when making new friends.