Why I love long-distance trekking

Karale Glacier - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

This is my favourite image from my trip to Greenland this year.   

Taken on Day 3 of the Unplugged Wilderness Trek with Greenland Adventures by Icelandic Mountain Guides, it (almost) perfectly captures everything I loved about the trek and the reasons why the experience was so special to me.

Many people have asked me about why I love long-distance trekking, given that the thought of trekking for 8 or 10 or 12 days without a shower or many creature comforts is quite a stretch for most.  But for me it’s absolute heaven for the following reasons:

The beauty

Just look at the image.

Those who have been following my travels through the blog have probably figured out that I love mountains, despite the fact that I come from a country that doesn’t really have any “proper” ones.  I’m not a beach girl at all (very un-Australian of me) and am not fond of heat and humidity, though I do love deserts! 

But for me, it is the mountains that really give a sense of the grandeur of the World, whether it be looking up at them towering above you, or looking down from a bird’s eye view.  And although there are plenty of mountains that are easily accessible, if you trek for 10 or 12 days, you end up a long way from anyone or anything, and can really experience nature in all its glory.  It doesn’t get any better!

The silence

There is silence in nature – which in turn quietens my own thoughts.

Enjoying the silence of Huayhuash

Enjoying the silence of Huayhuash

Hiking and high intensity exercise are the only things I’ve found that switch my brain off from its constant chatter about what is happening in my life or what I would like to happen in my life.  The advantage that hiking has over high intensity exercise is that it is relatively easy to sustain for long periods of time, if you go in with a good level of fitness to begin with. 

For example, I love boxing!  It is my favourite type of exercise (apart from hiking).  But even at my fittest (just before I left Australia 18 months ago), an intense 30 minute training session with Charles would wipe me out for the rest of the day!     Another example, one of the things I try to do most mornings while traveling is High Intensity Interval Training.  I use the 12 Minute Athlete App and, if you really commit to the idea and put everything you’ve got into it, 12 minutes is more than enough time to destroy you.  If you don’t believe me – I encourage you to give it a go 🙂

And so back to long-distance trekking.  To me, it is a luxury and the best gift I can give myself to have 12 days of peace and serenity and freedom from thinking about life.  To be completely “in the moment” and disconnected from “real life” allows me to reset my thought patterns and eject things that I may have been obsessing over prior to setting off.  I always come back from a long-distance trek with a much clearer mind.

And for those of you who need a break from technology – we had no phone reception from the moment we left Kulusuk to the moment we returned.  Going cold-turkey for 11 days is a good way to break the cycle!

The simplicity

I’ve always lived a fairly minimalist lifestyle, preferring to spend my money on experiences rather than things.  However, since leaving Australia in February 2016, I’ve taken that a step further and have been traveling with just a 60L bag for the most part (OK, this has extended a little this year because I had to bring all my camping gear with me).  Trust me – you can’t fit much in a 60L bag!  For example, I have 2 pairs of trekking pants and 5 quick-dry shirts, so my daily decision about what to wear comes down to: “does it smell, or can I get away with wearing it for another day?“.   After all – you don’t want to be doing washing every 3rd day!

Trekking for 12 days takes this to an even more extreme – after all, you actually have to carry this stuff!  Decisions about what to eat are minimised – you eat what you have with you.  Decisions about where to sleep are minimised – you pitch your tent wherever you find yourself when you stop hiking.   And decisions about what to do are minimised – you are either hiking, or you entertain yourself with whatever you have with you.   Your options are severely limited when you are in the middle of nowhere, but that makes it all the more special, as you can really appreciate where you are and the people you are with.

Keeping ourselves entertained

Entertaining ourselves on a rainy day in the Tasiilaq Mountain Hut. Reading, sleeping, talking, drinking tea, and innumerable games of UNO.

The challenge

For some people, the thought of walking 6 blocks in the middle of a city is too much.   For others, a day hike is more than enough to last them for the next week or month.  But when you walk (and engage in other exercise) as much as I do, these shorter hikes are great, but often don’t provide much of a challenge.   

The exceptions I can think of off the top of my head since I started traveling in 2016 are Volcán Maderas in Nicaragua, Rucu Pichincha in Ecuador, and Laguna 69 in Peru.  These were tough day hikes – Maderas because of the heat, the others because of the altitude.

Laguna 69

Laguna 69 in the Cordillera Blanca in Peru is a tough day hike, mostly because of the altitude

The first long-distance trek I did was the Torres del Paine Circuit in Chile in 2015.  I remember when I signed up that I was a little nervous about walking for 8 days, especially with the osteoarthritis in my toes.  But it was an incredible experience (for all the reasons I’m talking about here), and while there were challenging parts to it, on the whole, it really wasn’t that difficult.

Torres del Paine Circuit Trek

The Torres del Paine Circuit was the first long-distance trek I did. We had pretty ordinary weather but it was an amazing experience

Then, last year, I hiked the 10-day Huayhuash Circuit in Peru, 95% of which is over 4,200m, with several passes over 5,000m.   Having spent quite a lot of time at altitude, I knew I wouldn’t have any problems with altitude sickness, but if you’ve ever been above about 3,000m, you know that doing anything at these altitudes gets very difficult very quickly. 

Highest point on the Huayhuash Trek

The highest point on the Huayhuash Trek at 5,200m.

However, with the slow walking pace set by Eliceo, the  altitude challenge was entirely surmountable (though there were some tough climbs), and the sense of achievement I felt at the end of the 10-days was a kind of euphoria.  It took me several days to come down off the high of that incredible experience.

The 12-day Unplugged Wilderness trek in East Greenland was this year’s challenge.  And although altitude wasn’t a concern, I hadn’t actually done much exercise for the previous 2 months while traveling the Silk Road (I’d also been a bit slack on the High Intensity Interval Training 🙁 ) so wasn’t as fit as I wanted to be.  My other concern was the cold (this is Greenland after all, even if in Summer), something that I feel very keenly, and one of my biggest challenges on the Huayhuash Circuit.  It turned out that this actually wasn’t an issue at all (except for Day 4) and I think this trek is the easiest of the 3 I’ve done so far.  No less spectacular for it though, and 3 months after the fact, my head and heart are still in Greenland!

Sunset Tasiilaq Mountain Hut - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

Sunset at the Tasiilaq Mountain Hut in East Greenland

So what is my next challenge?

Well, all the treks I’ve done so far have been supported – in other words, I’ve only had to carry a day pack while hiking.  And although my day pack tends to be heavier than most because of my camera gear, it’s still a lot lighter than carrying a full pack.

However, in February 2018, I will be leveling up in my challenges and undertaking the 10-day Patagonian Icecap Expedition from El Chaltén in Argentina.  On this hike, I have to carry a full pack, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t very, very nervous about the cold.   Check back in March to see if I survive!

The new friends

Perhaps I’ve just been lucky.  But I’ve found that the types of people who undertake long-distance treks and actually stick it out, tend to be easy-going, fun, and interesting companions. 

Because you spend so much time together – hiking, eating meals, hanging out – you have tons of time to chat and get to know one another.  And if you really click, it very quickly and easily turns into an ongoing friendship.  I’m still in touch with Max and Nico from the Huayhuash Circuit last year (and am working on convincing them to come to Greenland next year), and I’ll catch up with several of my companions from Unplugged Wilderness again in 2018.   I’m really looking forward to this!

Max and Nico from Huayhuash (top), and the crew from Unplugged Wilderness (bottom)

So there you have it.  If you’ve been curious (or have asked me previously) about why I keep doing these crazy-long treks, I hope that gives a bit more of an idea why I’m so attracted to them.  I really wish I’d discovered this passion earlier in my life, but am making the most of it now that I’ve seen the light 🙂

So who’s in for the Arctic Circle Trail in Greenland in August in 2018?

 

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