Women on the trail---and the men who meet them

6:34 p.m. on January 16, 2013 (EST)
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Yes, it’s different.  When we hike in the Sierra, we don’t see many couples hiking together.  We see a lot of men, and a few groups of women.  But plain old couples like us, not so much.

And it’s funny what happens when all those men see M on the trail.  P tends to hike a little faster than M, so he usually greets these hikers first.  They are perfectly happy to be seen resting on the side of the trail while P hikes up and past them.  All is well in the world until M comes around the corner.   The minute they see the lovely M hiking along, they make a great struggle to get going again.  They jump to their feet,  hoist up their packs, give a few grunts, and push themselves up the trail. 

So now we are hiking along the trail, P in front, and a group of guys who are just killing themselves to keep up, and M hiking merrily behind them all.  The only problem is, they often can’t keep up the pace.  And so, slowly and inexorably, M passes them by.  Her only hope is that they don’t die of a heart attack while she does so.   They gasp and wheeze, sweat and groan.  M smiles sweetly at them.  Well, sometimes she does.

They just don’t want to admit that a woman might hike faster than they do—especially a woman of a certain age.  (And no, we are not disclosing proprietary information.  Let’s just that we’ve been married well over thirty years, and neither of us is in the bloom of youth.)

It’s true that there are a lot of people who hike faster than we do.  We’re happy to let them walk on by.  And we admit that we often have an advantage, as our packs are certainly lighter than a lot of the packs that we see on the trail.  It’s always easier to climb up a pass with 25 pounds than with 45 pounds. Or sixty.

But none of that matters to those guys when M appears on the trail. 

Go figure.

6:51 p.m. on January 16, 2013 (EST)
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And I would guess by your comments it feels pretty good to beat the boys at a game they think they own. 

If I were a twenty/thirty something guy getting passed by a fifty+ male I would be embarrassed.  But if his same aged female companion also breezed by I would be downright ashamed.  As a significantly older codger with a heart attack and stroke behind me, just being on the trail, no matter my pace, makes me feel good about myself, regardless who passes me.  I guess there is a silver lining to vanity after all.

Ed

11:33 p.m. on January 16, 2013 (EST)
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I can't blame the guys, im extremely competitive in every aspect of my life, and anyone who attempts to pass me is in for a challenge. If someone can pass me, then props to them. Nothing like a race between strangers in the middle of nowhere with no words exchanged. Just a quite competitiveness and a refusal to yield from both parties. I always enjoy it.

9:46 a.m. on January 17, 2013 (EST)
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While I have covered quite a bit of mileage at times(30 miles a day give or take) I can honestly say it really doesn't make much difference to me whether I get passed or I pass someone else...

In the end we are all there for the same reason...

...to hike our own hike.

11:05 a.m. on January 17, 2013 (EST)
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Competitive backpacking sounds a lot like competitive reading or competitive sleeping.  What is the point?  Embarassed?  Some of you must live in an alternative universe.

I have mentioned in the past my appreciation for women in the field.  It took a few years, but they won me over as a group with their mental toughness and ability to make men better.

 

11:09 a.m. on January 17, 2013 (EST)
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whomeworry said:

And I would guess by your comments it feels pretty good to beat the boys at a game they think they own. 

If I were a twenty/thirty something guy getting passed by a fifty+ male I would be embarrassed.  But if his same aged female companion also breezed by I would be downright ashamed.  As a significantly older codger with a heart attack and stroke behind me, just being on the trail, no matter my pace, makes me feel good about myself, regardless who passes me.  I guess there is a silver lining to vanity after all.

Ed

Lord--I hope I didn't give the impression that we hike fast.  If we do a day at  2mph, we feel that we are flying.   We poke along, albeit at a steady pace.  And to be fair, most of the guys who struggle with this issue aren't the young guys---anybody under 35 is going to fly by us like a freight train, unless they are carrying a piano.

It's the older guys who still think that this has something to do with competition...

11:11 a.m. on January 17, 2013 (EST)
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ppine said:

Competitive backpacking sounds a lot like competitive reading or competitive sleeping.  What is the point?  Embarassed?  Some of you must live in an alternative universe.

I have mentioned in the past my appreciation for women in the field.  It took a few years, but they won me over as a group with their mental toughness and ability to make men better.

 

 Amen.  And if there is anything about me that is good--I owe it to my wife and her influence. 

1:54 p.m. on January 17, 2013 (EST)
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Funny stuff guys….

I guess perhaps I’m in a bubble, but I’m usually having too much fun to think or worry about what others are doing on the trail. I’m not very competitive by nature and really I’m with Rick: hike your own hike. To me that’s the beauty of it. I consider this to be an interest and an area of my life where I don’t have to prove anything to anybody; I do it because I love it.

I may have been helped some early experiences on the trail like the one where I was 18 and a 76 year old mountain man beat me up Mt LeConte (Alum Cave Bluff trail) by over 20 minutes and I was doing my best to catch him, lol. That was one tough dude and I later found out he grew up in those mountains and hiked that trail weekly (and probably left a string of shamed young men in his wake). J

 I do occasionally get annoyed by AT thru-hikers who are so laser focused on completing their trek that they can’t seem to comprehend taking side trails or loops (and too bad because in the southern apps many of the best spots aren’t on the AT). When meeting on the AT many will ask are you Sobo or Nobo? Well some days I’m north bound, some days I’m southbound, sometimes I might loop back on a different trail or even backtrack. I understand the position considering how much mental focus is required to prepare and execute a long thru-hike so I usually just steer conversation away from the topic.

8:55 p.m. on January 17, 2013 (EST)
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Yea, competitive bucket list hiking kinda misses the whole point - or perhaps the thrill of being first to camp just eludes me (other than the advantage of having the pick of open sites).   Most of my friends are morning people types, quite fixated on meeting objectives for the sake of keeping to "the schedule".  I drive them nuts with my more deliberate ways.  What difference does it make if we get to camp by 2PM or 5PM?  Besides I get enough of my fill, in town, with competitive types cutting me off to get a parking space or trying to "win" on the freeway and other pointless, unnecessary, competitions in day to day life, without getting into a contest to see who eats who's dust on a trail.  It makes me wonder if that competitive spirit extends to how they conduct themselves on a restroom break.  And the winner is...

Ed 

9:57 p.m. on January 17, 2013 (EST)
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You can find me in the the slow lane. I'll be the one with the oversized pack, extraneous items and some food that has not been dehydrated. There are many other sports where I enjoy the physical competition side of it, hiking is not one of them. Exactly the opposite. I personally get out there to slow down a little bit. Give my mind a second to be present. Life is becoming a thing of instant gratification. It's becoming harder and harder to stay connected to where you are, who you are talking to, what you are seeing when your having 3 other conversations on your cell phone and preoccupied with work deadlines.

11:42 a.m. on January 18, 2013 (EST)
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My best friend in Wyoming is a woman, 56 years old and hikes by herself all summer in the Teton Wilderness and Absaroka's in NW Wyoming. She has been doing this for the last 30 years there and other places in Colorado and Texas, Utah before and since. She carry's a big pack, tent and all the normal gear and stays out for a few weeks to a month at a time. She has been called "Grizzly Woman" because of her encounters with Grizzly bears. She use's bear spray or carry's it anyway. Has never had a close encounter with them other than seeing them in the backcountry. She use's bear cannisters and is totally safe when outdoors.

Her favorite area is a place called The Parting of the Waters, where a river comes down to a high mountain pass, called Two Ocean Pass, becoming Atlantic Creek and Pacific Creek.One goes west and into the Snake and Columbia Rivers then out to the Pacific. The other goes into the Missouri and Mississippi and out to the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic. Its said to be the farthest point in the US from a road. 

Another is Yount's Peak and the headwaters of the Yellowstone near the SE corner of Yellowstone park and lakes SE arms.

Most of the "men" she encounters are wilderness outfitters and hunters on horse back, few backpackers go into the Teton Wilderness other than her. I have been out there with her a few parts of summers. I spent 11 days in early June there with her last year. Common sightings of wolf packs, coyotes,both black and grizzly bears, beavers,moose, elk,deer and all different types of bird life. She is a birder and does years bird counts. 

She has kept a daily journal every year since the 80s. She grew up in a hiking family going on trips with her parents and siblings in the Colorado Rockies and Texas coast back in the 70s. I first met her in 1981 in Jackson  Hole (JH)Wyoming and have kept in touch every year since while working the last 30 years+ in Jackson during the summers and some winters. While I come south for the winter , she stays in JH almost year round, sometimes going to Utah to hike the Escalante and Kolob canyons and around Zion.

She is a member here of trailspace but rarely posts.

2:35 p.m. on January 18, 2013 (EST)
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I never make good time due to stops to look at floweres trees, insects, rocks, soil types, plant communities, cloud formations, rainbows and the weather.  I love to take naps anywhere, and like to soak my feet in a cold stream at every chance.

4:52 p.m. on January 18, 2013 (EST)
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Even when hiking with those I know, they, at times, come back down the trail to see I'm all right.  Even after a 9 day hike, and I showed up alive and generally well in time to eat or at least sleep each night. I, like ppine, try to enjoy the effort that got me there.  Including a 3 hour berry picking stint (much to my discomfort later) with a disinterested bear in a meadow; a drop pack wander off in the woods to check out something on the map; a long discussion with a family that had stopped early and just wanted to yak with somebody (got 'home' very late that night); always a chance to catch a late day picture too.  It is comforting that they worry that I have had a stroke or a heart attack on that last 4 hour uphill.  I am at an age that a stroll is more to my liking than is an assault.   I can still do 20 miles, but not before lunch.

I know a (older now) woman who is about 5' and about 100 pounds.  For a long time we were packing acquaintances only meeting up once or twice a year at 'gatherings'.  There she would lounge around in her chair (she ALWAYS packs a camp chair), drinking wine and conversing and being just all around pleasant to everyone.  Being beautiful certainly was not a disadvantage.   During the day she'd always be at the back herding along younger kids (or just taking the babysitting routine from the mom for a change) or encouraging those who were lagging or just simply providing company to new or slower hikers who were feeling left behind.

Soooo... after awhile we got to be just better friends and one day, she asked if I'd like to go on ahead on the trail that the group had decided they had had enough of for the day.  I suggested that she ought to lead so that I could keep up with her pace and not leave her behind.  Bad suggestion.  The last I saw of her for quite awhile was as she rounded a curve ahead of me.  Long story short she is an exceptional athlete.  A very non-imposing one who enjoyed being around people.  She has several Guinness type records associated with being 'out there' that also includes snow boarding.

She carries a pack more than half her weight at a very fast clip uphill, at altitude and always has a smile on her face, sitting in her chair at the top of the pass waiting for me.  I've never been fit enough to see her winded.

Always fun to be with and to hike with she will always adjust her speed to stay her hiking buddy and is very gracious about it.  But she is happy to make you go as fast as you can without stripping a gear.

A good person to always hike with.

She hikes in an outfit made of mosquito netting (or used to anyway), under which she wears running shorts and running bra. The affect on unsuspecting hikers coming toward her is expected and the effect is that she has yet to remove the very last veil.  She draws a crowd and woe be it to those that try to keep up with her.

It is always fun to hike with her.

Another time I was walking down from a high ridge and met a solo woman, sans clothing (with a pack) walking up hill.  She had a really nice pair of hiking boots the kind you spend lots of time looking with an REI catalog wishing you could afford.  She was as oblivious of my reaction as she was to her lack of cover.  It did occur to me, at the time, that I was going the wrong direction.  Later I met her male hiking partner similarly dressed but not nearly as fetching, sounding a lot like a steam engine working its way up a long grade.

I was coming down a local 10k' mountain with a LARGE pack that I had taken supplies up another trail to drop off at a hikers cabin. I had decided to go up to the summit after the drop and make it a loop back to the car on another trail.  It was quite cold in the late afternoon with a steady breeze.  I was chilled even with my fleece on.  Near timberline there were two teens huddled behind a rock trying to figure out what to do next.  One young teen girl was almost blue and showing significant signs of being in trouble soon.  I gave the fleece to the other girl and essentially put the cold one in my pack and tied her and the pack on to me.  Taking off at a fast clip, the one with the fleece warmed up with activity and the other was getting some recovery with the pack and other wrapping I still had in the pack.  The jiggling in the pack was enough to keep her warm enough until we found other hikers near the bottom that could provide more warm clothing. Shortly later we found one of their parents coming up the hill wondering what happened to them. In this case the girls were out hiking the dad who let them go on to meet up later on the way back.


That was a few years ago and we still stay in contact and hike infrequently together.  They are both married now so it gets to be more like a reunion.

My wife always seems to want to extend the planned hiking day because she wants to be closer to the up grade in the morning or she doesn't want to do the next few miles the next day or she is feeling just fine and would like to take more time off tomorrow or, or, or.  I'm usually the one groaning and complaining about another couple of hours of up hill and a late dinner.

So I guess to wrap it up.  I'm more of the 'Yes, dear.' when I come across women on the trail. 

10:27 p.m. on January 18, 2013 (EST)
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sounds like you have met some pretty amazing trail women especially "grizzly woman."

Just to clarify my competitiveness on the trail, for some reason I cannot stand following behind someone on the trail. I like having open trail in front of me. I have been that way since I was a kid... And I enjoy the views and the nature, and being out in the wilderness. I hate the city and being around tons of people in congested malls. It's not for me, it makes me uptight.

8:54 a.m. on January 19, 2013 (EST)
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i wonder if the naked hikers were from the Stephensen's Warmlite catalogue.

i have seen this dynamic a couple of times.  some men just act a little differently around women.  particularly women who appear to be fit and 'attractive.' 

 

10:59 a.m. on January 19, 2013 (EST)
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ppine said:

Competitive backpacking sounds a lot like competitive reading or competitive sleeping.  What is the point?   

LOL. 

My groups are usually about 80% women, and while there are always a few lagging behind, woe betide anyone who tries to pass the hard-core ladies at the front.

Notably, I know of three (two who were participants in my fitness classes) who had lost 100 lbs or more by changing their diet and by exercising regularly. For them, hiking is all about how hard they can go, and how fast, and while they'll wait at stops for the others, they're raring to go again as soon as they can.

Generally speaking, though, women have better lower-body development but are weaker in the upper-body than men. Men seem to be designed for speed, but hiking any distance is more about pacing. 

11:46 a.m. on January 19, 2013 (EST)
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I met a naked hiker in the backcountry of the Grand Canyon once. He said his skin was waterproof enough. He wore just boots and a hat, with his backpack on. He was so tanned and looked in ecellent shape at his young age of 75.

10:57 a.m. on January 20, 2013 (EST)
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We used to hike without clothes a lot when we were younger.  It is psychologically liberating and fun in warm weather, especially with someone you are in love with.  Sometimes in country with a lot of wildlife, we would use sign language for a few hours.  It is another way to connect with Nature.  I lived in more urban environments then, and had a need for the experiences of the bush.

11:10 a.m. on January 20, 2013 (EST)
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women are weaker in the upper body than men? fine to generalize, i guess, but my "baby" sister (she's 42), a kenpo black belt, might have something to say about that.....

10:12 a.m. on January 21, 2013 (EST)
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My ex-sister in law is a gymnast from Ontario.  At about 5'4" she has always been a strong girl.  Back in the 1970s we were in Los Angeles for a year or two.  She used to go into bars and challenge men to arm wrestle for a beer.  She used to win about 65 % of the time.

10:40 a.m. on January 21, 2013 (EST)
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I said "Generally speaking...", gentlemen. Far be it for me to challenge women who are hikers. I've had my butt kicked enough times to know better. 

An anthropologist at the University of Alberta explained it to me once as men having evolved to chase down game, while women evolved to gather food while still being abe to outrun a lion with a child on each hip. 

If we translate that into hiking, it means the weight-carrying lower-body development will be more effective on the trail than the hunter's aility to run up a mountain. 

2:08 p.m. on January 21, 2013 (EST)
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ppine said:

"We used to hike without clothes a lot when we were younger."

"I lived in more urban environments then, and had a need for the experiences of the bush"

Did the others on the trail like experiencing it as much? ;)

I hope you hiked off the popular trails.

2:42 p.m. on January 21, 2013 (EST)
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Had a guy one time washing his van in the nude at the Miette Hot Springs parking lot. Since there are a lot of Europeans who go there, we all assumed he was some kind of European naturist who didn't understand the laws. 

The Mounties came by, and it turned out he was just a pervert from British Columbia who liked exposing himself to little kids and strangers. 

If you're going to hike in the nude, do it alone in the backcountry, and throw on a pair of shorts when you hear someone coming. 

 

 

3:27 p.m. on January 22, 2013 (EST)
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I grew up in the 60s.  Nobody cared about nudity much then.  We rarely saw many people and don't today either.  I usually step off the trail if someone is coming the other way.  Backpacking is still a lonely business in the West if you stay off the obvious trails.

4:30 p.m. on January 22, 2013 (EST)
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Not picking on you, ppine. I was a kid back then, too. 

And, yeah, they were different times.

3:50 p.m. on January 24, 2013 (EST)
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I try to chat with all I meet on the trail - especially the ones that look like they should take a break.  I find women much easier to chat with than are the men who seem more goal driven. Different content anyway.  The women are more prone to ask questions some times with a glare at their hiking partners saying, "SEE! I told you!"  That was usually a good time to take an exit.

I wonder if they have changed the regulations for USA National Parks?  Used to be there were no (specific) restrictions on nudity.  I was told by a park administrator that the instructions are to suggest not do it in public places (that may be has been changed to you CAN NOT).  But once away from the public and younger family members, you could show off that great tan you have or the white parts that will peel in a few days.

There is still a Hike Nude Day being supported by a wishful few. Three years ago, going downhill, I came across a mixed group of about a dozen toiling up the last 1/4 mile to 11,670' Kearsarge Pass  (eastern Sierra near Independence, CA).  They were still a few football field lengths from being 'legal' in Kings Canon NP. I guess as in nudity, close counts too.

I've done my time nude in lakes and pools, isolated meadows and nice sunny rocks.  I try not to scare too many with the view however.

I doubt the young lady I saw was ever in Stephensons Warmlite original catalogs (still available by special order).  Those were usually the family pics and a few decades before I saw her on the trail.  Stephensons are naturalists.  I suspect you also might gather that they don't look the same as they did 50 years ago.  When researching for a new tent, they sent me a VHS Video of the tents and a trailer of Jack and wife on their sail boat in the Caribbean with fellow naturists.  

Just wasn't the same :(

4:42 p.m. on January 24, 2013 (EST)
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There are lots of hot springs around the Great Basin.  It is unusual even today to see people wearing bathing suits except at the ones by the road.

10:16 p.m. on February 6, 2013 (EST)
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I never been one for speed hiking. I like to see whats going on around me. I hate to miss the wildlife, or really cool tree or rock formations. I don't think i'm a lazy hiker though. I find a cool medium pace (lol anyone ever heard that song) and just stroll along. Maybe I smoked too much grass when I was younger... but, then again maybe you naked hikers did? Just kidding guys. I think its what ever flips you twinkie.

BE COOL!

8:00 p.m. on February 8, 2013 (EST)
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Shenora,

You don't have to keep reminding us to be cool cause we already are.  You will soon learn to never underestimate this group.  I tried it and learned to regret it.

12:05 a.m. on February 9, 2013 (EST)
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The bad thing about always wanting to be first is that there is always someone who is better/faster. As we become more mature, an ever larger percentage of the people with whom we're in contact will have the edge. To feel better about myself, I just try to avoid those situations where I will be embarrassed by the female of the species.

One of the times I neglected this personal rule was when I turned fifty (longer ago than I care to contemplate). I had been invited to run in a 10K run with others in the 50 to 55 class. I hadn't done any serious running for a long while but felt I was in decent shape so agreed to it. The younger (faster and fitter) guys started first with only some of the kids and so on starting after. I started strong enough but after about 5K I was starting to have trouble getting enough air so I eased up a bit. It wasn't long before I heard someone coming up fast and was somewhat startled when a young lady pushing a stroller blew by; fast. There was no chance I could catch her and I figured I would look like a fool trying so I stopped and re-tied a shoe. I'd hoped none of my fellow runners had noticed bt I wasn't that lucky and I thought they made way too much of it. I think it is important to note, and I told everyone the same thing at the time, that was a high performance stroller!

To avoid such embarassing moments in the backcountry, I hike by myself and stick to trails where I'm unlikely to be passed up by a member of the "weaker" sex.   GD

11:23 a.m. on February 10, 2013 (EST)
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Greydog,

The only smart competition as we age is with ourselves.  Forget about "being embarassed "and "feeling better about myself."  That is your ego talking and it is irrelevant.

3:04 p.m. on February 10, 2013 (EST)
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ppine,

You will learn not to take what I say at face value. Only rarely are my statements meant to be wholly serious. Sometimes, they may not even be wholly true!   GD

July 28, 2014
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