Guest post by Montana outdoorswoman, Nicole Qualtieri.
Last summer, I hiked 150 miles of the northern Continental Divide trail alone.
It was by far the most intense, honest, revealing and personal thing that I’ve ever accomplished. Within those 150 miles lies the most terrifying moment of my life, as well as some of the most mundane and some of the most enlightening, but the overarching feeling I is to make the very first lesson the following:
Don’t go into the wilderness for an extended period of time by yourself.
Some people will scoff at this. That’s fine, they’re more than welcome to do as they please. But as I traveled, Murphy’s Law sat on my shoulder, and it reminded me that at all times “What can go wrong, will go wrong.” This feeling consistently overshadowed a lot of the wonderful things that I really love about being in wild country.
I can’t promise that I’ll never go into the backcountry by myself again, but what I can be sure of is that if I do, I’ll absolutely abide by these five rules.
1. Carry a personal locator device.
At all times of the trip, I had a small GPS device called the Spot Locator. I could use it to email friends and family to tell them that I was ok and give them my coordinates as many times as I like, and–if faced with an emergency–there was a button I could press to send in the rescue mission. I always kept this close at hand. It’s a non-negotiable in my book.
2. Travel in higher-use areas.
The most fun that I had was a thirty mile three-day solo in the Wind River mountain range, hiking through what’s called The Cirque of the Towers. I hiked with groups of people as well as on my own, and I was always able to camp near others. On my last night, I camped near a group of older men that invited me to their campfire for dinner, told fantastic stories, and cooked fresh-caught trout over the open flames. I felt safe the entire time, and I was able to fully enjoy each moment. It was awesome.
3. Keep it short.
I learned that my personal comfort zone for packing alone is doing a bit more or less than ten miles per day. This leaves time for photography, going for a swim, stopping and talking with others, setting up a nice, comfortable camp and so on. As far as pack weight goes, food tends to be the primary contributor, so three to four days alone is my preferred maximum. The lighter the pack, the better the trip.
4. Bring good food.
And a lot of Gatorade.
When you keep it short, you’re also able to bring foods with higher water content, or in laymans terms, heavy things that taste good. I love having fresh fruit and good coffee in the morning, as well as a big solid meal with protein and veggies at night. I also religiously kept one water bottle filled with water and another filled with Gatorade. You simply have to replenish your fluids and your electrolytes, and when you’re able to eat well, it makes everything a hundred times better.
5. Create a solid, well-known, executable plan.
Know where you’re going, and make sure other people know as well. Within this plan, have your emergency plan ready. Always carry ID cards, insurance cards, and any medical information is an easily accessible area that a stranger could locate without a ton of scrambling through your gear. I also programmed a button on my Spot that would alert friends and family to call the nearest ranger station and alert them in case there was a problem that wasn’t life-threatening.
Within all of these rules is the unspoken theme of knowing your own personal boundaries and respecting the land that you’re experiencing. If a solo excursion into the wilderness is something that sounds enticing, do it first with others who can teach you proper wilderness protocol, educate yourself on the Leave-No-Trace method of land stewardship (You can do it for free here), and abide by the five lessons I learned while stepping into the unknown.
Happy travels, friends.
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