The Annapurna Circuit is, hands down, one of the great walks of the world. It’s a high elevation romp that takes trekkers from a tropical woodland paradise full of towering waterfalls and lush foliage up to a barren, glacially carved pass at an elevation of 17,769 feet above sea level before plunging back down into the arid rain shadow of the Annapurna Massif. The scale of the scenery would make even the most monolithic of humans feel small, enormous glaciers and jagged peaks jutting out as far as the eye can see.
Day 8 – Yak Karta to Thorong Phedi
I shot out of bed at 3:30 in the morning, restless and claustrophobic in my sleeping bag sarcophagus. It must have been about 20 degrees inside our room, and I tossed and turned like a petulant child as I desperately tried and failed to go back to sleep. I was sick of the cold, sick of the nausea, and sick of scanning my eyes back and forth for hours across the dim, blue glow of my Kindle screen. The electric buzz of my skin longed to touch the air without cringing again.
Day 4 – Chame to Upper Pisang
At 6am on the dot, I crawled naked out of bed to split the hotel curtains with my fingers and marvel at the lavender haze of sunrise as it stretched its illuminated arms around the upper Himalayan peaks. “It’s happening! It’s happening!!” I called to my lover, Brian, who lay groggy and confused beneath a pile of wool blankets, eager to hit the snooze button on the alarm of my voice. Conscious that the magical, rose glow outside would not last for more than a few minutes, I tripped over my boots as I struggled to quickly pull my socks, thermals, and hiking pants over my feet to run outside and greet the morning.
Day 1 – Kathmandu to Ghermu
I woke to the scattered music of street dogs barking and motorbikes jetting off on dirt roads. Kathmandu has a way of clogging your every sense until you teeter on insanity, then it throws you some more. I nuzzled my face against the deep brown musk of Brian’s armpit hair, praying for another 15 minutes of sleep before I vaulted into the morning, thankful to have my boyfriend by my side in this chaos. The day had come to start hiking.
You hear a familiar crunch as your leather hiking boot bursts through a thin layer of orange leaves littering the trail below. You look up for a moment, startled by delicate footprints up and to your left, just managing to catch the tail ends of two deer before they hurriedly prance out of view. There’s a chill in the autumn air, and, if you look closely, you can see your breath manifest into a tiny cloud right before your face as you walk. At the next junction on the trail, a small, weathered sign leans squat against a tree. “Monarch Lake 1.2 miles | Crystal Lake 1.4 miles” – Which do you choose?
My first-ever backpacking trip was kind of a shit show. I carried all my supplies in a broken, black backpack that had been left behind by two Swedish Air BnB’ers I hosted, I smashed my body into a one-person tent alongside my boyfriend at night, and I had no idea what altitude was or how its effects can wreak havoc on the body. As I made my way up the well-worn trail that traverses the summit of Alta Peak in the middle of Sequoia National Park, I found myself gasping for air and stopping every five minutes to sit down or lean my unsteady body against a tree to rest. I fell in love with my first wilderness sunrise, creeping its miraculous pink fingers across the Great Western Divide, but, by the end of the weekend, I vowed to never let my body feel that terrible in the outdoors again. It was time to train.
I was naked, wet, alone, and shivering inside of my down sleeping bag, perched precariously on the banked side of a mud-strewn switchback about halfway up Saddle Peak in the Santa Monica Mountains. “Is it safe to sleep in these conditions?” I wondered. “How long before I become hypothermic?”
Before I knew it, I had packed up my camp quicker than ever before and was bailing from my thru-hike, a jolt of adrenaline coursing through my veins as I slid down the trail and walked along the road until I had enough cell service to call a friend to come pick me up. It was only 45 degrees outside, but my adventure was ruined. And it was all because I didn’t know a thing about fabrics.
The question I get asked most often isn’t, “How many bears have you tackled from behind?” or “What do you do if you get your period on the trail?” No, dear readers, the thing I get asked the most frequently is simple: “What do I need to do to start backpacking?” Getting newbies’ butts into the great outdoors is my favorite thing in the world, so, in the interest of full transparency, I thought I’d create a four part series on how to get started, based on my own experiences and pitfalls.
It’s sunset, and you are watching the last of our star’s orange glow fluoresce against the horizon before it dips out of view. You’re sitting on the stoop of a 400-year-old stucco building in Cinque Terre, Italy, swigging Chianti straight out of the bottle like a college sophomore. A light breeze blows past. Giggling couples begin returning from the rocky shore towards restaurants lit with dancing flickers of candlelight, ready to gorge themselves on fresh seafood. You take a deep breath and exhale proudly, “Now this is living!”
I’m going to level with you for a moment. Sometimes, the ordinariness of day-to-day existence can feel like a big pile of dog poo wrapped up in a sparkly anxiety bow, especially in this current news cycle. When things get overwhelming and you find yourself wanting to quit, sob, or perhaps yell at the next stranger who cuts you off in the grocery store, take a moment to pause, take a deep breath, and try out one of these age-old solutions instead.