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Windermere Weekend

An Important Life Lesson

It took a month long hike in the wilderness for me to realise something important that we can all learn from.

It was July 2015, my good friend Stu and I had travelled to Yosemite Valley in California to start the John Muir Trail; a long-distance hiking route in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

It was gone midnight and we were due to start hiking in the morning. We had finished squishing as much food as possible into our newly acquired bear canisters. Stu was sealing his canister when he slipped and sliced his had open with a new, razor-sharp, pen-knife. It went really deep across his palm and could have done with stitching up. We were in a foreign place though, in the early hours of the morning, both tired, jet-lagged and feeling the pressure to start in the morning. We bandaged his hand up and decided to see how it was overnight.

Part way up Half Dome in Yosemite Valley on Day One - you can see Stu's bandaged hand

Luckily, come the morning, the cleanly-cut wound appeared to have stuck itself back together better than we could have hoped. We decided to hit the trail and keep an eye on the wound for infection.

We were in for a bit of a shock on day one. We were both used to hiking 20+ miles per day in the UK, so we expected our first day of 10-12 miles to be relatively easy. We were wrong! The terrain and altitude made a huge difference, and it took us all day. We were shattered as we sat eating our minging freeze dried meals on the first night, surrounded by numerous rattle snakes, wondering what we’d gotten ourselves into! Over the course of the next few weeks, we bumped into a few other great people that were also on the trail, endured a couple of crazy storms, and saw many incredible turquoise lakes high up on mountain passes.

A stone hut near the top of a mountain pass with John who we met on the trail

We reached a remote ranch in the Sierra Nevada mountains. I’d had my first food resupply posted here to allow me to continue, but this was the point where Stu was leaving. I'd quit my job to travel before the hike, but Stu was still in gainful employment and therefore had a limited amount of time off. He had a day’s hike ahead of him to a trail head where he hoped to be able to hitch a lift back to San Francisco in time for his flight home a few days later. I would continue alone. I've always been very independent and I'm confident in the outdoors (I'm now a qualified Mountain Leader, but I've spent a lot of my life in the outdoors and challenging myself). I therefore wasn't phased by the challenge ahead. Although the pack was now heavy again with another 10-12 days’ worth of food, I was up for the physical challenge. I started hiking and got a few days further down the trail when something changed.

Chilling out on top of a waterfall

I suddenly felt trapped.

I’d not experienced this before and I didn’t understand it at first. I was arguably freer that I’d ever been. I was in the wilds and I could go anywhere. But I felt trapped in the wilderness.

I’d had no phone signal for several weeks by this point and I don't think that helped. I worried that something awful could have happened back in the UK, to a family member perhaps, and that I wouldn’t know about it. Someone could even have died and had their funeral in the time I’d been out of contact and I wouldn’t have known. I knew that even if I hiked non-stop towards the nearest town or civilisation, that it would take me days before I could ‘escape’. I didn’t like it.

I wasn’t prepared to quit the trail though. I find it almost impossible to not finish something I set out to achieve, but I didn’t want to be there. This left me with a bit of a dilemma.

Smiling but ready to get out - yet another mountain pass!

I had posted my second (and final) food resupply on to another ranch further ahead. This resupply was a little more complicated than the first as the ranch was a few mountain passes off the trail. Before we'd started, I'd had to decide between adding a detour of several days’ hiking to get the food, or to pay the ranch owner a fee to bring the food in by mule. I’d opted for the latter. So now, trapped in the wilderness, I was left with a decision. I either had to meet the mule and resupply as scheduled, giving me enough food for the rest of the way. Or I could double my miles each day and try to get to the end with the food I had left. I was torn. Then, the next morning, I bumped into a guy on the trail, the first person I’d seen for some time (and the same day I saw my first wild bear). He was going to hike out the same route my resupply was due to come from. I gave him a hand written note for the ranch owner explaining I wouldn’t need the resupply after all (and to use the food and money as she saw fit), and went for option two. I did some really big days that week. I must have been running a big calorie deficit. I was hiking for perhaps 16 hours each day, usually not even stopping for lunch. I was now rushing rather than enjoying the adventure. But I wanted out.

Finally escaping - hiking before sunrise on the way up Mount Whitney

On the last morning I was up at 2am to hike to the summit of Mount Whitney. It is one of the highest mountains in the US at 14,500 ft (4,400m) as is where the trail officially ends. In order to ‘escape’, I then needed to cover 10 miles of steep descent off the mountain to a trail head, resulting in my feet swell like never before. I was so relieved when I got to the end that I cried for the first time in perhaps 15 or 20 years.

I'd prepared well for the hike to be a physical challenge. It didn't even cross my mind that it would be mentally challenging though - it was something I'd not really had to face before, despite some tougher journeys.

At the trail head, I hitched a lift with an old couple into a dusty old gold-mining town somewhere near Nevada. In fact, I was that desperate to get out, I'm not sure I gave them much of a choice! Chatting to them and seeing other people as we drove into town, I slowly started to realise what I’d been missing; connecting with other people.

A bed, shower and some food didn’t go amiss either, but it was people, and connecting with them, that I’d missed. Being isolated in the wilderness hadn't been a problem for me in the past, but even though this wasn't my longest adventure, I think the complete disconnect (including having no phone signal), and knowing no-one could contact me either, was what started the games in my mind after Stu departed. I was really out of touch with others for several weeks, living in a little wilderness bubble, which I think is probably very rare in today's world. Even during Covid Lockdowns several years later, although people were often isolated, they could usually at least be in touch using mobile phones and other technology.

What I learnt is that being an independent person, and needing human connection, are two very different things, and I'd massively missed the interaction we have with others on a day-to-day basis. These connections are things that I believe are essential in our lives. You might even call it 'community'.

The summit of Mount Whitney where the trail officially ends. Just need to get down now!

Is this Adventure Solos? Roll on 5 years and I’d set up what has become Adventure Solos. Perhaps subconsciously, the hike in the US was one of several reasons that lead me to starting Adventure Solos and shaping it the way it is, with building community and connections between people being on of our key drivers. I believe it's essential for our wellbeing that we share quality time with other people. And that's a large part of what Adventure Solos is all about.

I'll talk more about what community means to me on another day - I think the word is sometimes used without being given meaningful definition or context, and without acknowledging that we sometimes have to make ourselves vulnerable, or to take a risk, to build community. In the meantime though, if you’d like to experience the community and connections we create, I'd recommend joining the mailing list. You can do this by clicking on the link below:

We also have a little community on Facebook. You can come say hello here:

I hope to see you there soon,

Chris Founder of Adventure Solos

Other Resources:

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