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What’s All This Solo Hiking Stuff, Anyhow?

What’s All This Solo Hiking Stuff, Anyhow?

I got an e-mail the other day from a friend in a hiking group: “Bob, what do you think of this?” As I read it, I immediately saw red, or at least orange.

The writer observed that “You should always hike in a minimum group of four: if one person gets hurt, one person can stay with him, and two can go for help.” Well, it is true that this a fairly safe way to do it. In the winter, it’s definitely a safer, recommended way to go. And usually a group of four can be nice and sociable.

But that tends to discount the joys of solo hiking. Admittedly, going for a duo hike with a (girl) (boy) friend isn’t as safe as when you bring others along. (Well, duh.) However, always going in the safest possible way can get pretty boring, concentrating on “safety first” first and enjoying the hike last.

Sometimes not going on a hike at all can be safer than going out in a group of two, three, four, five, n... as we will recall from some hikes. And sometimes it took a group of three or four just to go safely to the john.

Some Solo Tips

If you’re going to do solo hiking, you have to hike pretty carefully, in a responsible way. You have to be pretty careful to not screw up or fall. Don’t trip or goof off, much.

Let people know where you are going. If you are leaving your car for a few days of solo backpacking or several hours of solo hiking, tell a good friend (or family member) when and where you are going and where you are leaving your car—and tell them after you get out!

Of course, if you are going to do solo hiking, there are many possible problems. If you get hurt, it might be many hours before your friends (or family) even start looking for you. How cold will you be by then? How worried will your friends be?!

One of my friends says he tells his family, “If I’m not home on time, don’t send a search party out for me at night and search around like idiots and get hurt. Wait  until  morning.” Smart cookie. Thoughtful cookie.

Duo hiking is fun. I have done a lot of hiking with my wife. We have done many hours and miles, duo hiking and backpacking. Many miles from the nearest road or civilization. Many hundreds of hours. Maybe 2000? Maybe more (see “What’s All This Small Hiker Stuff, Anyhow?” March 10, p. 80).

But if one person gets hurt, a duo hike can turn into a solo hike, when one person goes for help. I’ve never had to do that, but of course I have to be prepared to, and so does my wife!

But solo hiking can be a real adventure. You don’t know what you’ll find. That’s one of the nice things of a random solo “day hike,” which can be different from a well-planned day hike, which can be fun, too. You can also tackle routes that would be too hard for another person. Or too easy, or too boring, or too slow, or too fast....

Bring water. Bring water purifying pills. A little food. Enough warm clothes (and a sleeping bag in winter). Bring a whistle. And, bring a watch.

Now, why would you want to bring a watch and spoil the unplanned, un-organized fun of a spontaneous hike? One serious reason: So you know when to turn around! You need to plan when to turn around and not fudge this time very much.

Normally, you want to leave as much time for returning as going out, because you may be tired coming back. But when I hiked west of Dughla, I presumed I could safely come down 1.2 times faster than going up, because at 16,000 feet, you know you’ll be slowed down on the uphill, so you can descend on a good trail faster, yet without hurrying. Hurrying is the thing to avoid. Or getting tired.

Take A Hike!

Here are some of the good reasons to go solo hiking:

  • For fun, or for daring, or at least the feeling of daring.  
  • For solitude.
  • To get away from the group. Get away from “group-think” and the overwhelming rut of “safety first,” even though you have to be more careful than usual when hiking solo. (Kinda backwards, ain’t it?!)
  • To get snow for ice cream—or Jello. Warm Jello can be fun, but cold Jello on a summer camping trip is festive! You don’t need two people to get a bucket of snow. I’ve done this several times.
  • Find: what? One nice thing of solo hiking is that you often get to find something you didn’t know was there. A nice little surprise?
  • Find a nice lookout on a ridge? Valley? Follow a stream? Random cross-country hiking? See wild animals?
  • One of the best things is not really knowing where you are going. Maybe there’s no trail. Serendipity.

RAP’s Favorite Hikes

I’ve been on my share of some good, interesting solo hikes.

When we went to the Khumbu (Everest) region in 2000, simply getting from one camp to the next, from Lukla to Namche to Gorak Shep, required 29,000 feet of rise and fall in 33 days. In addition to this, I went on day hikes most every afternoon, and they added up to another 29,000 feet of rise and fall in 30 days, too.

One of these day hikes was from Dughla west. Dughla is a few miles south of Gorak Shep. I went up a few thousand feet on a rarely used trail, past Dzhong La and toward the high pass at Tsho La. And I got back in time for supper. I think I saw three people, all afternoon (see “What’s All This Trust Stuff, Anyhow?” at

Mostly, I did not go on this hike solo. But it did feel like it was solo, because SalaamSing let me lead, as if I knew what I was doing! And he left me solo the last hour. We didn’t see other people for five hours. Only seven yaks. Is that close to solitude?

Two days earlier, I hiked returning from Everest Base Camp (EBC). Going up to EBC, I went with Puri Rai, a pleasant young Nepali porter. But on the way back, he trusted me to hike on my own for about six miles and three hours, all the way back to Gorak Shep and Lobuche. I got to Lobuche in time for early soup, as the sun was setting.

Then, there are the Falls of the Little Bighorn stream. When I was seven years old, I went off for a few hours, following the local brook that started behind my house, down to the Falls and to the Scantic River. I was never more than a third of a mile from roads. I studied the map later.

I also traced out Creamery Brook, near my house, up to its source. But for some odd reason I never traced out much of Broad Brook stream. Neither above, below, nor beside our village. Not sure why not.

Lassen Park has some good hiking. I went up to get snow, a mile off the trails. I waved my arm, “Nancy, I’m going to go up—there!” I came back with snow, in a couple hours, just fine. No hurrying.

I had another good hike with Joan B. above Crown Lake above Bridgeport, Calif. Duo, not solo, but this hike had all the other features.

We had no idea if the route would go through. There was definitely no sign of a trail. We hiked up a cleft and clambered over easy slabs. We were really very doubtful that it would go through, so we had to be prepared to wend our way back on a couple miles of tortuous route. And our buddies had no idea where we were. Holy cow, we had no idea where we were! But a mile later, we saw that it would go through to an easy descent. No hurrying.

Aliwal West? Barkley North? In South Africa, I hiked for a few miles along old abandoned railroad tracks. I saw no wild animals. I don’t know what I would have done if I had.

I took a train up to Mysore, west of Bangalore, India. Would Mysore be like Crawford Notch, with steep mountains above? Not at all. It’s a broad, shallow valley. I hiked through the small city of Mysore, past the Sultan’s Palace, and a couple miles on country roads, and then up a big hill with 1070 steps. I think all day, I saw four people and one elephant. But at the top there were hundreds of people—pilgrims.

Nancy and I hiked the Mahoosucs, which is northeast of Gorham, N.H., opposite from Mt. Washington, which is southwest of Gorham. We hiked duo all day for five days and didn’t see two people. Yes, we were on a trail, but nobody else was. This was back in 1962, when hiking was not so busy. This was the through Appalachian Trail, and there was still nobody out there.

Malcolm and I tried to do the Mahoosucs duo in 1966: 24 miles in one day, starting at 4 a.m. We started out on a schedule okay, averaging 2.5 mph, up and down Old Spec. We then slowed down for Mahoosuc Notch and never were able to get up to speed again.

This trail had well over 10,000 feet of ascent and descent for one day. We really did try to get in shape for it, but as we saw that we were falling off our schedule, we crumped out after 12 miles and went out eight miles on an easy side trail. We had one small pack, and one of us carried it uphill, and one down. We never saw anybody all day.

At Mt. Pickering in winter, Nancy was impaled by a snag, more than two miles from the road. This is the kind of near-emergency that you want to avoid by hiking in groups of four. But she didn’t bleed much, and we walked out okay.

Del Valle near Livermore, Calif., was a solo hike, 5500 feet up and down, up to Joaquin Murieta Falls. It would have been less of (ascent + descent) if I’d kept going the whole 24 miles to Sunol, but I had no car over there! So I went back to my car. No people that day. The waterfall was nice. It only flows on rainy days. A permit is required.

So I hope all you good hikers will have some fun with solo hiking, because if you are careful and responsible, you can do some wonderful hiking.


Footnote: “SPOT”


A friend of mine who does a LOT of Solo Hiking recommends:

Bob, Here’’s a link for the SPOT satellite messaging system

For $100/year it’’s worth the peace of mind when you’’re out –solo or not. It works great: I can check in with an “I’’m OK” message every night, get family assistance, or SAR (Search and Rescue) if I really need it. Their new system allows you to send text messages when paired with a cellphone. I’’d rather not drag along a cell phone so I just set up smart pre-determined messages to send out.


Cheers, / Alan S.


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