How I Survived My First 40 Mile Hike
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May 2017 I ventured on a 40-mile hike in Alaska, and I survived! Even though I have become more of an avid hiker the past few years, I’m certainly not the fastest around. Prior to this hike, I had never completed a hike that required more than one night of camping. This post is all about the preparation and training, as well as a first-hand glimpse of what it is like to complete a hike of this caliber as a newbie.
- 7 Reasons why you Should Travel to Alaska
- The Most Epic Alaskan Road Trip (Part I)
- The Most Epic Alaskan Road Trip (Part II)
- The Most Epic Alaskan Road Trip (Part III)
- Why it’s Okay for a Girl to Live in a Van
- Why I Decided to Live in a Van
My first long-distance hike was Resurrection Pass in Alaska. This a 40-mile hike from Hope to Cooper Landing within the Chugach National Forest. The trail climbs from 500-2600 ft and is quite spectacular with beautiful lakes and even cabins along the way. I had heard about Resurection Pass from some friends in Alaska and I was instantly intrigued. I decided that I wanted to complete Resurection Pass before I returned to the lower 48 in late summer of 2017. Now all I needed was someone to go with me.
Hi, do you want to spend 4 days in the woods with me?
I started talking about this hike in January of 2017 with some coworkers of mine. They are two married traveling Physical Therapists who were way more adventurous than me. I asked if they might be interested in a long hike in June.
I talked about the trail and knew it would be a good idea to have a few people for safety with bears, moose, and other challenges that might arise. To my surprise, they were super down and excited about completing this hike. They also ended up inviting some other friends in Alaska.
I knew I wasn’t going to be in Alaska more than a year and I really wanted to do something very memorable like this. I consider myself an average hiker but had never completed more than a one-night camping or a through hike prior to this.
Preparation for the 40-mile hike
My friend April pretty much took over the planning, which is awesome because I had no idea what I was doing. We were going to try and book a cabin for at least one night, but they were all full. She also let me know that if we wanted to go with a big group it would have to be in May otherwise the additional people wouldn’t be able to go. We also would have to complete the hike in 3 days instead of 4 so said other group members could make the 7-hour trip back and forth from their home.
I started to get nervous with all the changes, but April assured me that most people going weren’t strong hikers and we would be fine. The most concerning fact was Alaska had received record-breaking snowfall this year and I had an ill feeling that there still might be a lot of snow on the pass in May (spoiler: there was). Many phone calls were spent with April basically her convincing me that I’d be fine.
We are really good friends now, but at that time we were just starting our friendship. Thus, I was worried about going on a 40-mile hike in the woods, in Alaska, with 2 new friends and several other strangers. I decided the worst thing that could happen would be not being able to keep up the first few miles and just heading back and driving home. However, I knew deep down that I REALLY wanted to do this.
Training and Food Preparation
There aren’t too many hiking opportunities in Alaska before May. I spent some weekends cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and a little bit of hiking but not nearly as much as I would have liked. Since I am not a fan of hiking alone in bear country, most of my training was walking miles on an inclined treadmill. I’m sure this is better than nothing but its really nothing compared to hiking up a trail with 30-40lbs on your back.
I was completely lost about what to bring for food. After a lot of research and help from friends this is what I ended up packing:
- Instant oatmeal
- Mountain house meals (beef lasagna was my favorite)
- Tuna sensations
- Trail mix with chocolate
- Stingers (best dessert on the trail)
- peanut butter crackers
- 1 emergency ramen
- instant coffee
Items that I thought I would bring but backed out at the last moment included oranges and bagels (LOL).
When packing for a hike like this, different layers of clothing is key. We literally experienced every type of weather during this 3-day trek. It was sunny the first day, rained the next, cold and snowy conditions the next, and ended on a sunny afternoon. Thus you really can’t be too prepared with clothing on the mountains.
Clothes I packed
- 3 pairs of underwear
- 2 sports bras
- 1 pair of hiking pants
- 1 pair of sleeping pants
- 1 pair of long johns
- 1 pair of rain pants
- 1 long sleeve moisture wicking shirt
- 1 short sleeve moisture wicking shirt
- 1 cotton T-shirt for sleeping
- 1 zip up sweatshirt
- 2 pairs of wool socks
- 1 hat
- 1 pair of gloves
One thing I learned on this hike is that base layers are SO important for long distance hikes. I had been told that wool socks are the best kind for hiking so I purchased 2 pairs from REI. Well, the rumors were true, wool socks make a HUGE difference. Wool socks allow your feet to breathe, wick away sweat, and it literally felt like I was walking with pillows on my feet.
Wool is also a great base layer for pants and shirts. Smart wool is the top of the line stuff but there are other brands out there. I had a shirt from Reebok and base layer pants from REI that worked well. Avoid a base layer of cotton. Cotton does not allow moisture to escape your skin. This can be really dangerous in cold weather if your sweat freezes, you could easily get hypothermia this way. I used a Helly Hansen rain jacket and Patagonia rain pants to battle the rain on day 2.
Prior to this, I had always hiked with trail running shoes. They don’t provide much ankle support and wouldn’t cut it for a longer hike. My friend had let me borrow her boots a few weeks prior and offered to sell them to me for a discounted price, score!
I have a pretty nice pack that I bought about a year prior to this. It’s the Osprey Women’s 65AG Pack. As stated before, I had only completed a few overnight and many day hikes before this hike. I really hadn’t had a chance to really test it out. I have to say as hard as this hike was for me I never complained or felt frustrated with my pack. It has an anti suspension apparatus that literally makes me feel like the bag is lifting on my back. My only complaint about the bag is the way the side pockets are placed, it’s difficult to reach your water bottle without taking it off. Check out the bag here.
I have always thought that trekking poles were really silly and not needed. Prior to completing Ressurection Pass, I had a conversation with a friend one night who had recently hiked the John Muir Trail and highly advocated for trekking poles. He told me that he almost quit due to the pain in his knees until someone gave him some trekking poles, he was then able to finish the hike. I decided that I needed hiking poles for this hike.
I didn’t really want to buy any because I was trying to keep a budget in mind for this trip. My friends offered to let me borrow a pair of those. I learned that trekking poles are really necessary for long hikes. Notice how animals like deer and caribou so easily climb up and down mountains, well having 4 legs certainly helps. I see trekking poles as like having 4 legs. It is so beneficial to maintain balance as well as take pressure off your knees when descending. I know for a fact that I couldn’t have been able to finish the hike without trekking poles. Full disclosure, at some points, when I was struggling, my trekking poles were used a walker for me. Check out some here.
We had originally planned on keeping a water bladder to drink throughout the hike. Although it’s convenient to sip as you go we decided that since the hike was along a river we could filter water from daily. It would just be a lot of extra weight to carry bladders of water. We all brought one Nalgene bottle and a few water filtration systems dispersed throughout the group. It worked pretty well and saved us a few pounds to carry throughout the hike. Check out some inexpensive water filtration systems here.
One of the benefits of completing a hike like this with a large group is items can be shared instead of everyone bringing their own. I only have a larger camping stove that I use to cook in my van and don’t currently have a true backpacking stove. A few jet boil stoves between the group did a great job at boiling water quickly.
Neoproxin and Hydration Powder
Taking this each night saved me! I recommend taking any type of anti-inflammatory aide to keep swelling and pain at bay during a multi-day trek. I pretty much always have hydration tablets or powder because for some reason I very easily get dehydrated. I drank about 2 bottles of these a day it definitely gave me some extra energy when I felt like I couldn’t do anymore. Nuun and Drip Drop are my favorite tablets/powder to use for hydration.
Tent, Sleeping Pad and Bag
I still use the sleeping pad and bag that my brother in law mailed me once I started getting into camping. It works and I haven’t really done anything too crazy yet to require a different sleeping arrangement yet. .
The 3-day hike
I covered all the preparation that went into the hike, now I will talk about the actual hike. As mentioned before, I always knew I was a slow hiker but I could have never anticipated how slow I would be compared to a large group of people.
Day 1: 15 miles
The first few miles of the day my adrenaline was pretty high and I was towards the back of the group but keeping up with everyone. Sometime after lunch, I started to trail off a little bit. I felt like my legs just couldn’t move as fast any more. I didn’t have any pain, I just simply could not keep up anymore.
” Too far to turn back, too far to keep going” – April K
At first, the group was a few feet ahead of me and then it got to the point where I couldn’t see them anymore. The panic set in about not being able to keep up and fear that I would be too slow the rest of the hike. At this point, it was way too late to turn back. If I had been this slow before our lunch break I probably would have turned back. Now we were over 7 miles into this hike and it was too far to head back alone. As my friend said to me, “too far to turn back, too far to keep going.”
We originally were planning on completing about 8 miles the first day. I had gotten to the 8-mile mark about 10-15 minutes after everyone. Everyone asked if I was okay, I was always okay I was just slow and tired. They asked if I’d be okay going an extra few miles for the night. I remember a few sad tears forming behind my sunglasses because I so badly wanted to set up my tent and pass out for the night. I didn’t want to slow down the the entire group by a few minutes AND a few miles, so I agreed.
When we started on our last few miles for the day I remember telling the two gentlemen that were walking with me that they didn’t have to wait, I would catch up. I felt bad because I was slow, but I also know it wasn’t really smart for me to be too far back without anyone else and no weapon other than bear spray. Obviously, they weren’t going to leave me alone.
I remember the last mile of this first day (15 miles in total for the day), I think snails or turtles could have passed me. It took so much energy to just put one foot in front of the other. I used my hiking poles as a walker almost, putting too much weight on them. I collapsed to the ground when I got there, it felt so good to lay down. Up until that day, the most distance I had ever completed in 1 day was 8 miles.
For those interested in more details about the hike and less about my difficult time read more detailed information about the trail here.
Day 2: 12 miles
When I woke up, I decided to have a more positive attitude. I told myself that I would be able to keep up, mind over matter right? I started my day with coffee, oatmeal, and chugged a bit of water. Thanks to the neoproxin, I wasn’t sore or swollen. Today we would reach and hike through resurrection pass, I was very excited to get to the top. The day started raining so I put on my rain gear for the day.
Sad to say my positive thinking didn’t work because almost instantly I was falling behind again. I remember looking at my legs thinking, “ WHY CANT YOU MOVE FASTER.” When I did try to move faster I would get short of breath way too easily. I knew if I tried to keep up with the group, I would wear myself out and not be able to finish. My two new friends stayed back with me again. They, of course, are polite and assured me that it was no problem but how could I not feel terrible that instead of enjoying this amazing hike with their wives they have to hang around with little ole me so I don’t fall off a cliff or get mauled by a bear. Thank you guys if you are reading this!
The initial part of the pass wasn’t too bad. I was still pretty far behind but because of the clearing, I could actually see the group in front of me. Thus, I didn’t feel as terrible as I did the first day. When we first got to the pass, I was super stoked and smiley. Even though there was a storm of clouds sitting in the pass and it was raining, I was just really happy to be there. The other hikers I was with often asked if I was doing okay. I was slow, but I still love being outside and hiking so I was still enjoying myself.
This high went away as we started to see big snowy patches along the trail. At first, it was just an inch or two, then quickly turned into a one to two feet of snow. I was already slow, now I had mother nature making me twice as slow.
We tried to go up on the sides of the mountains to avoid the snow but it made the hike longer and more difficult. At some parts, we just had to posthole through the snow which was really not fun because it was also raining and cold. I gave up on worrying about being slow, I was just excited to eventually get out of the snow.
At one point I remember stepping in the snow and my foot slid sideways and I was instantly up to my waist in snow. I remember screaming the F-word and then proceeded to crawl the rest of the way. It worked well until I fell through and had snow up to my chin. Another fun part was the Alaska state bird, the Ptarmigan, making sounds that sounded like they were laughing at me.
When we met up with the rest of the group for lunch they had waited almost 45 minutes for us to get there. At this point, it was freezing rain out. We camped out on the porch of a cabin to cook a hot lunch as we were all freezing. We decided there was no way we were camping on the pass and had to get below tree line before we went to sleep. At this point, it started snowing, and the hike became a little scarier. As hypothermia can be a real concern on nights like this. A good night sleep in dry clothes with hot water bottles got me through the night.
Day 3: 13 miles
As one could imagine I was pretty excited to be done with this hike after an epic 2 days of struggling. The weather was very mild and by the end, it was nice and sunny. The third day was the easiest by far. It was all descent and the end was in sight. I was most excited about taking a shower and not having to put my boots back on.
I was slow again, but only 10-15 minutes behind. It was slightly easier the last day with no snow and my body more accustomed to walking every day. The last day was very pretty as we reached Juneau and Trout Lake and even saw a moose drinking water from across the lake. If you look up this hike you will notice that it says 38 miles. We had thought that we took a shortcut but turns out we went the wrong way and ended up hiking an extra two miles so not only did we not find a shortcut but hiked an extra two miles.
We celebrated at a local bar in Cooper Landing, AK with some beers and big cheeseburgers.
Tips for your first through hike.
Start planning one
The first step to completing a long hike like this is to make a goal to do so. Start completing your research online and with friends and start to make a plan for this summer! If you’re an Alaskan reader I highly recommend Resurrection Pass, despite being difficult for me. As far as elevation gain and length, Ressurection Pass would be pretty reasonable to spread out if you are able to hike longer than 3 days. Check out this list from Outside for more ideas.
Train for your hike
Once you’ve got a date and hike set, the training begins! If I had the time I would have planned to complete my first long distance hike in July or August, but plans changed. I ended up completing the hike in May, which gave me very few weeks to start training outside due to the harsh Alaska winter. Completing 3-4 hikes a month about the same length and elevation of a typical day in your planned hike will be a great place to start. Be sure to hike with the pack you will be using with weight to get the hang of it.
Get the gear you need
Bare necessities include the following:
- Base layers
- Hiking poles
- Water bottle/storage
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
This list can vary depending on where and how long you will be hiking. Outdoor gear can be really expensive and it’s hard to know what type of equipment you might prefer. I recommend trying out equipment from friends, getting first account information and searching craigslist and other yard sale groups to get discounted gear. Second-hand stores and REI garage sales are also great outlets to get discounted gear.
Don’t psych yourself out
Venturing into the outdoor world, pretty much-learning everything myself from information I found and have learned is nerve-racking. Going on a 40-mile hike with several other people you don’t really know can be intimidating. Whatever your situation may be, spending a few days in the mountains is always rewarding despite how difficult it may be. My advice is more prepared and train more than I was, but always enjoy yourself outside.
So tell me, what hike are you planning to complete this summer?