Can you really go from being sedentary to climbing high peaks within a year? The answer is YES! Yes, you can. It takes a lot of time, dedication, commitment, and mental and physical strength, but it CAN be done.

When the pandemic hit in early 2020, I bottomed out. I went from relatively active, rather able, to extremely sedentary. I make no judgment on myself for it. That’s just what happened. My physical and mental wellness was not in order. After prodding from a friend for a couple of years, I decided to take her up on this idea to go take a hike.

Through the last 13 months, I have taken myself from zero to climbing high peaks. That’s right! This girl, who was adamantly AGAINST being outdoors, no less being active, started her journey into the wild. The physical, mental, and spiritual benefits outweighed any other activity I had ever done in my whole life. When I found myself in the mountains, nothing seemed to bother me. Thoughts would pass by in my head, but the emotions they held in the “real world” didn’t process here. The more I hiked, the more I recognized the healing ability of walking meditation in nature. It started to call me in more and more.

I started on easier trails. Since I was new to all of this, I relied on my dear friend Jen over and over. Her mountain recommendations were like carrots, and I was eagerly chasing them one by one. Quickly I found many of my physical limitations. Breathing, for one. I’m okay until I start going up! Then it’s like a steam engine huffing and puffing. Endless gasping and stopping. My legs burned, yes, but nothing like my lungs. That’s been the most challenging part of conditioning. However, even though I would have these moments where I would be gasping for air, I would notice that my brain was silent. I was IN my body. Feeling the blood pulsing through my veins, my chest rising and lowering, trying to gain control of breathing and calming myself down that I was indeed okay.

Starting hiking was the truest test of self-compassion. You have two choices: 1. Acknowledge you are pushing your body’s limits and reassure yourself you are okay and not going to die in that moment, or 2. Freak out because your body is going through something new and challenging, but you’re convinced you’re going to have a heart attack in the middle of nowhere. Typically, I choose the first one. Though I do admit, there are times when I resort to the latter.

This has been my journey so far and what I’ve done to condition to gain confidence to explore harder hikes. You don’t HAVE to hike high peaks to get the benefits of mountain hiking. But if you enjoy the challenge and you are being called, I have FULL faith that you can absolutely do it! This is what has helped me along the way. (Consult your doctor before taking on a new physical activity. I am not a professional. Just sharing my experience.)

  1. Find A Conditioning Mountain:
    I used our local mountain Azure as my conditioning hill. It was the biggest bang for the buck. You gain 912 ft of elevation in .9 miles up the mountain, plus there is a fire tower and fantastic view. Who could beat that? I did Azure Mountain 30 times in 6 months, from July to December 2022, along with many other mountains.
  2. Commit To Making The Time:
    After I realized that I loved to hike mountains, I decided that I had to be hiking (mountains specifically, not hiking trails) 1-4 times a week. But how? I would wake up earlier and go to bed later. That’s how. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Get accustomed to hiking in the dark. Have your headlamp(s) and extra batteries. Know your route, and don’t watch scary movies, or else you will be convinced there is a chupacabra out there lurking for you. Yes, we all have other responsibilities, but I admittedly had plenty of extra time. Instead of coming home from work and sitting on the sofa and scrolling for the night, I would get in my car and drive to the mountains.
  3. Find A Mountain Challenge:
    I LOVE mountain challenges! I had great guidance from my friend Jen, and she recommended getting involved with doing mountain challenges. First, it’s a great way to find places to hike with a purpose. I started with The Tupper Triad, the Lake Placid 9er, and then the Saranac Six. I fell in love with the mountains through all of these challenges and have repeated many of the trails multiple times. (Except you, McKenzie…) If you are in the Adirondacks or near, I highly recommend doing the Triad, leading into the Lake Placid 9, and then the Saranac Six. The LP9, though a couple are strenuous, they are generally shorter and less technical (except Catamount) than the 6er. Along the way, I added the Adirondack/Catskill Firetower Challenge and then started into the high peaks, which was something that was NEVER on my list of things in my life that I thought I would EVER do, no less, be interested in. There are a ton of other challenges here is a great resource for others.
  4. Be Prepared To Go Alone:
    Fact: people love the idea of hiking. Fact: most people will not actually commit to doing it even though they say that they would like to go with you. Invite your friends, but be prepared to go alone anyways. It’s fine. I get it. Crocheting would be a WAY easier hobby. Hiking is a lot of work. The weather is temperamental. The sofa is more comfortable. No matter if you go it alone, or have a friend, make sure to let 1-3 people know what trailhead you are going to. I like to give an estimated time I should be on the trail. (That requires me to read trail books and online reviews. I’m a slower hiker, and I give myself 2-4 more hours than the average report.) And I won’t go into details here, but make sure you follow Leave No Trace and have the 10 Essentials with you.
  5. Training Outside Of Hiking:
    You will absolutely improve hiking over time, even just 1-4 hikes a month. However, if you get the bug, you could start amping it up outside mountain time. For the first ten months of my hiking, that was all I did. Granted, I hike a lot. I could do 1-8 mountains a week, depending on my schedule. On slower weeks, I realized I really need to be moving my body in SOME way so that the next time I’m on the trail, I’m not feeling like death within minutes. (Granted, that still happens sometimes, depending on the hike!) I started to go to the gym three times a week. At first, I was hesitant to combine my weeks with long, strenuous hikes with hard sessions in the gym. I would skip out here and there. Luckily, I have a trainer who knows my mountain goals, and he kindly suggested I not do that and commit to pushing through. I’m SO glad that he did because my endurance and my recovery have significantly improved! He also reminds me to take a rest day. I’m not a robot. Thanks, Al! Also, I haven’t been as good at this, but working on it, get walking in on days in between. That’s just good for the mind/body anyways.
  6. Have Self-Compassion:
    You WILL come into struggles. Whether it’s physical or mental, they’re going to happen. Honestly, most of my struggles have been mental. I have a fear of heights, which I didn’t know about. Now that I know that, I pace myself. When I get scared, I start drinking more water. (I’ve had that watch on longer trails with limited water sources!) When I feel like I’m going to fall off a mountain into the abyss, I stop myself, breathe, and turn the other way. Sometimes I sit if I can get back up safely. I have coined these moments as “Stuck on a rock.” If I am by myself, I tell myself, “You’re okay. You’re just stuck on a rock. Take your time.” If I am with someone else, I let them know I will need a moment to process. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help either from a friend or a passerby (Thank you to my latest helpers Maddy and her family on Beehive in Acadia!), and let them know you are struggling. 10/10 odds the other person, whether you know them or not, is going to help you out however you need. But knowing how to communicate you need help is essential.
  7. Get Involved With The Community:
    I get it. A lot of us like to be alone. But hikers are really cool! (I realize that’s a biased opinion.) Do you know what other hikers like to talk about? Hiking! I passed the Tmax-N-Topo’s Hostel for over a decade without going there. I was ALWAYS curious about it. Finally, summer of 2022, I made my reservation, and the rest was history. Unknowingly, I quickly became immersed in the hiking community of the Adirondacks. I have met the kindest, most knowledgeable, caring people I have ever met in my life. I sit for hours in the community kitchen and living room area, listening to people sharing stories and asking questions. I have met what have now become some of the best friends I have had in my lifetime there. The hostel life may not be your thing, but it’s a great way to learn the lay of the land and meet people. Topo is my #1, but there are also other awesome lodging options like John Brooks Lodge (JBL) or Adirondack Loj. Staying at lodging where hikers congregate is a great way to learn! Other great ways to become a part of the hiking community are by volunteering, joining group hikes, guided hikes, attending classes and events, Facebook pages/forums (though beware, trolling is real up in there), 46 of 46 Podcast (James has great information and a positive attitude!), and the list goes on!
  8. Have Fun:
    I hope that you find space of your own out in the mountains if that’s what calls to you. If you are hesitant to start, reach out to me, and I will take you out, or I will recommend where to start based on your experience. The mountains are intimidating. They should be. But they are also a place you can safely belong with preparation and some encouragement.


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