Addicted to Hiking
By Claire Gilder
I’m addicted to hiking – multi day pack carry hiking to be more specific. I’m only happy in life if I’m hiking or planning a hike. I started hiking at 19 with some friends from school, however we quickly drifted apart and for a few years I hiked with other friends slowly gaining confidence and experience.
In 2011 I went to America and spent a summer there as a camp counsellor. While there I managed to acquire some good gear and when I came back I convinced my mum to come hiking with me. There are lots of stories out there now about the solo hiker and the joys of solo hiking but this is not one of them. This is about my adventures with my mum, my best friend, a truly inspirational woman and my favourite person in the world to hike with.
I honestly don’t remember how the addiction started, I don’t even remember talking about going out hiking. One day my friends and I just borrowed some gear, packed some food and headed off on a 3-day adventure at Wilson’s Promontory in South Eastern Victoria. That group of friends and I only did one other overnight hike, before we threw ourselves into the 6-day Overland track in Tasmania (at my suggestion – I think). From that point I knew I found something that I felt deeply connected to but it was several more years before the addiction really kicked in.
When I returned home from America I had managed to acquire along with my sister’s help enough gear for two people to go hiking. My sister didn’t enjoy her first experience out hiking in America as much as I had hoped. I remember one morning in Yellowstone National Park where it was so cold she flat out refused to help me pack up the tent and went and sat in the car! So instead I asked my mum if she’d like to go and she enthusiastically said yes. Maybe this had to do with spending more time with one of her daughters or maybe Mum wanted to just get outside and experience something different, probably her reasoning for saying yes included a bit of both. Mum always says that she is surprised how much she enjoys the hiking as she never wanted to go when she was young and Dad asked her to go with him.
I decided on a 3-day hike through the Brisbane Ranges in Victoria to begin with as it seemed relatively easy and I had not been there before. Mum coped surprisingly well even though the terrain was harder than expected and more importantly she enjoyed it – it left her wanting more. So, I threw her in the deep end with the 6-day Great Ocean Walk. Mum was amazing – in her early 50s she was fitter than me (and still is) and had the mental strength to just keep going. This strength was tested along Johanna Beach through head on wind and rain that took us an hour and left us windblown and exhausted. And this is what I say to any would be hiker – it’s not about your fitness, it’s about your perseverance. My mum has that in spades whether she believes it most of the time or not.
In a bit over a year we completed 5 multiday hikes, culminating in our first trip to New Zealand.
After NZ, however I moved interstate and our trips together became limited so while I consistently gained experience through hiking with other friends or with hiking groups, my Mum’s experience stayed the same. I became more and more eager to keep pushing the limits of what we could do together though and Mum casually came along for the ride, trusting in my skills and experience.
Our next big trip was South West NP in Tasmania – 13 days (Port Davey Trail through to South Coast Trail). It did not go to plan, at all. In fact, this was when I lost my mother. We’d had decent weather (for Tasmania anyway) for most of our trip, however on day 9 during the 1000m ascent and 1000m descent from the Ironbounds, a mountain range on the South Coast Trail, the weather turned nasty. Mum and I were separated on the trail, walking fastest leads as I’m much fitter and faster on a steep descent. During the descent she managed to take an unused side trail that I didn’t know was there. When I realised she was missing I tried searching for her but she’d already gone too far off trail so I booked it into camp, borrowed a sat phone and called in the search and rescue squad. The very first thing they asked was whether she was an experienced hiker – I said yes. They knew this meant she would be experienced and determined enough to try and self-rescue and therefore would be quite far off the trail. Mum got herself 2kms off the trail into the densest, darkest rainforest imaginable. It turns out she ended up in the river valley that would have led into camp which she managed to find even without a map. Terrain and nightfall slowed her down but given another day Mum would have made it. Thankfully though the PLB which she set off at 3am was in her pack and not mine so she simply spent a cold wet night in the rainforest before being lifted to safety the following morning.
My time in camp was spent on the verge of breakdown. The other people at camp fed me, put me in an extra tent, spoke to the cops and then when I was determined to leave camp in the morning to search for her, came with me. At that point in time I didn’t know she had set off the PLB and they refused to tell me this information on the phone or put me through to the helicopter. This meant I was not in camp when they had rescued mum and come back for me resulting in them having to send someone up the track for me. I can’t say I made a smart decision but shock and worry makes you do strange things.
We both learnt a lot from that experience. I made several assumptions that day that led to those events: that it was south coast trail and there was nowhere else to go, that there was lots of other people around ensuring safety and that our voices would carry through the dense scrub. None of these were accurate. Mum also admits she should have been able to backtrack when she realised she’d gone wrong but got unusually disoriented. Ultimately, we should have been together on the trail and walking fastest leads has inherent dangers attached. We both also learnt how far adrenalin will take you and how long you can continue even when broken and exhausted. I think that day my mum walked for about 14 hours! I’m also not sure what I would have done if I hadn’t got her back as my mum means the world to me.
Luckily everything ended alright and we both got back to Hobart safely and not too much the worse for wear. Mum still goes hiking with me and it wasn’t long before she was back on the horse and I was throwing her in the deep end again on a 7-day pack-rafting adventure from Mallacoota to Eden. Rafting not being her thing, she struggled and the beach walking in old boots gave her such epic blisters she had to hobble to the end but she made it. This hike had so many other issues – water availability, ticks, bush-bashing, sand dunes, long days, spiders plus packs that weighed close to 20kgs. My Mum made it and keeps coming back for more because she’s willing to be challenged and pushed outside her comfort zone.
Our most recent trip was probably the craziest yet. We spent a month in New Zealand with 25 days on the trail covering 320kms. We walked the Dusky track first which is probably one of the hardest hikes I have done to date. I basically describe it as a track that wants to kill you every second of every day! And then there’s the tree fall and one of the steepest descents I’ve completed coming off the pleasant range. Again, Mum was truly amazing. I took a pack haul rope thinking I would need it on this section but she just turned around and climbed down the rocks and tree roots with her pack on.
Seriously, she did it better and more confidently than me. Even the idea of 21 3-wire bridges which scared the crap out of her didn’t stop her from coming and giving it a go. Being able to overcome fear is an important mental strength that one must have in all outdoor adventure activities. Following on from that, we did a combined 11-day trip (Caples, Greenstone, Routeburn – almost all of it one day, Lake Sylvan to Rockburn river, across the Dart river by jetboat, Dart track - it was closed at the time, and the Rees track). Yes, it was crazy. After that we drove to the west coast and completed a 4-day hike on a mostly flooded track to Welcome flats hut, Douglas rock hut and further up the Copeland valley. Then a day later we were in snow at Mueller Hut, followed by our last overnight hike to Ball hut where we encountered 120km hour winds and had 5 people in a 3-bed hut!
All this Mum did 6 months after a serious knee injury in which she tore basically everything in her knee, had the meniscus (cartilage) fixed but could not afford to fix her anterior cruciate ligament. Seriously hard core. Probably the most fun thing about hiking with my Mum is that we get to organise and share all our food and cooking. Together we have developed the most amazing hiking menu that anyone has ever seen. I love to come up with ideas, experiment, plan menus, and cook on the trail with my Mum and I hope that we get to continue doing this for years to come.
There is no doubt that I have pushed my Mum to get out of her comfort zone and to try new things but she has also allowed me to do the same through her tireless support of me, without which I would not have the skills and knowledge that I do today. There is obviously a place for those who want to get out and solo hike but the support that one finds in others, especially other women, cannot be matched in the outdoors. Women need other women to show them what can be achieved with their bodies, if they just push past their own mental limitations. Hiking especially is not about how quickly you walk, it’s about what you are capable of putting your body through to achieve your goal, case in point is my mum with her knee. In contrast my mental strength has come from encouraging and supporting other women (most notably my mother) in the great outdoors. I think that when women can encourage other women to challenge themselves it creates a special kind of bond. This bond is emphasized with us due to our mother-daughter connection.