Before I jump into this list, I just want to point out that I felt much safer on trail than I did while living in Seattle. I feel like there’s so many worse ways to die in civilization than out in the wilderness. Maybe that’s just my perception, but pretty much every woman I’ve spoken to has felt the same: the wilderness feels more safe because we don’t have to deal with as many creepy people out there as we do in the city. So, what was I afraid of while out on the trail? Read on.
1. Mountain Lions
I never encountered a mountain lion while on the trail, but there were a few places where I was just super paranoid about running into a mountain lion, mostly around the Old Station and Burney area, when I was walking early in the morning and into the evening. Everything just felt a little too still and quiet. And I knew there had been sightings in those areas too. Mountain lions scare the bejeezus out of me, and that was the time when I felt the most nervous on the trail.
2. Hitch-hiking (Alone)
I was pretty anxious to hitchhike with a group for the first time on my way in to Julian, and I sort of vowed to myself (and others) beforehand that I wouldn’t hitch-hike alone. There are obvious dangers to hitch-hiking alone, and they mainly end in rape and/or murder. But alas, I found myself hitch-hiking alone many a time on my PCT hike (6 times). And three of those times were with children in the car, so I felt decently safe. The main pre-caution I took when hitch-hiking alone was keeping my Garmin inReach and cell phone on my person. Honestly, all of my solo hitches were pretty great, and I had no bad experiences. My favorite solo hitch was leaving the town of Etna, where a father son duo picked me up and drove me back to the trail. They are Native American and gave me a little history lesson about the land, and conflicts with the government about water rights and prescribed burns. I learned a lot, and they were really nice people. I also loved my hitch with the young family on an RV trip though Southern Washington. They were really sweet. My point is, this was something I was really nervous about, but everything ended up ok. I think you really just need to trust your gut instinct when a driver pulls over for you. There are so many excuses you can make to not get in the car. The easiest: look behind you and tell the driver: “oops! I thought my hiking parter would have caught up by now. I’ll wait for the next car, but thanks for stopping!”. Or make up an excuse about leaving something behind.
I don’t think I really need to elaborate on this one: rattlesnakes are terrifying. If you’ve ever had one rattle and coil at you, you know what I mean. My heart was POUNDING when I heard it for the first time, and didn’t stop pounding until I was like, a mile away from where I saw it. And I thought I was in the clear after the desert, but I had another run-in with a rattler on the climb out of Belden. This is a fear I will not grow out of.
4. Falling Down a Mountain
I had a few falls in the Sierra that made me an anxious Annie. I fell down on the descent from Forester (snow), down Glen Pass (twice) and down Mather Pass, while wearing microspikes on weirdly slippery sandy trail/ scrambling on rock. I also took a scary fall heading down to Sonora Pass on a tiny, but very slippery and highly angled snow patch that obscured the trail. There were also a couple of hairy parts coming down Old Snowy in Washington where the dirt was really slippery. The only thing that made me feel less scared was just hiking slower. But man, was I terrified when I fell down on Mather and Sonora Passes.
I only experienced one thunderstorm on the PCT, and it was completely unexpected. It was the night I hiked out of Belden, and I was already slightly creeped out by the woods, even though I was camping with Sprinkles (another hiker). I woke up around 3 or 4 am to BOOMING sounds. It was really disorienting, especially since it wasn’t even raining. I actually thought it was crazy people shooting guns into the woods, which is honestly more terrifying than a thunderstorm to me. But after that storm, I was very aware of the clouds every time I approached a ridge.
6. Running Out of Food & Water
They say you pack your fears, and this was pretty true for me. I always walked into town with about half - one day of food left and always got to a water source with about a half liter of water left. I never wanted to be direly hungry or thirsty while on the trail, and I prevented that from happening by over packing food. Honestly, it’s not a bad thing to do. I did give some food to a hiker that ran out of food over a day away from Big Bear. If I didn’t overpack, I wouldn’t have had any snacks to give to him. Also, if anything happened to me, I’d always have more food to hold me over for another day. See - I’m justifying my fears!
Do you have any fears about backpacking? About taking on something like a thru-hike? Do you have questions about my fears or other things that I didn’t list? Let me know below!