There is something about waking up in my tent, putting on my cold boots, firing up the stove, and making myself breakfast while alone in some beautiful remote mountain location. I like taking my time, savoring my morning tea while taking in the scene before me with the sound of birdsong floating through the air (okay, who am I kidding, I’m usually up well before dawn and out doing landscape photography before having breakfast or breaking camp). On windy mornings, I can just sit and listen to the wind blowing through the trees. If it’s raining, just lying in my tent listening to the rain hit the thin fabric that sits between a dry me or a wet me. Sometimes while backpacking through the deserts of Utah, it can be so quiet I literally hear my heart beating in my chest and I am keenly aware of each breath I breathe. These are the moments when I feel truly alive and at ease with the universe.
As a nature photographer going solo is often my only choice as not many I know can spend months out each year living out of their vehicle or a backpack. For me, it is usually both. So for me, solo hiking is my normal.
I can move quickly and quietly through the backcountry as I stalk a herd of deer, moose, bison, or what have you. Groups tend to be noisy, move slowly, and increase the chances of spooking any animals you happen across. I only have to worry about masking my smell, keeping just me downwind of the animals. In short, my photography frequently is easier hiking solo. With a group, animals hear you coming and flee before you even catch sight of them (in bear country this is not always a bad thing). Recently while hiking in Great Sand Dunes National Park, I came over a hill and found myself amid a herd of deer, who, if I had been with others, would have heard me coming and fled.
The benefits of solo hiking are many and each person will have their own reasons for doing it. Solo hiking is about being able to rely solely on yourself for everything. It’s a test of your backcountry skills, your knowledge of survival at times, and it can become a battle within yourself too; a part of you wanting to quit while another part of you wants to go on. If you truly want to get to know yourself, go on a long solo hike, one that challenges you, pushes you to grow and expand (but not so challenging as to endanger your life). Better yet, go on a solo long-distance thru-hike and you will come to know yourself and what you can do a lot better.
In order to find myself, I first have to lose myself in nature and I can only do this alone. Hiking alone through the desert, not seeing another soul for days, alone with nothing but my thoughts, I learn a lot about myself.
Solo hiking also isn’t for everyone. Some people are not cut out to solo hike and others are not yet ready for it. If you can’t find your own car in the parking lot at the mall, venturing off into the backcountry by yourself might not be in your best interest. Yes, solo hiking is wonderful and how I hike 98% of the time, but it is not for everyone.
Note: I do not recommend solo hiking for inexperienced hikers! Going solo and being inexperienced can lead to you being a news story about the hiker who had to be rescued or worse, died while out in the backcountry. First, gain experience hiking by hiking with a group. Take classes on backcountry skills; various outdoor brands offer classes frequently (REI and LL Bean come to mind). It takes some time to build the skills needed for solo hiking…