The two journeys you take when solo hiking
Having climbed Mt. Everest twice as well as the highest peaks of six continents, Georgina Miranda is no stranger to the physical and mental challenges that come from such feats. Nor is she a stranger to the immeasurable benefits. Recently hiking and climbing the Slovenian Mountain Trail as well as three weeks of climbing and hiking in the Italian Dolomites, Georgina learned of the two journeys we take when we set out on a solo hike or in fact any adventure alone.
As the heat of the European summer sun beat down on me one day in July, I readjusted my XT Incite Pack and took my first steps towards my first two-month solo hike and climb of both the Italian Dolomites and the Slovenian Mountain Trail.
Something beautiful happens when you step outside your front door with all you will need for the coming months perched square upon your back. It’s one of the most liberating feelings to realise how little you need and to peer down at your feet and know that they are two precious tools that will carry you forward each and every day. Solo hiking is a chance to make each morning an adventure, with enough planning to keep you safe but enough room to allow for spontaneity and for the magic to unfold.
The two journeys you take when you travel alone
The past eleven years have been filled with many solo hiking, climbing, and travel adventures – my first solo trek on the Milford Track in New Zealand; wellness and soul journeys throughout SE Asia; solo road and wild-camping trips beneath the starry desert sky; and scaling some of the world’s highest peaks with expeditions where I was often the only female on the team.
Solo travel holds a significant place in my heart not just for the adventures that reveal to me new cultures, experiences and places, but because of the greatest journey of all; the one that never stops – the inward journey. While mainstream media can still paint a scary picture for solo women adventurers and travelers and the risks involved, I continue to share a different narrative. Solo adventures can be some of the most life-enriching experiences. My hope is that by sharing knowledge and inspiration more women can discover places in the world where it’s safe to venture out alone and enjoy things that complement their skill level and interests.
Solo hiking the Italian Dolomites
My first stop on this journey was Cortina d’Ampezzo, a village that is the gateway to much of the Dolomites. It was my last stop to get any missing gear and to reorganize my kit for the three weeks of climbing and hiking that lay ahead.
The Dolomites are recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and it is not permitted to camp along the alpine routes. Local refugios, or ‘mountain huts’, provided food and shelter each night of my stay. As a solo hiker, while the days were often long and with little people in sight, arriving at these refugios I was greeted by fellow adventures and locals who shared tales of the day’s journey and shared information on routes and any favorite destinations. Underpinning the success of any solo hiking adventure is to find ways to connect with climbers and locals and to get insider tips on the area and terrain. Being that it was my first time to these mountains, this was even more important to keep safe and make the most of my experience.
This area has a ton to explore and enjoy, consisting of 142,000 hectares located in five Italian provinces and three regions. With so many options, it was tough to narrow down where to go, while also ensuring I would be able to access different areas by hiking or using public transit. I really wanted to enjoy as many of the ‘via ferrata’ routes as possible, as well as to visit some of the peaks and lakes that had inspired my journey here, such as Tre Cime and Lago di Sorapis.
Image: Georgina Miranda
Going with the flow when hiking alone
Part of the fun of solo hiking and travel is allowing for spontaneity and non-prescriptive exploration. There are eight beautiful thru-hikes across the regions on routes called Alta Via 1-8, all with varying distances and difficulty. Since none of these trails covered all of the areas I wanted to explore, I ended up enjoying parts of many of them while taking unplanned detours to climb up nearby ‘via ferrata’ routes and peaks. These routes are a wonderful option for climbing alone and safely, as well as excellent preparation for my adventures ahead in Slovenia. ‘Via Ferrata’ routes are rated from very easy (suiting all fitness and skill levels) to very difficult, reserved for highly experienced climbers.
Image: Georgina Miranda
I loved exploring the mixed terrain of the Dolomites, from rocky trails to even a bit of snow at times. Despite this being the one country, there is so much diversity in the landscapes and cultures as you travel through the area, including differences in language and food. Starting in early July helped me avoid the crowds and be able to experience a lot of beautiful solitude along the way with vistas as far as the eyes could see. The biggest challenge was lugging my 22-kilo bag around. Yet again, great training for Slovenia, but a feat that drew on my physical and mental resources each day, which leads me to one of the most important things to remember when hiking alone.
Keep your mind strong, just like your body
We tend to focus a lot on our physical fitness for preparation of big physically exhausting challenges, yet our mind needs just as much training. Meditation is a huge part of my life and preparation for solo hiking, climbs, and adventures. After all, when you are spending hours alone at a time just with yourself, your mental dialogue throughout the day needs to be a good one. When things get tough, it will be your own mental will and heart that keep you going.
Don’t get me wrong, after a hard day’s walk or climb, the amazingly delicious food at the refugios each night was always a treat and something to look forward to each day. Yet, my mental nutrition was what got me through each day.
Embrace the unknown
Starting the journey off with complete openness set the tone for the two months that followed. I have a deep love affair with the wild mountains and the energy you feel just by being in their presence. This was the case in the Dolomiti. Every morning was full of awe at the grandness of the peaks themselves and for the sea of endless peaks that rolled ahead as far as my eyes could see. I could spend a lifetime here exploring.
I like to plan and prepare for my safety, especially when I am on my own, but I equally like to allow for beautiful experiences to surprise me. Here in this magical place, I was greeted by delicious food each night, some of the most awe-inspiring sunsets I had seen in a long time, kindness and friendliness of local adventurers, and a wonderful maze of trails and climbing routes to quench my curious spirit. I left feeling inspired, mentally and physically prepared for the next adventure ahead in Slovenia, and knowing in my heart this place will call me back.
Taking on the Slovenia Mountain Trail (aka Transverzala)
With a good three weeks of mental and physical preparation in the mountains behind me, beautiful Slovenia was next! I was inspired to visit after seeing a photo of Soča Valley years ago. There was something about that jewel-like water that was calling me.
Image: Georgina Miranda
Slovenia feels like a living postcard; everywhere you turn the natural surroundings are magnificent. The Slovenia Mountain Trail (SMT) is the oldest long-distance trail in Slovenia and of the whole of Europe. The trail consists of 617.km, 80 checkpoints, 43 stages, at least 35 summits (21 official route peaks), over 55 mountain huts (koćas), and an estimated time of up to 37 days to complete. I had a pretty aggressive timeline in mind due to work commitments, so I ventured into this challenge with an open mind, an open heart, and an intention to enjoy the outdoors and climb my heart out. Unlike my time in the Dolomiti, this portion of the adventure had an objective and the route was set to be followed.
There would be unknowns around the weather, how my body would hold up, what the route would be like, and who I might encounter along the way, but there was a plan to get me from point A to B.
The trail begins in Maribor, home to The Old Vine (the oldest known vine to produce wine in the world) and ends by the sea in Ankaran. In between the two, you get to climb across some of the most gorgeous and challenging mountains, including Slovenia’s highest peak, Triglav (2864m). This is hardly a thru-hike, but more of a thru-climb! For a solo hiker, it poses some challenges and put all of my previous mountaineering and endurance skills to the test. It’s recommended for people with significant climbing and hiking experience and I would definitely agree.
While the nature I got to witness and experience was truly phenomenal, so was the kindness of the people. Despite my Slovenian being limited to about five words, kindness transcends language barriers and can be instead felt and shared. The people I met at the huts were extremely generous with sharing information on the route, weather info, and helping contact other huts to ensure I would have a place to sleep the following night. While hiking/climbing sections of the trail is popular, completing the entire thing in one push? Not so much. It was kindness that left the greatest impression on this journey and what carried me through this solo hiking and climbing adventure. Solo hiking comes with a lot of vulnerability, as with any adventure solo really, it teaches you when to know to reach out and accept the kindness of those you meet along the way, and equally when to extend your kindness to others.
Image: Georgina Miranda
By the time I got to the Soča Valley area around day 20, the weather took a turn for the worst. I had already lost a few days waiting out storms along the route. I took a rest day to raft the Soča River, the place that had inspired the whole adventure to begin with, and it was just as epic as I had envisioned it would be. It felt amazing to splash in the turquoise cold water and even jump in for a swim to soothe my achy joints from the weeks of climbing. At this point I had to make a decision as to what the rest of my time would look like; it was clear there would not be enough time to finish the entire route given the weather forecast. I climbed the last technical peak of the route, Jalovec (2645m), with the short good weather window that opened, was involved in a rescue effort the night before of a lost hiker, and then started my way towards the sea, hitting as many checkpoints along the way, and more importantly enjoying the final chapter of this adventure. In the end, I climbed/hiked 320km, completed all technical sections, climbed 15 official route peaks and at least another 10 along the way, and hit 54/80 checkpoints on my 24 days on the trail.
Slovenia will be calling me back to finish what I started and I cannot wait.
Letting go of the outcome
Any adventure requires us to step into the unknown and let go of our ego. We can plan and prepare, but there is only so much we can control. Mother nature always has the last word, so there needs to be a respect for weather and mountain conditions to keep safe. Letting go of the outcome and letting the magic unfold is part of the joy of the adventure. If we hold on too tight as to how exactly we want everything to unfold, we can miss out on a wonderful experience. In Slovenia, it was really hard to let go of finishing the SMT in one push. I thought about cancelling my work obligation to give myself the more days I needed, of pushing through the night to try and complete more of the route, but in the end, the question was 'why'? Who was I doing this for anyway? What did it mean to complete it all in one push with added risk and a high dose of suffering? If my intention was exploration and enjoying the present moment, then that is actually what needed to be done here. The trail would be waiting for me next time, with a new level of wisdom and knowledge on how best to navigate it. It was humbling and gave me insight into how I not only make decisions in the mountains but in life. Venturing alone takes you on an inward journey and allows you the opportunity to go with the flow more freely, being able to quickly course-correct if needed.
A bank of micro moments of goodness
With big adventures and goals, it’s easy to just focus on the end result and miss out on all the good little things that happen in between. When we can be fully present in our adventure, moment by moment, day by day, we can really relish the endless gifts these experiences leave us with. While there are beautiful memories of vistas, seeing that there are still places in the world that are wild and free, there is a deeper connection felt to everything around us. Each day taking in our surroundings more and more and learning about new places, people, and things, but also taking that deeper journey within ourselves, learning more about who we are and how we want to live.
Changing the narrative with our feet
I was asked a lot on this journey “why” I was alone. It got a bit exhausting to answer, as the reality was that I wanted to be ‘alone’. This can be hard for some to understand as there is still a limited narrative of a woman venturing out on her own. In the end, I never felt alone over the course of two months. I was accompanied by all the nature and wildlife around me, the people I met along the way on the trail and in the mountain huts, and had the company of myself.
In my own little or big ways, I will keep sharing my story to help shift the narrative and also encourage other women to create their own. It's now a part of a life journey to see and experience as much of the world as my life allows me to and continue to use my voice and adventures to advocate for women’s rights and equality, climate change, and mental wellness.
It’s a gift to connect with our wild nature within and the wild nature that is around us, helping us see how we are one and the same. Each step we take has an impact.
Somewhere along the trail, a thought crossed my mind. I remembered it and that night I penned it down. For those who are looking to explore solo hiking and adventure but have remained rooted to the spot, consider the following:
Sometimes I think the world is not ready for us. Us wild women. Then I remember it doesn’t matter, we pave our own way.
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