I haven’t always been a hiker. Despite living in the Pacific Northwest with easy access to the mountains, I haven’t hit the trails nearly as much as I should. When I do hike, I usually opt for easier hikes in the woods than thigh-burning, high-elevation climbs.
That all changed a couple of years ago after I heard about the most difficult trek in the world: the Snowman Trek in Bhutan. Hikers who complete the adventure cover 220 miles in 25 days. They climb to an altitude that reaches as high as 18,000 feet. In my opinion, it is the ultimate trek.
The more I heard about this trek, the more photos I saw of this pristine region, the more I felt convinced I had to do it.
But one does not just show up in the Himalayas to hike 220 miles. There’s much training involved. And so, with help from Expedia to pursue my “storybook” dream, I’ve incorporated hiking mountain peaks into my regular travels to help get me in shape for the Snowman Trek in September.
My first stop on this training regimen was Hawaii Island.
To prepare, the hubby and I packed an extra bag for the island that included hiking gear—boots, jackets, base layers, gloves, and food. This seemed a bit crazy at the time. I mean, who wants to pack a jacket for Hawaii Island, right? But preparing in this manner to summit 13,96-foot Mauna Kea was a smart move, as it ensured we had everything we might need to successfully complete our goal.
Viewfinder Tip: To keep motivated during long hikes, load up the iPod with upbeat music and crank it when you feel your energy drop.
We set out from the luxurious comfort of the Fairmont Orchid on the Kohala Coast and drove to the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station, which sits at about 9,000 feet up the mountain. We were ready to go by 9 a.m. A park ranger lingering in the parking lot yelled over to us as we were packing our day bags. “You’re starting at a good time,” the ranger said. “Some people come by in the early afternoon and think they can just start walking—they’ll never make it back before dark.”
From the visitor center, the trail begins a short distance up and across the road—the very road that most people drive to get to the top. It immediately ascends into a barren landscape of loose, volcanic rock. The trail climbs steadily and gradually for six miles. Gravel, dirt, rock, repeat.
For us, it was a lonely walk—we didn’t meet anyone along the way, and the barren landscape left very little to admire. This Pacific Northwest gal is used to seeing towering evergreens! To be honest, though the views were great, I found the hike a bit boring.
Beth hiking up Mauna Kea
But it certainly was challenging. The trail climbs about 5,000 feet in all, so we took many breaks to catch breath and nibble on food. We definitely felt the altitude and really had to push ourselves to keep a moderate pace. We lucked out with a sunny day; though air temperatures were cool at that altitude, we missed snowstorms like the one that had covered the top just a couple days later.
While the visitor center site says the average round-trip summit hike takes 10 hours, it took us less than six hours just to get to the top. It likely would have taken a couple more hours for us to walk down the main road back to the visitor center, but fortunately, we were able to hitch a ride with a couple visiting from Oahu.
I’ve heard long-distance runners say they need to have a marathon planned in order for them to stick with their running routine. Now, I can totally relate to that. Without having the bigger goal of training for the Snowman Trek, we might not have had the desire to hike Mauna Kea. But the absolute joy and sense of accomplishment we felt at the top made me think it would be worth doing all over again—with or without the Snowman in our plans.
What sort of physical challenges do you seek out when you travel?