In response to the movie Wild being in theaters, I am featuring some Wild Women who are going against the norm when it comes to people’s perception of what a hiker should be. The women featured are some of the most badass hikers, male or female, out there! Today we are featuring Kristin Gates! She is a long distance hiker, dog musher, packrafter, writer and motivational speaker. She was the first woman to traverse the Arctic Brooks Range solo, the first person to hike the completed Arizona Trail and one of the youngest to have ever hiked the Triple Crown (the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail).
TTS: You began long distance hiking at a very young age. Was there a moment that sticks out to you where you knew you were meant to be outdoors?
Kristin: Growing up, my Dad would take me hiking up in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We would often find ourselves on the Appalachian Trail and my Dad would tell me how that trail runs unbroken through the Appalachians from Georgia all the way to Maine. I knew right from the beginning that I just had to hike it. When I finally got out on my first long distance trail at the age of 18, I loved the lifestyle so much that there was no going back.
TTS: You were the first woman to traverse the Arctic Brooks Range solo, the first person to hike the (completed) Arizona Trail, and one of the youngest to have ever hiked the Triple Crown. Do you ever feel scared or doubt yourself on the trail? What do you do?
Kristin: Out in the field, when something scary happens, you can’t dwell on it. Don’t panic. Think, be smart and keep going because that is all there is to do. Sitting down and crying won’t get you any closer to your goal (I know, I’ve tried). Just keep walking. Once I am out on an expedition, for the most part, I am too busy to be scared. There is too much to do to survive and get to the next place, leaving little time to dwell on worries. Before heading out on these trips, that is when fear can take over and a million doubts run through my head. The weeks before setting off are spent half in elation, so eager to get going, and half in terror, day dreaming of every worst case scenario and all too aware of my mortality. If the fear is there, you just have to use it. This pre-trip anxiety definitely helps me get off my butt and get every detail in place.
TTS: What advice would you give to women looking to hike on their own? What about concerns friends and family may have?
Kristin: This is life. This is all we get. If you are lucky enough to have a dream, go for it. Hopefully, friends and family will understand this and be encouraged to follow their own dreams watching you follow yours. One great device to keep in touch and let loved ones know that you are safe is the SPOT satellite beacon. Probably the most important advice I can give about long distance hiking in remote areas is the planning before the expedition begins. On trips where I’ll be in the wilderness for long periods with limited contact with civilization, the planning can take more time than the actual trip. There are so many things that you need to prepare for: creating a route when there is no trail, printing maps, making a re-supply plan and being ready for all of the “what ifs.” So do your research, know what challenges you’ll be up against and be prepared.
Long distance travel is a mental game. Many people out there are physically capable of hiking a long distance trail, but it is the mental side of it that really makes the challenge- getting up every day and continuing towards your goal even when it has been raining for weeks and you are homesick and cold and your feet ache. My trick to get through the mental challenges is to never focus on how far I have to go. That is too much, too overwhelming. Instead I focus on and look forward to the things that are within reach: that cup of hot chocolate that I will have at camp that night, warming up by a fire, the view from the next summit. Long distance hiking is all about living in the moment.
TTS: Do experience any bias or judgment on the trail or from those around you for being a solo female in the outdoors?
Kristin: Occasionally I will receive a few raised eyebrows when people find out that I am on long hikes alone, but almost never from fellow thru-hikers and, for the most part, everyone I have met has been really supportive and helpful. I sometimes wonder if I have experienced preferential bias for being a woman. So many strangers have reached out and helped me on my journeys- given me rides into town, meals
and shelter- I sometimes wonder if these experiences have been so plentiful because I am more approachable as a woman who for better or worse still looks like a sixteen year old kid.
TTS: You are also into dog mushing and packrafting. What draws you to these sports?
Kristin: While living in the Arctic, fantastic dog mushing and packrafting opportunities fell into my lap and I was eager to learn every single thing that I could. I am drawn to these modes of travel because they have allowed me to explore more of Alaska and get as far away from the road system as I can. They allow me to experience and appreciate the land in a different way and can be a fun way to travel through trail-less wilderness.
TTS: How do you train for your adventures? What could people do who live in flatter areas of the US?
Kristin: In order to prepare physically for an expedition I don’t usually do anything special. I am just careful to eat well and stay active year round. When I am not on an expedition I run, cross country ski and swim to stay in shape. The only expedition that I have gone to great lengths to physically prepare for was the Brooks Range traverse because I knew that it was going to be the most difficult thing I had ever done and that I would need all of the help I could get. In order to train for the Brooks Range hike, I thru-hiked the Grand Enchantment Trail from Phoenix to Albuquerque. This pre-hike toughened up my feet and got me in good hiking shape so that I was ready as could be for the Arctic.
The only way to fully prepare for a hike is to hike, but as long as you are in decent shape before an adventure, you will be just fine. When I was living up in the Arctic it was too cold (60 below) to run outside, so I had to be a little more creative about exercising and I started jogging up and down the halls of our inn when there were no guests. I also used an exercise videos to keep active and sane during two
months of Arctic darkness. Living in a flatter area won’t be an impediment to maintaining a good level of fitness.
TTS: I am also a huge fan of solo hiking. What is the draw for you as opposed to hiking with a group?
Kristin: Once I grab onto an idea of an adventure that I’d like to go on, that’s it, I’m going whether I can find a partner or not. The point has never been to be out there alone, it has just been to be out there. I have been lucky to hike trails with wonderful people as well as solo and there are definitely pros and cons to both. The advantages of going solo are that you are 100% open to the world and any adventure that comes your way. When I travel alone I find that I am more likely to make meaningful connections with the people I do meet. When you hike solo you are free to follow your every whim and there is something pretty wonderful about that. You get up and go when you want, take a break when you want, take a week off to go on a crazy side trip when you want. That being said, going on an adventure with the right people is still the best thing in the entire world.
TTS: What do you cherish most about your hikes?
Kristin: I continue long distance hiking because when I am out there in the wild, traveling through new country every day, that is when I feel like I am living my life to the fullest, learning so much from the land and wildlife and I am content. I cherish that very feeling and that is why I keep going back.
TTS: Are there other female hikers you look up to or go to for support?
Kristin: There are so many incredible woman who I have been lucky to meet in the long distance hiking community that keep me inspired and whose stories help me to keep trucking when things get tough. Sage Clegg, Liz Thomas and Heather Anderson are three of my thru-hiking heroes. Other female soloists in different disciplines who inspire me are Mardy Murie, Mary Shields, Audrey Sutherland and Liz Clark.
Last modified: September 2, 2017