Not All Who Wander Are Lost: A Blog for Adventurous Women

Seven FAQs about Leave No Trace

Posted by Anna Claire Eddington on Feb 14, 2018 11:34:13 AM

LNT Logo.png

You’ve heard of Leave No Trace (LNT). You take only pictures and leave only footprints. But you probably still have questions about how to follow LNT guidelines in less obvious ways. You're not alone! 

Here are the seven LNT-related questions that we most commonly get asked and our responses to them.

  1. What do I do with my toilet paper?

We get it- sometimes nature calls and the only resource you have is a small shovel and a tree. Responsible outdoorswomen have three options:

  • Pack it out. That means that if you choose to use real toilet paper you should put it in a plastic bag when you’re done and dispose of it once you’re back in civilization.
  • Use natural toilet paper. Believe it or not, natural toilet paper is as sanitary as regular toilet paper when done correctly. Popular options are flat stones, smooth leaves, and snow (a snow wipe is one of life's great experiences!) and they negate the need to bury or pack anything out.
  • Bury it. This option is a barely an option at all because it’s hard to do correctly. It’s acceptable to bury your non-scented toilet paper alongside your waste when you’ve dug a proper cathole (6-8 inches deep), but only in areas where it can easily break down and decompose. That means that areas like deserts, glaciers, or frozen tundra are off limits. But if we’re being honest, almost NOBODY digs a deep enough hole and what we often see is animals who have dug down two inches and brought your TP to light. 


  1. Banana and orange peels are biodegradable, can I leave them behind?

Biodegradable, yes. Native, no. Most of the tasty natural snacks we bring into the woods aren’t native to many natural environments and therefore aren’t suitable food for local wildlife. An apple core isn’t going to dramatically disrupt a local ecosystem but it is, ultimately, harmful to wildlife because animals would otherwise forage and eat a nutritious diet derived from their natural environment. Feeding wildlife damages health, alters their natural behaviors, and exposes them to a dependence on humans.

Ask yourself this question: Would this [insert biodegradable item] be here if I weren’t?

  1. What do I do when I find trash on the trail?

First off, you make a mental note of how it has disrupted your wooded bliss and re-vow that you won’t be a trail litterer. Secondly, if it’s safe and sanitary to do so, pick it up and pack it out. Every little bit helps so do what you can. If you come across waste that is too large for you to remove make a mental note of its location and report it to the park staff or landowner.

  1. Will it really make a difference if I take just one pinecone (or rock, leaf, flower, etc) home as a souvenir?

It likely won’t make a dramatic difference in the ecology of the region if you take one natural souvenir, but if every person who walks a particular trail takes something home then that could lead to a massive disruption in the local ecosystem. The plants and animals that make up that ecosystem each have a particular role to play and our mere presence is disrupting their natural pattern and lifecycle. Adding to or taking away from a natural environment, no matter how small, exacerbates that impact. At the end of the day it’s the principle of the matter.

  1. What do you do if the snow pack is too deep to dig a cathole for human waste? 

We try to avoid these situations on our trips (let’s not be uncomfortable just for the sake of discomfort!) but we still get the question.

Burying your poop in seasonal snow is, sadly, not sufficient… so you’ll have to pack it out. This is because the snow prevents biodegradation and once the snow finally does melt it will be like you had never buried your poop at all. If the ground is frozen or the snow is too deep to bury your solid waste in a hole that is at least six inches deep, packing it out is the right choice.

  1. When is it okay to gather firewood for my campfire?

We love campfires, especially when there are s’mores involved. But as beloved as they are, campfires DO leave a trace. To minimize the impact, LNT says that you should only collect wood that has already fallen and only if there is a substantial amount of fallen wood in the area. This ensures that the micronutrients that are released into the soil as wood decomposes (and that small insects and animals feed upon) remain plentiful, avoiding large-scale disruption of the ecosystem.

  1. I’ve been told it’s okay to poop on the beach below the tide line. Is that gross?

Wow, so many questions about poop! But it’s better to know. Gross is a subjective question, so we’ll just address the ethics of it. It is in accordance with LNT teachings to dispose of human waste in the ocean but only when there is significant wave action and/or currents. That means not in eddies, streams, or standing water where people might camp, cook, or clean. Think of the beach as getting two flushes a day!

The upside to this is that you’re not contaminating land and it’s easy to wash your hands afterwards! The downside is that privacy is hard to come by and you’re likely to get wet if you’re doing this correctly.


Those might be the most popular questions about LNT, but what other questions do you have? No question is too ridiculous, and together we’re able to better mitigate our impact on the environment.




Topics: outdoors tips

Five mistakes to avoid on your next international trip

Posted by Marian Marbury on Jan 13, 2017 9:08:37 AM

We love international travel! We do it not only to see new things and meet new people, but AmalfiCoast.jpgto enrich our understanding of the world and humanity, and our own place in it. But there is no doubt that it takes more work and more preparation. Over the years we've made lots of mistakes and thought that sharing them might help you avoid the same ones.

1. Not looking for your passport until a week before your trip. 

  • First, you want to make sure you can find it. We had a participant miss a long and expensive trip once when she couldn't find it and couldn't get to the passport office in time for a replacement.
  • Obviously you need to make sure it is not expired, but many countries require that you have at least 6 months of validity from the date you enter their country.
  • In addition you need at least one completely blank page for each entry stamp. So if your passport is close to full, save yourself anxiety and renew it 2 months before you leave.

2. Trying to take your trekking poles through security

Our experience is that people have been rarely stopped in security when they have their trekking poles in their carry on in the U.S. However it has not been uncommon when travel abroad, and being stopped at security means you either lose your poles or pay to have them checked. Since most airlines still allow one free bag on international flights, it's better to put your trekking poles in a checked bag to begin with.

3. Taking a long nap or going to bed the morning you arrive

It's so tempting!! Especially if the hotel offers early check in. But the fastest way to combat jetlag is to get on the right schedule as soon as possible. If you have access to your room, take a 20 minute nap (or none at all), then get up and shower, and start exploring your new surroundings. Stay up through dinner and get up at your usual time the next morning. It's a tough day but you'll feel so much better the next day.

4. Thinking the entire world eats meals at the same time and the same way as you do.

  • While North Americans have been taught that a hearty breakfast is important, for many European countries breakfast is a coffee and a piece of toast or a pastry. This is less of an issue in hotels that offer buffets (and many hotels outside North America include breakfast in their price) but if high protein breakfasts are important to you, be sure to bring some cans of tuna and/or peanut butter.
  • All the southern Mediterranean countries (e.g. Italy, Spain, Greece) are known for eating large dinners late i.e. 8 to 11 pm. There are restaurants that cater to North American travelers and open earlier, but the food and experience aren't nearly as authentic because they are also catering to what they imagine are North American tastes. If a large meal late at night doesn't work for you, try eating a larger lunch and then know you'll be pushing away a half filled plate at dinner (or, depending on the restaurant, bring a plastic sandwich box and put your leftovers there to eat the next day). Don't expect traditional restaurants to serve you dinner when you wander in at 6, any more than Spaniards can expect a U.S. restaurant to serve dinner at 11pm. If this is potentially an important issue for you, make sure you know what to expect and how to prepare for it before you go.

5. Bringing travelers' checks or getting foreign currency before you go

Travelers' checks are increasingly difficult to use; frequently, the only place you can use them are banks. If you are traveling to a vcountry with a good ATM system, the easiest thing to do is withdraw cash at your arrival airport (be sure to let your bank kow you're traveling). ATMS associated with banks tend to charge less fees and give better rates than non-bank ATMs. But I've made the mistake several times of relying on ATMs in countries with more fragile banking systems that may have limited ATM availability, limits on how much you can withdraw at once, and sometimes don't work or run out of currency. In these cases, bringing cash as Plan B and either exchanging it at banks or currency exchanges (not the ones in airports, they always give terrible exchange rates). 


We're currently updating our EBook on International Travel. If you have any tips or suggestions, please add them below so we can share them with everyone else. 


Topics: adventure travel, travel tips

An update on our 2017 trips

Posted by Marian Marbury on Sep 7, 2016 3:10:39 PM

Anybody who reads the newsletter knows we're behind on posting the rest of our 2017 trips (as of 9/6/17, we have posted 35 out of 64). Alot of the remaining trips are ones we are offering this year and are fairly simple to get up on the web. We prefer to wait to post it until we have run the trip in 2016 in case there is anything we want to change. In addition we often cannot confirm rates, or sometimes even dates, so far ahead. But at least you can look at this year's trip and get a fairly good idea of what the itinerary is and about how much it will cost.

When a trip is new, however, you may be waiting to see if it is something you want to do before making a final decision . There are a few we have mentioned several times and you may be getting impatient and wondering if we're really running them. So here's the rundown. And if you're not familar with our rating system, please read about it here.

Hiking and Kayaking Greenland: I went to southern Greenland in June and was blown away by the wild beauty and the mix of truly feeling in the wilderness without, for the most part, camping - which in Greenland is dicey because the weather can be so atrocious. Since then I have been working with the company I went with to commit to an itinerary and dates. They have a very short season and this is the busiest time of year for them, so it is taking longer than I expected. If you're OK with very basic accommodations, this is a trip worth waiting for. The rating will be 3 and the trip will start and end in Iceland.

Hiking Northern Italy: A couple of months ago I was approached by one of our local partners in Italy about the possibility of a trip that followed the Via Francigena, an old pilgrimage path, through the mountains of northern Italy. Anne F, one of our guides, had time between the Swiss Alps hiking trip and the Dolomites trip so I asked her to check it out. Her report is that it has potential but with less mountain hiking than I thought and way less development as a pilgrimage route than the Camino de Santiago. She also is loving the Dolomites as much as I do. So next year our Hiking the Italian Alps will be a repeat of this year, again in early September. You can read the Dolomites itinerary here. The rating is 4.

Hiking Wales: The itinerary is finished, we're working with an amazing local guide, the dates are September 10 - 20, we're hiking in three totally different National Parks (Brecon Beacons, Pembrokeshire, and Snowdonia) and the rating is 3. All we're still needing is some pricing information for hotels and transport, and the trip is ready to post.

Pearls of the Croatian Coast: I had a conversation with our local partner on Monday (also just at the height of her busy season) to discuss a few itinerary tweaks. She has to send me some updated pricing information but otherwise the trip is ready to post. We start in Split, go to Hvar and Korcula, travel down the Peljasic Peninsula, and end in Dubrovnik. The dates are September 17 - 24 and the itinerary is a mix of history, culture, cuisine, and hiking. The rating is 2. Croatia is a unique blend of Italian and Balkan influence and I loved my week there this May.

Cinque Terre: For the last 2 years we have run a very popular hiking trip that combined time in northern Tuscany and the Cinque Terre on the coast. In developing an itinerary we're always trying to balance whether to see more or focus more on one area while still keeping the trip a reasonable length. Several people who have taken the trip said they wanted more time in the Cinque Terre area, so that is what we're offering next year. The itinerary and costs are done, we're just waiting to nail down the exact dates, which will likely be in October. This trip is actually hard to rate because some of the hikes are on steps going up the sides of cliffs, which is strenuous but very diffferent than hiking in mountains. In the past we have rated it 3/4 because you can choose to take days off and will likely keep that same rating.

New Zealand: We have the itinerary, the dates (November 6 -17, 2017), and the pricing so it's all set - it was just a lower priority to put on the web because it is 14 months away. It's multisport with hiking, biking, and kayaking and the rating is 3. Part of the trip is on a beautiful 3 day track that includes a tougher day that is more typical of our trips rated 4 (climbing 3,000 feet with a pack carrying a sleeping bag, some food, and spare clothes). However, that is the only really strenuous day out of 12.

Alaska: We ran into a couple of stumbling blocks with offering this trip again and need to look at some alternatives. By next week we'll know for sure whether we're offering it again.

Aside from all those, you can look at this spreadsheet to see the dates (although they are never definite until the tip is posted and available for registration) for all the trips:Trip_Schedule_for_2017. The light green color means the 2017 trip is posted on the web. The intermediate green means it is a trip we're repeating but have not yet posted. If the dates are after September 1, this year's version is still on our Trip Calendar and you can check out the itinerary there. If it isn't on our web, there is a column in the speadsheet called URL which has a link to the web page of the last time we ran the trip. The dark green color are trips discussed above. 

Hope this all helps with your planning and thanks for your patience. We hope you find the trip that is worth waiting for!


We Cannot Be Safe, We Are Not in Danger

Posted by Marian Marbury on Jan 12, 2016 8:40:17 AM

I woke up this morning to the news that a bomb had gone off in Sultanahmet, the Old City of Istanbul. Along with sadness for the victims and wondering who they were and what they had been doing when the blast occurred, I wondered how it would affect the thinking of the women who are signed up for our trip to Turkey next fall. And I thought of how two realities that appear to be contradictory are in fact simultaneously true.

We cannot be safe. Helen Keller recognized this long ago. Many people know the last sentence of a famous quote: "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing" - often interpreted to mean that we should live our lives adventurously or they are empty.

But that really isn't what she was saying. The whole quote is "Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. God Himself is not secure, having given man dominion over His works! Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold. Faith alone defends. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable." 

Her point is that no matter what we choose, the belief that we can be safe is an illusion. While she was writing before random acts of terror became almost common, she lived through the two World Wars and the Great Depression, surely times that felt as insecure and uncertain as our own. She lived during a time that over 50,00 people a year died in car accidents in the U.S. We cannot be safe, whether we stay home or travel widely.

We are not in danger. At the same time, most of the world's population, and especially in the United States, is not at risk of sudden unexpected death from a bomb blast. Of course there are places in the world where that isn't true - Syria most obviously right now - and the terror of living with that as a daily reality must be more horrendous than most of us can imagine. For those who lost loved ones in Sultanahmet Square or San Bernadino, it cannot be any comfort to know how unlikely the death of their loved ones was.

But how many of us have lost people we know that way? When I think back to people I know who have died unexpectedly, it was car accidents, cycling accidents, boating accidents. None of those made me think I should give up driving, biking, or boating. Like the vast majority of people in the U.S., I don't know anyone who has died in a terrorist attack. With the exception of a friend who lost her sister on 9/11, I don't know anyone who knows anyone who died in a terrorist incident. The purpose of terrorism is not the deaths it causes but the fear it instills, and how that fear cripples us and reorders our priorities.

At the same time, we have to acknowledge that we cannot enjoy travel if we are gripped by fear. Fear is largely an emotion that cannot be conquered by rationality. If we know we will be constantly worried about our safety and we feel more comfortable staying in the United States, than that is the choice we should make. North America is an amazing continent with tons to explore.

Understand, however, that if we wait until we feel safe, there are large parts of the world that we will probably never see. It seems unlikely that, in my lifetime, the world will have the illusion of safety it did in the 1990s. If we decide not to go someplace this year, we are likely deciding not to go ever.

Topics: adventure travel, safety

Making an impact through charitable contributions: resources for informed giving

Posted by Anne Flueckiger on Dec 28, 2015 6:39:13 PM

Editor's note: I asked Anne Flueckiger, who is a guide and is also trained in evaluation research, to help us make decisions about where to donate money this year. I also asked her to write a blog post about charitable giving.

Did you know that a leading charity-research group recommends giving to a single,specific charity this year? (Read on if you're curious which one and why; there's a good chance you haven't heard of it.) GivingUSA reports that individual donors represented 72% of total charitable giving in 2014. Whether you have $50 or $5,000 to give, you want to feel confident that an organization will use your donation effectively to make a difference in your community or in the wider world.


Many of us donate to (or volunteer for) local nonprofits such as an arts center, food pantry, animal shelter, or youth-serving program. Perhaps we ourselves benefit from the work a group does, or we can directly observe the positive impact the organization has on our community. Small nonprofits tend to have limited resources for evaluating their programs, but an organization's annual report should at least provide an overview of what they have accomplished.

Several "charity watchdog" groups rate nonprofit organizations on how well they meet standards for financial transparency, fundraising efficiency, etc. These rating systems have been heavily criticized for a variety of reasons, one of which is that the ratings don't tell a potential donor anything meaningful about the effectiveness of an organization's work. A nonprofit receives a high rating if it spends most of its revenue on delivering programs (v.s. on fundraising or the CEO's salary), but what if the programs delivered don't accomplish what was intended, or if initial good results don't have a lasting impact?

Since 2007, the founders of GiveWell have been trying to fill what they view as a void in independent, credible information on charity effectiveness and impact. They believe that donors can do the most good with their dollar(s) by helping very poor people in the developing world, and their research points to malaria nets, de-worming, and direct cash transfers as the most effective ways to do this. GiveWell takes into consideration whether a highly-effective organization is funded to capacity or could quickly put to use additional funding. The "underfunded" factor led to their recommendation of the Against Malaria Foundation as the charity most deserving of your donation in 2015. If you're willing to be slightly less effective, another charity that has reduced childhood mortality is Living Goods, through which women in several African countries sell health products and provide basic health counseling in their communities.

If you're not familiar with cash transfers, it simply means "giving people money." You may have heard of, or perhaps participated in, "micro-lending" programs which provide a way for average citizens to lend a small amount of money to a poor person somewhere in the world so they can start or expand a small business. Micro-lending (in various forms) remains a widely-used strategy to help the poor, but the practice has come under significant criticism, leading some researchers and development workers to advocate for direct cash transfers instead. Evaluation of cash-transfer programs is ongoing; in the meantime, if this kind of giving appeals to you, GiveWell recommends GiveDirectly which distributes cash to very poor households in Kenya and Uganda.

Two good sources for current research on reducing global poverty are Innovations for Poverty Action and Center for Global Development. An organization called AidGrade synthesizes research on international development and compiles it in a database that donors can use. GiveWell has a new initiative called the Open Philanthropy Project which looks into U.S.-based issues such as criminal justice reform, biosecurity, and farm animal welfare but this work has not yet led to charitable donation recommendations.

Note: To confirm the nonprofit status of any organization, visit <> For local nonprofits you can also consult your state's Secretary of State website. Charity Navigator maintains a "Donor Advisory" list of organizations that are under investigation or have had a complaint filed.

Tomorrow we'll share where we decided to donate this year.

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Patagonia in Pictures

Posted by Marian Marbury on Sep 2, 2015 1:36:44 PM

Patagonia is a vast, sparsely populated region of South America. Encompassing parts of both Argentina and Chile, it stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean and is known for the towering peaks of the southern Andes, as well as steppes, grasslands, and even desert. Rugged and windswept, for years it was known as the province of cattle ranchers and outlaws. The inhabitants have changed over the years, particularly with the advent of airports and better roads, but its beauty is no less compelling than it ever has been. Fortunately for hikers and climbers (and wildlife!) both Argentina and Chile have preserved some of the most iconic areas in National Parks, and it is those we visit on our Adventures in Patagonia trip.


The small and very charming town of El Chalten is the entry way to Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina. The largest spire is Mt Fitzroy; Cerro Torres is over to the left.


Hiking toward Mt Fitzroy. Fitzroy is one of the most technically challenging mountains for climbers in the world and also the basis of the logo for Patagonia clothing. The clothing company was founded by Yves Chouinard, a mountaineer who climbed it in 1968.


While largely known for its mountain spires, Los  Glaciares also has some gorgeous lakes. This is Laguna Capri and there is definitely a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow.


One of the most common adjectives used to characterize Patagonia is windswept. As these trees demonstrate, it's an apt description.


Cerro Torre is the other iconic spire that Los Glaciares is known for. The story surrounding its supposed first ascent by Cesar Maestri is quite intriguing and was hugely controversial until later ascents helped debunk it. You can read a fuller account here.


Patagonia isn't all mountains though. It's vast steppes support a robust ranching industry and sheep are an important part. In fact barbecued lamb is a national specialty.


Guanacos are the parent species of llamas. Although considered endangered in much of Patagonia, they are protected form hunting and are quite common in Torres del Paine National Park in Chile.


The spires behind this glacial lake are the famous Torres del Paine, three spires that present formidable rock climbing challenges. 


Weather is one of the challenges of hiking here but also has its own beauty.


And the sunsets are legendary.

Is Patagonia one of the most beautiful places on earth? We think so. Join us for Adventures in Patagonia next March!


This is our first "photoblog" of one of the places we go. Let us know what you think.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Adventure Travelers

Posted by Marian Marbury on Jun 2, 2015 9:58:21 AM

Having been in the adventure travel business for over 16 years, we've seen a lot of people have truly amazing experiences during their travels. What habits do they cultivate?

1. Responds with flexibility to unanticipated changes. While all group trips have a schedule, the likelihood that the itinerary will go awry on adventure trips is greater. The effective adventure traveler knows that the itinerary is a guideline, not a promise. And of course she always carries good rain gear and snacks in her daypack.

2. Lets go of goal orientation. She truly embraces the saying "It's the journey, not the destination." Sometimes that's harder than other times. But its possible even when you trained for climbing Mt Kilimanjaro for 5 months and the worst weather in 20 years descended on the mountain the week of your summit attempt, making an attempt impossible.

3. Practices patience. Group adventure travel is pretty much guaranteed to try your patience at some point, whether it's the other people in your group, the guide, the food, the accommodations, the weather, the logistics snafus.  The effective adventure traveler recognizes when she is becoming impatient, takes a deep breath, and realizes how lucky she is to be where she is and doing what she’s doing.

4. Takes things as they are. On an adventure trip, particularly when traveling in other countries, everything will be different- food, customs, etiquette, time sense etc. The effective adventure traveler embraces those differences as part of why she chose to visit that country, rather than comparing everything to an external standard (often how it is at home). She sees herself as a travel Ambassador who wants to respect and understand the differences.

5. Knows the level of challenge she enjoys and prepares for it. She knows that at the end of vacation, she wants to feel refreshed and rejuvenated, not exhausted and drained. With that in mind, the effective adventure traveler chooses adventures that either match her current level of fitness or require a level of fitness that she can reasonably commit to achieving.

6. Stays present - or knows when she is choosing not to. The effective adventure traveler doesn’t distract herself from where she is by checking in at home, surfing the net, or immersing herself in a good book. She may choose to do any or all those things, but it is always a choice not a habit.

7. Laughs at herself. Whenever she starts getting bent out shape about how things aren’t going as she expected or starts beating herself up for some way she wasn’t adequately prepared, she takes a step back and enjoys the total absurdity of the moment and recognizes that everyone, including herself, is doing the best job they possibly can.

Some of these may seem more like personality characteristics than habits. But each is a habit of mind, a practice, that can be cultivated – if that seems worthwhile to you. Take patience as an example. Yes, some people seem to be naturally more patient than others. But anyone can learn to recognize when she is feeling impatient and, more importantly, choose to redirect or reframe whatever she is feeling. The great thing is that many of these habits not only help you get more out of travel, they're pretty useful habits in the rest of life too.

Topics: adventure travel

AGC meets GoodReads: The Booklist from our latest women's hiking trip

Posted by Jan Latham on Apr 28, 2015 7:06:02 AM

One of the many pleasures of women's hiking trip is that often the talk turns to books that readingwe're currently reading or that we particularly enjoyed. With any luck some enterprising soul volunteers to write the list down and then share it with everyone. And if the stars align, it actually happens. 

We've decided that when that happens, we should share it with you. This list was compiled by the hikers on Wildflowers and Waterfalls: Exploring the Great Smokies.

  1. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love by Lisa See

  2. Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar

  3. 11/22/63 by Stephen King

  4. Beyond the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

  5. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

  6. A Piece of Cake by Cupcake Brown (This is a memoir.)

  7. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett 

  8. Five Days at Memorial Life: Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink

  9. Boys in the Boat by Daniel Brown

  10. Elephant Company by Vicki Croke

I love the variety of fiction and non-fiction and definitely see some new books to try! Thanks, hikers.

Topics: books

How to Train for Your Next Hiking Trip

Posted by Marian Marbury on Apr 8, 2015 6:52:33 PM

The correct title for this should probably be "How I'm training for my next hiking trip". Everyone is different and has their own ways of getting ready for a hiking trip so take this for what it's worth. But I'm pretty typical in many ways (I've never done a marathon in my life) and I'm getting ready for two challenging trips: Trekking in Nepal: the Mustang Region June 6 - 22 and Trekking to Machu Picchu July 29 - August 8. Being unprepared is not an option.

So first - it's at the end of a long winter. My last trip was in October and after I returned from CanadianRockiesCelebthat trek, I took about 3 weeks off where I didn't do more than walk the dogs every day. After that I started going to the gym 4 or 5 days a week (I'm extremely fortunate to be a 7 minute walk from a women's gym) where I worked out on an elliptical machine for about 30 minutes at a moderate pace (translation: I was breathing hard but I could still talk). I used to run but creaky joints made that uncomfortable and the elliptical is non-jarring. This is enough to keep me reasonably fit. Throw in a little stretching afterwards and the whole thing was about 40 minutes. I began telling myself I needed to prepare more in mid-February and finally in mid-March I actually started. This is what I am doing. The first 2 are on the elliptical and the third is on a stairmaster.

  1. Twice a week I do intervals. In a 30 minute period, I warm up for 5 minutes then I alternate cycles of a minute of working really hard with a minute of much less intense effort (the recovery period) for 20 minutes (so 10 cycles) and then end with 5 minutes of cooling down. Some days I can push myself harder than other days. A lot of research proves that this improves aerobic conditioning more effectively then longer periods of more moderate activity. I'm adding 2 minutes every week until I get to 40 minutes.

  2. Twice a week I do a longer moderate workout, at about the same level of effort that I was doing during my winter downtime. I started with 40 minutes and every three weeks I add another 5 minutes until I get to 60 minutes. The main purpose of this is to build endurance.

  3. Twice a week I workout on a StairMaster to combine aerobic training, endurance, and muscular conditioning in a way that mimics the long hills I'll be climbing. This feels like the hardest thing I do and I've found the key is to start slowly each time and build gradually and then do a series of intervals that are longer than a minute but where the pace is increasing or decreasing every minute  (e.g. 1 minute at 7, then 8, then 9, then 10, then 9, then 8, then 7). It must be working because today 10 felt easier than a month ago. I do a total of 30 minute and I plan to very gradually increase to 40 while also increasing the highest level I go to.

  4. Twice a week I also do sets of lunges and squats, along with a couple of upper body and triceps exercises. I started with 3  sets of each and have now worked up to 4 with the plan to go to 5, also increasing the hand weights I use while I do them. I also do abdominal exercises of some sort right before I stretch every day. I should do more weightlifting but I don't enjoy it, and this seems what I can make myself do. I know from long experience that my knees will be incredibly grateful on the long downhills.

  5. Now that the weather is nice, I plan to start hiking every Saturday. It's a truism that the best training for hiking is hiking and if I lived somewhere I could easily hike more often, that's what I'd do. I hike in the Baltimore-DC area and if you want to join me for a hike, please shoot me an email.

  6. But wait, does that mean I never take a day off?! No. I say twice a week but it can be more like 6 out of 8 days if something interferes or if I start feeling too tired. Sometimes when I'm tired I make myself workout anyway and it peps me up. But if it doesn't, if I'm slogging thru mud, then I take the next day off.

This may sound like more than you want to do. Honestly, its more than I want to do on a regular basis. But I'm really looking forward to both trips and I know that I will be grateful for every ounce of extra energy I'll have then from the training I do now.


Topics: hiking, health and fitness, trip preparation

Choosing the right active vacation

Posted by Marian Marbury on Mar 27, 2015 12:16:20 PM

In rock climbing lingo, the definition of "sandbag" is: "A climb which receives a much lower grade than steepclimbdeserved. Also used as a verb when referring to the act of describing a climbing route as easier than it actually is." This under-rating isn't intentional -  the rating is assigned by the first person to climb it and reflects their own experience, skills, and climbing quirks. What feels like a sandbag to me might feel spot on to you.

There is probably no topic on our active vacations, trip evaluations, and even our guide retreats that engenders more discussion than the topic of the ratings for our trips. Our goal, always, is to get you on a trip that delights you and meets your expectations. Choosing a trip with the appropriate degree of challenge is one part of that.

Your personal experience of how challenging a trip will be are a complex interplay of at least 5 factors:

  1. your fitness level; 
  2. how many hours of hiking, kayaking etc the trip requires; 
  3. your amount of experience with the activity;
  4. the current conditions (especially weather); 
  5. your personal reaction to all of the above.

Fitness and activity:
Our ratings system is primarily based on fitness and length of activity. None of our trips are suitable for women who are completely sedentary. A rating of 3 is often interpreted as moderate and it is - but its moderate for a woman who regularly engages in aerobic activity, either jogging, biking, working out a gym, or power walking. Women who are very active during the day but whose regular exercise is walking mostly on the flat will find that trips rated 3 are pretty challenging.

Previous experience: 
Previous experience in the activity is also a key factor. We try to address that in the section of the trip description called "Is This the Right Trip For You", especially in the Ratings section. Here we describe why it has the rating it does and whether it's appropriate for novices or whether some or alot of previous experience is suggested.

But experience isn't everything. A few years ago on our Canadian Rockies Hiking Holiday we had 2 hikers of very different experience levels, one having hiked a couple of times in the Colorado Rockies and the other having hiked in a variety of places, including several trips with us. On one descent from a pass the trail goes through a scree field, i.e. there are lots of small rocks. Most people, unless they have lots of experience hiking on similar trails, find they have to pick their way down carefully. On this particular trip, the woman who had less experience wasn't bothered by the trail and came down easily. The more experienced hiker had a lot of trouble, felt totally unprepared by our description, and was exhausted at the end. I personally hate descending on trails that are hardpacked with lots of tiny little slippery rocks and can pretty much count on feeling tired at the end of the descent if its more than 30 minutes. We all have our personal reaction to different conditions. Experience helps - I've learned how to safely go down those trails with hiking poles - but I'll never enjoy them or find them easy. And of course the only way to gain the necessary experience is to do them. Experience can, to a degree, also compensate for lower levels of fitness because of the efficiency learned over the years. An experienced less fit hiker/paddler will often have more energy at the end of the day than an inexperienced hiker/paddler who is more fit. This is particularly true if the conditions (weather, footing) are challenging.

Current conditions:
Whenever you're engaged in an outdoor adventure (i.e. any of our trips), there are always unpredictable conditions that can change the nature of the experience. A common one is weather. We have been offering kayaking trips in Belize for the last couple of years that we have rated 2 and 3 because there are options for how you balance relaxation time and activity time on some of the days. This year the initial day was quite windy on one trip with bigger rolling waves, and what had taken an hour and a half last year took three hours of hard paddling this year. Everyone successfully made the crossing but they definitely had to work harder than they expected. Based on this experience and the feedback of participants, we have decided to rate the trip as a 3, since we generally want to put the rating at the highest level that might be required for any one day. But next year if the water is calm, we might hear that it deserves a lower rating.

Personal Reaction:
The last factor, your personal reaction, is probably both the hardest to quantify and the most critical - often because you yourself won't know until you're in the middle of it. But that is also what makes something an adventure - we are outside our normal routine, trying new things in new places with new people, and in the process learning about ourselves. You might learn that you don't like something or that you really need something specific to be happy. Or you might learn that you can push yourself further and harder than you ever imagined. I was recently talking with someone who was interested in Trekking in Nepal, a trip that not only has challenging hiking but also a completely different culture and living standards than we are used to. She was quite fit but had done little hiking and no travel in a Third World country. Since I was confident she could do it physically, I told her that I thought it would be taking a big leap to go on the trek; but if that was what she was looking for, it would be an amazing experience.

Our ratings are meant to be a starting point, a way for you to start assessing whether a trip is appropriate for your fitness level. The itinerary will also give you additional information. But the itinerary can't give you context you don't have i.e. if the itinerary says that you will be hiking 4 hours with a 3000 foot elevation gain - but you've never hiked more than rolling hills - you can't have any way of knowing how that will feel. So if you're in any doubt whether a trip is going to be suitable, we want you to call us so we can talk about what your experience is, what you're looking for, and why you're interested in a particular trip. We don't want to sell you a trip, we don't want to talk you out of a trip, we want to help you choose the right trip for you. The last thing we want is for you to feel sandbagged.

Hiking Tips for Women

Topics: active travel, health and fitness, preparation