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by Diane Spicer
The best hiking destinations are as varied as hikers themselves.
What says "unbelievably incredible" to me might be a yawn-er of a hiking destination for you.
But aren't you just the tiniest bit curious about possibilities for adventurous hiking trips?
I sure am! I am always on the prowl for first hand accounts of the best hiking destinations.
So I interviewed the hikers who planned and took some adventure hiking trips, and asked them lots of pointed questions about why they went, how they prepared, and which lessons were learned (sometimes through adversity).
Ever hear of slackpacking?
It's a great way to achieve some of the best hiking destinations without being weighed down by a carry-everything-you-need filled backpack. That leaves you free to explore and enjoy your progress each day.
But this adventure is made even more interesting because a family (parents & 3 kids between the ages of 14 and 8) tucked it into a multiyear vagabonding adventure!
Imagine the freedom of walking away from your front door to let adventure become your daily norm!
And know that you're headed to one of the best hiking destinations around, with all of your loved ones.
I had a chance to ask Willemien Kruger a few questions about these unorthodox approaches to capturing outdoor time with family, and here are her gracious answers.
Hiking For Her: "Could you please give us your personal definition of "vagabonding" and "slackpacking"?
My personal definition of Vagabonding is to be somebody (whether an individual or group or family together) who are wanderers with no settled home.
This does not mean that you are never going to settle, as this may only be for a season or a reason.
But for me it is also somebody searching for answers on questions to enable one to settle. For example, physically as in a home, or into your calling, or emotionally or spiritually.
My personal definition of slackpacking is hiking without a full backpack with all your "stuff" for "all the days", but instead having to only carry what you need for a day's hike since all the other "stuff" is taken to the overnight huts by somebody else.
I think that slackpacking is a good idea because it enables other people (and not only hardcore very fit hikers) such as older generations and children and families together to see and experience beautiful hiking trails that would otherwise be inaccessible to them.
We as a family with our 3 children would have not been able to do this 5 day hiking trail if it was not for the slackpacking option, even though we as the parents are experienced hikers.
Hiking For Her: "I can immediately see the benefits of slackpacking, but what are the drawback you've experienced?"
First of all, the whole hiking trail's existence seems to be fully dependent on one person's vision and initiative and effort to maintain it, so such a person works really hard. I think not everybody will be as enthusiastic about it as this person.
And the risk is therefore that if this person is not able to do it anymore, then who will take over? (But I suppose such is all other things in life also.)
For us personally, the slackpacking was excellent, but it requires a lot of organization, especially in terms of packing food. You need to mark every little bag one by one for the person who will bring your food to the hut on a daily basis.
And you need to keep things simple.
The other disadvantage to this was that you only had the food that was brought, and nothing else, so if you had something placed in the wrong bag, then you had to make do without it!
(HaHa! I misplaced our desserts, so the kids were not impressed for 2 nights and then one night we had all the desserts for the week!)
And there is the cost. Slackpacking is more expensive than normal hiking trails which is huge in South African rands (HFH note: their currency), especially for a family of five.
So yes, one has to budget for slackpacking trails more than low budget hiking usually costs.
Hiking For Her: "How did you achieve the level of trust required to leave your home and take your children on this multi-year adventure?"
One doesn't really plan this type of adventure too far ahead, as sometimes an extra nudge is required to push one out of your comfort zone.
In our case, a personal financial situation nudged us to seriously start rethinking our lifestyle, careers and what we are doing with our lives.
This made us think hard, but we did not have this plan then. Over time, a sort of discontentment with our lifestyle grew, and we started investigating other options.
That is how we discovered the alternative such as "taking a family sabbatical" or "family vagabonding", and even the whole concept of "volunteering".
The next thing that helped was our faith. That played a very important role.
As Christians we have a relationship with God where we practically ask for guidance and wisdom on what to do with our lives, and this is something that we experience His guidance on, along with all the promptings, opportunities and eventually all the "things that fell into place" to convince us this is what we need to do.
As to the level of trust - well, communication between me and my husband is very good, and even though I was "ready for any adventure" long before he was, when he became convinced that this is something we must do, we agreed fully.
Maybe it has a lot to do with the fact that I have been homeschooling all my children since always, so our relationships are fairly good, and that is not to say that we don't ever disagree and have fights!
So we not only informed the children, but also involved them in some of the decisions we had to make. This was a lot of fun for them as well.
Hiking For Her: "Please share 3 pieces of advice you would give to someone who is toying with the idea of slackpacking."
1. It is way easier than serious backpacking, so take some friends with who would normally not be prepared/willing to do that.
2. Plan your meals beforehand and pack it that way (as in day 1, day 2, etc.) so you don't have to do it the night before as we had to.
3. Just do it.
Hiking For Her: "Anything else you'd like my readers to know about your slackpacking experiences?"
If you enjoy nature and walking in nature, then make time to feed your souls.
Hiking For Her: Thanks for this glimpse of family slackpacking, Willemien!
You can contact this family at vagabondfamily.org
Your hiking adventure could be next!
The best hiking destinations are a matter of personal preference. Please consider sharing your experiences with your virtual hiking buddies.
Annette Hadaway makes her home in Portland, Oregon. Let's jump right in and find out why she decided to travel to Nepal by herself.
Hiking For Her: Why did you, an Oregon woman in her fifties, decide to attempt a challenging trek in Nepal?
After hiking the Inca Trail in 2011, I was hooked on adventure travel.
One Backpacker Magazine issue ran a story on trekking in the Himalayas, which piqued my interest. I started researching trekking opportunities in Nepal.
After attending a lecture on tea house trekking, I knew that's what I wanted to do.
The lecture was given by a man in his sixites. He and his wife planned to go back.
If they could do it, I could too!
I was ready to experience breathtaking landscapes and be immersed in a culture unlike my own.
[HFH: Sounds like one of the best hiking destinations to me!]
Hiking For Her: How did you find your native Nepali female guides?
Amiable, and wanting to please.
Knowledgeable about the terrain, health issues, wildlife and insects.
Our guides were also fantastic at making connections with tea house owners to secure rooms.
During some very bad weather which caused our mountain pass to close, we needed to turn around and go back the same way we had come.
It was high season, the circuit was full of trekkers. We were not the only ones who had to turn back due to time constraints.
The pass was closed for a minimum of a week. Trekkers in the next village up in elevation, and trekkers behind us in elevation learning of the pass closure, needed to turn back.
Villages were packed with people needing to sleep and eat.
Our guides secured rooms each night during this chaos when others had to be turned away or sleep on roof tops in tents.
One night I noticed that our guides slept on the floor in a dining room with about 15 male porters/guides, when we had rooms.
Our guides kept us safe, fed, and housed.
Both female and male guides are expected to help cook, serve, and clear their group's meals at the tea houses, which are also called guest houses.
The food is cooked on a wood burning fire.
Some houses would cook on a two burner gas stove, along with cooking on a fire. The gas fuel tanks are brought up the trail on donkeys.
you could be at a tea house with multiple groups, so your guide's help is necessary.
Typical meal time from the time you ordered your food to finishing your meal averaged two hours.
During, and after the storm, average meal time was three hours due to the amount of people each house was accommodating.
It is tradition for guides and porters to eat their meals after their groups have finished and left the dining room. There were times I saw our guides eating their dinners well after 9 PM.
These 2 women were not only excellent guides in a male dominated industry, they are wonderful women and life friends!
Hiking For Her: How did you cope mentally with those "I might be in over my head" moments, such as your illness and your near miss with avalanches during extremely bad weather?
Thinking back, it seems odd how at peace I was with the situation.
My symptoms were a rash on the back of both my calves, nausea, dry heaving, body aches, fever, and fatigue.
Hiking that day was tough, stopping to dry heave every half hour or so.
One of the guides would comfort me after heaving by patting me on my back and telling me I was doing great.
When we arrived in a village for lunch about 1:30PM, it was decided that we stay the night and assess my health the next morning.
Both guides slept in my room the first night of my illness. They administered a therapeutic massage with a mixture of oils they use on themselves for sore muscles, and had me drink ginger tea. The oils felt similar to Bengay cream.
The massage was given to me first on my feet, legs, and torso. The women then had me put on the warmest clothes I had.
Next, they massaged my shoulders, neck, arms, hands and head. Again, warm clothes and my wool hat.
The massage was administered once after the guides had their dinner, and then again in the middle of the night.
The next morning, the nausea was gone. My guides had the cook make me garlic soup for breakfast.
All I wanted to do was to be left alone and sleep. This was Day 10 of our 20 day trek.
I remember thinking I had enough money with me to live there for over a year if I needed to!
Trekking the Manaslu and Tsum Valley circuit had averaged $15.00 U.S. per day, and that was with Cokes and Snickers bars. I could economize by drinking tea.
In a half dream state I thought about opening up a stand selling rolling papers and wet wipes. I'd make a fortune! There was wild marijuana everywhere and when you were out of wet wipes you were SOL.
The Nepalese people I had met thus far were all kind. I was not fearful of the people. I knew the way back, and could go on my own if I had to. I'd done plenty of solo hiking at home, in the Columbia River Gorge, and am an experienced hike leader.
I trusted my guides with all of my being after that first night of my illness, which was heat exhaustion.
[HFH: Even well travelled best hiking destinations can be risky. Knowledge of self care, and perhaps a personal first aid kit including anti-nausea remedies such as ginger tea, sound like good ideas to me.]
Hiking For Her: What skill set should a woman have if she's determined to travel and hike solo, but has never done it before?
At home, start out doing day hikes alone.
Always carry the Ten Essentials of Hiking.
Enroll in wilderness first aid classes.
Research the area you're going to, and know what to expect.
Both my hike in Peru and this one in Nepal required hiring a guide, and check points all along the way to ensure this, along with the proper permits.
Never hike alone without telling someone where you are going, specifically by the trail number.
Set a time to communicate with that safety person, making sure you give them a number to call to report you missing.
Never rely on your cell phone or internet service.
When abroad, never rely on the embassy to know where you are. In our experience, the embassy in Nepal was clueless about where we were, even after we had registered.
Always be prepared for anything and everything. Be flexible, and have a good amount of patience.
Listen to your gut instincts on the trail.
[These great pieces of advice shouldn't be saved for only the best hiking destinations. Practice them on every trip!]
Hiking For Her: Thanks, Annette! This glimpse into a Nepali trek was a great way to open the door to wondering: Is this one of the best hiking destinations I'd like to tackle?
Send me a note, and tell me where you've been lately.
And remember, an adventure is defined by you.
It doesn't have to be a long distance destination or any "big ticket" famous best hiking destinations, just a trip that made your hiking life richer in some way.
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