Five Stages of Hiking From a Wannabe Hiker

It dawned on me yesterday as we were climbing yet another mountain; just like there are five stages of grief, for me there are five stages of hiking.

While the five stages of grief have been well documented through the years, my climbing life has been much shorter. We are relatively new to long hikes and very new to mountaineering. Coming from the midwest, we don’t have the landscapes that allow for mountaineering in our backyard. Eight years in Chicago without a car also severely limited our nature hikes. But, after having some exposure to longer hikes in places like the rice paddies in Sapa, Vietnam, and the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru, we came to New Zealand hoping we could continue to add to our hiking repertoire. 

Yesterday, we climbed to Roy’s Peak outside Wanaka. We went from sea level to 1,500 meters, climbing 8 km of straight ascent, only to turn around and follow that same 8 km back to where we started. It was unlike any hike that we’ve ever done before in that it offered no flat ground as a respite from the climb for our screaming legs.

The view from one of the lookout points two-thirds of the way up to Roys Peak.

The view from one of the lookout points two-thirds of the way up to Roys Peak.

There have definitely been challenging parts of all of the hikes we have done (goat path anyone?) but when we talked with a large group of experienced hikers at the end, they were also saying this was the hardest summit they have ever completed.

Regardless of the challenges, I have found that my stages remain constant even if the terrain doesn’t. The only changes I have noticed are that each stage’s length varies depending on the hike. (I am looking forward to a hike that includes mostly stages one, three, and five. Recommendations would be great!)

Stage 1: Excitement

I would never choose to go hiking if I didn’t look forward to it. Nature is beautiful and I truly do enjoy being out on the path with nothing but the outdoors and Ben. It is also fun to challenge myself. None of these hikes are easy but it is exciting to walk through gorgeous scenery and stretch my limits (and legs).

This is what I think of in stage one.

This is what I think of in stage one.

Stage 2: What the heck did I get myself into?

This stage typically starts towards the beginning of the hike. In yesterdays case, it started a few steps into the never-ending ascent. During the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, it didn’t start until 4 km in when we started to climb the Devil’s Staircase. It is the stage where my body isn’t in the climbing groove yet and every step is hard. I can’t catch my breath and stop frequently in order to get the sound of my heartbeat out of my ears. Depending on the hike, this stage can take a while to get through or it can pass pretty quickly. Yesterday, it probably took up the first 2.5 km of the trek.

Stage 3: I got this!

This is my favorite hiking stage. It comes after the “I can’t do this” thoughts of stage two when my body is finally in the hiking groove and I feel pretty unstoppable. I stop hiking in this stage only to take in the view, not because my heartbeat is deafening.

Stage 4: I don’t want to hike anymore. Don’t make me take one more step.

This stage is the worst. It usually happens when I am nowhere near done and each step takes tremendous effort. It’s often accompanied by aches and pains (and worse) stemming from prior injuries. Thank goodness for my cheerleader Ben or I may still be stuck on the goat path or two-thirds of my way down Roy’s Peak.

Stage 5: This is awesome! What an accomplishment!

This is a tricky stage. Sometimes it comes while we are still hiking (Sapa) and sometimes it takes weeks to get there (Tongariro). It is closely related to stage one in that I am excited I’ve completed the hike but more importantly I’m proud of challenging myself.

I did it!

I did it!

There debatably could be a stage six, sore muscles; but I think that goes without saying.

For now, I am going to bask in the glory of finishing a mountain summit yesterday and go sit in the hot tub to ease my sore muscles.

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