My two favorite hiking experiences were vastly different.
One was full of people going up and down the mountain, greeting each other and laughing as they made their way to Everest Base Camp. The other was still and quiet, with the snow blanketing the trail and trees as my dad and I made our way up the backside of Pikes Peak in Colorado.
But in both, I learned a lot about the kinds of people you meet on the trail.
It’s obvious to most hikers that being outside and seeing the view — admiring the funny-looking trees or rocks — and then standing on the peak of a mountain gives you a sense of wonder and awe. But the most peculiar thing is that on the way to see those sights and sounds, and even on the way back, the people you meet along the trail can give you that same sense of admiration and astonishment.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the stillness of the mountainside, but there’s oddly something special about a 5-minute break between stretches of the hike where you share tips, tricks and occasionally snacks with other hikers. Oftentimes, I forget their name as soon as we start hiking again, concentrating on their advice or the view, or even sometimes trying to avoid the birds that dare to steal the last bits of our oranges. But what they say and do stay with me, for better or worse.
The time spent together with each hiker is typically short, mostly a hello from others on the trail, a warning about the loose trail ahead, a caution of snow being worse than we thought, and one memorable instance of advice where we were told that snowshoes were unnecessary (when, in fact, they most definitely were — or, at least, my thighs covered with snow would say so).
Along with the advice, sometimes the best moments are sharing tasty snacks with the other hikers. I know you’re not supposed to take food from strangers, but nobody is a stranger on the trail. From my time on various hikes, the title for best snack goes to the chocolate that the other hikers and I brought for a summit-success snack on Pikes Peak. However, I can also appreciate the person who brought apple pie to the mountaintops of Idaho. For the hiker who brought raisins, I appreciate the gift itself less and the sentiment more, but it’s fuel so I said thank you and ate them as quickly as possible.
Breaks on the mountain are always welcomed, especially when you get the opportunity to hear about people’s lives, including one man’s retelling of how he climbed his own stairs in preparation for the hike. Unfortunately, his story ended with him tripping over his dog, falling down the stairs and his dog thinking he was playing dead.
Moments hearing simple tales such as these are just as exciting as taking a moment to embrace the sight of the mountains around me in full awe. Sure, sitting on the Khumbu Glacier was special, watching as the clouds rolled up the valley and engulfed the mountains. But what made it extraordinary was the fellow hiker with me who told quiet stories of her being a veterinarian across the countryside.
To all my fellow hikers, thank you for your advice and jokes, for the nasty raisin-based trail mix thrown across the trail, and even for the unwise advice of not needing snowshoes even though a few hours later I stared at the snow that reached my waist; you’ve all made each hike worth it.