Debbie Hartwig came down from the mountains with a satisfying sense of accomplishment. Her 78-day, 1,379 kilometre hike on the Pacific Crest Trail had been almost a year in the planning.
“It was my first long-distance solo hike. People who hear about it say it’s remarkable but my friends say it’s just Debbie being Debbie,” she said.
“I was feeling so good when I came to the end in Manning Park that I was tempted to walk the rest of the way home to Spallumcheen, but I took the ride.”
That was probably the best idea. She has calculated from charts of the terrain that she covered the up and downhill distance from sea level to the top of Mount Everest four times during her hike.
Hartwig, 65, a retired dental hygienist, is an experienced hiker, starting in her native Ontario and going on to hike in Kenya, Peru, the Pyrenees and many other places around the world.
“I’ve done many major hiking trips with friends and I wanted to see what it would be like to do it on my own. There is an awefullness, is that a word, about the trail that attracted me. I did it because I could. I saw things that few people see,” she said.
“In long-distance hiking, you are totally in the moment with the changing scenery, the sky, the mountains, the trees, the weather. I felt so joyful and so blessed to be able to do this.”
The Pacific Crest Trail starts at the California-Mexico border and runs 4,279 kilometres through the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains to end at the Canadian border in Manning Park.
Hartwig started in Ashland, Oregon on July 4 and ended in Manning Park Sept. 21. Some people do the entire trail and are called through hikers. She was also considered a through hiker because of the distance she was travelled was more than 800 kilometres.
Hartwig started planning last November to get her gear down to the minimum of a tent, sleeping bag, small stove and clothes, about 35 pounds. Her daughter sent food to resupply points along the trail while her son made sure she kept in touch with satellite communication.
She did shorter hikes and strength training knowing the endurance would build up as she hiked. Over the course of the hike, she averaged about 25 kilometres a day.
“I managed to keep to my schedule except for a fire once in Oregon that was starting to close the trail, and I finished in snow at 7,250 feet near the end. I kept moving faster at the end because I was so cold,” she said.
“I saw a lot of wildlife, deer, mountain goats, marmots, birds. Chipmunks were my constant companions. The biggest threat was mice always trying to get at the food.”
While Hartwig was alone, she savoured the time to be intensely aware of her surroundings and quiet in her mind. And when she met and spent time with other hikers, she enjoyed hearing about their experiences and sharing information.
A pleasant surprise was the Trail Angels, local people who lived near trail access points and left snacks, cool drinks (one was a bottle of Southern Comfort) and other supplies for hikers. Hikers also shared with each other and Hartwig was a Trail Angel herself when she was able to give antibiotics to a hiker with an infected foot.
She encourages anyone who has any kind of dream to do everything they can to fulfill it and to do it in the way that is meaningful for them.
“Hikers say, ‘HYOK’, that is Hike Your Own Hike. Do what you want to do in your own way and time, of course in a way that is not harmful to anyone else in any way,” she said.
“I’m going to keep on hiking as long as I can. Back to the Pacific Crest Trail in 2018 and then to Patagonia and some hiking in England and Scotland.”