Alicia (Girl On A Hike) - A Beautiful Day on Mt.Whitney

Hello! Who are you and where are your hiking roots?

Growing up in seven states, I have done my fair share of traveling and exploring. I was born in Seattle, WA, then lived in Puerto Rico, New Mexico, Minnesota, Northern Virginia, Montana, and now Utah. As a kid, I remember my parents taking us kids hiking and camping, and have always loved those memories and adventures.

It wasn't until I was in college that I started adventuring on my own. I lived in Northern Virginia at the time, and there aren't many hikes in that area. However, I made the most of it, and frequently hiked at Great Falls National Park.

Don’t be afraid to just go. All kinds of things can hold you back, mentally or physically. The trick is to go with confidence and believe that you can do it.

In 2006-2008, when I lived in Northern Virginia, Great Falls NP had a total of 7 miles. So, after school or on weekends I would go out by myself and hike all 7 miles. I found some other small, local "hikes" (more of a walking path) that I would do, but I tended to get bored doing those. 

It wasn't until I moved to Montana in 2008, that I really got into the outdoors. Let me tell you - the hiking in Montana was amazing!

The mountains, the fresh air, the Montana "Big Sky", clean air, tons of trails - it had it all! I had transferred from a community college in VA to Montana State University, and started classes in the Fall of 2008.

I had lived in an all girls dorm, and was excited to finally have girlfriends say they were all into hiking. I thought, "Perfect! I will finally have some company on my adventures." It didn't quite work that way....

I always made sure I got my homework and reports done during the week, so that I could explore on the weekends. I quickly found out that most people don't operate that way, and was back to square one and hiking alone. This time for up to 14 miles in one day. I really wanted company, but since I was also new to the area, didn't have any other people to ask to come along.

It wasn't until after I had graduated, and lived in a town home, that I had an idea. "What would be better company than a dog?!" Sure, a dog couldn't talk with me, but I loved the idea of having a buddy to tag along, to share my adventures with, to train to be an outdoors dog, to protect me from wildlife, and to snuggle up to at the end of the day.

Then came Charlie! From then on, he and I have hiked all over Montana and now Utah.

What’s your Story From The Mountain?

For years I had been wanting to summit Mt.Whitney. I’d seen the pictures and knew it looked very rugged. I also knew that getting a permit would be a hurdle.

Every year more and more applicants hope they too, get a spot on this precious mountain. So finally in 2019 I decided to get three of us together and we all applied. With my luck as a first time applicant I knew my chances were low. And out of all 15 dates I had applied for, I struck out on all of them.

I texted my friend who also applied for the same dates. “You get them?” He made me wait a whole hour before texting back. “YES!” We got a date in August. Wow, that’s a perfect time of year to go, I thought. And so the training began. I’ve always been a “peak bagger” and had a whole list of summits I needed to mark off in Utah, and now it would double as my training for Whitney.

I didn’t want to deal with altitude sickness. That was my main concern. I can hike for 20 miles, no problem. But I’ve never been as high as the highest peak in the lower 48! In 2019 I ended up knocking out 34 peaks and got up in elevation around 10k ft or higher for most. I thought, if this isn’t enough training i don’t know what will be.

So August arrived and we were on our way to the Whitney Portal Campground, an 11 hour drive from SLC. We had one full day to explore and acclimate as best as we could and the ranger suggested a trail that could do both for us.

We just took it easy on the trail and enjoyed the views. That afternoon we got our packs together and were asleep by 8pm for a 2am wake up call. We were on the trail by 3am. The first 6 miles flew by. We were passing people left and right and all three of us felt amazing.

Hiking in the dark is one of my least favorite things, but alas, I was feeling good. I was so excited to finally be on the way to summiting Mt.Whitney! We took our first real break at Trail Camp, roughly halfway, with a small lake to filter fresh, cold water from.

My plan for hydrating for 20 miles was half normal water and half Nuun tablets in a seperate water bottle. It was a 1 liter bottle so I threw two tablets in at a time. Sometimes it was the caffeine-free other times it was caffeinated. I just wanted to make sure that I had enough consistent energy for the day and never wanted to get caffeine crashes.

We also ate our first real meal - a turkey and cream cheese sandwich on a bagel. I don’t really like eating too much while hiking to prevent stomach cramps - I knew the next section would kick our butts but that I would also need the carbs.

The famous 99 Switchbacks! Slow and steady was the name of the game. By this point we were close to 13K ft and I felt extremely slow. My partner just kept saying, “Just keep a very slow but steady pace. If you stop, it will be that much harder to get going again.” So I did just that. I hiked very slow, but surprisingly we passed several people who stopped.

I realized the method we were using was working. Along the way we told everyone, come on you can do it! Everyone was so supportive of each other, yet we were all strangers, working towards the same goal.

My partner and I made it to Trail Crest before our friend, so we took a 15 minute break and let him catch up. He reached us and said, “ I don’t know guys. I’m beat. I’m not sure I can continue.” We waited a minute before speaking and said, “You’ve made it this far you can’t quit now! You only have two miles left.”

He looked down and another guy from a different group chimed it. He was saying how this was his 7th time hiking to Whitney and that if he could do it 7x,  my friend could surely do it once. So my friend got up, and said, “you’re right. Let’s do this.” That was all it took to get his motivation up and running again.

Slowly we hiked the next two miles….I could see it! We were so close! As I stepped up to the summit register I started to cry. I talked through tears to my partner…”I’m just so glad I don’t feel like shit!” Haha

It was one of my most proud moments. I was just so relieved that I never got elevation sickness, that I felt amazing the entire hike up, that I was surrounded by people who had and enjoyed the same goal as me, that I had a partner who pushed me gently, and that the weather was perfect deep, blue skies.

It really was a perfect day and all my hard work and training had paid off. It was a moment I’ll always look back on and feel proud and that will continue to push me when I’m not at my best on the trails. 

How did you find your dog, Charlie? What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned from him?

I found Charlie online, through a breeder that typically bred Miniature Golden Retrievers (yes, this actually exists), but were "trying out" a new breed for them, called a Golden Lab. This would be a mix of their full sized Golden Retriever and full sized Yellow Lab.

As we drove home that day I said, “Charlie, I want you to know that you are going to be an outdoors dog.

I called the lady up, and said, “I’m really interested in getting one of the Golden Lab puppies – could I come out to get one?” Mind you, this breeder was about 3 hours from my house. I didn’t want to just show up and have them be all adopted. She said, “Actually, this is perfect timing, they are going on sale tomorrow - $100 off the asking price.”  I thought, perfect, works for me! I told her, ok I’m coming out tomorrow.

So, the next day I drove out to their ranch in the middle of nowhere Montana. The lady pulled up in her old Ford pick up, and out popped her little boy holding two puppies – one under each arm. I immediately grabbed the first one I saw (Charlie), and thought, “Oh my…he is very cute, even tempered, and floppy!” I knew there was something in him that spoke to me. But…I figured I should set him down and watch the other pup just to be sure I really liked the first one.

Charlie at 14 weeks on his first camping trip.

I watched both of the pups play, and immediately the other pup went over the lady and started chewing on her jeans at her ankle. I thought, “ok, nope, I definitely don’t want this dog. He’s going to chew up everything.”

I said, “I’ll take this one,” pointing back to Charlie. I paid her, and they pulled away. I got back into my car and all of the sudden I started to freak out, saying to myself “oh my gosh, I have my OWN puppy! I have my own puppy! This is so exciting!”

For names, I had already narrowed it down to two names before I even saw the puppies. It would either be Charlie or Cody. I figured I should at least get the dog, then pick out the name depending on what I thought he looked like. After I calmed down a little, I said to the puppy, “Ok we need to pick out a name for you.”

“Cody?” No response. “Cody?” None again.

“Charlie?” This time I got a look from him, and we locked eyes. I said, “Ok, that’s it! You’re a Charlie!” He definitely picked out his own name.

As we drove home that day I said, “Charlie, I want you to know that you are going to be an outdoors dog. We are going to hike, camp, ski, and adventure together. You are going to learn to love the outdoors as much as me. I can’t wait to show you all the stuff the trails out there have to offer.”

The biggest lesson that Charlie has taught me is to have fun and enjoy the trail you are on. He’s always smiling, no matter where we are or what kind of weather we are hiking in. He’s doing his zoomies, tongue is falling out to the side of his mouth, and there’s a sparkle in his eye.

He’s never in a bad mood while hiking, and I always try to keep this in mind. Enjoy where you are at right now. Take in the scenery. Smile and be happy to be outside!

What’s your favorite item in your pack?

My favorite item that first came to mind was my REI flexlite backpacking chair! I used to make fun of other backpackers when I first started out like, “haha wow, they actually carried a chair up here!” or, “but that chair is so much weight, I would never carry that!” Well, look at me now - I went from making fun of it to desperately needing that chair!

After years of backpacking and carrying more weight than I should have I now have back pain. I thought, “ok, i’ll try out my friends chair and see if it helps.” And felt so good to have something to lean back on other than a log. Sometimes my trips have a lot of downtime so having the option of a chair to hang out in is great for those long days and by a fire. Charlie sure loves it too! When I plop down, he’s there ready to crawl up on my lap...or two laps.

Do you have any advice for other hikers who are just starting out?

Don’t be afraid to just go. All kinds of things can hold you back, mentally or physically. The trick is to go with confidence and believe that you can do it.

Most people ask what I do for safety when traveling solo either for backpacking for sleeping in my car. Basically I just carry a knife (and know how to use it) and a palm-sized can of pepper spray.

More often than not, I’m concerned with wildlife than people. The only time I’ve ever even taking my pepper spray out was for a shunk! I was running back down a trail with two dogs by myself and the shunk was dead center on the trail. I yelled at it from about 10 feet away, and it scurried into the brush on the left side of the trail. But this was a narrow trail and I was still worried that as I passed with the dogs that he might spray us. So I got my spray out, held it, and slowly approached the area. When I couldn’t see it from about 2 feet away, I ran as fast as I could to get away and give him space.

When I first started backpacking I went with friends. I had no idea what I was doing and everything I learned was from them. I would highly suggest that you go with people who can do the same for you.

My very first trip I had to borrow everything. Now, I have so much of everything that I have passed on the gear as well, and now let newbie backpackers borrow things. Overall I still prefer going with friends but at least once a summer it is my goal to do a solo trip with Charlie.

I want to know that I can survive on my own. The hardest part for me is mental. I get bored by myself and start to hear things that aren’t really there. So I bring a book and listen to music in my downtime. 

What have been the most influential hiking books, podcasts, or people?

One of the best books I own is called “Hiking from Here to WOW: Utah Canyon Country” by Kathy & Craig Copeland. I have used it more times than I can count since I’ve lived in Utah. It consists of very detailed information for the best route to take for certain trails in Utah, mostly in Southern Utah.

This book has enabled me to explore trails I would otherwise never think of venturing out on. Their mileage and points of interest are spot on, and I feel confident going into an adventure using their guide. 

Where’s your next adventure?

I typically lay low during the winter months, staying close to home to backcountry ski, xc ski, and snowshoe. Typically, my first trip of the year begins in Spring with a trip to Southern Utah.

After 4-5 months of cold, dark winters, I am ready to seek the sun and explore the desert. Spring is one of the best times to visit Southern Utah because the temperatures are cool enough yet the shining sun feels so good on my face.

Nights are still cool and the streams are running with plenty of water to filter from. This Spring I will be headed to Kane Gulch, which is apart of the Bears Ears area. It will be 25 miles point to point with petroglyphs and ruins from more than 800 years ago. 

Where can others learn more about you?

You can follow me on my blog (, as well as Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook under @girlonahike

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