Hello! Who are you and where are your outdoors roots?
I’m the Katie behind Katie Wanders. I’m a 32 year old outdoorsy New Englander who spends 9 to 5 as an environmental scientist and the hours between as a weekend warrior, cramming as much adventure into a weekend as I can.
Growing up, I was always active and outdoorsy, a tomboy at heart. In my early twenties, I started to collect hobbies like one collects coins and on top of horseback riding and running, I quickly learned to ski and scuba dive. I started to spend my winters torn between ski trips in the mountains or dive trips to the coral reefs.
In 2014 after always feeling that itch to live out west, I packed my U-Haul and drove the 2,300 miles to Utah to work on my master’s degree and to see what “Life Elevated” (Utah’s slogan) was really like. I spent two years studying, hiking, skiing, road tripping, and biking my way into a new part of the country.
Corona Arch, Moab, Utah
If you asked me pre Utah the typical “Oceans or Mountains” question, without hesitation I would have shouted Ocean back at you but Utah opened up a whole new world to me. I fell in love with the mountain ranges and the challenges they brought. It was a whole new experience to be standing on a jagged peak way above the treeline with 360 views all around me.
It was an almost cross-country plane ride away from friends and family and obligations which meant every weekend was free for exploring. In those two years, I covered a lot of the American West and beyond. I packed up the car and went on epic road trips through southern Utah and it’s five National Parks, I snuck away to Vegas for the weekend of sunshine when I got sick of the snow, I headed into the desert for camping trips in Arizona, I spent summer days in Napa and and evenings driving along the California Coast, I hiked through Oregon’s waterfalls and I drank through Denver. My two years out west completely changed my sense of wild and my need for adventure. I was always active and outdoorsy but Utah was where I fell in love with the mountains.
Skiing at Alta Ski Resort in Utah
After graduating with my master’s degree, while the mountains were starting to feel like home, I was nostalgic for New England and I moved back east to be closer to my family and friends, the rugged coastline, and the culture of New England. Settled back in the northeast, I spent two years in one of my favorite coastal towns (Stonington, Connecticut) falling asleep to the sound of the foghorn and walking to my favorite bars, restaurants and breweries with my dog.
After moving every two years for the last ten years and getting out of a long term relationship, I bought my first house in the charming coastal town of Guilford, Connecticut. Picture a big old New England green with weekend events, sailboats and coves, clamming permits and one of hte oldest fairs in the States.
As a single female and first time homeowner (doing it solo!), I learned a whole new type of commitment and adventure. After I signed the mortgage, I started working towards that elusive balance of home ownership, a stable career, balancing my many hobbies and maintaining a social life.
Mountain Biking at Kingdom Trails, Vermont
Unlike my 10 years of rentals, the house required a bit more of a time and financial commitment than I was prepared for. It’s easy to get wrapped up in home projects and the mundane parts of life that keep us centered in one spot but movement and adventure has always been a priority. I have a now nine year old high energy lab/hound mix who pushes me to stay active and hiking has become my favorite way to spend time outdoors with her, even if it’s just the local preserve down the road from home.
My love for hiking started in Utah with the big mountain ranges where I learned to hike these challenging mountains and longer more isolated trails. I started making trail guides on Katie Wanders after inaccurate information found online or even published in trail guides left me unprepared and even lost on hikes.
Hikes along the Housatonic River in Connecticut
Back in Connecticut, those mountain ranges are no longer outside my front door. Weekday hikes are more of a stroll through the trees but since moving back east, I vowed to make the time to head north into the mountains.
I started to go on longer and harder hikes and eventually overnight backpacking trips - falling in love with the notion of carrying everything I need for a weekend on my back, ten miles into the woods. And so, a new hobby made the list, more expensive gear was purchased, and this story from the mountain was born.
What’s your Story From The Mountain?
When I thought of my story from the mountain, two stories jumped to my mind and funny enough, both stories are about a hard hike on a New England mountain, stories of struggles and lessons learned the harder way, my sufferfest if you will. Let’s be honest, the stories where things go wrong are the most fun to tell and some lessons are learned best miles into the woods.
So let me take you back to early-September, loading my pack for the second annual end of summer backpacking trip with my friend Ryan, my third real backpacking trip to date.
We knew we wanted to head into the Whites of New Hampshire so we could both keep working on our NH48 List, (the state of New Hampshire has forty-eight 4,000 footer mountains in the White Mountains and avid hikers make it a goal to stand on each and every one).
Ryan proposed a version of the famous 30+ mile Pemi Loop, a famously tough hike through New Hampshire’s Pemigewasset Wilderness that trail runners do in a day but your average backpacker will do in 3 days. He did the full Pemi Loop just the week before, adding side trails and summits to hike 40 miles in two days (read: Ryan is prepared and in great shape).
Instead, we were going to do the Semi-Pemi loop, hiking the eastern half of the loop (all repeated for him) and instead cutting through the middle to snag one out-of-the-way and not-so-popular peak on the list, Owl's Head, before continuing south and back to the trailhead. I would get a bunch of new peaks for my NH 48 list and he would get the one out of the way peak he needed, happy to repeat some of last weekend's hike for the amazing views and my benefit.
What I forgot to mention to you dear reader, is that this would be my first real hike since the early spring. A CrossFit knee-related injury had me out of work for about 2 months, meaning my cardio was non existent, my running built muscle tone lost, and the risk of re injuring my knee was quite high. So what did I do?
I agreed to go on a strenuous backpacking loop up rocky and steep terrain in the famous White Mountains of New Hampshire. Ryan told me the hike would be somewhere in the early to mid-20s, a challenging distance we covered in last years backpacking trip, a distance that pushed me then. Without ever looking at a map or planning any part of the route, I packed my bags and headed north for a hike that would actually end 38 miles and 7,490' of elevation gained later.
Backpacking in the Whites of New Hampshire with Olive
I’ll spare you all the fine details really, but let me summarize it a bit like this. Day 1 ended with 15.5 miles and 4,201' elevation gained - challenging but manageable and after the first few miles I adjusted to the weight of my far too heavy pack, filled with beer and unnecessary comforting supplies (read alcohol).
After a terrible night’s sleep at a crowded shelter in stormy weather, Day 2 was supposed to be easy as the bulk of the elevation was over and it was just mileage and a few summits to get us back to the car. We started the day in the rain and the clouds, crossing off a few view-less summits that weren’t in the plans to get me a few more peaks on my 48 list before arriving at one of the huts around 7 miles into our day. It was just around noon when I texted my boyfriend Adam of my whereabouts and actually looked at the distances on the map and the clock on my phone.
It didn’t seem right, the numbers were in the double digits. I was cold and tired and the numbers between the ticks along the trails on the map were not what I was expecting. Daylight would only last so long and my legs likely wouldn’t make it that far regardless.
Views from Bond Cliff along the Semi-Pemi Loop in the Whites of New Hampshire
From the hut where we stopped for lunch, we had about 15 miles left before reaching the car. There was no shorter way, there was no plan B, just 15 miles between me and my Mazda CX5. This was all after hiking 15 miles the day before, and 7 miles that day already and if there is one thing I've learned about trails, it is that the mileage is rarely right.
I started to panic. I started to worry if my tired untrained body could hike 15 more miles, I started to worry if we would have enough daylight and what time I would get home after the 4+ hour drive. I sat in my anxiety attacks, knowing at the end of the day, this was my fault and that poor planning was the reason I was spent and 15-miles from my car.
I started doing that thing where you put your head down and hike, focus on one foot in front of the other. I really started to unravel when we hit a section of trail that was less traveled and harder to navigate. We didn’t see a single person on the trail for the first few hours and the dense woods surrounding me below the treeline were suffocating.
Accept you are going to be a beginner and let go of the imposter syndrome.
My old boots were providing zero traction on the wet terrain, my muscles were screaming and my overthinking brain was spiraling. By the time we got to the entrance for Owl’s Head, the only summit Ryan needed, I spoke my truth.
The hike to the summit of Owl’s Head was a scramble up wet slick rocks, 1 mile up and over 1,200’ of elevation gained (one way) just to add a peak to the list. I knew I couldn’t do it. I knew this extra 2 mile jaunt and elevation on more technical terrain before having to hike all those miles out would push me over my physical and mental limits. I decided that missing the only peak he needed, the peak that is a good 10 miles out of the way from any trailhead, was the safest option for me. And worst yet, I wasn’t comfortable with Ryan solo and me continuing on my own with zero cell service, him crossing that slippery terrain, me trying to find my way back, neither of us with cell service. I was already physically and mentally defeated and I couldn’t do it.
And Ryan? Ryan was the rock in this situation. His attitude was unchanged and he understood my needs and my struggles and never for a second made me feel guilty about my decision. He just kept hiking along, cracking a beer when needed, encouraging me to stay calm and keep going. He reminded me that when we got back in the dark it didn’t matter, we had headlights.
We finally got towards the end of the trail and the second I stepped foot on the familiar section I had hiked out the day before, I felt an instant sense of relief. I finally let my guard down and laughed a little, I opened a beer and nearly ran to the car (fine, I hobbled). Once again, mother nature humbled me in a way that’s hard to describe and I learned another important lesson.
Here is what I learned the hard way and I hope you can learn through this story on the mountain. Nothing terrible happened, we made it back okay, but some proper planning and preparation would have made this hike so much better.
You are responsible for your route, for your mileage, for knowing how far and how long you are going and most importantly what your limits are.
You are responsible for planning and for training for whatever adventure you are planning.
I failed - I failed to really sit down with a map and a calculator, I failed to fully understand the endeavor I was about to tackle and comparing these stats with my physical abilities at the time. Where I was lucky, was my choice of a hiking partner. Mine was understanding and patient, he understood my pace and my needs and never for a second made me feel guilty for my lack of training or missing that much needed summit.
He just kept hiking along, cracking a beer when needed, encouraging me to stay calm and keep going. He reminded me that when we got back in the dark it didn’t matter, we had headlights.
I owe Ryan a solid 20 mile day hike in the near future, 18 miles of flat boring trail to hike 2 miles to a remote peak with less than stellar views we had literally passed right by on that day. To be fair, I owe Ryan the courtesy of being a good partner right back. If you want to read the full story of this day on the mountain, you can find my full trip recap and trail guide here and the untold story of my first very unplanned (winter) hike here.
What’s your favorite item in your pack?
My favorite item in my pack is always the food in it.
A sandwich tastes so much better at 10,000 feet and almost anything tastes amazing after a 10 mile hike. I’ve been experimenting with different snacks and food on the trail and it’s always a blast to enjoy some of my favorite foods with a 360 view.
Twizzlers are pure perfection on a trail (and virtually indestructible) and buffalo tuna packets in a wrap makes a simple and satisfying lunch. Homemade granola and neatly stashed apples sliced open on a summit. Traveling outside the realm of mountain house meals makes day hikes and overnight trips a fun culinary challenge.
When it comes to gifting some of my favorite gear, I love to give family and friends a power bank. The one I gift in various sizes is the Anker PowerCore. It is the perfect thing to throw in your bag on a hike or in your purse on the go to make sure you can always have a fully charged cell phone.
These days, our cellphones are our lifelines, they serve as our safety beacon, topographic maps, and even a compass. Having a full battery in the backcountry is a beautiful (and necessary) thing for my comfort when in the woods.
Do you have any advice for other outdoors lovers who are just starting out?
All of my hobbies are uniquely my own. No one in my family was a runner, no one knew how to ski or ever had any desire to ride a horse. None of them had any interest in scuba diving or spending any amount of time in the woods, especially if it involved propelling a bike up a mountain.
What this meant is I was always a beginner. I never had the gear or the guidance, just a passion and a willingness to explore on two wheels, two fins, two skis, or four hooves. My biggest advice to anyone just starting out is to let go of your ego.
You don’t need high end gear or to be the best at anything. Go to your local used sports shop for gear or borrow from a friend. Accept you are going to be a beginner and let go of the imposter syndrome. Do your research and try and try again until this thing that you love becomes a habit you no longer look ridiculous doing.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or people to your outdoors journey?
There are so many amazing accounts of people doing *epic* things out west and for a long time “west” is what I associated with grand scale adventure. The more involved I was in New England recreation, the more I realized there are some pretty awesome people doing these “epic” things right in my backyard.
Two that come to mind are badass females that are hiking, trail running, surfing, paddleboarding, split boarding, and skiing their way across New England mountains and beaches.
Kat Carney (@katcarney) is always posting some amazing adventure in her home state of Rhode Island or something amazing in one of the northeast states. Her inspirational posts always leave me dumbfounded that these places where you can find her rock climbing or paddleboarding exist here in the northeast.
Nicole Handle (@nicolehandel) is always up before dawn, proving you don't need to live in Colorado to go splitboarding before work because Vermont offers up some amazing opportunities to ski with your dogs before sunrise.
There are so many books and podcasts that inspire me to get into the mountains. The Stokecast interviews “outdoor athletes, adventurers, and entrepreneurs who build their lifestyles, careers, and businesses while in pursuit of adventure, purpose, and ultimately, stoke!”
If I want to open a book or watch a movie on Saturday night, I like to find an inspiring “Free Solo” style documentary and I always urge any outdoor lover to read some of my favorites: Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild”, Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air” or Bill Bryson's “A Walk In The Woods”.
Where’s your next adventure?
This year, I have a lot of local trips planned as well as some grand adventures. I try to push people to explore their backyards and that some pretty awesome recreational opportunities likely exist within your zipcode.
I am hoping to continue putting my Ikon Pass to good use with ski trips to Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire. Summer in New England is fleeting and I have plans to visit Nantucket for the first time and sneak away to camp and hike through the Adirondacks of New York and the Whites of New Hampshire. At the end of the summer, I’m heading to Yosemite National Park for the first time and Kauaui, Hawaii to hike and play in the sunshine.
Where can others learn more about you?
If you can’t find my online, you can likely find me on a trail in the northeast, a little more prepared and a whole lot wiser.
Want to share your Story From The Mountain?
Hey, I'm Greg Kamradt, the founder of Terra Mano.
We interview awesome hikers/mountaineers/climbers/photographers and share the stories behind their ambition. By sharing these stories, we want to help others become inspired to reach their goals.
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