The Benefits and Pitfalls of Hiking Challenges

“Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another steppingstone to greatness”. -Oprah Winfrey

Whether it is the 52-Hike Challenge, the City Slicker Challenge or the Six Pack of Peaks Challenge; hiking challenges can motivate you to get outside, beat out any internal demons you may be facing and help you reconnect and re-center yourself with what is important in life. I know plenty of people who have embraced these challenges and who live to tell how their lives have changed for the better. However as humans, we are our biggest critics. We are the first ones to pass judgment on ourselves if we do not summit a certain mountain or complete 52 hikes in a year. The little voices inside us will say “you are not good enough”, “you are not a hiker” or “you do not belong in this community”. 

“Failing” at the Central Oregon Six Pack of Peaks

I recently returned from a 10-day trip to Oregon where we set out to complete the Central Oregon Six Pack of Peaks. To be honest, I did not even know what this entailed but the idea of sleeping in a tent and hiking throughout Oregon with some of my favorite people for 10 days seemed like the perfect trip…oh and Moo was able to come along which was icing on the cake. I soon learned that we would be hiking six peaks around Bend, Oregon…or at least attempting to hike these six peaks. The first day on our agenda consisted of Mt. Bachelor and Tumalo Mountain; both moderate peaks with not a huge amount of elevation or mileage. As I stumbled out of the rented Suburban Sunday morning to make my way to the trailhead of Mt. Bachelor, it began to hail and the dark clouds above us were telling me to get my butt back in the car. I did not have the proper rain gear and I was not in the mood to get beat up by a mountain named “Mt. Bachelor”, no thank you! So Moo and I curled up under a blanket in our rented suburban as we waited for the rest of the group to come back wrecked. After 6 hours, the group came back, hair frozen, pissed off and cold. Unfortunately nobody summited that day for a multitude of reasons but we made our way across the street to take on Tumalo Mountain which was an easy hike, considering we could not see five feet in front of us. After we made it off Tumalo, we found ourselves at a local brewery enjoying all kinds of local brews; I chalked this up to a great day. Mt. Bachelor was officially my first DNS (did not start) and I was happy about my decision; even though many may have seen this as a failure, this was a win in my book. I stayed safe, I stayed dry, I stayed warm and I visited a local brewery. One of the gals in our group felt dejected and felt as though she failed the mountain and failed our group; one of the huge downsides of these hiking challenges. Although she stepped out of her comfort zone, conquered other peaks and had a great time, not summiting Mt. Bachelor made her feel small. Since we are our own worst critics it is easy to compare ourselves to others and to feel as though we let the group down by having to turn back from the summit, when in reality that is always the safest and smartest choice. A couple of the gals in our group went back a few days later to successfully summit Mt. Bachelor in better weather conditions.

Social media can wreck you

It is hard to not scroll through Instagram without seeing “six pack of peaks finisher”, “CSC finisher” or “52 hike challenge finisher” written on an individual’s profile. Although these are great “accomplishments” in the hiking world, successfully completing these challenges does not define you as a person. I know people who have overcome depression by engaging in the 52-hike challenge community; I truly believe it is the community that fosters growth and self-care rather than completing the challenge. I happily engage with these amazing communities and I look up to Karla (the founder of 52-hike challenge), Jeff (the founder of six pack of peaks) but I do not allow myself to feel defeated by a trail, a mountain or a challenge. I do not keep a list of my “hiking accomplishments” nor do I care how many times I climbed a specific peak. So many people feel as though they are failures because they did not reach a summit, did not finish a trail or do not hike as fast as their fellow hiking partners. The fact that you are getting outdoors is an accomplishment in itself. Your “hiking resume” means nothing. Dear fellow hiker, please stop comparing yourself to others, you are not a failure.

Personally, hiking challenges stress me out as I do not like working against a timeline, or comparing myself to others, it is just not who I am. I do not even set New Year’s goals or resolutions and I have always been a “go with the flow” type of person. I truly believe the outdoor community should be a way to get out of your head, have fun, meet like-minded people, breathe in fresh air, and heal yourself from within. The summit and the trail will always be there. You are not a failure but you are your own worst enemy.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Kristen Fuller

Explorer of cliffs, mountains, oceans, and deserts by day and night.