Photo Credit: Jaime Hammond

Trust Yourself: Finding Confidence in the Kodiak Backcountry

Alaska has a way of challenging you. No matter how much you prepare and research, she will always find a way to make you change course. That can be a terrifying feeling for some people, especially when you’re alone.

You must trust yourself completely and know that you will find a solution to any obstacle the wild puts in your way.

That’s what I was feeling as I prepared to take on my first solo hike in Alaska. I stood at the trailhead and glanced up at the mountain I was about to climb. I started to feel that drop in my stomach, the feeling you get when you are about to do something a little bit crazy. I had a smile on my face but knew that I was about to walk miles through Kodiak brown bear territory, up a steep and unmarked trail—all alone. I took a deep breath and reminded myself, "I am prepared. I have survival gear in my bag, a full charge on my phone, plenty of water, and bear spray. I have learned about bears my entire life and know what to do if we cross paths." I knew that I would be okay because I trusted myself. So I started hiking.

As I made my way down the trail, I started to get in my groove. I was alert but having a blast, finally getting to that balance of being consciously attentive but relaxed. Going up the mountain was easy, and I gained more confidence with each step.

Finally, I reached the top and was rewarded with a view so precious that I almost didn't take a photograph. I wanted to keep the memory all to myself.

I sat at the summit, staring at the snow-capped mountains beyond the island's rugged coastline. I heard sea lions playing in the water below and saw an eagle gliding above. I was the only human, and I enjoyed every second of it.

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I took one last deep breath, captured a mental picture, and went back to the trailhead to descend, following my tracks back down. The only problem was, I couldn't see the trailhead. There was no sign pointing me in the right direction and no trail markers hanging from tree branches. I could see my tracks, but because of the extreme incline at the summit, I could not see the pathway that would lead me back down. I searched the area for over an hour and still couldn't find the trail. I was stuck.

When you are alone and trapped in the wilderness, you have to trust yourself to remain calm, even as you shift into action mode.

You have no other option. When one solution doesn't work, you have to move on to the next, until you get yourself out of the situation. For me, I realized that retracing my steps wasn’t working. I thought, “Ok, Jaime, you've been doing this for an hour; let’s try something different.” I was able to stay calm, knowing that I had at least six hours of daylight left and plenty of food and water.

I decided to try my hand at navigation. I had prepared for the trip by downloading offline topographic maps on my phone, which I had found incredibly useful on previous hikes. This is a tool that I use for day hikes only. Keeping the maps on my phone saves weight in my pack, but battery life can become an issue for extended or overnight hikes. In this case, I had a fully charged battery and a spare battery pack, so I was good to start reading. I pulled up my location and oriented myself toward the general direction of the trail. I read the topography lines and recognized parts of the terrain that seemed familiar from my ascent. So I followed that direction and came to a small opening of brush and grass, where I found the beginning of the descent trail. I exhaled with relief and grinned. I knew I would find my way back.

This challenge of being stuck on the top of a wild mountain gave me my confidence back.

I learned that I am a lot stronger than I let myself believe. I am intelligent, capable, and determined, and I will come out of this stronger. I am resilient, and the challenges that I face don't cripple me but make my spirit grow. Nature will force you to believe in yourself. I am so thankful that she gave me that gift.


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