31 Comments

  1. dmitriy
    dmitriy November 11, 2014 at 5:59 am

    Ray,

    a bit off topic, but I was wondering where in hawaii you hiked? I am going to be in Kauai Island in december for about 8 days and I was looking for a few good hikes. leading to awesome views ( bonus points for waterfalls) that are around 4-5 hours in total.
    thank you.
    p.s.
    i bought your book a few months ago as a prep for my JMT hike in august and it has been invaluable.

  2. Allison
    Allison November 11, 2014 at 6:16 am

    Interesting post, Ray. As a woman I’m often told how I’m supposed to feel or act on the trail by others who aren’t hikers. I get questions like, “are you going to carry a gun?” or “what if you meet someone dangerous?” I am often asked if I’m afraid hiking alone. I don’t know many guys who get bombarded by these sorts of questions. For solo women who do their fair share of hiking alone, there is a sense of ease and freedom felt by being in the woods. For those starting out, though, it’s easy for others to get inside your head. I think many women who decide to hike the JMT solo (or even just without a man) tend to be more confident or have done enough solo hiking that they’ve gotten over these fears. It’s a shame that so many women are taught to be fearful in the woods when it’s actually much safer than being in a city alone.

  3. geekgirl
    geekgirl November 11, 2014 at 7:28 am

    Being female, maybe I can help understand this mindset a bit.

    Like you said, you don’t run into this on the John Muir Trail. I personally, think it’s a matter of environment.

    The women who are hiking the JMT, are avid, regular hikers. They know the camaraderie and fellowship that occurs on a long distance trail, and are apt to feel comfortable in that environment, particularly knowing that other people on the trail are avid hikers as well.

    On other trails, particularly in more populated areas, women have some reason to be cautious. First, you are more apt to run into women who are hiking the mountain as a workout and may not have the hiker mindset, but also, they are in an environment where they are more likely to run into someone who is apt to do them harm.

    I can only speak for my neck of the woods, but in Southern California, there have been several reports of women being assaulted on the trail. Trails which are somewhat hidden, yet easily accessible, can sometimes be magnets for people who are up to no good. Just this week, a man was murdered on a very popular (yet partially hidden) trail in a heavily populated area.

    The JMT, mostly due to the remoteness, is often frequented only by people who love hiking. You’re not going to get a rapist who is willing to walk 20 miles with a heavy pack just to harass women! LOL. So I think women find they are more comfortable.

    As an example – on the trails around here, you will often find graffiti or gang symbols near the trailheads. Get a couple miles in, and all that disappears, because they are not going to travel a long distance. They stay in the “easier” areas. Consequently, I actually feel much, much safer on a remote trail, than I do in one near a populated area. Even camping, I am far less likely to run into a bunch of drunks who are up to no good, in the backcountry, than in a campground easily accessed by car.

    Does that help explain a bit?

  4. Jill
    Jill November 11, 2014 at 7:43 am

    Speaking also as a woman, it always makes me a bit sad when I hear stories like this. Also thankful because I don’t experience that fear. Sure, I always try to be aware of my surroundings but, like Allison says, there’s much more to fear in the city than out in nature. I always feel free and at peace on the trail. Maybe it’s because I’ve met nothing but nice people in my experience of the wilderness? Maybe it’s because I’m a 5’11” amazon woman with no history of abuse? Not sure. Either way, I can’t help but feel sorry for those women who do fear.

    That’s a fun point about people asking if I plan to take a gun on my JMT hike next summer. Just a few weeks ago I told one of the supervisors at work (I work for Customs) about my plans and he immediately said something about taking a weapon. I basically just smiled and nodded. I guess I will be, if you count hiking poles and a knife/Gerber tool weapons.

  5. Marie
    Marie November 11, 2014 at 8:00 am

    I was much more wary on my training hikes in the city than my JMT hike for all the reasons already listed.
    Sure, it might just SEEM like it’s more dangerous, but I have no desire to be the statistic. That said, I also didn’t get overly worried about it. I got some looks on my “urban hikes” when I couldn’t get out of the city so trained on the streets with my pack on 🙂 I think I looked like the dangerous ones in those cases! But it is a different breed of person out on the remote trails than on local ones, be it workouts or creepers or whatever, the perspective is different and I think that makes women more cautious. In your example, I think that woman was an exception, but still disappointing to hear. I, personally, would love to run into you on the trail

  6. John Ladd
    John Ladd November 11, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    17% of the women who answered the 2014 JMT Hiker Survey said that they had some version of a “creepy men” problem, but 2/3rds of them considered the problem minimal (1 on a severity ranking scale of 1 to 5). Once the survey closes, I can give a better analysis of this problem. But 17% is enough that it’s not surprising that women have their creep radar set to a finer setting than a man needs to.

  7. Shoshanah
    Shoshanah November 11, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    I agree with the comments about easily accessible training hike areas…the more “non-hiker” people, the more potential for danger. Also, the younger generation of women who are starting to venture out in their own, made infinitely more popular since “Wild,” is the generation that has grown up with ‘stranger danger’ since birth, school shootings, media that is constantly available (not just at 5 & 6:00), 9/11, war and ‘prepping’ for the end of it all. They have been taught to be on constant guard against predators and most have learned that lesson well. My daughter, age 26, freaks out more than anyone when I go out alone and it makes me sad. There is a happy medium between adventure and safety and my hope is that more young people find it. In a strange way, perhaps your encounter with this girl was helpful in showing her that not all men out in the world are to be feared. Most are just out for a hike, like she is

  8. geekgirl
    geekgirl November 12, 2014 at 2:10 am

    Shoshanah makes an excellent point, particularly about teaching children about “stranger danger”.

    On a final note – I always go backpacking alone (my husband will not backpack), and if anything, the men I meet seem to want to look out for me. Maybe it’s because I’m a “50 something” grandma, but they always ask me, “aren’t you afraid to backpack alone out here? Your husband is ok with you doing this?”

    I have never been afraid to backpack alone. Maybe it’s because my ex taught Aikido at the Police Academy, and taught me some moves (a fist to the adam’s apple will disable any man)….or maybe I just feel that hikers are a more trustworthy breed, but I have never felt threatened at all. If anything, I have developed some amazing friendships with men of all ages, who I met backpacking. Once the men see I know what I am doing and can take care of myself, (and they see I can build a fire even when it’s raining) they then tend to see me as an equal, but it always cracks me up when they ask if my husband is ok with it. They always seem to laugh when I explain that I don’t exactly ask for permission!

  9. Amanda
    Amanda November 12, 2014 at 8:07 am

    I hike, daily, and encounter plenty of men when I hike.
    I am always the one to say hello first with a cheerful “Good Morning!” from a ways off, to set the tone, and I usually always receive a friendly hello, wave or cheer back.
    In my 37 years, I’ve only had one threatening male ever not respond and continue towards me aggressively without saying something (and that was on a morning walk in a public park in Brooklyn). I had enough time to react, in kind.
    Every other person I’ve ever met as a daily hiker/walker has been kind.

  10. René
    René November 12, 2014 at 11:08 am

    Living next to the mountains, I do some form of hiking/trail running almost daily and backpacking several times each year.

    Generally, I feel safe but do stay aware and take along a few things that make me feel more prepared for adversity, man, wild animal or injury. The first is having one or two of my dogs along. I don’t know how helpful they would really be in a bind, but they are good company and I feel that an iffy individual would think about their presence before acting. I also am starting to carry a small can of pepper spray and keep it in a handy spot on my pack strap and close by in the tent at night. The people are generally friendly, but we also have bears, cougars and wolverines in the area who might not want to be such good company.

    The other thing I am starting to carry more often is a SPOT locator. This serves multiple purposes such as checking in daily with my husband back home. I can also press a button so he can track me if I’m hiking through tricky terrain or press another button to serve as a call for rescue if injured.

    This year I’ve become involved with our local Search and Rescue group and there were a few call outs where it would be helpful to know the location of the subject and even if he/she was ok and just staying out for another night.

  11. Raye
    Raye November 13, 2014 at 8:05 am

    My question is why do you care what or why a women didn’t want to speak to you on a day hike?? It seems to me that you are self absorbed and taking this experience personally. Not everyone wants to chat on trails with strangers.

    Honestly, it’s sad that you would post this on the internet and make it about you. Women are normally looked at negatively in society and in the media. If they are chatty they are flittering or too friendly. If they are quit or stern they are not friendly. You’re perpetuating the negative image of women.

    From a psychological perspective it’s seems that your narcissistic and self absorbed, especially saying I “considered to do……or do that….”

    Raye

  12. Heather
    Heather November 13, 2014 at 8:36 pm

    Ray-

    My sister(36) & I (42) backpacked the trail from Devil’s PostPile to Curry Village last summer. We had never backpacked previously. It went fabulously well (your book was immensely helpful), and we were amazed at how helpful, generous, and friendly people were.

    It was so good, I did a 2 night, 3 day on my own from Agnew Meadow to 100 Islands Lake (via the PCT), to Lake Ediza (via the JMT), back to Agnew (via the River/Shadow trail) a month later – ON MY OWN. It went great, and the two men I met at 1000 Island Lake couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful. Not one ounce of creepiness.

    It makes me believe that the creepiness we encounter in “civilization” is perhaps due to being too far removed from Mother Nature. Mother Nature will take care of her girls, just as we will take good care of her.

    Great blog, great post, and I look forward to your posts every week.

    Aloha!
    Heather

  13. Heather
    Heather November 13, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    By the way, I love talking to strangers on the trail. I find it odd when people look at me strangely or refuse to engage.

    Hike your hike, right?

  14. vireyda
    vireyda January 28, 2015 at 6:19 am

    Hey Ray,

    I read your story with a good bit of sympathy for both parties. As a survivor of sexual assault I had moments like this going to a grocery store slightly further from my home, let alone when I began hiking again. Your response of doing your best not to look back at her and not chasing on after her to assure her you were not threatening her were spot on. I’m so glad you did your best to treat her normally and politely, as in the long run those sorts of encounters will help her build her confidence and feeling of security.

    The increase in situations like this I think arise from there being more women venturing out on their own. It’s a good think I think, but there are an awful lot of women who have had very bad experiences sometime in their life, and it may color their responses until they settle in. Don’t take it personally, and thanks for the lovely blog.

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