A few years back, my wife and I hiked up Table Mountain during our trip to South Africa. It was an absolutely amazing experience and, without a doubt, the most exhausting hike I’ve ever completed in my life.
Today we decided to complete part of the Appalachian Trail, so we set out for a part of the trail called “Raven Rocks”. The hike is 2.75 miles long (5.5 miles round-trip) with some fantastic scenery and some pretty strenuous trails. The toughest part was the elevation changes, with over 1500 feet of total elevation gain throughout the hike. I had heard that this trail is a good test for beginners to see if their heart is really into hiking.
If you are looking for something fun to do where you are getting a lot of great exercise, I would highly recommend hiking. The goal of the day, in addition to exercising, was to test myself to see if I should keep pursuing this goal or just scrap it. Below is my test criteria, but I would encourage you to go on your own hike and rate yourself too.
Lower Body Strength: This part of the Appalachian is extremely rocky, so the steep ascents and descents really test the strength of your legs. In addition, keeping your ankles stable on uneven terrain is critical. I didn’t really help myself out by wearing normal tennis shoes. Next time I’ll invest in better hiking boots.
Lower Body Strength Grade: B+
Stamina: If you are going to test yourself, test yourself with a hike that is around 100-200% of your normal long run. Usually, I tap out on a run at 3.25 miles, so a 5.5 mile hike (170%) was a pretty good challenge. Elevation change is what really drains your stamina; varying the elevation and terrain is a tough, but worthy trial. To be honest, I think I held up fairly well today. At the end of your hike, if you feel like you still have some decent energy to keep going, you did well (or you didn’t go far enough).
Stamina Grade: A
Upper Body Strength: Not all of hiking is with your lower body, especially if you’re carrying essential items on your back. For me, this meant lunch for me and my wife, plenty of liquids, and my light camera equipment. Multi-day hikes obviously come with even more essentials. I’ve always had back problems, but my workouts in the weight room have improved my upper body strength tremendously.
Upper Body Strength Grade: B+
Pace: Everyone walks at their own pace, but continuing a trail walk at a strong pace can be the difference between making it to a shelter and not. In the harsher climates and weather conditions, this is even more important. Today was a beautiful day (60 degrees and cloudy), so weather didn’t factor into play. We were able to walk 5.5 miles in 3 hours and 30 minutes, and if you strike a few brief pauses and 20 minutes for lunch, I think the pace was pretty solid.
Pace Grade: B+
Equipment: Here’s where I get docked a lot, but this is part of the learning process. Walking poles are important. Well-soled hiking shoes are important. I didn’t really know this when the day started, but seeing the people out there (who knew what they were doing) shed some light on the subject.
Equipment Grade: D
All in all, it was a great day for hiking, and while the hike definitely put me to the test, I think I’m ready for something longer and more challenging. My grades weren’t all A’s today and there are many ways that I can improve and get better. But whether it be a multi-day hike or just a short day trip, if you are getting out there, exercising, and having fun, you’re already improving and getting better.