Women in the Outdoors Series: Kara Swenson
Q: You are such an outdoors enthusiast! Where did that love for the outdoors come from?
A: I grew up in WA state and had a mini evergreen forest in my backyard. It was normal to spend my days with my brothers, outdoors covered in mud. I always preferred outside to inside. When I went to university, I happened to be near one of the premier waterfall hikes in Oregon. I hiked the trail as a freshman, and fell in love. I realized there was no stress, or drama or expectation in the woods. You just had to B-E. And I was sold. I've been hiking every weekend I can get out since, and it's been over 10 years :)
Q: What have you learned about yourself/the world by choosing to solo hike as a woman?
A: I think there are many misconceptions about female solo hikers. Women are MADE for the woods. Our bodies have natural fat to keep us warm, strong and beastly quad muscles to carry us up mountains. I know more female hikers than male hikers. But the truth is, the world isn't created equally. Women have to be more aware and diligent when solo hiking. I've written a blog, actually, on how to safely and effectively hike as a solo female "Women in the Wild: A Guide on Mountain Safety for Female Solo Hikers." It has everything I've learned over the years. I'm grateful that in the many years I've been solo hiking, I've never had a bad experience. However, that's because I listen to my gut and am an expert at solo hiking. As we all can be, if we take the time to train and learn. There's nothing like being on a mountain alone. Just you and the wildlife. There's no other feeling like it!
Q: What was the first hike you did alone? Was it that hike that ignited your passion for solo hiking?
A: Yes! The first time I went alone I was addicted. I learned to solo hike in Austin, Texas, where we lived prior to Colorado. There was a 4 mile wooded trail there with a river. It was not well known so there was barely ever anyone else there. I brought my husband, we did the trail. Then the next week I went alone. And kept going alone every week. When we moved to Colorado I just kept it up! I try to get a solo hike in every week if I can.
Q: Have you ever had hesitations about hiking alone? How did you overcome them?
A: Of course. Always listen to your gut! I've traveled remote trails and felt fine, I've hiked popular trails and had my gut warning go off, so I turned around and went home. I once had the hair on the back of my neck stand on end, then saw fresh cougar prints in the snow. My gut warned me before I saw the prints. That split second when you think something is off or wrong, listen to it. Women have been trained to ignore our instincts, and those are the things that keep us safe. If it feels dangerous, it is.
However, feeling some excitement and anxious jitters are normal for me when I arrive to a trailhead. That's a different feeling than the alarming "turn around." Learn to trust your instincts. They'll keep you safe. I also have a wonderful list of gear I bring to keep myself prepared and safe from weather, animals or bad interactions.
Q: You’ve created an entire guide on how to safely explore as a solo female! So cool! What inspired you to do this?
A: The number one question I get about hiking is how to hike safely as a female. I was writing everyone back individually because I am passionate about women getting outdoors! Then I decided a blog where I organize everything I've learned is needed and necessary. Women need to look out for each other. I am an open book about sharing what I've learned on the trails.
Get Kara's Solo Hiking Guide here.
Q: What’s your favorite piece of advice you would give to other female hikers?
A: GO! Be confident in your badassery! And also know you'll be okay if you're prepared. Don't push yourself past your limits, be honest about your limits, but never be afraid. You were MADE for the mountains!
Q: You mentioned that you are passionate about creating and finding your own adventures without using Instagram hashtags. Tell us more about that.
A: I was hiking for so long before IG or FB existed, it's been hard for me to watch places I love get trampled because of one geotag. I've seen it happen with a handful of my favorite places in CO the last 5 years. Places that used to be quiet on weekends, I now have to arrive by 5 am if I want any chance of parking. Getting outdoors is great, but I see a direct correlation to trash and litter and irresponsible dog owners as a result. People want the "famous IG photo" and don't care about the wildlife they trample to get it. Social media has changed the outdoors community entirely, and I'm still getting used to it. I don't get my hikes from geotags. I get them from good ol' fashioned computer research.
Q: Geotagging locations has been such a big topic of discussion in the outdoor community on social media! What are your thoughts?
A: Def a hot topic! I try not to judge others for geotagging, to each their own. But I never have. Even when I had 200 followers and a private account, I've never been comfortable sharing the trails I frequent. I think people have lost the art of ADVENTURE in place of CONVENIENCE! That's what geotagging has done. I actually prefer when friends don't geotag so I can research and go find the place on my own. If I know the state, I can find it. It's better that way. It creates excitement and a feeling of accomplishment when you finally see the trail/place/spot. Geotagging has done a number on the outdoors, not in a good way. And I don't want to be a part of it. :)
Follow Kara's adventures on Instagram here.
Q: How has sharing your story on Instagram influenced your experience?
A: IG is a wild world! It's a fun hobby! I also don't take it seriously in the sense of it's social media, it won't keep me alive if I'm lost on a mountain. However, I have met some of the coolest people. And made amazing friends through the app. I'm thankful for it. And if I can inspire one badass woman to start hiking, that's what it's about!
Q: You mainly hike in Colorado, what other areas of the country/the world would you love to explore in the future?
A: I like places that are off the beaten path. The more well known they are, the more likely I am to avoid them lol. Travel has been hard to think about given the state of everything, however, we live next to Arizona and Utah, two of the most EPIC states for hiking. Because I live in the mountains, the desert is always intriguing. Next up will be a desert adventure! When the world opens back up, we're going to be making our way to Canada because half our family is in BC. We're lucky to have family that live in the most beautiful places.
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