Take A Hike: Our Top Tips For Beginner Hikers

Valerie Loftus speaks to some of the gals leading the trail.

 

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“I grew up at the foot of Slievenamon so we were always up in the woods – as kids, it was like our back yard,” says foodie and author Roz Purcell. “But I guess in the past four years, I started to hike more consistently and remembered why I loved it so much growing up as an escape for work and stress. I like detaching myself from the chaos and getting time out in nature. It’s probably the longest time I’m off my phone, too.”

Roz is one of a growing number of Irish women finding solace in Ireland’s considerably beautiful and often under-appreciated landscape – her Instagram is full of stunning photos of mountains, forests, and lakes. After seeing some followers mourning the fact that they had no one to go hiking with, she decided to invite them along with her, forming a group called The Hike Life that now hosts walks all over the country. “So far, we’ve climbed 25 mountains! I team up with a local charity that people can donate to on the day, and we set off with our guides and hope the weather holds up,” she tells us.

“It’s a great morning. I get to meet so many new people, some come solo and make friends, and no one’s on their phones except for a snap at the top, maybe.”

 

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So why are Irish women flocking to the mountains in their droves? You could be cynical and say “Because it looks great on Instagram”, but that would be facile. The popularity of hiking is a direct response to the pressures of life in 2020 – it’s a way to decompress after a busy week, get some exercise that isn’t tied to how you look, and reconnect with nature. It’s also a great way to look after your mental health, something seasoned hiker Mel McDermott discovered for herself after leaving a stressful job in London.“I came back to Ireland and I was basically in recovery for a couple of years. I was put on medication, and I don’t know if you know anything about anti-depressants but you don’t feel anything. You don’t feel pure happiness, you don’t feel pure sadness, you’re just kind of coasting along. I remember being like, this isn’t okay for me,” she tells STELLAR.

At a loss for what to do next, Mel took up photography, falling in love with the idea of being a nature photographer. She joined a hiking group and got out into mountains, but felt that the scene was male-dominated and more focused on “getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible” than taking in the beauty of the journey itself. “That’s the sweet spot for me,” she says. “Getting out in nature is all about taking time to be present and take it all in.” Figuring that she knew some trails pretty well at this point, Mel decided to do a course in Mountain Skills and lead her first hike: “I put it up on Facebook, got a friend of mine to do a logo, and 30 women signed up to the first hike.” And just like that, the female-led hiking group Galz Gone Wild (galzgonewild.com) was born.

 

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There’s now a Galz hike every weekend, and keeping it all running is Mel’s full-time job. They’ve started offering a Mountain Skills course for women who want to lead themselves, and have plans to set up a training programmme to get new guides in new locations all around the country. Mel sees the hikes as a way for women to reconnect not just with nature, but with each other. “We’re just a bunch of everyday gals that are trying to encourage other everyday gals to get out in nature in a non-competitive, supportive community,” she explains. “You’re more than welcome to do it with a friend, but we think that you benefit more from signing up solo. If you’ve got a friend there you tend to want to stay with your buddy and not really venture out with other people. We get everyone to talk to someone they haven’t spoken to yet, we do some mindfulness, we even do some tree hugging! A lot happens in between points A and B.”

In a world of last minute cancellations and constant notifications demanding your attention, where you can ‘watch’ a film while simultaneously scrolling through your phone, hiking requires focus. It requires commitment. If you want to reach that peak or jump into that lake, you have to put your mind (and your back) into it. And yes, while the photos are indeed gorgeous on Instagram, that’s not all that is achieved. A good hike can feel like a giant reset button for a brain nearing burnout.

“I think people are making their mental and physical wellness a priority. I’m always, always trying to communicate with the girls the importance of self-care and self-love and giving yourself the time that you need for your mental health, physical health,”

She hasn’t been leading hikes for a while, busy as she is with running the business side of things, but every time she ventures out again she’s “blown away” by the women who show up to hike. “These women are open to meeting new people, they’re willing to say yes to whatever it is they have to do… It’s just a fantastic bunch of women, and I feel very grateful that these are the type of people that our hikes attract.”

 

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Roz’s top hiking tips

Start where you are fitness-wise.

Nothing will turn you off something more than throwing yourself in at the deep end. There are fantastic beginner hikes all across Ireland that are well marked out. Build on that over time and you’ll enjoy the big hikes! And on that note, most hikes are manageable if you take them at your own pace – no need to rush it.

You’re not cold or wet, you’re just not welldressed!

If you’re serious about getting into hiking and you like it, invest in proper gear. That counts for hiking boots too, please don’t be that person in casual runners going up a mountain. Wet, cold feet are not fun!

Join a hiking/walking group.

There are so many fantastic walking groups all over the country that go out every single weekend – they can show you all the routes in your area, give you that accountability to go out on a wet Sunday morning, and offer great tips. Perfect for someone who is nervous about getting lost or worried about safety.

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