As the days get longer and the weather gets warmers we know summer is just around the corner. This is the sign that hiking season is in full swing. Thru hikers are starting their journeys up and down both coast and are about to change their lives forever. I am jealous of these individuals. As I sit in my cubicle working through financial statements, I am left her dreaming of being out on trail with them. This has caused me to read more and more about through hiking and its culture. One of the most interesting parts of the hiking culture has to be their traditions.
Each Triple Crown hike (Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide) has its own tradition. These traditions are based on the environments and areas where the trails are located. These include stopping at Hiker’s Heaven on the PCT and mooning the Cog Railroad on the AT. These hikes however share a similar culture, including some traditions.
One of the most popular traditions thru hikers have is having a trail names. These names are usually given to you by another thru hiker by can be self-created. Trail names originated on the AT by Earl Shaffer, who dubbed himself “The Crazy One.” It did not however become popular until the 1985. There are two theories on how and why trail names were created. The factual theory states it was a way to stay safe on trail and protect your personal life. The second and more profound theory looks at trail names as a symbol of leaving your old self behind and being born again while on trail.
Another popular tradition is carrying a stone from one terminus to the other. This is a symbolic tradition. For most it represents a little piece of yourself that you leave on the trail. I have a similar tradition of my own. On every hike that I go on that involves climbing a peak I pick up a small rock before starting the hike, leave it at the top of the mountain, and pick up another before heading back down. For me, this represents the person I was prior to the hike and whom I leave behind to become who the person I am today. I have a collection of small rocks from my hikes on my desk that represent the many stepping stones that have made me who I am today.
The final tradition I want to talk about is the most eye boggling for society. This tradition involves a lack of cloths and happens every year on the Summer Solstice. Hiking naked once a year is a tradition that started on the AT and has made its way out west. This is a sense of freedom that you feel while on trail and in our natural element. Day hikers should be warn before going out on this day especially with children. I first came across this tradition last year while hiking on the PCT near Lake Tahoe. At was first it shocking to see but after talking to the hikers it is now a tradition I want to be a part of.
These are only a few of the traditions seen in the through hiking culture. As I become more a part of the culture I hope to learn and experience more of them. Please share in the comment below traditions you have and let us know if you are brave enough to hike naked.
Photos are attributed Appalachian Trials