Hiking is healing: finding peace during the pandemic

View+from+atop+Monkey+Face+Trail%2C+view+of+Horseshoe+Lake+and+the+city+of+Chico

Carrington Power

Monkey Face Loop, Chico, CA, Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022.

The towering red arches of Utah’s Moab desert was the last place I expected to find one of the greatest joys in my life. At first, it was just a quick pit stop on a family vacation. However, it turned out to be so much more. Arches National Park is where I fell in love with hiking. The feeling of accomplishment when I pushed myself to see a stunning sight is all it took for me to experience a newfound peace, a big revelation for a then 16-year-old me who struggled to find hobbies that stuck.

“Delicate Arch, Utah” by szeke is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

The pandemic began during the second semester of my first year in college. I didn’t know what to expect, but I would have never expected it would pan out for almost two years. A small, optimistic part of me hoped it would be over in months and that people were exaggerating the impact of the virus. It took a year for reality to hit me: the pandemic was not close to being over. I was going stir crazy in my room, completing my studies online, when I remembered the happiness hiking brought me. I decided I wanted to get more passionate about the hobby I had once been too busy to pursue.

In the summer of 2020, my family and I took a road trip through Oregon, Washington and Idaho to Glacier National Park in Montana. It felt like a different planet. The waterfalls consisted of clear, blue water. The chipmunks played among the pine trees and the trails as I ate my snacks and basked in the fresh air. In Montana, I realized hiking was a healthy way for me to cope with the effects of the pandemic, especially the lack of exercise. According to the U.S. National Park Service, the physical benefits of hiking include increasing balance and developing stronger muscles, among others. I had to go on more trips before I moved to Chico in less than a year.

I hiked Horsetail Falls, located in Twin Bridges, California, early in August of 2021. It was the most challenging hike I had attempted. Still, struggling to walk up the giant, slippery granite slabs that gained over 1,000 feet in elevation was worth it to see the waterfalls that cascade almost 500 feet down.

For months I once again struggled to get out and hike. I was dealing with pandemic fatigue, exhaustion due to isolation, a feeling found in nearly 75% of participants in a poll done by the Kaiser Family Foundation

I knew hiking was a way to combat the feeling of weariness and burnout I was experiencing. Research shows that hiking has mental benefits, something I had once experienced firsthand. According to a study done at Stanford University, hiking decreases depression.

Fed up with my lack of initiative, I was determined to get out and explore. In January of 2022, I hiked Monkey Face, located in Upper Bidwell Park. I was left breathless from both the climb up the rock formations, and the view of Horseshoe Lake and the city of Chico. Not only did I get to experience a place that was new and unfamiliar to me, but this hike also pulled me out of the rut the pandemic had put me in.

Monkey Face Trail rock formation in Chico, CA
Monkey Face Loop, Chico, CA, Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022.

Hiking is not a cure-all for every problem thrown at you, especially during the pandemic. Yet, it has helped me and millions of others treasure surroundings often taken for granted and allowed me to take much-needed breaths of fresh air. Allocating time to exercise and appreciate all the beauty nature holds improves both happiness and offers a well-deserved break from life’s chaos.

Carrington Power can be reached at [email protected]