The evidence that being in nature makes us happier and healthier people is overwhelming. A hike in the woods is a fantastic antidote to ailments of modern life. Man evolved in nature and his senses are still highly attuned to the call of the wild.
It’s tempting and so dang easy to book a luxurious hotel weekend escape with a few clicks online. However, maybe it’s time to consider an excursion that’s a little more exciting and life-affirming than simply driving to a hotel and a night of throwing back libations. You don’t need to trek across the Yukon to reap the psychological and emotional benefits of adventure – a short break will do the trick!
The Proposal – To Go or Not to Go?
A friend of mine recently proposed to stay at his remote cabin for three days – an opportunity too good to resist with only one hitch … the cabin is perched at approximately 6,000 feet, close to the summit of Panaitoliko mountain in central Greece and currently without running water, electricity or road access during winter months – it can only be reached through a combination of hiking and ski touring.
We take the car up the mountain path as far as we can and park off to the side – just shy of the large boulders blocking the way – rockfall brought down in a landslide. My Osprey 34 liter bag is packed with base layers, socks, underwear, mid-layers, windproof pants, sleeping bag, toiletries, headlamp, notebook, book, pen, camera, and enough food for the three days we will be gone . To make matters more interesting, we must affix our touring skis with boots attached to the side of the packs.
Good Things Don’t Come Easy
A five mile journey from the car to the cabin with 2,500 feet of elevation gain lays before us. Snug in down jackets, plus hats and gloves, we set off late in the day, and there isn’t much daylight left before sundown – the possibility of not making it to the cabin before dark and having to navigate up the mountain with headlamps seemed thrilling on second thought.
Even with the backpack a little on the heavy side it feels great to get the body moving. The ascent forces you to breathe a little heavier, and makes your heart pound a little harder, but snappy air soothes the lungs and the nostrils appreciate the fresh pine scent. My eyes soak up the water from the mountain streams like sponges and my ears remain receptive to the sound of rustling leaves and whirling wind. My brain is happy as it actively stitches the positive and invigorating input together – causing a smile to sweep across my face.
The scenery is grand and my mind lets go of the world behind while immersing itself in this new current reality. The weight of pack no longer seems a nuisance, and any worries I had before, evaporate. Vacation mode sinks in as we enter a zone before time – exercise, play and discover, all at once.
We arrive at the snowline after about two hours of hiking. The snow is too deep to trudge through without difficulty, thus, we swap our hiking shoes for skis and skins and continue gliding up the mountainside taking notice of wolf and fox tracks along the way! Finally, after three hours of continuous climbing we reach the small plateau near the top and are rewarded with a breathtaking sunset over the Agrinio valley below. Snow clouds are swirling above our heads and night nearly upon us when we find the cabin nestled nicely at the forest’s edge.
Important Things First – Water, Hot Cocoa & Food!
We make griddled eggs and bacon and sip steaming cups of coffee in the mornings – compliments of the red-hot woodstove. After gobbling down breakfast, we head out into the wilderness on skis each day to tour and explore the area: topping out at multiple summits, snapping lots of photos and using dérapage to descend steep and icy mountain sides.
Reap the Natural and Free Rewards
With electronic devices left at home and no service anyway, daily chores don’t include checking in on social media, but, instead, consist of gathering wood and collecting water from a nearby spring that isn’t frozen. We share stories and laugh in the midst of quiet and solitude with ample time to read, write, and stare meditatively at the fire. An owl, settled on branches above the roof, hoots us to bed at night under a starry sky. Our bodies reset as circadian rhythm takes over – it’s an exciting, restful and rejuvenating three days.
Doing this kind of trip under your own power and effort provides a real sense of pride and accomplishment; man is wildly capable of more things than he gives himself credit for. If you are unsure of your ability or if you lack the confidence to plan and prepare such an outing, hire a local guide for help. There are a myriad of hike-in cabins and hut-to-hut ski tours throughout the United States and Canada offering all levels of comfort and service – so even if going bare bones isn’t your thing, you can carry less and still reap the benefits of an off-the-beaten-path, adventure in nature.