How a Difficult Snowshoe Hike Makes You More Resilient

As I wearily dig my snowshoed foot out of thigh-deep snow, I look up. All I see is a tree-covered hill of more deep snow. I can’t see how far I still have to go to reach the peak. The mountain is too steep. But, I take another step, and as I break the thin crust of snow, I sink again up to my thigh.

I look back. I’ve gone 50 metres (~164 ft) in the last thirty minutes. It’s slow-going, leg-shaking, heart-pumping work. After every two or three steps, I rest, trying to put out the fire in my lungs.

The snowshoe hike didn’t start that way. It was one of those perfect mountain days where the sun reflects on the snow giving it a shimmering magical appearance. I was in high spirits, excited to hike a new trail. But then, the mountain grew steeper. Seemingly out of nowhere, the snow got deeper and softer. My enthusiasm waned.

I tell myself, You can quit. Nobody is making you do this. This is supposed to be fun. In reality, this section is the opposite of fun. While nothing is stopping me from quitting (since I was safe otherwise), deep down, I know that it’s not really an option. The feeling of quitting would be much worse and longer-lasting than the temporary burning in my lungs and the shaking in my legs. So I keep going.

snowshoer on trail with Alps in the background

Pushing through the difficult part of the hike was tough, but I kept going. The feeling of quitting would be so much worse than the burning of my legs. Photo: Laurel Robbins

Eventually, I can see over the hill. Much to my relief, the next section is flatter, and I can see further. I feel my depleted energy filling up as if I was a car sputtering along on fumes and am now refueling at a gas station. I take in the breathtaking views of the glacier-covered Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany. From across the valley, it appears that I’m not far below it. My peak can’t be far off.

I continue, my snowshoes now only sinking a few inches, a welcome respite from the deeper, softer snow.

Perspective is a funny thing. I hadn’t given the snow much thought at the beginning of my snowshoe when it was easy, but after the difficult section that I’ve just completed, I’m grateful for the stable snow that holds my body weight and very much aware of it. I’m rejuvenated. I know I’m close. I feel it.

And then I see it, the wooden cross that marks the summit of so many peaks in the Alps. I pick up my pace, my legs feeling light as feathers. I’m mesmerized by the repetitive crunch-crunch sound my snowshoes make with each step.

My hand touches the cross, something I do on every hike and snowshoe to mentally say I did it! I take it all in, in awe of the expansive snow-capped Alps on a perfect sunny day. This is my reward for pushing through, for not giving up.

But the real reward can’t be seen. The reward is knowing that my perseverance has built resilience step-by-step and that it will pay off in so many other ways long after I’m off the mountain.

why hiking is good for you: snowshoer next to cross on mountain summit

I reached the wooden cross, marking the summit, and said, “I did it!” Photo: Laurel Robbins

Lessons in Resiliency

Little did I know how much I’d need that resilience like so many of us have this past year. A month after this hike, COVID hit, resulting in an avalanche of inquiries from my hiking clients. Was their trip still taking place? Was it still safe? Were the borders still open in Europe where they’d be hiking?

I didn’t have the answers to any of these questions, but the lessons from this particular snowshoe hike could certainly provide some guidance.

Metaphorically speaking, I was thigh-deep in snow and sinking with every step and no idea of how long it would take to get out. I took a deep breath and did what I did when I was on the mountain. I took a step, then another slow step, then another. Even though I might not know how far it was to get out of here, I knew that the only way was to keep moving – even if it was slowly on shaky legs.

When the going gets rough, you keep on going, just like you do when you’re snowshoeing. As the poet Robert Frost said, “The only way out is through.” Whether that’s the devastating loss of a job, a business, trying to homeschool while working, you got to keep going.

But just as I’d taken frequent breaks while snowshoeing on the steep section, I reminded myself that when you’re tired, whether it’s physically or mentally, that’s your body telling you that it needs to rest. So I listened to it and took way more breaks than I normally would because I needed to.

When you’re under a lot of pressure, it’s exhausting. So don’t berate yourself when you need a break, or if you need one more often than you normally would, even if you’re up to your eyeballs with stuff to do. Just imagine that you’re snowshoeing up a steep section because, metaphorically, you are.

snowshoer facing camera with mountains (Alps) in the background

When you’re struggling, think back to that snowshoe hike when you pushed through. You can do it! Photo: Laurel Robbins

I also reminded myself of the good times. Just as I’d started the snowshoe hike, happy memorized by the sparkling snow, I’d started my hiking and travel company full of enthusiasm, excited about the prospect of getting more people out hiking on their vacations. That kept me going when my energy was waning.

It’s easy to forget the good times in hard times, but that’s when we need most to remember them. So, take time each day to remember the good stuff, and don’t just think about the hard stuff or how much more you still have to do.

Have I thought about shutting down my business and getting a real job? Yes, but only briefly. I remind myself that just as my burning lungs and shaky legs while snowshoeing were temporary, so is this.

Let’s face it, it sucks when you’re doing through it, but it’s only a small part of the journey, not the entire journey. The oft-quoted “This too shall pass” certainly applies here, and it’s easy to forget when you’re right in the middle of it.

I consistently remind myself to be thankful for the good things that have happened along the way – the incredible clients with who I developed a closer relationship with because of this, the deepening relationships with other entrepreneur friends as we supported each other through this crisis, seeing a long-held dream of writing a book about the impact of hiking on your life taking shape, and the creation of a course that shows people how hiking can help deal with stress.

There’s some pretty good stuff there, just as there was with the difficult snowshoe hike. We just need to make an effort to focus on the good stuff, too, not just all the stuff we don’t like.

And while I’m still not at the metaphorical summit with my hiking/travel business with COVID, I know it’s coming. Just as I knew it was there while snowshoeing, even when I couldn’t see it.

When I finally reach it, the reward is just like when reaching the summit of a difficult snowshoe hike. The real reward won’t be the views. No, it will be something much deeper, something that lasts long after the pandemic is over. The same is true for you too.

Until then, I’ll keep doing difficult snowshoe hikes in search of more thigh-deep snow to continue learning the invaluable lessons it has to teach, and I hope you continue to the same as well.

What about you? What lessons have you learned from your difficult snowshoe outings? How have you applied perseverance and resiliency? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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Snowshoeing For Beginners: The Comprehensive First- Timer’s Guide

About the author

Laurel Robbins

Laurel Robbins is an avid hiker and founder of Monkeys and Mountains Adventure Travel. She’s been featured in BBC Travel, National Geographic, and Forbes. She’s on a mission to help you become the happiest and best versions of yourself through hiking and spending time outdoors. Her new online course Mountains to Mindfulness is available now.

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