While most hikers pay attention to physical training when preparing for a long or strenuous hike, the mental and emotional challenges of hiking can be just as important in one’s ability to complete a difficult trail. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Or so goes the saying. But in reality, knowing when to push through and when to back off is critical on energy-sapping ascents and quad-crushing descents. Here are some tips.

Go slow

Unless you are cross-training, trail-running champion, you are not going to hike up Mount Washington in an hour. So slow down and enjoy the trail. Start out very slowly and find a comfortable pace. Watch your breathing; if it becomes labored, go even slower. As long as you leave early in the day, you will make it to the summit no matter how slowly you go.

Rest when needed

Take a ten minute break to lower the pack off your shoulders, catch your breath, let your muscle recover, re-hydrate, and maybe eat a small snack. Just be careful not to stop moving so long that your muscles begin to tighten up.

Embrace the suck

Yes, it is hard. Yes, your muscles ache. Yes, the pack seems to be getting heavier with every step, and the summit looks as far away as it did half an hour ago. Tomorrow, you will look back on all of these struggles with pride. So don’t fight it; don’t just endure it; embrace it. Accept the unavoidable unpleasantness as part of the experience.

One of the few books dedicated to preparing for and overcoming the mental challenges of hiking is Zach Davis’s Appalachian Trials: The Psychological and Emotional Guide to Successfully Thru-Hiking. While the book is specifically about preparing for a long distance hike, many of his tips apply equally to arduous day hikes, especially for beginners.

Further reading on Mount Washington day hikes

Looking for more information about day hiking Mount Washington? Here are some pages to check out.

Learn about our annual Mount Washington HIKE for Mental Health

Interested in joining a great hike, for a great cause? Learn about HIKE for Mental Health's annual Summit Mount Washington day hike.


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