I Stopped Hiking The Pacific Crest Trail Because of Toxic Masculinity and I Finally Wrote An Essay About It

I’ve left this blog dormant for so many months and I have so many things I’d like to write and publish here, eventually, but today I’m updating for a very specific and singular reason, and that is to talk about toxic masculinity in the long distance hiking community!

When I got off the trail last year I was both vague and transparent about what was happening. Every day since leaving the PCT I’ve thought about writing a version of this essay, but honestly I felt way too nervous to speak this truth.

Eight months later, I’m still nervous. But it’s time.


Here’s an excerpt from the full piece, Why I Got Off the Pacific Crest Trail After 454 Miles Instead of Walking All the Way to Canada:

This is how it goes: I’m huffing and puffing my way up a steep incline. We’re gaining almost 3,000 feet of elevation in just 4 miles, the next water source is (probably, hopefully) one mile away, and my pack weighs 30 pounds, heavy with food I’ve packed out of town. I’ve hiked a couple of miles so far and plan to hike ten more before I set up camp to go to sleep. Other hikers keep passing me; some have smaller packs, some have larger packs. I stop to take a sip from my water bottle and a tall man approaches me, bounding up the trail effortlessly. He pauses to take a break too. “What day did you start hiking?” he asks me. Everyone always asks this question. What it really means: how fast or how slow are you traveling? Did I start before you and now we’re in the same place? Am I better than you are? Maybe he’ll ask some other questions, seemingly innocuous but designed to make one feel less than. “How many miles are you doing today?” “What time did you wake up?” “Are you walking all the way to Canada or are you just a section hiker?” These questions are baked into long distance hiking culture. No one questions why they’re asked or what they mean. Folks just wanna know, so they can put themselves on a roster and decide where they belong when it comes to being a “successful” hiker.

You can read my full essay on Autostraddle.

I have immense gratitude to my editors, for letting me tell this story, to my partner Alley, for holding me up as I experienced this culture in real time and for being my biggest champion always, to the badass adventure women who took part in the Endless Summer Winter Coastal Writer’s Retreat last month for helping me stay brave and for creating a space that allowed me to finally fucking write this essay, and to every single hiker who has messaged me over the past eight months to say me too, I also experienced this, you’re not alone, you’re not crazy, thank you for speaking out, I also want things to change.

I think together maybe we can make things change.

12 thoughts on “I Stopped Hiking The Pacific Crest Trail Because of Toxic Masculinity and I Finally Wrote An Essay About It

  1. johannvdb says:

    Thanks for this Vanessa. I really appreciate your narrative. This toxicity you speak of is invasive and anethetising. We need to constantly name it and thereby nullify it. Johann



  2. nobody '09 says:

    Vanessa, everything you wrote rings so true from what I have seen and experienced as a thru hiker in ’09, as a support person for my daughter’s thru hike in’10, and on multiple big section hikes since then. There is privileged white toxic masculinity. The “i am experiencing freedom” do what I want, super man, manifest destiny attitude. And it’s worse in town when they are drunk. Post Cheryl, ( who I love and respect), the huge influx of AT culture is ruining the PCT. Many of the toxic boys, hiking from bar to next town bar, are AT graduates. One can identify their gait from a long way away- it is the cult of mileage. No interest in plants, or birds, or small town culture. Their know it all attitude and expectation of trail angel hospitality is disgusting. I see it, and I’m a 70 year old hetero male. Nowadays I think the secret to avoiding the AT bro-culture is to walk SOBO. Thank you for saying this out loud. I expect you are going to take some hits for writing this. The patriarchy wants you silent.

  3. Daniel Joseph Jacobs says:

    Thank you for such a great story .I wish i could have read your blogs from the beginning . Yes this is really true about the trail But I call it the BIG BALLS syndrome. As i am not a college graduate and never took to writing and can not figure out how to express myself. I am a married Man going thru troubles in my brain. But have a lot of Gay friends with no problems but i do not like to label anyone as that i just calling them my friends that are PEOPLE. I have read several Blogs and did read Carrot Quinns Blog on PCT2013 Which i enjoyed . This is my first thru hike of great distance. But i feel my accomplishment is MINE and no one else’s People Badger others as they have fear. I do not care if i make 1 mile 10 miles or more i want the same thing you felt on Mount Jaunito. I am going after the BIG BALLS essays with hikers as i do not care how they feel it is how i feel and if i meet anyone and we click then we will have a great time talking about anything we chose. I am partly deaf and never grasp music or any sport as i felt like the outsider. After getting hit and ran over by a truck at 12 years old this re insured any athletic career was gone. Sorry for babbling on . In This world we can not live with our failures as others will jump on it and crush you. i plan on Facebooking my adventure and would be proud for you to follow and in Oregon would love to shake you hand. You Have accomplished a lot within yourself and that will always be with you just turn your thoughts to what was great about ever step you took. Thank You Again . Daniel ( Johnnie Walker ) Jacobs

  4. solargrrl says:

    This is an important piece of writing. I adore Carrot Quinn and her book, and am on my second listening to the excellent audiobook version of it. I agree with you, it is beyond entertaining and inspirational. Carrot just posted a similar piece of writing regarding the toxic behavior of a well known male member of the long distance hiking community on her website and as sadly expected, another, older woman wrote a scathing post on Carrot’s FB page denouncing her for bringing another male hiker’s bad behavior to light. I hope to do some solo section hiking this summer (2018) of the Colorado Trail, and these words of warning will go with me. If ANYone tries to question me, or spout off with some negative comment, trust me, I will unleash on them. This kind of behavior has gone on too long. It will not be tolerated anymore.

  5. solargrrl says:

    As an addendum, there are some amazing YouTube videos of people getting ready for the ‘Class of 2018’ for both the AT (Appalachian Trail) and the PCT. One I just saw yesterday spoke of this and linked to three articles describing what you have outlined here. Her YouTube channel is: Sydnee Tigert. Her ‘Hiker Intro ‘ to her PCT hike is where she talks about also not putting up with things. The three articles I read, and that she refers to, are under the ‘extras’ arrow just below the video, and to the right. I love that she says “…it’s a really important issue. So pick a side. “

  6. mikey says:

    While I am saddened to hear what is not surprising, I am also deeply inspired by your truth, which is the only thing that will ever change our culture. As a straight white male hiker and climber- who is also a high school English teacher- I am excited to share your writing with my students to further deepen our conversations on toxic masculinity and its for-real impact on people. Silly hollow bros, when will you learn to stop blindly overcompensating for your emotional illiteracy by hurting others. Vanessa, I hope to meet you on a trail someday and appreciate you for, well, being you. Thank you for your words- what a gift!

  7. Emily says:

    i’m sorry the hiker community failed you. I hope you move on and try again. It sucks typing it but hike your own hike. i know i said that to myself tons of times after ignorant comments. if there’s anything positive i got from the negativity, it’s that it gave me tougher skin and more of a backbone than i ever would have had otherwise. great writing & thank you for sharing.
    GoldenChild class of 2010

  8. Jamie says:

    I am sorry that you feel like that. I looked at your blog and saw a lot of positive interactions with men on the PCT. I even saw photos of a man popping your blisters. There are some bad eggs, but most people on the trail are rooting for you. They will even pop your blisters for you.

  9. Dale A Groetsema says:

    I am not a hater. I have not traveled the PCT. I have spent a great deal of time in the outdoors, when I was younger. I am white, male, cis, fat, and old (67). I go to Burning Man and volunteer on the GATE and Exodus (both of which are physically demanding assignments). I find people to be helpful, in a nice way, when I find myself in over my head in terms of physical activity. It has taken me a while to accept that I am getting older and slower and maybe not as strong as I once was.Their comments about my willingness to take on the hard jobs at my age has never been offensive to me.
    Having said all that, I feel your article (I read the full version several times) is an alarmist approach to hiking the PCT for those who are not of the “ideal” characteristics listed above. And, your comment that “conquering mountains” is racist!? You got me on that one. I just don’t see that at all.
    You are a very good writer. You kept my attention for the entire article, you inspired me to think about what you were saying, what you were experiencing and trying to see it from your perspective.
    While you put in a disclaimer to this effect, I do think you are being overly sensitive to people making comments without them being mindful of how the statement would be interpreted. Who cares if someone is quizzing you on how far or fast you travel – that is their hangup, it does not need to be yours. Keep up the good work and I hope you gain more experiences with us privileged white guys that are on a positive note.

  10. Briget says:

    Vanessa, I’m so glad you posted this – kudos to you for your Truth-Telling Guts. I found your blog just as you were about to start your PCT thru-hike and was instantly interested. And I wondered when/why you got off the trail. It was obvious that it was the right decision but I had a feeling that there was a painful backstory (and I don’t mean physically.) Thank you for talking about it now – it’s clear that other women out there can use all the transparency and solidarity they can get. I’m an older (66) white, cis gender female and can only armchair travel now, but I loved getting Out There when I was younger, including several amazing rafting/camping trips and a never to be forgotten hike through the Grand Canyon in 1988. I would LOVE to see a post about your experiences in Europe last summer, and especially about your walk on the Camino with Alley. The Camino has held a special place in my Wish-I-Had dreams ever since I heard about it (maybe 5 years ago?) ANYway – love to you and Alley and everyone out there who is standing tall for the loving inclusion my Generation tried to introduce – when I see things like this online I think maybe we didn’t lose our way during the 80’s as much as I thought we did.

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