I love the outdoors. I love majestic mountain ranges and silent forests. I love campfires and beaches and lakes. I love climbing things and I love to explore. However, it turns out that I hate hiking.
It’s Not a New Thing
I knew I hated hiking from a young age. I grew up in Melbourne’s south east, and almost every Saturday, my parents would drag me and my sister out to the 1000 Steps in Ferntree Gully.
Yes, the walk was (and is) beautiful. And yes, I felt satisfied at the top. But was it really worth the effort and the unadulterated despair I felt dragging my little legs up those steps? I wasn’t convinced.
But hiking is a wholesome, outdoor activity, and as someone who loves the outdoors and normally loves a challenge, I felt that hating hiking might somehow make me morally suspect. So I’ve pretended to love hiking, suffering in silence.
Enter Bungonia National Park
Bungonia is a gorgeous place, with excellent camping facilities, great climbing, and an abundance of orb weaver spiders at night. It’s also one of the oldest parks in New South Wales.
I was lured to Bungonia for the climbing. However, my boyfriend neglected to mention that to get to the climbing, we’d need to hike the formidable Red Track. The grade 5 hike’s warnings include:
- Not suitable for inexperienced bushwalkers
- Difficult and steep
- High level of fitness required
- Navigation skills and off-track experience required
- Track is often indistinct and rough with many obstacles
- Strenuous and steep (yes, they tell you it’s steep more than once).
They’re not lying.
The climbing was great, and a lot of the track was beautiful. But the hike out made me question all my life choices that had led me to that point. We were sweaty and thirsty, trudging up a dusty, steep hill, in full sun, for what felt like an eternity.
We saw quite a few other parties that day, and none of them looked like they were having a good time, adding fuel to my suspicion that hiking was actually a giant rort.
I confided to my boyfriend that I actually hated hiking, and we agreed: no more Red Tracks.
But Then, Canyoning
Then during the summer, I was dragged back to Bungonia for a canyoning double-header: two canyons in one weekend.
Canyoning is essentially what it sounds like—traversing down and through a canyon. It does involve a bit of hiking, but to my mind at least, the hiking is incidental to the actual point of canyoning: the main point is the abseiling, swimming, and leaping.
Bungonia has three different canyoning adventures you can embark on, each taking roughly eight to ten hours. We chose to do two of them, to maximise the weekend’s adventure quotient.
The first day of canyoning was amazing. It turns out that canyoning fixes everything that I dislike about hiking. Yes, there’s the requisite trudging, but then, hey, there’s a huge drop to abseil down!
Sweaty from all the walking? Look, there’s a giant pool of water to leap into! Tired? There are plenty of enforced breaks where you might need to set up an abseil, reapply sunscreen, or just enjoy the view.
Canyoning also involves another level of equipment management. You need dry bags to keep food, maps and electronics in. You need to carry rope (a lot of rope), plenty of water, and your gear (harnesses, spare shoes, etc). You need to keep track of all that stuff while abseiling, swimming, and jumping.
And of course, there’s the simple joy of getting to chuck your bags down into the water and jumping down after them.
All of these elements made for a happy and busy day of adventure.
However, for some reason, I didn’t realise two days of canyoning also meant two exits…through the Red Track.
The first canyoning day’s exit was miserable. I dragged myself up the slope trying to be stoic but definitely stopping at least once to cry a little bit out of frustration.
My boyfriend would periodically try to be encouraging, and say annoyingly chipper things like, ‘Already halfway up!’ or ‘Almost there!’, while I told him that he was a lying liar.
A shower, a barbeque, and a few beers later, I was in better spirits and looked back on the day with a bit more positivity.
The second day, I’d mentally prepared for the whole situation. And after perching on a ledge 30 metres from the ground, sliding into a patch of water surrounded by sharp-looking rocks, and burning my palms on some giant boulders that took conducting heat much too seriously, I had no qualms about taking breaks on the hike out exactly when I felt like it.
The result? Well, fewer tears, for one. And although it was still hard, it was almost…enjoyable.
It’s Okay to Not Love Everything — But Hating Things Less is Pretty Good
Canyoning moves at a different pace to hiking, with emphasis on different elements of the journey.
It’s not about how fast you can get from point A to point B, which is what I’d been treating hiking as. Understanding and applying that to hiking made it much more fun.
Here, lovers of hikes will tell me that obviously hiking is not about the destination but about the experience. But I am a slow hiker, and my experience mostly consists of: staring at my feet trying not to trip over; trying to walk faster to keep up; trying to catch my breath so I don’t seem too unfit; and wondering when this hell will finally be over.
After my experience canyoning, I realised that I don’t need to love absolutely everything about the outdoors. And that’s fine! There’s way more to the outdoors than just hiking.
And look, I still kind of hate hiking, but I think of the whole endeavour a little more charitably now. After all, it’s about the experience, not the destination, right?