December 15, 2013

Elizabeth O'Connor Keeps On Hiking

"Hiking is absolutely the best habit I've ever picked up"  according to Chattanooga hiker Elizabeth O'Connor, a 25-year hiker. Elizabeth's first hike was in the Sierra Nevada Mountains with her work manager after an auditing job in San Francisco.  She was hooked by the stunning scenery. An introvert by nature, Elizabeth feels at ease on the forest trails, and stress from work floats away with every boot step. Elizabeth has Crohn's disease, but hiking has benefited her health immeasurably and helps her to feel more at ease in social situations. 

Although a Florida native, Elizabeth's favorite region for hiking is out west: California, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado. Pictured above in Colorado, "the high mountains never cease to take my breath away" according to Elizabeth. Some of her most priceless memories include the black outlines of a Ponderosa pine bark, the pale brown and sage-colored chapparal, and a building thunderstorm haunting mountain slopes far below her peak-bagging trail. 

Elizabeth's favorite hiking trip is to go backpacking on a new-to-her section of the Appalachian Trail. Elizabeth says backpacking is the adventure of day hiking taken to the next level, and she loves the sense of self reliance.

Pictured above at Point Reyes, California. Elizabeth began backpacking while living in San Francisco when she hiked with the Sierra Club.  She heard others talk about their backpacking trips and thought,  "Wow, I want to do that."

Shown above with husband Chris O'Connor, also an outdoor enthusiast. Elizabeth says backpacking skills are her second proudest accomplishment, but first and foremost is her marriage to Chris.

Elizabeth and Chris blazing a trail in Spain. 

One of two significant hiking experiences was a 2003 climb to Mount Rainier in the state of Washington. Escorted by professional guides, Elizabeth reached the summit on her third attempt.  "I crave adventure and realize that I will slide into foggy slothfulness without it," says Elizabeth.

The second significant experience was a 2004 climb to Mexico's Pico de Orizaba at 18,491 feet.

Taking a rest in the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.  Elizabeth's advice to anyone interested in hiking is to check out the websites of local hiking and outdoor groups.  Look for easy hikes and don't let your worries stand in the way.  "Everyone went on a first hike, and you'll learn from others on the hike."

One of Elizabeth's more memorable hikes was the morning hike down from Mount LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park through the previous night's snowfall, breaking trail while the sun glinted off the soft, untouched snow drifts.

Pictured here at Franconia Ridge, New Hampshire. Elizabeth recommends investing in good hiking gear. Cheap hiking shoes left quarter-sized blisters on her feet, and cotton gloves made her fingers whiten to the edge of frostbite when it began to rain.

While hiking on the Appalachian Trail in preparation for her Mexico hike, Elizabeth realized she needed relationships--the generosity and camaraderie of the hiking community enhanced the experience more than she was willing to admit.  Whether or not she ever bags another peak, Elizabeth says day hiking with friends is at her core. Pictured above with day hikers from the Chattanooga Hiking Club about to embark on Max Patch on the Appalachian Trail.

Elizabeth is President of the Chattanooga Hiking Club and most members will agree she is the strongest and fastest hiker in the club. 

 Matanuska Glacier, Alaska. 

We all should have someone who inspires us to be better at whatever passion we are pursuing.  Elizabeth O'Connor inspires me and I hope she has inspired you, too,  so you can "Keep On Hiking."

(Photographs courtesy of Elizabeth O'Connor) 

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