Outdoors

Carolyn Burkhart has walked in Cheryl Strayed’s boots

Carolyn Burkhart would like to meet Cheryl Strayed.

The Lakebay resident thinks the two of them have plenty in common. The best link being the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail.

Burkhart, now 59, made the trek on her own in 1976 as a 20-year-old. She is credited with being the first woman to do the solo hike from south to north.

Strayed hiked the most of the trail in 1995. Strayed, then 26, took on the challenge trail in an attempt to regain her sense of self after the death of her mother and getting a divorce.

Strayed’s book on her adventures, “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail,” became a best-seller in 2012. The movie, starring Reese Witherspoon, hit the big screen across the nation this weekend.

“I so want to meet her. I would want to talk about how the experiences we had were similar and different,” Burkhart said. “I didn’t go because of my mother’s situation, and I had much more (hiking) experience. Yet the ways of dealing with people on the trail and problem solving are something we would have in common,” she said.

Burkhart, considering writing a book herself, said she admires Strayed.

“I like how she had the guts to explain how she felt. It’s not easy, especially for a woman,” Burkhart said.

REVISITING HER JOURNEY

With the release of the book and movie, Burkhart has been getting some renewed media attention. She also has been reliving her journey, spending time recently rereading the journal she kept during her trek.

A trip to Europe this summer also helped Burkhart discover from where her passion for hiking came.

Burkhart had the chance to visit the family farm near the villages of Mael and Miland in Norway, about 70 miles west of Oslo.

“I found that women, for generations, would go into the backcountry with the sheep and goats, and the children, to the high plateau,” she said. “They would go without the men. I found out it’s in my blood. It gave me shivers to find out about that.”

That hiking heritage was tapped when Burkhart was young. Her mother began taking her on hikes at Mount Rainier National Park when Burkhart was 3 years old. By the time she was 10, she was eager to begin backpacking a climbing.

As soon as she turned 14, Burkhart took the Mountaineers’ basic climbing course. Soon after that, Burkhart was climbing to the pre-eruption summit of Mount St. Helens.

Getting her driver’s license meant she could start hiking on her own.

Burkhart’s sense of adventure and self reliance grew after she spent time while attending high school at Charles Wright Academy living with an Eskimo family in Alaska.

At age 19, Burkhart found herself stationed at Stehekin, at the remote head of Lake Chelan. She was working as a seasonal interpretive ranger at North Cascades National Park.

“I was known as the wanderer who went far and wide,” Burkhart said. “I had already done a lot of hiking on the PCT. By the end of the summer, I decided I wanted to hike the PCT.

“When I was younger, I wanted to see all the national parks on the West Coast. Then a light went off in my head that there is a trail that goes through many of those parks.”

While Strayed writes that she discovered herself on the trail, Burkhart says her six blister-filled months carrying a 50-pound pack on the trail affirmed who she was.

“It’s a grounding and a sense of connection within the wilderness,” she said. “It is something deeply rooted within myself. My mother brought that out in me with backpacking.”

NOW A TRAIL ANGEL

For years after, hiking and the PCT have played major roles in Burkhart’s life.

She shared a story when her marriage became difficult and she suffered a stroke.

“I was able to recover on the trail,” she said. “I was able to ground myself. It gave me the strength to get out of the marriage.”

Five years ago, Burkhart met her partner, Judith Moore, on the PCT in the Goat Rocks area.

Always appreciative of what the trail has given her, Burkhart continues to give back.

She often attends the annual Pacific Crest Trail season kickoff during the last weekend in April at Lake Morena County Park in California, leading discussions with women hikers.

Earlier this fall, she and Moore opened Ravensong’s Roost in Mazama — the name is Burkhart’s trail name. It is a place where hikers can rest, allowing Burkhart to play the role of trail angel. It offers hikers a dry place to spend the night, get some trail info, supplies from town and share stories with the pioneering Burkhart.

Burkhart also gives presentations, mostly on hiking with children, and serves on the board of directors of the western branch of the American Long Distance Hikers Association.

With the release of Strayed’s book, and now the movie, Burkhart said she has seen more people on the trail. The Pacific Crest Trail Association estimates 700-800 people attempt a thru hike each year, and 60 percent of those are successful.

Burkhart is happiest when she sees families on the trail or coming through Ravensong’s Roost. It reminds her childhood.

“I loved hiking with my mother, it was some of my best memories,” she said. “Now, when I see families, I see the love of the mountains being passed down to another generation.”

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