Learning to hike alone in the Swiss Alps – with Soninke Combrinck
Wow. Today, we have the pleasure of welcoming Soninke Combrinck on stage in our Wild Women blog. The adventurous woman and hiker sharing her inspiring story about taking on the wilderness – more frankly, the enchanting Swiss alps – all by yourself for the first time ever. Yep, we're speechless, because according to us, it's not just an incredibly brave thing to do, but scary too. Fasten your seatbelts, and get ready.
My first steps into hiking alone were daunting ones. Setting out by myself into an unknown wilderness, with no one else to rely on, is scary. But much like traveling alone, the solitary experience of being alone in the wild is both enriching and liberating.
Similar to traveling by yourself, hiking alone requires plenty of preparation and a pluck of courage. However, there is one big difference: backpacking around Europe is not the same as being in the mountains with nothing but your thoughts and the wild to keep you company.
I moved to Switzerland almost two years ago, and hiking became a big part of my life. Having spent my childhood scampering the semi-arid hills in South Africa, passing time in nature contributes to my sense of place. Being in the presence of vast landscapes has whittled me and moulded me into who I am today.
Now I reside in central Switzerland, nestled in a small town surrounded by hills carpeted in farms and dense forest. The watchful Alps lie ever on the horizon. My heart ached to run through these new mountains and find fresh corners to explore. Having moved here recently and during a pandemic, finding others who shared my thirst for adventure was not easy. So I set off into this unfamiliar landscape alone.
Taking my first solo hiking steps
The biggest obstacle that sits between ourselves and new experiences is our minds. Venturing out alone is an unknown, so naturally, we gravitate to what we know and where we feel comfortable.
The most significant adjustment when hiking solo is self-reliance. I am a social person and rarely do things by myself. Constantly surrounded by siblings and friends, I always had someone else on which to rely.
Hiking alone doesn’t afford me that luxury. I had to learn how to use my camping stove when I wanted coffee or figure out how to navigate in tricky terrain. It was scary at first, but once I completed one or two challenging tasks, I felt unstoppable.
This self-reliance followed me back from the trail into my daily life. I noticed that I adjusted better to my new life abroad and even felt more competent in my work environment. Overall, I felt an improvement in my well-being.
Hiking alone as a way to connect with myself and nature
I like to think that as much as solo hiking is an outward journey, it is mirrored by an inward expedition. Every step outward is a step inward. Once our minds are stilled from the distraction of daily life, thoughts may surface that we do not expect.
This deepening snuck up on me the more time I spent climbing mountains. As much as spending time outside with friends and family is a fun-filled adventure, I begin to crave the solitude that comes with solo hiking. With each walk, I gave myself space to ponder, to notice, and to be. Once my mind is quiet, I feel myself falling into the rhythms of the natural world around me.
There is a sweetness to wandering alone that is intoxicating. It tastes like freedom. Exploring the Swiss Alps alone has granted me a chance to bond with nature intimately. It’s almost elemental. I have the freedom to run through the spring meadows, stay and watch a bird swoop through the sky, or spy a fox on a twilight hunt.
There is a closeness that I develop with nature that I cannot experience in the presence of others. It also nurtures a closer relationship with one's own self.
Preparing for your first solo adventure
If you are nervous about embarking on an adventure alone, start small. When I first began, I didn’t know anything about the dramatic mountainscapes in which I am now at home. Eager to explore, I started with afternoon walks to find my feet.
Soon, these walks began to stretch longer as I ventured into the hills. With each outing, I felt more familiar with my new surroundings. These afternoon meanderings played a significant role in helping me settle here.
I felt my confidence grow each week. I quickly learned what to wear and pack and how to be self-reliant in the mountains. I began to crave those days spent in nature. Amid a global pandemic, these adventures offered me solace.
Where to next?
I’ve scrambled the high alps, strolled in autumnal forests and mustered all my strength for winter hiking in the snow - a first for me as a South African.
And there are so many exciting adventures I look forward to! I dream about hiking in the Slovenian Alps, exploring the fjords of Norway and the fells of Sweden and discovering some of our beautiful landscapes in South Africa.