Kat’s Rules

One of my favorite television shows, NCIS, involves a leader (Leroy Jethro Gibbs) with a set of rules that he uses in his personal and professional life. The origin is explained in season six, episode four, “Heartland.” In the episode, the inspiration for Gibbs’ rules comes from his future wife, Shannon, who explains to him that she is working on having a rule for everything because “everyone needs a code they can live by.” Most of his rules come down to common sense (when the job is done, walk away – rule 11), lived experiences (never trust a woman who doesn’t trust her man – rule 69), and more familiar adages (there is no such thing as coincidence – rule 39). 

As I’ve been hiking more and introducing newer hikers into the alpine world, I’ve started to hear myself echo some ideas over and over. As such, it seems fitting to start my own list of rules for hiking. Some I’ve adopted from others, some are learned through trial and error, and a few have been dreamed up mid-trail when the world is quiet and your thoughts come together in surprising ways. My hope is that this remains a living list I can add to and refine over time, so keep an eye out for updates!

  1. Trust your gut.
  2. Learn to recognize the difference between fear and a gut warning. Fear is natural and a great teacher; a gut warning can be the difference between life and death.
  3. Respect the collective intuition of the group. If one person calls it, we all turn around. 
  4. No one gets left behind. Stay with the group and have a plan if you must separate.
  5. Always tell one other person where the car keys are.
  6. Your crew is your family for that expedition. While you’re out there, nothing is more important than each other.
  7. Always bring plenty of water.
  8. Nothing will ever taste as good as a post-hike burger and fries.
  9. There are routes where you simply cannot fall. Don’t take them if you can’t make this commitment.
  10. Acknowledge discomfort or pain sooner than later and address it as soon as you do.
  11. They’re called the Ten Essentials for a reason. Bring them.
  12. The trip you leave it behind is the trip you’ll wish you had it.
  13. Mom was right. Respect the knowledge of those who have traveled this route before.
  14. Be a good steward: pack out more trash than you packed in. 
  15. When you feel like giving up, practice the rule of five: walk five more minutes, scramble five more feet, or take a five minute break, then reassess. Usually the problem won’t seem as insurmountable after five.
  16. The mountain will still be there tomorrow; you can always come back and try again later.
  17. False summits… ugh!
  18. Some days, success will be measured in your ability to keep putting one foot in front of the other. 
  19. Never stop being afraid of heights. Just make sure you don’t get paralyzed by them.