Faces is an interview series that will focus on letting you the BPL reader get to know more about people in the outdoor community. Some of the people interviewed may be people that have a relationship in the BPL forums. You can expect content from people that work in the outdoor industry, photographer’s, gear makers, athletes, or bloggers, scientists, and of course backpackers. The goal here is to give you a perspective of these individuals’ lives, backgrounds, and what they currently do. We want to share their thoughts, passions, and the stories that are the most memorable to them with you. This interview will be with Heather “Anish” Anderson who set the self-supported record for the Appalachian Trail on September 24th finishing in 54 days, 7 hours, and 48 minutes. In 2013, she also set the record for the Pacific Crest Trail finishing in 60 days, 17 hours and 12 minutes. She is the only person to ever hold both records simultaneously. She attempted to set the record for the John Muir Trail in 2014, but ultimately fell short. She has a tireless desire to see what she can prove to herself and she cites that as her primary motivation. This interview focuses on her life and what led her to make her life backpacking.
First, I want to ask you some questions about you:
Where are you from and when did you become excited about the outdoors?
I’m originally from Michigan. I did my first hikes at Grand Canyon National Park, but I really truly fell in love with backpacking when I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2003. Although I had no prior backpacking experience, my first journey on the AT set my course in life. By the time I’d traveled 200 miles I knew that there was nothing else I wanted to do in life except be in the outdoors.
Anish on a firetower somewhere along the AT in 2003.
How did you get your trail name?
My great-great grandmother was Anishinaabe which is a Native American people of the upper Midwest. I wanted to honor that part of my heritage and named myself Anishinaabe on the AT in 2003. Other hikers shortened it to Anish.
Next some questions about your long thru-hikes:
How much did you sleep while on the trail? What was your typical daily hiking routine?
On the AT in 2015 I slept between 4 and 5 hours a night. I woke up every day at 4, ate breakfast, packed up camp and was walking by 4:30. I would walk for the next 17-19 hours. Then I would pitch my tent, eat dinner (which was soaked in a Ziploc) and sleep. During the day I ate snacks hourly, reminded by a chime on my watch. I stopped for water every 20 miles or so. Around 6:30pm I would add water to my dinner. Aside from that I seldom stopped.
Morning in the tent.
What were the differences and similarities between your AT and PCT record thru-hikes?
The trails are quite dissimilar and therefore thru-hikes on them are as well. The PCT was characterized by overcoming fear and discovering potential. The AT was characterized by personal growth and self-actualization: being the absolute best hiker I could be each and every day.
Anish on Max Patch.
You were on the trail for 54 days for the AT and 60 days for the PCT by yourself. Did you feel alone? How did you pass the time? Were there times when you’d hike with others?
Sometimes I felt alone, even though there were people around. Oddly, though there were more people on the AT than the PCT, I felt much more solitude on the AT. I think because most people didn’t really stop to interact. They just said hi and hiked on. Most everyone on the PCT wanted to chat.
Passing the time was easy. I was hiking. I don’t really get bored when I’m hiking, especially on the AT. There’s always something going on. The forest is very alive. Chipmunks were an especially lively source of entertainment during the day. At night I was serenaded by owls, which was lovely to listen to. On the times that I did get bored I would listen to music, but never for more than an hour.
I hiked with two other SoBo’s (southbounders) the final few miles of Massachusetts. We all were headed up the climb at the same time. They headed into the Hemlocks Shelter and I continued on into Connecticut that night. I also walked about a mile with a SoBo outside of the Delaware Water Gap. She and I were headed into the same shelter to get water.
Anish with a fellow SoBo near the Hemlocks Shelter in MA. Photo Courtesy Liam Cameron.
What led to the JMT record attempt coming up short? Do you view that attempt as a failure? And how did you get motivated to try for the AT record?
In short, I didn’t succeed with my goals on the JMT in 2014 because of extreme AMS. I wrote a pretty extensive blogpost about it at the time which folks can read here. I don’t perceive anything that you learn from in life as a failure. I learned a lot about myself on the JMT, probably more than I have ever learned in any other endeavor. Therefore, I cherish it as one of the best experiences of my athletic career. Much of what I learned there didn’t really come to light until I was on the AT. Often it takes a separate endeavor to cast light on the lessons of a previous one. Motivation for the AT record was easy. I believed deep down that it was something I had to do for myself.
Extreme AMS on Mather Pass 2014.
What’s your favorite piece of gear? Why? What’s your most used gear item?
My favorite piece(s) of gear have been my ZPacks tents. I used the Hexamid on the PCT and the Soloplex on the AT. I slept in them every night I camped on the trail. They are light, easy to set up, keep the creepy crawlies out, and are well designed. My most used item would be my backpack. I use a Gossamer Gear Gorilla.
Anish at the ATC Center in Harper’s Ferry with her Gorilla..
How do you train to hike 45 miles a day? How active are you when you are off the trail?
As with any thru-hike nothing really trains you to hike all day except hiking all day. That said, any athletic advantage you bring to the trail will make the adjustment easier. Prior to the PCT I was injured (knee) and didn’t run or hike more than about 10-15 miles a week for the 6 months prior. Instead I did a lot of strength training. The adaptive phase (the first 10 days) of the hike was brutal. I started the AT much more fit and the adaptive phase was considerably easier. I am highly active year round. I run ultramarathon distances (although I don’t race much). I mountaineer (my training for the AT was primarily ascending 22 of the highest 100 peaks in Washington state in the 3 months prior, including Rainier). I am also a rock climber and enjoy yoga and weightlifting. I am a personal trainer by profession because being healthy and active is my passion and I enjoy sharing it with others.
Anish climbing Mt. Fernow, the 8th highest peak in Washington, 6 days after finishing her AT FKT hike.
When you hiked the AT which way did you hike? Did you start in Maine or Georgia? What about for The PCT? Why did you pick one direction over the other?
My first hikes of both trails were NoBo (northbound). My fastest known time (FKT) hike on the PCT was also NoBo. My FKT hike on the AT was SoBo (southbound). I chose to go NoBo on the PCT because that afforded the most services, daylight, and coincided with the two snowpacks that year. I chose SoBo on the AT to cover the more technical terrain while I was fresh.
Tell us about your most memorable experience from one of your thru-hikes.
As I crossed yet another bald in North Carolina, I met a bird research team that was capturing, measuring, and banding birds. I stopped and asked about their research and they showed me how they check the migratory birds for body fat and measure their wingspan. Then they asked if I would like to release one of the birds. They showed me the way to hold them and I carefully took a tiny songbird into my hand. I turned to face south along the AT and slowly loosened my grasp.
I felt the power of flight ignite in my palm as she shot down the trail and disappeared.
It was by far one of the most beautiful moments of any of my 5 thru-hikes.
A bald similar to where I met the bird research team.
Have ever faced danger while on the trail?
Plenty of times. I’ve encountered mountain lions face to face while nighthiking. I nearly stepped on a Copperhead on the AT in Virginia this year (also at night). I’ve surprised a sow grizzly and her cubs. I’ve forded rivers that very nearly knocked me over. I’ve been in the advanced stages of hypothermia, saved by my hiking partner. I’ve had handholds blow out on me while scrambling class 4 terrain and fallen. I’ve had lightning strike very close to me while on exposed ridgelines and mountain tops. The list goes on.
Ominous clouds approaching in the Sierra in 2013.
What kind of mindset do you need to be able to push yourself to the limits and accomplish these hikes?
“I will not quit.”
It’s really the exact same mindset it takes to do a thru-hike at any speed. You simply have to determine what it is you must do in order to succeed and do it, no matter what, without fail. And you must not allow yourself to stop doing it until you’re done. Also, I enjoy pushing myself. I’m insatiably curious about what I am physically and mentally capable of.
Anish at the completion of the AT in 2015.
What other trail ambitions do you have? What hiking goals do you still want to achieve?
Too many to list. I live to explore the wilds. Whether on trail or on a mountain I want to be out doing, living, moving, and exploring. Name a trail I probably want to hike it. Unless it’s in the jungle. I’m not interested in that.
Sights like this are common around me. As are spreadsheets and piles of maps..
Some philosophical questions:
Why did you start hiking? Why have you continued to hike? And how has hiking impacted your life?
Someone invited me to hike down to Indian Gardens. I wanted to make friends with my new co-workers and it sounded interesting so I went. I continue to hike because it’s my calling in life. It is exactly what I am meant to do. Hiking hasn’t impacted my life; it is my life.
Anish receives her Triple Crown Award in 2007.
If you could recommend one trip to change someone’s life what would it be and why?
Take the trip that scares and intrigues you the most. After the greatest fear and struggle comes the greatest joy.
Anish at the end of her PCT FKT hike in 2013.
In some of your Facebook posts, you mention overcoming doubt and self-defeating beliefs – how did you learn to do this and what techniques do you use to stay motivated?
I don’t know how to explain or answer that. It’s simply been a 20+ year long journey of prayer, introspection, and facing fears head on. I think every person has areas in which to grow and overcome, but each journey is radically different. My motto is to Dream Big. Be Courageous. It’s a statement that can be applied to every arena in life by anyone.
Anish after quitting her job, selling her possessions and buying a one way bus ticket to Ashland, OR in 2012.
What advice do you have for the BPL membership?
Same as above: Dream Big. Be Courageous. Also, Tread Lightly.
Anish radiant after finally taking the leap to live in the desert all winter in 2014.
Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
In the mountains doing exactly what I love to do.
Anish climbing Mt. Pugh..
What do you foresee as the challenges the next generation of backpackers will face?
Climate change will affect seasons, vegetation, and animal life. I’ve personally witnessed the decline in the pika population in Washington in the last decade. Fire seasons are becoming more intense and widespread fire closures in our protected lands are impacting recreation immensely. Droughts are leading to water scarcity in many areas. I anticipate all of these things will continue and potentially worsen as time goes on.
Large burned area in the Pasaytan Wilderness.
Thank you Heather “Anish” Anderson! You can follow her adventures using the links below: