• Mary Anderson

Why Uphill Is Easier Than Downhill

Reaching the top of a climb is a goal for many hikers. It is where we like to take breaks and enjoy the views won through our hard efforts. But ironically for many in=shape hikers it is the downhills, and not the ups, which are harder.

The uphills take strength and perseverance. One foot placed in front of another, a pause for breath and a push with the poles will eventually get you up the hill. The expectation of what awaits at the top helps.

Downhills are a whole different matter. They take less strength and more restraint. I usually loosen the straps on my pack so the weight helps to hold me back. I lengthen my poles so I can lean on them while taking big steps downhill. I sometimes turn to the side to ease the pressure on my knees. By the time I reach the end of a long steep descent, the bottoms of my feet are screaming in pain.

I have been thinking about this as I rehab my knee. I'm doing a lot of stretching and strengthening exercises. This, like the uphills, is the easiest part. It is the holding back, the self-restraint, that I am finding difficult.

I want to be back out there. My brain and body are screaming with the boredom of sitting still. Yet having had many injuries in my life I know I am in one of the more difficult and crucial parts of rehab. I'm past the obvious "I need to sit and rest" phase. But I am not yet to the "I can carry a pack and hike fifteen miles in a day" place. If I push too much too soon, I will be worse than I was in the beginning. I've got to pick my way carefully down this steep, slippery slope, using all the self-restraint I can muster. I have no expectation of a future view. I have to hyper focus on where I am in the moment, literally taking just one small step at a time. I'd much rather be throwing restraint to the wind and using my strength on an arduous climb.


Mary Anderson, 64, is attempting to complete her solo thru-hike of the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail. Since setting out from South Pass, Wyoming, in late May, she has struggled to keep going with a knee injury. Korongo is editing Mary's book about hiking the CDT, a story that grapples with dissociation and other coping mechanisms resulting from trauma.

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