I’m a fan of all types of hiking ranging from short day hikes all the way up to 1,000+ km multi-week hikes. I tend to approach each hike in a systematic way; one based more on habit than anything else. But why is that?
On many of the day hikes I do, the start and finish point is often the same in that you reach a destination, then turn around and head back to the start, often a car park. However a number of trails are set up as loops, providing some degree of choice. Do I go clockwise or anticlockwise? Do I start uphill or go downhill? This is where the habits start for me.
If the trail has separate start and finish points, I will walk downhill. If the trail is a loop trail then I will start my walk by going up hill so that at the end of a hike when I have exerted myself, I will be walking downhill on the return. If however the trail is reasonably even I prefer to travel clockwise, taking the left hand side of the loop and there’s a reason for this. You have no idea how much it messes with my brain when the uphill section forces me to start a hike going anticlockwise, it just doesn’t feel right!
Heading anticlockwise and uphill (my preferred direction) on the Mount Tibrogargan Circuit at the Glasshouse Mountains in Queensland
Heading ‘Home’ on the Old Boboyan Road Track in Namadgi National Park, ACT. I started the track at the furthest distance away from home and finished at the second trailhead closer to Canberra
Once I start long distance hiking and I’m spending multiple days or weeks on a hike, my thought processes change completely. Firstly I look at the logistics of a hike and see if there is any preferred direction of travel. It may be based around the expected weather conditions over the hike, it may be based on the terrain, or it may be mandated. As an example the Overland Track in Tasmania requires you to start and finish at a particular point (for most of the year) purely to help manage the number of people on the trail and the impact we have.
Logistics will often play a huge role on my travel direction and in 2019 when Gill and I walked the Hume and Hovell Track, I would have preferred to start in Albury and walk north towards Yass (closer to my home in Canberra). However, the requirement to cross a lake by charter boat was the deciding factor that forced us to head south.
If there are no logistical issues then my preferred travel direction is based around walking ‘home’. When I say home, it’s more of a concept than an actual place. If I’m close to my physical home in Canberra, I prefer to start my walks at the furthest distance away and finish at the closer trail head. If I’m in some other part of the country or overseas, I walk towards my travel departure point. An example is when I hiked the Bibbulmun Track in 2018. The two trailheads were based in Perth and Albany and at the end of the trip I needed to be in Perth to fly out. It made sense to ‘head home’ (Perth). As is often the case, I will finish a day earlier than planned and by being at my travel departure destination just makes it easier.
In late 2020 I plan to walk the Australian Alps Walking Track which starts in Victoria and finishes just outside of Canberra. There was never any doubt I will walk in a northward direction with each day bringing me towards my home. In 2016 Gill and I hiked the Larapinta Trail and we started at Mount Sonder and walked our way back to Alice Springs. The final two days closest to Alice Springs are the least inspiring of the Trail – this is the section that many people will skip if they don’t have time to do the full trail. For us it was an amazing feeling to be standing on a high ridge and seeing Alice Springs in the distance, it just felt so right and made those last two days worth it.
Humans are creatures of habit and all things being equal we will choose to tun left and this has its roots back in the days of the cave man. Around 90% of us are right handed and in the days when we had to physically defend ourselves we we always put our strongest side, our right side, forward. These days many supermarkets and shops will be designed around making us turn left!
Many trails provide choices and as long as you aren’t forced by trail rules, logistics or safety issues to walk in a certain direction, then in most cases there really is no right answer. Do your planning and work out if there is a direction that provides you with the safest, most enjoyable hike but ultimately what it comes down to is ‘Hike your own hike’ regardless of what others tell you!