Heather Hawkins: What trekking means to me
Heather Hawkins is a 53 year-old mother of two from Coogee, NSW. After surviving ovarian cancer in 2007, Heather was inspired to be stronger, fitter and to reconnect with her sense of adventure. The past five years have taken Heather on an incredible running and adventure journey.
It all started with training to be a Surf Life Saver in 2009, then completing a 4km fun run in 2012 that lead Heather to push herself and achieve more than she would have ever imagined.
Once she made the decision to take up running more seriously, Heather quickly progressed from running half marathons to completing full 42 km marathons. In April 2015, Heather won the women’s division of the North Pole Marathon and in January 2016, she completed the extreme World Marathon Challenge (running seven marathons in seven days on seven continents). Between February and July 2016, Heather trekked the entire 1700km Great Himalaya Trail in Nepal with World Expeditions.
Heather credits the latest cancer research treatment from ANZGOG for saving her life. In 2015, Heather became a Can Too Ambassador and in November 2016, Heather joined Can Too runners in the New York Marathon, raising $14,425 towards cancer research.
Heather's drive, determination to push herself outside her comfort-zone and test her limits is simply inspiring. We sat down with Heather and asked her what trekking means to her, and to learn more about her experience trekking in the Himalayas.
Well… I could answer this question with a whole load of adjectives and a long list of ideas. But how about I share a snapshot from a memorable journey with World Expeditions across the Himalayas in 2016 and I’m sure you’ll get the idea…
And maybe, just maybe, it’ll encourage you to lace up your trekking boots and venture out onto the trails.
It’s Day 38 of our trek along the Great Himalaya Trail and the glow of my watch says 5am. Here we are, camped out on a glacier, close to an imposing, icy, mountain pass called Sherpani Col. High above our little yellow tents the stars trek methodically across a clear, inky sky.
Normally I’d be asleep at this time, but no, I’m up, fully dressed, with my gear all packed. We have an early start and an epic day ahead.
I pull my gloves on, and crawl out of the tent and my head torch catches the clouds of my breath… This mountain air is cold!
As I hoist my backpack up onto one shoulder I stop for a moment to take it all in. All around our camp the mountains stand ghosted in the moonlight - they’re towering, mesmerising, intimidating, yet I’m drawn in and held close by their incredible beauty - and for the very first time on our journey across Nepal, we’ll be stepping out from beneath their shadow.
Today we’re climbing up to the highest altitude along the Great Himalaya Trail - all 6,189 metres of it - heading up and over Sherpani Col!
My son Callum, daughter Bek, and her partner Matt appear from their tents with head torches flashing like thunderstorms on the snow. We huddle together and hold hot tin mugs filled with hot black tea and chat with our guides about the challenge ahead. Our heads and hearts are full of anticipation, and just like every other day on the trek, we draw strength from each other - with practical advice, encouraging words, humour and big, bulky bear hugs through all our thermal layers.
Right now we’re part way along our 1,700 km journey across the Himalayas, not just as four individuals, but as family. We’ve clocked off for a full five months, left behind the creature comforts of home, logged out from social media and set off in our sturdy leather boots on a bold, new adventure.
It’s been nothing short of sensational, and has without a doubt, strengthened our bonds, deepened our understanding and appreciation of each other and topped up our depleted day to day stores of personal courage and resilience.
Out on this trail we’ve discovered a whole new level of fitness, we’ve forded icy streams, abseiled down exhilarating rocky ridge lines and stepped over crevasses. We’ve laughed and cried. Reflected and dreamed, and got to know our amazing team of Nepalese guides and sherpas so incredibly well. We’ve developed new skills and become stronger, and whenever we’ve reached our limits, we’ve been there for each other. It’s been a truly positive, enlightening and life changing journey… one that’s reaffirmed what we really knew about trekking all along.
As the first rays of sun peep over the eastern peaks, we set off to follow our sherpas across a glistening ice field. Soon we’re traversing sections of knee deep snow and crossing concealed crevasses. Every sense is on high alert and every thing is brilliantly white.
At last we reach the base of Sherpani Col… It’s a magnificent wall of pale jagged rock looming high into the sky. It’s the only way forward. There’s no turning back…
We start to climb. Up and up…
We stop to pull the buffs away from our faces to breathe. Up and up…
Our legs are shaking. Up and up…
Then, at last, a welcoming wind wraps us up at the top of the pass.
From here, on our temporary perch, the views are spectacular and our elation spills over in sentences dotted with exclamation marks : “We did it!! This is unreal!! Oh wow!!”
And just like I did earlier this morning, I turn around slowly to try to take it all in.
In every direction the Himalayan peaks stretch on forever. Majestic and timeless… sacred and inspiring… unforgettable…
And it’s this incredible moment, on this incredible journey, that will stay with me for the rest of my life…
So back to that original question: What does trekking mean to me? I think you can easily see… Everything!
Now can I be bold and ask you a question: What are you waiting for?
Go on, get your boots on and let’s go!