Hiking While Queer and Trans / Hiker Intro: Hannah Cullins

A Queer In a Queer world

Myself(Hannah Cullins) on the La Luz Trail 3/29/24 Photo Credit: Alicia “Roadrunner” Robinson-Welch

I start my PCT thru hike attempt soon, something I didn’t know I wanted until it found me. Of course I am ill prepared, procrastinating until the last second to iron out plans fully. Worrying about things that don’t matter- or things that matter a lot more than a hike. There’s so much happening in the world at the moment that resonates in my heart and it plays on me. A metal drummer on crash cymbals, or a brick in a dryer. The reason I am hiking- I think I’ve figured- is because that’s what I know how to do in this moment. I know what to plan for, I know where to go, I know who to ask for help.

I found something that matters to me in the past- and I did it, and I did it well. Working in nonprofits for 7 or 8 years as a volunteer and as staff is something I turned out to be good at. I made my way in that community and left a mark. Whatever it that mark was, I’ve grown disillusioned, disheartened by the state of things. Where there are people working so hard to provide solutions- there are root causes that are simple and complex- both solvable that I hope to be solved soon. I worked primarily with folks experiencing homelessness.  There’s a great sense of pride in what I did. At the same time the old model doesn’t approach solutions that true community work should.

I will return to that good work, but sometimes a heart needs rest and realignment.

I quit my job and moved back in with my mom.

The Pacific Crest Trail

I choose the PCT because it seems so breathtaking. Starting in desert to high desert to Washington and friends. Things I’m used to. I want to see it all, I have this goal to complete a triple crown by 32. The permits being the most gate-kept (for good reason) and the good fortune of getting one made it a no brainer. If it wasn’t the PCT  then I would have started on the AT or the GET which starts in my backyard.

Who Are You, Lady?

I am Hannah Cullins, 27 years old from Albuquerque, New Mexico a daughter, a friend, a something or other to a somebody or someone, a lesbian, a trans woman, an aspiring Quaker, an activist and so on and on.

An avid procrastinator, a distractible person with a lot on her mind, I haven’t prepared as much as I would have wanted to by now. There are still things to do, permits to print, shorts to buy, weight to cut.

Truly this is a level of preparation and thinking thru things that I have not done in a LONG time. Spreadsheets, lists in 3 notebooks, notes apps, reminders lists, having friends and family ask me questions that make me say things like “Oh god, I never even thought about that.” to a look of horror and worry.

As Ryan “Dirtmonger” Sylva said in Backpacker Radio episode 231  “ I wish I would have started at 26”. So I did!

How to Convince Your Mom You Aren’t in Crisis

Start simple and bring up the idea about a month before you finalize your decision. This helps to frame the inevitable conversation in terms of planning and execution, adventure and wanderlust, rather than a conversation about mortality and depression.

Ask your therapist “Do YOU think I’m being a bit… ya know…’

Worry when she says “I mean I wouldn’t do this- EVER but you seem like you are doing fine and that this is pretty thought out”. Sit in a kind of shocked silence for about 5 seconds before asking “Are you sure?”. When your therapist responds “Why are you unsure?” answer “I have been sure of very few things in the past.” Pause for her to finish writing in her notepad.

Now that you’ve done that it’s time to talk your mom again. “I am actually going on that hike I mentioned.” “Oh that’s cool”.

Realize that for some interesting reason people think you have a handle on everything and that you know what you are doing to some degree.

I Know What I’m Doing?

Debatable. There’s a stirring worry about money in my mind- I am budget conscious (broke) to be sure. I am making decisions very consciously of what I will and won’t take. For example: I was gifted a very interesting knife. Do I take it on principle? What about the emergency rations? That’s a yes. I’m already going to be on a steady diet of something called hard tack to pad my calorie intake.

%80 %20 %10

What is nutrition? Nutrition is the scifi speculative fiction genre that prescribes a set of rules based on evidence, vibe, carcinogenic effect, crystals (I guess??). In reality nutrition is the study of nutrient needs in the average human body. All I know to go by is the %80 %20 %10 rule. 80 percent carbs, 20 percent oil 10 percent protein powder and related snacks.

Suffice to say I have very little idea of what I am doing in this way.

I have tried to do the math to fit into rules but now I am going with the tried and true method of vibes. So far the only mainstays are going to be generic fruity pebbles, protein cookies, hard tack, peanut butter, etc.

Dense foods for a dense lady.

I have decided against resupply boxes for the time being on advice from several people and my own crippling decision paralysis on the topic.

The Hyperbolic Time Chamber

I haven’t been training as much as I should, thanks to ADHD side questing, dealing with personal stuff including a move and dating a qt who has distracted me from gains in the gym. You know who you are. Thank you.

My training has consisted of strength training, a push/pull/split I haven’t been doing because it’s grueling, hikes several times a week with my pack full up and the whole shebang. I am maintaining about a 20 minute mile pace and I am realizing I have to just focus on the cardio aspect at this point. It’s difficult. Yet the only way I will get to any goal in mind. longest hike to date is the La Luz trail 7.3 miles, 3000ft elevation gain at a 12% grade. I feel like that is good practice for some places in the sierras.

La Luz mile 4 or 5 November 18th 2023

La Luz mile 4 or 5 11/18/23 Photo Credit: Myself

I have hiked this trail once before in November of last year in a lovely hail storm wherein I was pelted by freezing rain and a lovely view. Swirling clouds over and in the highest peak in 75 miles, and the almost spiritual experience of seeing snow, rain and sun hitting different points of this mountain range bringing me to tears of resplendent joy.

On March 29th Roadrunner and I hiked La Luz. Roadrunner, an amazing individual, hiker of both AT and PCT trails, and we are thinking of a potential future completion of a triple crown with the CDT in some number of years. It is difficult to imagine they would want to continue that thought after La Luz.

Blood and Snow; La Luz in March

At the time we thought we were heading toward safety in the long climb to Sandia Peak. Maybe a 5 hour hike, an idea that started off as going up AND down. This 7.3ish mile trek took 8 hours. Hiking as best we could to the trail, along the worst snow pack I’ve seen between 4 and 5 feet. Something that probably doesn’t compare to Donner Pass now but in comparison to my slated arrival date to that part of the world will be a breeze according to Roadrunner.

Slipping through snowpack and becoming stuck every other 5 feet takes a mental toll especially on an inexperienced hiker like myself. The lack of an ice axe on hand and the slopes ranging from 45°-55° angles in maybe 45° weather made for a harrowing and cold experience. Scrapes and pulled muscles abound.

The thing about snow, when it freezes into ice it becomes like sharp glass. Sinking into it scrapes you up. If you are cold enough- you may not feel it, like I didn’t.

It was probably 4 miles of this. A thousand blessings to my guardian angel and friend Roadrunner who saved my ass countless times. I broke down, bleeding and crying as I slipped to my ass on either leg in holes of snow reminiscent of Junji Ito’s ‘Horror of Amigara Fault’ this abject terror and fear penetrated ever part of me. Every step realizing how far from safety and how clear the danger was. In that hole made just for me I realized I had no purchase.

There Goes My Hero

After probably 30-40 similar instances it was too much. There was just no thought that entered my mind that wasn’t “I can’t go further, I am going to die, and i am going to kill this person I love so deeply with my stupidity”. This is the power of adrenaline, low blood sugar, post traumatic stress , and being booty shorts deep in snow.

Through tears I state “Thid will be so funny in about 8 hours“

My knight in synthetic fiber, Roadrunner, swapped me packs, my 20 odd pound pack being mainly UL stuff, and a few nonessential for this hike I thought I didn’t have any clothes for the sudden shift to Dante’s fucking ninth circle. This goddamn angel helped me out of my ice spikes and into my rain pants. Finding in my pack the jacket I didn’t know I had. Warmth. A chance.


Advancing up the mountain it was clear the weight difference in us. Roadrunner is a more compact and less lusciously love handled individual far more experienced in these conditions. I am still crying, Cursing the mountain and everything it has wrought. Changing tactics occasionally to praise and awe in its sheer beauty. Back to crying and cursing. Trying to remember along the way that sunset is coming sooner than later, that I got myself here and I don’t want to endanger a rescue crew in this crap for the naïveté of 2 hot queers. Finding new and interesting ways of self arrest up and out of my new and fresh pair of pants (the Sandia mountain range snow pack) and having Roadrunner help me out.

I don’t imagine I acted appropriately to the risk but that is having brain damage from repetitive and chronic stressors (ptsd), I didn’t  think I had control in that situation. I just followed along. Trying my best to match Roadrunners speed. God bless this human being.

The End / Type 2 Fun

We started at 11am, Hitting snow around 4pm. We saw the sunset at 7:30 coming on near the peak. Walking along the trail that leads to the tram. Roadrunner bought tickets for us, knowing this would be a one way trip.

Myself on the Sandia Tram Trail 3/29/24 Photo Credit: Alicia “Roadrunner” Robinson-Welch

This whole thing ended with a walk along a snowy cliff face, where a maximum of 3 feet or snow laden trail at some points slipped us towards a scary drop if we hadn’t caught ourselves with every other step. These cliff faces can be in the range of 500 feet drops, and we were walking them in runners and microspikes.

We hugged it out at the top, laughing. Waiting for the tram, when 2 teenagers asked about the hike, saying “We were thinking about doing it next week.”

We advised against that decision until next month. You can’t see the wonderful ADA accessible stairs and railing at Sandia Peak right now. It’s all under snow. Hip height for a 6’1” goddess such as myself.

Here’s hoping the Sierras awaiting my class don’t have the same ire as that last 4-5 mile stretch.

Roadrunner offered to send me an ice axe at KMS. I will be taking them up on that.



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Comments 1

  • ARW : Apr 1st

    Amazing intro Hannah. You’re gonna crush it… rocking those booty shorts (maybe in town mostly 😏). Ftr I DID NOT say it will be *a breeze* lol but you WILL have some strong wind behind you to keep you going 😉💨 and my support always!


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