Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home: An Interview with Speed Thru-hiker Heather “Anish” Anderson

In this piece from Mountaineer magazine, we talk to Heather "Anish" Anderson on what it's like to live life on the trail.
Julie Briselden Julie Briselden
Mountaineers Books Publicist
May 11, 2019
Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home: An Interview with Speed Thru-hiker Heather “Anish” Anderson

Last November, on a southern point along the Continental Divide Trail in New Mexico, Heather Anderson, known as “Anish” on the trail, became the first woman and sixth person overall to complete one of thru-hiking’s ultimate feats: the “Calendar Year Triple Crown.”

To achieve this honor, Heather hiked the Appalachian Trail (AT), Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), and Continental Divide Trail (CDT) – a combined distance of 7,900 miles with a vertical gain of more than one million feet – all in 2018. In the process she set a female Fastest Known Time (FKT) for the route – hiking it in 251 days, 20 hours, 10 minutes – and became the only female “Triple Triple Crowner” to complete all three trails three times since 2003.

This is just the most recent of many mindboggling accomplishments from a thirtysomething, reformed couch potato who discovered hiking while working on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon during college. Back then, it took all her effort just to survive her first day hike – nearly 10 miles in summer heat on The Bright Angel Trail. Despite the effort, she was hooked on hiking and soon fell in love with the landscape, nature, and the solitude of the trail. Her uncanny ability to mark a relentless pace over ultra-long distances leaves people wondering just how she maintains her intensity and composure on the trail. 

With the recent release of her new memoir Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home from Mountaineers Books, Heather shares her inspiration and motivation for tackling and accomplishing such super-human endeavors. Thirst is set against the backdrop of her record-breaking, thruhike of the PCT in 2013 – a record she still holds as the fastest ever recorded time for both male or female self-supported thru-hikers. 

Fellow record-setting thru hiker Liz “Snorkel” Thomas says of Thirst: “It makes you want to push harder at whatever it is you do. Anish is possibly the greatest athlete in the world, but she didn’t start that way. (Her) book gives you hope and courage by showing that no matter who you are or where you are at now, you can do more.”

In advance of her appearance at the BeWild Speakers Series presentation, Heather sat down for a conversation about her approach to thru-hiking.

Your memoir Thirst has just been published by Mountaineers Books. It details your incredible, record-breaking hike of the PCT. How did you find the time to take notes while averaging 40 miles per day?

I've always kept a journal on my hikes. Although it was certainly not a daily or detailed record, I usually managed to find time a few days a week at a break or in town to jot down notes.

Thirst is quite engaging and I'm sure many will find it an inspiration to set goals for themselves, whether it's on the trail or in other aspects of their life. Do you enjoy writing? Are you disciplined about writing regularly?

Yes, I've been a writer since I was five and could write! I'm sure my mother still has the crayon illustrated stories somewhere. Before I could write, I was storytelling verbally. I wouldn't call it disciplined; I write when I have something to write, which is quite often. My phone and many notebooks and scraps of paper all around the house are covered with musings.

In order to complete the PCT in record time, you had to hike 40-50 miles a day, which doesn't leave you much time to sleep. How did you deal with that?

I was very tired!

Do you know how many calories you burned hiking at that pace? Was it difficult to carry enough food to replace those calories?

I really have no idea. There are huge metabolic shifts that take place in prolonged endurance and no one has studied such extremes as 2,000+ mile endeavors. I know that I ate 2,500 calories a day and was literally starving.

How much weight do you carry in your backpack?

It really just depends on the trail, the season, the amount of water and food, etc. My summer base weight (gear without food or water) is about 9lbs.

What piece of gear can't you be without on your epic treks?

A comfortable pair of shoes.

How about loneliness and unwelcome thoughts? How do you expel those?

I'm an introverted person who loves solitude. Loneliness is never really a factor, although I do miss my loved ones when I'm away for prolonged periods. I find it best to allow the negative emotions to come and be present with me as I walk through them. It's less exhausting than fighting them and you grow personally in the meditation.

You recently completed a Calendar Year Triple Crown, the first for a woman, covering 7,900 miles of the AT, CDT and PCT in just over 8 months. There must be some tedium over so many miles. What do you do to keep your mind positive and entertained?

I genuinely enjoy walking and though there is a certain level of repetition, I still enjoy it. When I'm particularly bored I listen to music or audio books, but usually the hike is enough.

How many pairs of shoes did you go through to complete your Calendar Year Triple in 2018?

I'm not sure, but I usually switch them out about every 500 miles. Perhaps more than a dozen.

Heather Rock.jpgHeather in Valley of Fire State Park, NV. Photo courtesy of Heather Anderson.

Be sure to pick up a copy of Heather’s book, Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home, online or at our  Seattle Program Center bookstore.

This article originally appeared in our Spring 2019 issue of Mountaineer Magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, click here.