TOPOPHILIA: Overcoming Fears, Writing Guidebooks & Finding Friendly Forests with Hike Oregon’s Franziska Weinheimer

Welcome back to TOPOPHILIA! This month, we spoke with Franziksa Weinheimer of Hike Oregon. Franziska and I discuss her love of hiking and backpacking, the places in Oregon that are most dear to her heart, how she overcame her fear of wildfire, and all about her online brand as Hike Oregon. Franziska is such a gem and getting to chat with her about our shared love of hiking was a real treat!

NORTHER: Can you tell us a little bit about your upbringing and how much you were exposed to the outdoors as a child?

FRANZISKA: I did and didn’t grow up in the outdoors. My parents were both very athletic, so I grew up doing sports and just being active. I was born in Germany and we moved from Germany to the States when I was six. In Germany, there’s nature and stuff but it’s nothing like here- there isn’t like huge, wide open spaces. Europe is definitely more developed, you’re always gonna see some farm house or grazing cattle. It’s very rare that you’re just in the middle of nowhere. 

We got to experience that when we came over here and my dad really fell in love with the outdoors, especially the Three Sisters area. I actually summited South Sister for the first time at age six, that was really special. I have a picture of me and both my parents on one of the snow fields. I really wanted to touch the snow, so that’s what got me up the mountain at that young age.

My dad would take me hiking as I grew up, and then he moved to Atlanta, Georgia. I would live one year with my mom and one year with my dad- that was their custody agreement. In Georgia, we discovered the Appalachian trail and did some hiking in the Smoky Mountains and stuff like that, which is so different than Oregon, but very cool to experience the different forests. My dad is a professor, so he would have summers off and he always planned pretty epic backpacking adventures. I’ve backpacked in the Alps, Alaska, we did a pretty large section of the Appalachian Trail. Every summer we had some sort of adventure like that.

After around high school age or so is when I kinda stopped doing all that. I got into, you know, my own stuff. I did a lot of music and stuff like that and the outdoors wasn’t super important to me at that time of my life. After college I had a period of time where I was really depressed and trying to find my way, and that’s where the outdoors came in again. 

I went on a hike- I actually went to Blue Pool- and I absolutely fell in love. It reignited my love for life. Being among the trees and just seeing everything was so vibrant outside-  the moss, the trees, the river, the sound of the water. 

We jumped into Blue Pool, which is very cold. We didn’t do the crazy cliff jumping that a lot of people do- that is so dangerous. We were just down at the bottom and jumped in the water for like one second, then screamed and came out, but it was so invigorating. From that point on I was like, “Okay I have to experience that feeling again.”

I had some old Sullivan guide books that I started looking through and I just checked off one hike after the next. Every single week, I would do one or two hikes out of one of the guide books and that’s kind of where my love for hiking really took off. 

That first book I really went through- I did all the hikes in that book. I still have it and it’s all taped up, it was totally falling apart by the end. It has definitely been loved.

NORTHER: You’ve always lived around Eugene in Oregon, is that right?

FRANZISKA: Yeah, I’ve never lived anywhere else in Oregon.

NORTHER: Are there particular places around the northwest that really speak to your heart?

FRANZISKA: Yes, definitely. The best way I can describe it, and I know other people have described it this way also, is just a feeling of home and belonging. 

When I’m hiking or backpacking, I also describe it as friendly forest. 

So, when I’m backpacking through the forest, sometimes it doesn’t feel so friendly and I feel I wouldn’t really want to set up my tent there. But some forests I walk through and I’m just like, “Oh, this is a friendly forest. All I want to do is set up my tent and just sit there and listen to the birds and just be.” It very much feels like just a sense of belonging, like you belong there, very peaceful. A sense of calm.

A place that I think of when I think of this feeling is Golden Lake, in the Three Sisters Wilderness, nestled between South Sister and Broken Top. 

The first time I ever hiked to Golden Lake, we arrived at the lake and I started crying, and… I don’t know, that had never happened to me. I had been hiking for quite a few years at that point and that had never happened to me.

I was overcome with this sense of emotion and I just started crying, it was so beautiful. I just wanted to stay there. I wanted to build a cabin and just live there. I did not want to leave. It was so amazing.

I have been there many times since and every time I go there I’m like, “Yeah this is my place.”

Another place that I feel very at home is the Pacific Crest Trail through Oregon. Now, I’ve done sections of the PCT in California as well. But specifically in Oregon, I just feel at home. Even if I have not done that section of the trail before, I feel like it’s familiar, I feel like I belong there. It’s very comforting. 

This past summer, I was doing a solo backpacking trip and it was a loop hike and part of it was on the PCT. On that section of the trail I was like, “Oh, I feel so good, I feel so confident. This feels so epic and so right and I feel so safe.” 

As soon as the loop exited the PCT and I was on another trail, I started feeling an unfriendly forest vibe. And I was like, “Oh, now I don’t feel so confident”! I got to this lake where I thought I was gonna set up camp and I was like “nope, absolutely not. I can’t do this, I don’t wanna stay here” and so I just kept walking until I felt a friendly forest vibe and that’s where I set up my camp. But for some reason as soon as I get off the PCT, I just don’t feel at home. So, yeah, PCT is definitely one of those places

NORTHER: I love that. I spent a lot of time hiking alone and I always feel like the PCT is like when you’re burned out and tired and maybe like a little lonely or like you just want like a little an occasion to interact with someone else. There’s always somebody on the PCT that needs to share a snack with you or whatever, like there’s always like somebody bopping along.

FRANZISKA: Yeah, there was always a friendly face. I like the sense of community that we all get to have on PCT knowing that there are people who are just walking from Canada Mexico. It kind of encourages you to be a little more friendly and generous with your stuff.

NORTHER: Do you wanna talk a little bit about Hike Oregon and how you started that?

FRANZISKA: Yeah, I started the Hike Oregon website many years ago when I was doing the all the Sullivan hikes. This was before all of the hiking blogs existed and AllTrails and all of the resources that we have today that are online. I basically just had the guidebook. Sometimes I would take my younger siblings and they were like 10 and 8 at the time, so I felt great responsibility. I’m taking children out into the middle of nowhere! I wanted more information about these hikes then was given to me in the guidebook. I wanted more pictures, I wanted to see what the trailhead looked like, I wanted to see the trail tread and you know, is it safe for kids? I would look up these hikes online and just not find any information.

I was thinking, “Okay, well, I can’t be the only one who also wants more information about these hikes in Oregon.” I was taking pictures at the time- I had a, you know a nikon DSL or camera and I was taking photos and I was like, “Well, why don’t I just do a short little write up and put a ton of the pictures that I took on a website.” So I called it Hike Oregon and after I had 15 hike write ups, I decided to launch the website and it just slowly kind of took off on its own. I built a small community over time; I started a facebook page and then later added instagram. I started a YouTube channel in 2016 where I featured some of the hikes through videos and also informational videos about hiking and backpacking and stuff like that. 

I started writing hiking guidebooks, because I like a book better than an online page- I think a lot of people do. They like having that physical thing in their hands or something they can take in the car. You don’t always have phone service where you can look stuff up, so it’s nice to have a book sometimes. 

So, that’s kind of how it grew over time. 

Right now, it’s changing a little bit. I wrote three books in a time span of four years, so I kinda got burnt out on writing and I’m taking a little break on writing guidebooks for now. I have some ideas of books I want to write, coming up in the next few years but right now I’m taking a little bit of a break.

A new project is my podcast called “Hikers Anonymous Podcast” and it’s definitely a different kind of thing than what I have been doing.

I feature people’s stories about how the outdoors have positively impacted their lives. I really want to share people’s stories and inspire others to get outside and maybe it can help other people. So, that’s kind of another little avenue that I’m taking versus just providing the information. It’s a little bit more personal, so I’m really excited about that project.

Another thing I’m working on is little tiny booklets that are based on hikes around certain towns. So, a lot of my hiking guidebooks are either the entire state of Oregon or a large region. I call it “Hike Oregon’s Favorites.” So it’s gonna be 10 hikes within an hour’s drive of Eugene or Florence or Oak Ridge. I’m working on my first one of those right now which will be for Eugene. 

I think that will be really fun for people because not everyone has the whole day to go out on some adventure, some people just wanna take half of a saturday to go do a short little hike. I think this will make it a lot easier and make the outdoors more accessible for everyone.

NORTHER: Yeah, I imagine, you know, when you come to a new area, especially when moving to Portland— and Seattle I’m sure is this way too— there is so much to do that it’s kind of overwhelming.

I have a client right now who is new to Portland and he’s like “where do I start?” I was like “okay, you gotta start with the classics, man. You gotta go to Helens, Hood, and you gotta do the big popular hikes that everybody loves first.”

FRANZISKA: Yeah, I mean they’re popular for a reason. But it’s overwhelming because when you when you google, you know, ‘hikes around Portland’, I mean you’re gonna get hundreds of pages and hundreds of options and yeah, where do you start? It’s very overwhelming.

NORTHER: I think when you can picture something in your head, it makes it more accessible, especially if you’re like me and you get a little anxious about trying new things, being able to visualize yourself going step by step through the process is really empowering.

And I think that might be why all of your very informative content is really inspiring to people, because they can see themselves on the trail and have had all of their questions answered ahead of time.

FRANZISKA: Exactly, exactly. I think that the fear is what keeps a lot of people off the trail. Yes, they know they might be physically able, they might be wanting to do this but I think fear is what stops a lot of people. They don’t know what the road is gonna be like to the trailhead. That’s intimidating sometimes, you know once you get off the main highways. A lot of the time dirt and gravel roads that are intimidating to people. Knowing the road conditions and, you know, is there a pit toilet at the trailhead?

NORTHER: There’s still some pretty substantial areas of Oregon that are really hard to find information about. As an example, Sullivan’s eastern Oregon book covers two thirds of the state, but the number of entries for Southeast Oregon is very very small.

FRANZISKA: Yeah, for as much hiking information and data there is online, there are still massive gaps in content and I think that if you are just casually consuming that type of content, you might think that it’s been overdone.

NORTHER: One of the things that I’ve been talking about a lot lately, that I would love to hear your take on, is the difference between fear and risk.

FRANZISKA: The stranger danger definitely gets to me sometimes and I do let that fear dictate what I do, I think in a healthy way. You can have that fear and just be like, “Oh well, I’m not going out by myself at all.” I still obviously I solo hike and solo backpack but I try to do it in a way where I’m going to places where I feel safe. I don’t generally hike by myself in places that are close to towns like Oakridge or Sweet Home. There’s a lot of back roads where you see people doing… various activities. So, those are places I do not hike by myself but you anything that’s far out of town…. people aren’t driving three hours to go do crazy stuff. In very distant wilderness areas, I’m not afraid of stranger danger or my car getting broken into and my tires getting stolen.

Another thing I’m afraid of that does have some risk is I’m really afraid of wildfire? Like, being trapped in some sort of wildfire situation. I would say it started in like 2016 and in 2019 it was really bad. It was to the point where like my fire anxiety was so bad that I canceled trips, because I was so afraid. So, since then, I’ve done some work on this fire anxiety and I’d say I’ve gotten really good, I’ve worked through it and it no longer affects me to the point where it’s gonna ruin a trip or where I’m gonna cancel something. I think knowledge is power whenever you’re afraid of something.

So, let’s say you’re afraid of snakes, well, do a ton of research on snakes. See where they live, how they live, how they act when they’re in certain situations, do all your research. It almost takes the power out of your fear.

So, basically, I just did a ton of research on wildfires and like talked to wildlands firefighters and I did so much research on how fires act, how they start, how they grow, how they travel… that’s really really helped me.

NORTHER: Yeah, that is definitely like a legitimate concern. Like, as soon as you said that I immediately thought of the 2017 Eagle Creek fire when all those people were trapped on the trail, right?

FRANZISKA: Um, exactly, That’s exactly what I’m afraid of. 

NORTHER: What are some of the places that you are heartbroken over having burned recently? Have you also seen places bounce back really quickly?

FRANZISKA: Places that I’m devastated about? Yeah, the recent Waldo lake area fire. It just devastated so many trails that were already not really maintained very often. When trails like that burn, they become non-existent because they don’t get rebuilt. 

I would say I was really surprised with how quickly the McKenzie area has bounced back, especially in comparison to the Detroit area because those two fires happened at the same exact time.

The McKenzie area has bounced back just incredibly fast. There’s so much lush greenery already growing. driving through there you would think, oh this burned like many, many years ago, not, it just burned, um what, in 2020? The Detroit area is still absolutely devastated.

NORTHER: I still haven’t driven through Detroit….

FRANZISKA: It’s not great.

NORTHER: I assume you are like me; that you plan things in advance, especially if you have big projects planned. How has fire season changed the way that you structure your time in the summer, because they tend to come up at the very peak of alpine summer hiking.

FRANZISKA: Oh, for sure. I would say since 2020 I started kind of planning things a little bit differently. Like you I would save the most epic things for August, September. Now, I’m finding that I’m planning a lot of stuff in July? Previously, I would not really plan a lot of backpacking stuff for July because of mosquitoes. 

And I’ve gotten to the point where I’m like, “you know what, I’m just gonna do it anyway, screw the mosquitoes. I’m just gonna go prepared, you know, with my mosquito net, I’ve sprayed my clothes with Permethrin!!I’m not saving this for later because it’s not probably not gonna happen later.” I don’t really plan specific backpacking trips for august anymore. I might have certain dates that friends have set aside, where we know we want to go somewhere, but until it gets closer, we don’t really plan the trip. What’s the use of spending hours planning something and then we can’t go? We might plan like three or 4 options to choose from, but we don’t actually set anything in stone until it gets closer.

NORTHER: Yeah, I think that makes sense. I’m kind of the same way when when when you, when you have synthesized as much um hiking beta as we have, it’s like “do I need months to plan a trip? I don’t really, it’s just for fun.

What do you think is like the biggest misconception that people have about doing this kind of work. I know for me, people think it’s so fun and easy to be a guide just taking people hiking, and they don’t realize all the work that happens on the back end.

FRANZISKA: I would say is that most people think that I hike all the time, and yes, in certain times of the year, if I’m doing book research, I am gone a lot of the time… but, you know, I’ve only written three books, so that doesn’t happen often. Most of the time I’m hiking one day a week and the rest of the time I’m in my office. 

I think most people would be shocked at knowing that that most of my time is spent at the computer.

When people ask what I do for a living, I say I’m a hiking guidebook author because there’s so many different aspects to my job. You know, I could say I’m a youtuber, but to a lot of people that has a negative connotation.

NORTHER: I find that very relatable. Well, thanks for taking the time to talk with us today! It was so fun chatting with you, as always.

FRANZISKA: Yes, thanks! You too.

Franziska Weinheimer, a 20+ year resident of Eugene, has been hiking and backpacking in Oregon since she was a small child. She first summited South Sister at the age of 6 where her love for the Oregon Cascades began. After college she rekindled her love for the outdoors and was always trying to find new places to explore. Franziska grew increasingly frustrated with the lack of information about trails online. A lot of them had little to no information, no photos, or the websites would have varying mileage and misleading directions. Franziska took it upon herself to create a website where she would provide accurate mileage and elevation information, good directions to the trailheads and lots of photos so travelers would know what to expect. Since the start of in August 2014, Franziska has explored over 500 different trails around Oregon, and continues to add new hike write-ups to the website. In July 2016 the Hike Oregon YouTube channel was born, where folks can learn the ins and outs of hiking and backpacking and where some hikes are featured in video form for viewers all around the world to enjoy. Franziska is also the author of the following hiking guidebooks: 

’52 Hikes for 52 Weeks: In the Willamette Valley, Central Cascades & Coast’ which was originally published in November 2018 and republished/updated in late 2021.

Oregon’s Best Views: 50 Breathtaking Viewpoint Hikes’ which was published in March 2021.

‘Lakes of the Cascades: 50 Enchanting Oregon Lake Hikes’ which was published in May 2022.

Published by Norther

Norther Emily, Wild Solitude Guiding. I teach foraging classes, lead guided private hikes, host retreats to remote places in Oregon, give excellent travel advice #NortherKnowsBest , and I’m here to teach people how to reconnect with nature.

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