After losing her father to cancer in 2015 Kristine Villatoro sought peace and comfort while in the woods, but what originated as an interest in photography eventually turned into a passion for hiking. Villatoro explains “I started taking pictures less and hiking more and it was like once I put down the camera and picked up the hiking poles I never looked back.”
After sharing her story on social media Villatoro received an outpour of interest and support from fellow women in the outdoor community. This led her to find a hiking affinity group for women, known as “Wandering Sole Sisters” and through leading hikes she realized that she knew a lot more about hiking than she actually thought.
Villatoro goes on to explain that after losing her twenty-three year old daughter in 2019 to a tragic car crash, she like many others turned to nature again for a sense of healing. However, she initially realized that no amount of time in nature could drown out her grief as a mother who lost her child, she found that the once comforting silence was now too loud. As soon as she was ready to return to the woods, hiking – and the hiking community – provided her with the support she needed to endure. She is now well on her way towards completing her Shenandoah 500 patch as a member of the Shenandoah National Park Hikers group.
After attending the Round Hill A.T. festival, Villatoro went on to play a crucial role in establishing the Blue Ridge Chapter of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC). She is now the president of that club chapter, as well as the PATC’s Supervisor of Outreach! Throughout these roles and as a regular hike leader, Villatoro enjoys continually putting herself out there attracting as many members and supporters as she possibly can to the Appalachian Trail.
Villatoro explains, “Giving back to a community and a Trail that has helped me during the worst days of my life is what helps me to continue my healing process.” Future plans for Villatoro include expanding on her newly developed PATC Women’s Outdoor Recreation group “Wild Women Trampers” which she hopes will highlight women-owned businesses in outdoor recreation, as well as continuing her learning in outdoor recreation therapy. When asked if Villatoro had any words of encouragement for others she said “Do not let anyone tell you that your mile, or your half a mile is not a hike. Get out there, on any trail and hike! I want all women to do that, no matter where they are in the process.” She also recalls that for herself personally, she thinks of a fond memory where her daughter convinced her to climb up a small rock outcropping and she said “Mom, fifty years from now don’t you want to be able to say you had the guts to do this?” Villatoro uses that sentiment frequently and believes that you should never let your fear stop you from what you’re doing because you never know what you are going to accomplish unless you give it a try.