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A U.S. Marine hikes during the Marine Corps Combat Readiness Evaluation on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Sept. 23.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Alexa Hernandez

Testing physical limits

15 Jun 2020 | Lance Cpl. Kerstin Roberts The Official United States Marine Corps Public Website

Hiking is a cornerstone of the Marine Corps. The ability to put 100 pounds in your pack and start up a hill, knowing you will not stop for hours, is a skill that every Marine shares. When you finally see the peak, sweat pouring down your face, you know that you must keep pushing. Then, once you have made it to the top of the hill, you look over the ocean and take a moment to remember why you felt the urge to do this.

Climbing exercises test more than the physical limits of an individual: they reveal a mental fortitude that is passed down through generations of Marines.

"Mentally, you accomplished something that you thought you couldn't, or that you haven't in a long time,” said U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Freddy Torres, battalion martial arts instructor trainer with Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Installations West, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.

For Memorial Day, Torres conducted the Murph Challenge in honor of Medal of Honor recipient Lt. Michael P. Murphy. Murphy received the Medal of Honor for his actions during Operation Red Wings on June 28, 2005.

The Murph Challenge consists of a one-mile run followed by 100 pullups, 200 pushups, and 300 squats, finished off with another one-mile run. For Torres, he thought integrating this challenge with a 13-mile hike through the vast undeveloped land of Camp Pendleton would be an appropriately difficult way to honor veterans for the holiday.

 "It's important for Marines to be able to hike, to move with weight. If we do not hike, then when it comes time, we will not be ready for the next movement. Hiking makes you combat ready." Gunnery Sgt. Freddy Torres, Headquarters and Support Battalion Martial Arts Instructor Trainer

According to Torres, it was at the point where he thought to himself, “I don’t think I can do this anymore,” that he knew he was accomplishing something meaningful.

Camp Pendleton is one of the last terrains untouched by human development in the greater Los Angeles-San Diego area. This fact, coupled with the installation’s sea-side real estate, makes for a unique hiking experience that is difficult to match.

"Sometimes I go out in shorts, a hat, and sunglasses to hike the hills in Horno. You can see the entire ocean from up there," Torres said. "On top of Master Gunnery Sgt. Pede's hill, you can see the entire air station and past that."

Having access to hiking trails is vital for a Marine's training. Camp Pendleton encompasses 125,000 acres of Southern California terrain. Within the land, Camp Pendleton offers many trails for all military and civilian personnel to hike at their leisure. Many Marines use the trails to prepare for environments they may face during deployments.

"I love hiking. I think it is a great full-body workout. It strengthens your core and your lower body," said Torres. "I love going on hikes with weight and going at a fast pace to burn calories, build my cardiovascular stamina, and improve my endurance."

The physical demands of a hike on Camp Pendleton are high. This offers incredible training opportunities for a force that requires endurance and strength in its members. It also provides a mental conditioning aspect that one might not typically consider. Spiritual fitness is one of the key aspects of overall fitness, and spending time outdoors can aid in building a good spiritual mindset, which in turn aids in mission readiness.


Hike Away Photo by Pfc. Kevin Minor
U.S. Marines participate in a battalion-wide hike at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Feb. 7.

"It's important for Marines to be able to hike, to move with weight. If we do not hike, then when it comes time, we will not be ready for the next movement," stated Torres. "Hiking makes you combat ready."

Due to its essential nature in combat operations, hiking is ingrained into every Marine as not only an obstacle one must tackle at bootcamp, but one that links those currently serving to those that have served in the past. Many hiking trails across base have memorials to remember the Marines that went above and beyond the call of duty, such as First Sergeants Hill and Horno Crosses. To pay tribute, many senior Marines will make the trek to summit these hilltops with their junior Marines. In November, Torres himself held his latest promotion ceremony on top of First Sergeants Hill after a long, rigorous hike.

"In the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, we call them ‘Warrior Case Studies,’” said Torres. "When we get to the top of any hike, I'll sit the Marines down and talk to them about a warrior in our history. By sharing those stories in the middle of a hike, it shows how they had to be physically fit to do what they did."

At times, the Camp Pendleton community and off-base communities come together to memorialize service members of the past through hiking. Such events are frequent both on and off the installation. Through shared respect of those who lost their lives fighting for our freedom, their memories live on.

Camp Pendleton has a rich hiking culture wrapped in remembrance, physical fitness, and spiritual fitness. During stressful times, many consider hiking a way to relax. Treating oneself to the physical rigors of a hike, or to the beautiful view once they have reached the top, is a simple and affordable way to maintain physical fitness and mental well-being while connecting with those who have gone before them.