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A mountain man's best friend

"More and more people are getting interested in the Catskills. Of the 67 peaks, many, many of them people have never heard of," Via said.

Exposing people to those mountains is in line with general conservation principles. Spreading the ever-increasing number of hikers across more terrain will limit the impact on the taller, more popular peaks.

"The Adirondack Mountain Club, they don't want to discourage people from hiking and enjoying themselves, but one of the club's stated purposes is to space out the usage," he said.

Included in the guide will be topographical maps and directions to trailheads or bushwhacks, but Via intends to leave much of the approach to trailess peaks up to the hiker.

"We want to make it useful to people, hikers and bushwhackers, but we don't want to be like Tom Sawyer and lay out the thread for them," he said. "I don't want to spoil the fun for the people; the same fun I had climbing the peaks."

Via is also planning to sink more time into a hiking class he's been running for two years through the Bethlehem YMCA. About 100 people take part.

While the program takes real day hikes into the wilderness, beginners are more than welcome. Via has plenty of participants who don't have any outdoors experience beyond walks through Thacher Park, and that's fine with him.

"It's a real pleasure to introduce people to new mountains or mountain ranges, and see their eyes light up with the view," he said.

Via's also kicking around future books addressing hiking with a canine companion, a subject that he's well acquainted with.

Bookah"Boo" because she was born on Halloween"took her first easy hikes at 6 months of age and hasn't stopped since. At home in the woods, Via finds her to be an accomplished pathfinder who will follow the scent of animal trails up rocky outcroppings.

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