POV: Hiking with your neighbors

The first hike was to Overlook Mountain, near Woodstock. It was a bluebird day with a large, enthusiastic group of Y members that included Mark. Everyone got a chance to climb the firetower for the 360-degree views from its cab, and then take the short hike through the oak forest to the overlook for which the mountain was named. Word of the hike rapidly spread and before long I was receiving requests every week from members who wanted to get on the email list for hikes.

Since the inception of the group, we’ve had a couple of winter “innings,” evening sessions at the Y to go over gear, equipment and clothing for winter hiking. That was followed up with a beginner’s instructional snowshoe hike on and off the trails in the woods of Thacher Park. That was a particularly rewarding experience as the large group spanned ages from 5 years old to hikers in their 60s.

We met at the Paint Mine trail and snowshoed on newly fallen snow, deep enough to require everyone to cooperate in breaking trail. Using the conga line technique, everyone had a turn out front and after a few minutes the lead trailbreaker stepped to the side and filed in at the end of the line. One of our most enthusiastic snowshoers was the 5-year-old who loved leading the adults through the unbroken snow. Our group even sampled some very steep slopes and went off trail and got a chance to learn how to turn around in place, negotiate through wooded terrain and how to flip up their snowshoes to knock off ice clumps from the snowshoe crampons.

It was a memorable day in the woods for everyone, with lots of smiles and folks who got a chance to take their snowshoes out of their closets and get a chance to really use them. While the absence of snow last winter was a real hindrance, the previous winter found our group snowshoeing over hill and dale at the Capitol Hills golf course in Albany, a terrific place for winter travel when snow conditions allow. We’re keeping our fingers crossed for enough snow this winter to have more trips on the course.

The key things for our hiking group are safety, enjoyment and learning, and we’ve had the chance to practice all three on hikes and snowshoes all over. Our more than 125 participants have had the chance to hike all over in the almost 5 years since the group has been formed. I hope Y members who like the outdoors sign up, or join the Y and join us on the trails.

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