The simple joys of HIKING

Hiking group offers exercise and friendship

Posted: Sunday, February 27, 2005

Skis on their feet and poles in their hands, they are ready to brave wind, snow and rain.

Their muscular legs are wrapped in gaiters and ski pants. They look like someone on the cover of an REI catalog, except that they might have a few more wrinkles and gray hair than the models .

Rain or shine, a group of 10 people - most of them in their 60s and 70s - leads a Juneau Parks and Recreation hiking group every Wednesday and Saturday. They go hiking in summer and cross-country skiing and snowshoing in winter.

Carolyn Gould, who has hiked with the group since 1986, said hiking keeps her healthy and happy.

"It's like an appointment," Gould, 62, said. "It's easy to say the weather is bad and you don't want to go out. But once you get out, the weather is normally not that bad."

It is unknown when the group was started. The city used to pay a person to lead the trips but stopped that when it didn't have enough funding. Some people, including Bob Armstrong and Gould, wanted to keep the group going and volunteered to lead the hikes.

The city still funds a 24-hour voice recording (586-0428), detailing the location of the hike, the level of difficulty and the gear people need to bring. Local radio and newspapers also announce the schedule.

The group has only one rule: No dogs or firearms.

"We once had three big dogs getting into fights in the middle of 10 people at John Muir Cabin. It was too much trouble," Gould said. "And we don't want people to shoot bears."

Carol Rafferty, who has hiked with the group for 10 years, said the group has up to 20 people in summer. "We get some tourists," she said. The group is smaller in winter with many members traveling out of town.

Regardless of the number of people or the type of weather, the group always meets at 9:30 a.m. at a trailhead.

On a recent Wednesday hike, only three people showed up at Eaglecrest Ski Area's parking lot. It was raining, snowing and windy. But the group proceeded to Cropley Lake steady and fast.

"It's an average day for us," Gould said. "We have hiked in worse weather."

Decades of regular hiking have kept Gould, Rafferty and Armstrong in a great shape. They skied nonstop uphill along Eaglecrest's downhill ski runs while encouraging a person 40 years younger to catch up with them.

"This is the most difficult part," said Armstrong, 67. "We are almost there."

Hiking with the group is a good learning experience.

They point out flora and bear tracks. They recommend hiking gear and ski equipment. They share such tips as packing snow with skis before sitting down for a lunch break.

"So you won't sink," Armstrong said while stumping snow with his ski. "We learned from years of miseries."

Because of the age of the group, sometimes the conversations shift to such topics as hearing aides or ways to ease backaches.

"We grow old together," said Armstrong, who recommends meditation to relieve back pain. "We share similar aches and pains."

Robert Garrison, 84, said the group has supported him through many hard times. He lost his wife about three years ago and is living with prostate cancer. He started hiking with the group when he retired 34 years ago.

"Hiking with them has made a difference in my life," said Garrison, who calls Gould and Rafferty "gals." "I am still around doing things most people in their 80s aren't doing."

Armstrong, who has hiked with the group for more than 30 years, said he has learned to appreciate Juneau's beauty more through the hikes.

"I really like Granite Basin. We often see wildlife at Hilda Meadows," Armstrong said. "One of the prettiest places in Juneau is a place we call A Naked Man Lake close to Mount Troy. It got the name when a group of hikers came across a man bathing in the lake."

Armstrong encourages people to go hiking with the group.

"You don't have to go all the way. You can always turn around and go back," Armstrong said. "You will get better if you do this more often."

• I-Chun Che can be reached at ichun.che@juneauempire.com.



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