Paths well-traveled

Ten club members on their way to the snowshoeing trail head. Although the hike is free, a $6 permit is required for each vehicle parked at the Sno-Park lot.

Ten club members on their way to the snowshoeing trail head. Although the hike is free, a $6 permit is required for each vehicle parked at the Sno-Park lot. Photo by Alfred Diaz.

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TOLLGATE — “It was intense. We didn’t even have a trail. We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into,” Lisa Matiaco said, remembering that first hike for the Walla Walla Hiking club. The she added, “It was awesome.”

Club leader Joe Jacobs admits the inaugural hike was a challenge.

“Juniper Dunes was kind of tough. It was a little overly ambitious where we wanted to go because I wanted to get back to where the old growth junipers were. And when you are hiking in sand dunes, it looks like there is no elevation, but you are going up the dunes and down the dunes,” Jacobs said.

Not all the Walla Walla Hiking Club excursions are so vigorous.

On some trips, such as the Indian Ridge hike, Jacobs stations a dropout vehicle for those who don’t want to do the full six miles. But there is still a modicum conditioning required.

“I would say that you do need to be at a minimum level of fitness. But one thing about this year and what I am doing a little differently is I am starting out with some easier hikes,” Jacobs said.

Nevertheless, there are still some challenging adventures, such as last month’s snowshoe hike at Andies Prairie, where the snow banks proved almost as difficult as the sand dunes.

But the beauty of the outdoors made up for it for Sam and Nobuko Pasan, who have hiked the Appalachians and the Sierras and many mountains between.

“It’s a cool opportunity to see some of the area around here, because we are new to the area,” Sam said as one of the advantages of joining a hiking club.

Every other week — weather and previous commitments permitting — Jacobs has been trying to schedule hikes for members like Karen Kirkwood, who enjoys visiting remote places in the safety of numbers.

“Then I can hike with other people and then the cougars won’t get me,” Kirkwood said, adding that she recognized people are probably more of a threat that mountain lions. But they are also the other reason she joined the club.

“I want to meet people that enjoy the things that I do,” Kirkwood said.

Safety is a big factor for Jacobs, who takes along a handheld GPS navigator, plenty of water, a first-aid kit and a keen sense of what the group can handle, as was proven in the recent snowshoe hike.

At one point, the group faced the plight of every wanderer of woods. The paths diverged. One path followed an old set of snowshoe tracks that seemed to lead up a very promising glen. The other more-traveled path led up a vigorous hillside.

“There’s probably a reason that one is not well-worn,” Jacobs said.

Thus, unlike poet Robert Frost, he did not take the path less-traveled.

“Sometimes we have small groups and people are more experienced and fit, and I will take more adventurous paths,” Jacobs said.

The Walla Walla Hiking Club already has 105 online members and joining is free.

Jacobs said he is also looking for other qualified hiking-group leaders.

The next club adventure is a less vigorous six mile hike at Harris Park Trail on April 7.

Meet up is at 10 a.m. at the Bi-Mart parking lot, 1649 Plaza Way.

Future hikes include Palouse Falls on April 27 and Juniper Dunes on May 18.

For more information on the Walla Walla Hiking Club, go online to meetup.com/WallaWallahikingclub.

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