PHOTOS — Hikers choosing paths less travelled
Hiking and Alberta go hand-in-hand.
No wonder more Central Albertans are taking to the trails in parks, the West Country, Rocky Mountains, Central Alberta and Red Deer.
Bertha Ford, one of the original organizers of the Red Deer Ramblers, said interest is climbing so high that more hiking clubs are needed.
The Ramblers, which started 16 years ago, has about 110 members this year. Luckily, only about 40 at most have shown up for hikes, she said.
“Now that we’re on the web, I’ll bet I’ve had 20 to 25 people find me,” Ford said.
The Ramblers go on day and multi-day trips in Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia and have some devoted hikers.
“We have people from Canmore who join us if we’re in the area. We have a lady who comes from Grand Forks (B.C.) and hikes with us all the time. She loved our group and she comes out regularly to hike with us now.”
Ford can’t resist the pull of the mountains.
“I love nature and I love walking so I wanted to find people who would go to the mountains. We’re quite close and they’re so beautiful.”
Ford said all ages are welcome, but they must be able to hike 10 km and do moderate elevations.
“We go slow. I’m 73. I can keep climbing but I have to go slow and we do go slow. Our stopping time is often longer than our hiking time.”
She said in the great outdoors, hikers need to be really prepared.
“You’ve got to wear proper clothing. You can’t wear cotton. You’ve got to have plenty of water. You’ve got to have proper boots. You can’t just go in running shoes.
“I’ve been on hikes in the mountains where people started out in shorts and by the end of the hike we were wearing everything we had in our backpacks. You’ve got to carry extra fleece. You’ve got to carry rain gear. You’ve got to have toques and hats.”
Animal sightings do happen and Ramblers have seen bears — from a distance, Ford said.
“It’s not a problem if you’re smart. If you know about bears, you should be travelling in groups. If you’re in bear area, you should be travelling with a minimum of four people and you should be carrying bear spray. You should be careful. You should be on the lookout, making noise.
“You don’t take any smelly food. You don’t drop food. You don’t throw out apple cores.
“You don’t throw out peels. You don’t leave food anywhere.”
If hikers want to take it to the next level — scrambling — the Central Alberta Mountain Club may be for them.
“Scrambling means that you use both your hands and your feet to get up it. It’s one step below actual mountain climbing where you have to start bringing additional gear,” said club president Marilyn Strilchuk, Central Alberta Mountain Club, which started in 2000 and hikes all over Central Alberta and into the Rocky Mountains.
In addition to scrambling they go on regular hikes, easy to advance levels, and multi-day backpacking.
“We are so fortunate to have world-class hiking opportunities that we can do on a weekend. People just don’t realize how fortunate we are.
Some people come to Canada as their trip of a lifetime and they’re thrilled to have the opportunity to get on the trails,” said the 59-year-old, who has been hiking for 30 years.
One of the reasons she got involved was to stay fit.
“It’s so much nicer to be on a hiking trail than putting in time on a treadmill in a gym. There is always something new to see. I love being in the outdoors. I always take a camera with me. I’ve met some really wonderful people on various hikes.”
About 18 families and 60 individuals are club members.
A limit is put on the number of hikers per destination to keep track of everyone and for safety.
Strilchuk said the club has a good safety and injury record because they do encourage people to hike according to their health and experience level.
“We want to make sure everyone is going to have an enjoyable experience and progress at a reasonable pace to get to more challenging hikes.”
Weather is always a roll of the dice.
“Every year is so different. This year, there are incredible amounts of snow in the mountains.
“We had a good hiking season last year. It was so long and warm. I remember still hiking in Yoho National Park up the ice line trail in mid October. The temperatures were in the mid 20s and sun was shining,” Strilchuk said.
Red Deer Area Hikers has been operating for 15 years. It started out as the Thursday Hikers organized by Red Deer resident Jim Muza in 1998. He got hooked on hiking as a snowbird in the United States. Muza, who has since died, wanted to focus on short hikes in and around the city.
Yolande Stubbs, who is in her 70s and has been hiking with the group for 10 years, said Muza charted every hike to the kilometre and led every hike.
“Our favourite out-of-town trip is Rocky Mountain House and the fort out there. It’s all nature. You’re next to the river. You go into the interpretive centre where there’s lots of information. We bring a lunch. If we cut that one out, a lot of people would be disappointed,” said Stubbs, whose husband Art, 74, joined the group shortly after her.
Red Deer Hikers operates on a drop-in basis and attracts 10 to 30 people weekly to their 9 a.m. hikes.
Stubbs said only poor weather will cancel the hikes that run from May to September.
Lynn Danyluk, co-ordinator with the Red Deer Area Hikers, said most of the hikers are retired, a few do shift work, and there are newcomers to the city who want to get to know Red Deer.
“Although I’d been in Red Deer most of my adult life, there are parts of these trails that I didn’t even know and I’m a runner,” Danyluk said.
“A lot of people aren’t familiar with how extensive the Pines Escarpment is,” she said about one of her favourite city trails.
The group meets at the northwest parking lot of the curling facility Pidherney Centre and uses many of the Red Deer trail system routes.
“It’s so diverse and there are many different locations. Each one is different and unique. When we go to Heritage Ranch, we don’t just stay on the path. We go off the asphalt path and go right back into the trails there,” Danyluk said.
Red Deer Hikers pace themselves to the slowest person in the group. They don’t leave anyone behind.
Stubbs said most people who participate are in good physical condition no matter what their age.
“We have more than one over 80 and they can keep up.”
For more information, visit www.reddeerramblers.com, www.camchiking.ca.
For more on Red Deer Area Hikers, call Stubbs at 403-347-5778.