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Kitsap Mountaineers promise high adventure

The club takes intrepid islanders all over the wilds of the peninsula.

Kitsap residents can appreciate living an hour’s drive to beautiful wilderness, but not everyone knows how to “get out in the wild.”

It can take an out-of-town guest, or a class with the Mountaineers.

“When I moved here, I was amazed at the number of locals who hadn’t been to obvious places, like Mt. Rainier,” said islander Bill Evans, who took a backpacking course with the Mountaineers 30 years ago, and is now a hike leader for the group. “We’re smack in the middle of hiking heaven.”

The Mountaineers, a nonprofit outdoor club that began in Seattle, counts 250 members in Kitsap County alone where a branch was formed two years ago. North Kitsap and Bainbridge residents represent a large group.

The club distinguishes itself from others by the training it offers, from hiking to kayaking to snowshoeing and winter travel.

Doug Terry, the incoming chairman of the Kitsap chapter, says hiking and sea kayaking are the most popular activities here. And appropriate to the coming season, he is offering a snowshoeing and winter travel class in mid-November.

Students learn how to snowshoe, hike on steep slopes and read a snow pack to know where it is safe to go.

One day trip is spent on Hurricane Ridge just practicing to dig in with an ice axe.

“We go through it until you get it right,” Terry said. “And we go through apparel. To me, apparel is primary.”

“And footwear,” Evans adds. “If you start getting blisters half way through, your trip is over.”

In addition to classes, the club offers numerous hikes, walks, trips, trail maintenance work parties and social events. Trips range from gentle walks at Gazzam Lake to serious hikes to Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, Mt. Walker and the Elwa River.

Club hikes are professionally organized with insured hike leaders who have to pass qualifications that fill a thick binder.

People showing up unprepared may be turned away.

“What sets them apart is they offer so much training and classes,” said member and islander Joanne Croghan, who has tried out other outdoor clubs, too. “When folks (in the Mountaineers) hit the trail, they’re trained.”

To anyone hesitating to at least try hiking in the Olympics once, Evans says, “It’s a chance to get a little workout, but at the same time, it’s a spiritual experience. You see these huge trees, hear birds...

“I always say when you get in the Olympics, it’s as good as the Himalayans and just as impressive. You almost have to get out and do it to understand it.”

The other draw is meeting people.

“Other groups can be cliquish with the same members showing up for events,” Croghan said. “Whereas the Mountaineers is a huge group and the people you meet can be so interesting. No two are alike except that they like the outdoors.”

Croghan says on the trips she’s been on, participants come from every age group.

“One of the nicest aspects for young people is to be with a group of adults and learn they can have fun without their peers,” she said. “Young people are sometimes surprised that older people are interested in the same things they are.”

Events are facilitated by recreational properties owned by the club including the 300-acre Rhododendron Preserve protecting old growth trees in the county, Kitsap Cabin and theater-in-the-woods Forest Theatre near Bremerton and four ski lodges.

Non-members may also participate in classes or hike as a guest, but as Evans points out, “The main advantage of membership is it forces you to go out and do it.”

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Membership to the Mountaineers Kitsap Branch for an individual is $55 per year with a $35 one-time initiation fee. Classes are also open to non-members.

For more information, see www.kitsapmountaineers.org or call (360) 692-8822.

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