by Nancy Haggerty, Poughkeepsie Journal, link to original post
Saturday, like on so many days, Dan Tavares was heading out with friends — like-minded folks who find joy in the outdoors. The agenda: The Catskills’ North Dome and Sherrill.
The peaks were the last the 57-year-old Poughquag resident needed to climb for 3500 Winter Club membership, a distinction given those summitting all 35 Catskill peaks of at least 3,500 feet between Dec. 21 and March 21. There’s no time limit for completion. Start any year, finish any year.
But while friend and fellow Hudson Valley Hiking (Yahoo) Group member Steve Emanuel did all 35 last winter, Tavares’ first winter Catskill peak was in 2000. He then hiked elsewhere before deciding he wanted a 3500 winter patch. “Once I decided to do it, there was no question whatsoever (about finishing),” Tavares said.
The name Hudson Valley Hiking Group doesn’t tell the complete story, since cycling’s a huge activity and members do other things together, including kayaking. The group officially formed in 2003, but some members have hiked together for 20-plus years.
Sixty-one people are listed members, but probably only 12-15 regularly participate and only about half a dozen go out every weekend, said Rick Taylor, 50, of Montrose, who got his regular 3500 certification (doing the 35 mountains plus four in the winter) in 1992 and his winter certification in 1994.
Taylor, who’ll likely complete the winter 35 a fourth time before this winter ends, estimates about a dozen group members have regular and eight have winter Catskill certification.
But while the Catskills are certainly a focal point, the group’s beauty is its go-anywhere mantra. Some trips are long planned. Others result from last-minute online postings. Members have done everything from rail-trail cycling in multiple states to simply biking New York City. They’ve backpacked portions of the Appalachian Trail, hiked the Berkshires, Whites and Taconics, and hiked and mountain-biked in the Adirondacks.
Each year, a big hike is planned. Destinations have included the Grand Canyon, the Grand Tetons, the Rockies, Texas’ Big Bend National Park and the High Sierras.
Eight went to Utah last year. Tavares, a huge fan of westerns, loved hiking Utah’s sandstone-rich desert. “It was just absolutely mind-boggling — unbelievable,” he said.
This summer’s calendar includes two weeks in Yosemite. How much this trip with friends means is probably best summed up by Christopher Zaleski, 44, of Wappingers Falls, who said: “If work told me, ‘You can’t go on this trip,’ I’d quit my job.”
Taylor, a home remodeler, hopes Alaska is on the horizon. He likes hiking’s challenge and the views that serve as his reward.
Winter, of course, provides unique landscapes. Conditions sometimes require microspikes or snowshoes.
While Emanuel said, “You don’t want to go up if it’s too tortuous,” last winter it was snowing and windy when he and Taylor summitted the Catskills’ Panther Mountain, trudging through 2-foot-high drifts. Descending, they discovered their steps had been obliterated by new drifts.
Tavares, who works for New York City Transit, hiked Southwest Hunter Mountain with Poughquag’s Tony Lopez in falling, wind-swept snow. At the summit, they couldn’t find the canister for Lopez to sign in to document his hike.
Eventually, they gave up, meaning Lopez had to re-hike the mountain. Still, no one seems to mind re-hiking areas. “Every hike is different, even if just two days apart,” said Emanuel, 62, who has hiked Storm King four times since retiring a year-and-a-half ago as a public accounting firm’s systems manager.
Emanuel, whose job allowed little downtime, joined the group after meeting Lopez while walking his dogs in their neighborhood. The former Boy Scout, who’d last hiked in the early 1980s, now often hikes multiple days a week. “You look out and see how amazing it all is,” Emanuel said. “ … The air is clear, the sites, the scenery. Some people claim they get high doing it. Your mind is free. It can wander. You can talk to people coming and going. It’s just getting together.”
Zaleski, an IBM pricer, said the outdoors provides escape from the “man-made world.” He describes group members as “people who like to laugh and who enjoy the ability to move, see and feel.”
An avid hiker since age 18, Zaleski has diplomas from Arlington High School, Dutchess Community College, Binghamton University and SUNY New Paltz. But he said, “I’m more proud of the 3500 club certificate than anything.” “It just enriches life so much to have a connection with the mountains and with people,” he said. “We just want to spread our wings and see what’s going on. I don’t care where we go. I just love the people I go with.”