Ticks and Spirituality: On the trail with Kootenay Mountaineering Club

The dedicated group of hikers have been exploring the Kootenays since the 1960s.

A hiker looks out onto Lower Arrow Lake on Sunday during an outing with the Kootenay Mountaineering Club.

Trivial things like trails don’t concern hikers Hazel and Ed Beynon. The Castlegar couple routinely spot mountains they decide to climb for no particular reason. One recently stood out.

“We’d saw that quite a few times and thought, ‘oh let’s try that.’ We went on that side and found a way up,” said Hazel.

What they found was a mountain infested with wood ticks. The spot, which the Beynons now refer to as Tick Mountain, cannot be found on Google Maps but should probably be avoided by future explorers.

The Beynons remain undeterred. They were often ahead of the group Sunday as 19 members of the Kootenay Mountaineering Club took a spring hike through Yellow Pine Trail in Syringa Provincial Park near Castlegar.

If on this day the group had a pair of figureheads, it was the Beynons. Hazel moved to West Kootenay in 1966 and has been a KMC member since 1993. Val Utgaren, who refers to Hazel as her hero, recalled the shame she felt trying to keep up with the oldest members of the group during a winter hike.

“I was struggling and only my pride, only my grit pride, was keeping me going because Hazel was going still further ahead,” said Utgaren. “She had worse snowshoes than I did. I have expensive snowshoes. Seriously, she’s amazing.”

There was plenty of camaraderie between members on the four-hour hike. The club, according to its website, first formed in 1964 as a Kootenay section of the Alpine Club of Canada. It later reformed as KMC in 1969 and has continued ever since. Today 320 members take part in year-round exploration of the Kootenays.

Sunday’s hike was graded as one of the easier expeditions on KMC’s schedule. The hike was momentarily made difficult by some scrambling up rocks that put to shame the stamina of a straggling Star reporter, but that was the point — the hikers are preparing for more difficult trips this summer.

The regimented hikes are part of the club’s appeal to a membership mostly made up of retirees. Sherry Watson said she likes the ease of going on a hike that’s already been organized.

“I think a lot of people belong because it’s easy if you’re a single hiker or if your partner doesn’t hike,” said Watson. “Like, I wouldn’t want to go into the woods by myself, so that was the draw. I knew it was rated and was going to be a group of people so I could feel safe and enjoy something I liked. It’s a pain to organize it with your friends. This way it was all done.”

There’s also something spiritual about the hikes. Meditation doesn’t seem as though it should be possible in the company of several other people, but Watson finds a compromise between the security of the group and moments of isolation.

“The one nice thing about being in a group is you can also be by yourself,” she said. “You can go to the top and sit off by yourself and just have that quiet moment but you’ve got the security of a group. You can really just be with nature by yourself.”

Alan Sheppard, who co-ordinated and led Sunday’s hike with his wife Pat, has been with KMC for 20 years. A retired high school teacher, Sheppard usually hikes once or twice a week in the summer. Nature, he said, never disappoints him.

“A few years ago a veteran from the club said to me, ‘you know, some people get on my case for having hikes on Sunday because I should be in church, in their opinion. But my church is right here. … I love nature. So when I’m in nature I’m communicating with God.’

“I thought, wow, that’s pretty heavy. I wouldn’t go that far. But there’s something that’s good for people to be out, and I feel that way. A sense of nature.”

The hike Sunday wound through a mountain trail and ended with a beach stroll along Lower Arrow Lake. Nothing as dramatic as a bear encounter occurred, but on the beach hikers realized they were walking on the sandy remains of a highway used prior to the construction of the nearby Hugh Keenleyside Dam in the late 1960s.

Even for people who have spent years exploring the Kootenays, there are still discoveries to be made.

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