Spring is Coming: Get Ready to Take on the Outdoors!

Blue Mountain Hiking Club

With spring at our doorsteps, just the thought of getting out into the warm sunshine, exploring the greening forests, and breathing the fresh mountain air makes hikers want to strap on their hiking boots and head for the trails. They can’t get there soon enough!

Hiking as a Lifestyle Choice

Walking and hiking are the most natural health promoting physical activities available in our modern life. My father, a Swiss country doctor of few words, used to advise many a patient to “Walk more and eat less! It’s the secret to a longer and happier life.” True to his advice, every Sunday he took his family for several hours walking in the countryside. What started out as boring for me at the time grew into an exhilarating pursuit of hiking new trails in the mountains which gives me great joy.

Many hikers make this a permanent lifestyle choice by joining a hiking club, and bonding with like minded people. I share my passion with my hiking club, the local Blue Mountain Hiking Club. We explore nature’s great outdoors through many different hikes, backpacking tours, and skiing events. We value fellowship and camaraderie and adhere to good hiking etiquette. We support our hikers by taking breaks as necessary, and each hike is led by a guide in front and a “sweeper” who hikes at the rear of the group in order to leave no hiker behind. We are very supportive of each other, focus on trail safety, and practice the Leave-No-Trace policy in order to support trail conservation.

Where Do We Hike?

We hike in the Blue Mountain region, which is the colloquial name of the most northwestern ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia and the eastern panhandle of West Virginia. It contains the Shenandoah National Park with 500 miles of trails including the portion of the Appalachian Trail that traverses the entire length of the ridge along its western slope and crest.

The George Washington National Forest is another of our frequently visited parks. The trails are less crowded and it offers the added bonus of being allowed to build a campfire. During the winter, when snow and ice cover the trails, the slopes of West Virginia offer cross-country and downhill skiing.

Our Hike Leaders

A good hike needs preparation and that’s the hike leader’s commitment to all who join him or her on the trail. The hike leader needs to know the trail and its challenges, the weather and its inconsistencies, and the strength and weaknesses of the hikers who join the hike. The main characteristic of a great hike leader is the ability to help other hikers enjoy their outing in nature.

The Blue Mountain Hiking Club rests on the strong foundation of experienced hike leaders who all know each other and support each other in offering a wonderful hiking experience with every hike they schedule. I would like to introduce those exceptional individuals.


L-R: Toni Crouch, Schanna Chilcote, John Hagarty, Hike Leaders


Schanna Chilcote is the co-organizer of the Blue Mountain Hiking Club. She began hiking regularly in 2016, eventually becoming a hike leader in 2017. What started as a diversion from the tolls of a busy life and a means to improve her physical health quickly became a passion and a lifestyle. Her personal motto is “Hiking is my salvation.” Through conducting periodic hiking clinics, Schanna hopes to inspire others to join our club and adopt the hiking lifestyle.

Schanna enjoys all types of hiking, especially the longer, more challenging hikes. In 2017, she completed a 21-mile endurance hike in Dolly Sods, WV, a fundraiser benefiting CureSearch for Children’s Cancer. She is currently in the process of hiking all 500 miles of trails within the Shenandoah National Park. Whenever possible, she enjoys hiking once or twice a week and leads most of her hikes in the SNP.

Schanna will soon join four others in the community as a member of the Pedestrian Bicycle Greenway Advisory Committee’s Hiking Task Force. The task force will identify and recommend new hiking trails that could be opened or reopened for public use within Fauquier County. Their first order of business will be the hiking trails of the soon-to-open Riverside Preserve along the Rappahannock River.

Toni Crouch is the hike leader with the most ready smile and loves to meet new people on the trail, and with her sunny disposition turns them instantly into friends who look forward to coming back for more hiking. She is not too keen on hiking in cold weather but you can count on her scheduling many moderate and beginner’s hikes starting in the spring. This year Toni is also organizing a weeklong club hike in the Sawtooth Wilderness in Idaho which rivals any of the better known National Parks in beauty and adventure.

Toni is also the organizer of the newly started entertainment corner “Books and Flicks” for the hiking club. She gathers input from our hikers about easy reads and uplifting movies which she then publishes in the message section on our club’s Meetup site.

Cooper Wright has loved hiking since his days in the Boy Scouts, at West Point, and while serving as an Army Ranger. Army life builds a natural motivation to stay fit, and hiking accomplishes that for Cooper, who loves to spend time in the outdoors. For him, the most critical thing about hiking is what you do before you hit the trail — plan ahead and prepare! Have we checked the weather and hike route? Have we brought sufficient clothing, food and water? Do we know where the bailout points are and what to do in case of an emergency? He knows that even for an experienced hiker, proper preparation can often prevent unwanted situations from occurring during the hike.


L-R: Garrick Giebel, Cooper Wright, Ann Grenade, Hike Leaders


John Hagarty is a lifelong hiker and backpacker. He remembers just about every hike he has done and barely ever needs a map on the trail. It is a delight to be on the trail with John, he can make you forget that you carry around 40 pounds on your back and he adheres to one popular, hard and fast rule — happy hour starts at 5 p.m., at which time the campfire is burning. John is also a trail overseer in the Shenandoah National Park and regularly goes out on the trail to clear blowdowns or do trail repair.

With such a busy outdoor life one just has to wonder where he finds the time and energy to make wine and beer at home, or fill his website Hagarty on Wine with hundreds of articles about the art and science of winemaking.

Garrick Giebel and Anne Grenade, our husband and wife team, share the work of doing the research, scheduling, and leading numerous hikes ranging in difficulty from beginner to moderately strenuous. They enjoy not only the hiking but also the friendships that can be made on the trails nearby and abroad.

Last year they joined a group from our hiking club to explore the East Coast Trail in Newfoundland, Canada and the year before they hiked in the Swiss Mountains. They are on the trail at least once a week. Garry has also attended the two-day Wilderness First Aid Course and in his pack, like all our hike leaders, carries a first aid kit.

Both Garrick and Anne are also excellent skiers, a joy to watch when they take to the slopes with elegance and navigate the black diamond trails effortlessly.

Stephen Herholtz, who is a volunteer at the Manassas National Battlefield Park, offers moderate hikes with a detailed focus on Civil War history and Dave Engan, our newest hike leader, is eager to schedule some moderate hikes soon.

The Blue Mountain Hiking Club is privileged to have such a group of dedicated hike leaders who provide our community with a wonderful resource to enjoy the Great Outdoors in safety.

The Blue Mountain Hiking Club can be found at meetup.com/Blue-Mountain-Hiking-Club

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About Andreas Keller 16 Articles
Andreas A. Keller is a passionate hiker, avid backpacker and the organizer of the Blue Mountain Hiking Club which can be found on Meetup.com. He can also be reached via email at aakeller@mac.com.

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