A recent weeklong hiking trip dubbed the “50-50-50” should serve as an inspiration for anybody who ever attended summer camp as a teenager and promised their new friends they’d stay close forever.
A group of counselors at Leavenworth’s old Catholic Youth Organization Camp Field have managed to keep that promise to themselves over the decades. The camp is gone (it’s now the Sleeping Lady Resort), but the counselors and their families still reunite several times each year.
Feeling ambitious, 11 of these members (six counselors and five spouses) concocted the 50-50-50: Fifty miles of hiking by a group of 50-plusers, 50 years after the team’s organizer first made the trip.
They entered the Alpine Lakes Wilderness for a 50-mile loop hike that included 8,000 feet of climbing, a stretch on the Pacific Crest Trail, dips in chilly lakes and, as you might expect from a group of former camp counselors, a lot of singing.
“You will know we are trekkers by our feet, by our feet,” they sang as they wandered the trails Aug. 20-26.
It was just the greatest group of people to go backpacking with. They talked about having to encourage reluctant kids and singing. That was part of the magic of this trip. They were so up. No complaining. David Ramsey, hiker and elementary school music teacher
The trip was the idea of Monte Koreis, a 65-year-old Molson resident, who first did the Twana Trek as a tennis-shoe-wearing teen. Along the way he developed a deep, lifelong love for the outdoors.
Those who joined in this year’s trek now live all across the state, including one from the South Sound.
David Ramsey, 61, is the music teacher at Tacoma’s Franklin Elementary. He became a member of the group 25 years ago when he married Monica Valentine, a camp counselor from 1971-74.
Valentine wasn’t able to make the trek, but Ramsey recently took some time to talk about what he said was a meaningful experience.
Q: Why do you think this group has stayed so close over the years?
A: Working as camp counselors at Camp Field was a coming of age for these folks. They came to know themselves in the service of others, which continued throughout their lives as they became forest rangers, city managers, teachers, principals, counselors, special education teachers, public defenders, mayors, nurses, social workers, artists and people who are regularly involved in social justice, defending the environment and working in untold unpaid positions in schools, churches and on behalf of the public good.
After camp, for the first 20 years of raising families, there was relatively little contact. But as family demands lessened, getting together to enjoy the outdoors grew. But it also included support through challenges such as cancer, death of spouses, divorce, death of siblings, surgeries, illness of children and much more.
Camp Field was a coming of age for these folks. They came to know themselves in the service of others, which continued throughout their lives. David Ramsey, hiker and elementary school music teacher
With Camp Field and the mountains as commonalities, getting together provides a touchstone and a source of renewal as these camp counselors live their lives of service. Which is to say 11 of us went on the hike, but the rest, if unable now to hike with us, were well aware of our trek and were clearly there in spirit. A dozen of them greeted us at trail’s end, to camp out and to celebrate with us for another night in nature.
Q: What’s it like hiking with this group?
A: It was just the greatest group of people to go backpacking with. They talked about having to encourage reluctant kids and singing. That was part of the magic of this trip. They were so up. No complaining. They were encouraging each other. Just a super group of people to be around.
Q: Was it challenging to train for this?
A: I’ve been wanting to do a 50-miler for a long time. People overcame a lot of stuff. One guy had brain surgery six months before. Somebody had trouble with their adrenal glands, and a lot of people had pretty achy knees.
We went on a little get-your-gear-together hike at the beginning of the summer, and there were a lot of creaky joints and “Oh my gosh, I don’t know if I can do this.” And they really got in shape and pulled it off.
One of the advantages we had with a group of people who are around 60 is the capacity to enjoy the beauty of nature. We took our time looking at the mountains and the lakes. It was just wonderful to be able to enjoy the beauty of nature with these folks.
Q: How big was your pack?
A: I’ve worked over the last four years to go ultralight, so I was 21 pounds for the week. I was clearly the lightest. Most had a little over 30 pounds.
Q: That’s a pretty big difference. What did your hiking partners say when they realized they were carrying more weight?
A: They called me a wimp, and I called them dummies.
Q: Any other interesting experiences?
A: I happened to lose my mom in August. I brought an ounce of her ashes on the trip. On the last night out, at Lake Josephine, the headwaters of Icicle Creek, we talked about my mom, and it was pretty cathartic for me. We went over to this little stream, and I put mom’s ashes down there, and we followed her all the way back to the trailhead next day. It had a deep, deep impact.
Q: What’s next?
A: Many from the group did the Enchantments two years ago, and we are all going to enter the (hiking permit) lottery (for 2017).
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