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Log On, Lace Up

Posted by Loren D at Nov 07, 2017 03:08 PM |

It can be hard to find a community that shares your passion for hiking. Local Facebook groups like Washington Hikers & Climbers or PNW Outdoor Women are connecting modern hikers.

If you are a hiker, Washington state might just be your mecca. We have thousands of trails and a unique ecosystem of agencies and organizations bringing communities together to protect and steward those lands. But hiking can be a solitary endeavor, and the sheer quantity of options can be overwhelming.

If you’re new, you might need someone to show you the ropes. Sometimes you need a hiking friend: someone to give you last-minute advice, to celebrate your summits and to commiserate with when things go sideways.

Hiking friends on the coast by Robert GarlowFacebook groups are just one way that people are using online communities to find their outdoor adventure buddies. Photo by Robert Garlow

We recently talked to the minds behind two local Facebook groups—Washington Hikers & Climbers (WHC) and PNW Outdoor Women (PNWOW)—where tens of thousands of hikers have found camaraderie, a cheering squad and community.

“We have such a varied audience,” the WHC admins said. “Folks who have completed the Bulger list, hikers who have hiked for decades and people who are just getting up off the couch and want to step into the wilderness for the first time.”

People are drawn to the groups for all kinds of reasons.

“One of the draws of our group is that it doesn’t exist solely online,” admins of PNWOW said. “We get out and share the trail together or get together at a local spot to talk about gear and tell our stories. We have fostered an open, supportive community within the online and offline communities where women feel safe asking questions and sharing their stories.”

“Almost everyone I hang out with is someone I’ve met through WHC,” admitted one admin. “I hike with a few of them almost every weekend.”

But creating a place where people want to spend time and forge enduring connections isn’t easy. The admins of both groups devote a lot of time, thought and energy to keeping their groups positive and inclusive. It’s a tough and sometimes frustrating job.

The admins of WHC collectively spend more than 100 hours a week moderating the page. Their philosophy: Take the high ground, educate and elevate the conversation. PNWOW admins work hard to keep their space a positive, safe one as well.

“We created a standard of civility and ask that all members engage each other with a respectful tone,” PNWOW admins said. “No matter how different our lives, we all share the experience of identifying as female and that makes a great access point for deeper conversations.”

Neither group thought their rosters would grow so large so fast. And with numbers in the tens of thousands, both groups grapple with the potential impacts of their success. They emphasize Leave No Trace values and education at every opportunity. But at the heart of each group are hikers who love the places they are exploring, and both groups report they’ve seen their members rise to the challenge of giving back, including volunteering and donating to a number of causes and organizations (including WTA!).

The power of both groups remains rooted in their origin stories. They may be social media powerhouses, but they are also just people looking to forge a human connection and a love for wild places.

“One of the reasons we founded this group relates to the rich tradition of mentorship in the outdoors,” PNWOW admins said. “It doesn’t matter who you are; you probably have something to teach and something to learn. We want to encourage everyone to be open to sharing their knowledge and story with others. You never know whose life you will change if you’re willing to open up.”

This article originally appeared in the November+December 2017 issue of Washington Trails Magazine. Support trails as a member of WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.