Chemeketans: Hikers, climbers, bikers band together for outdoor fun

August 2018 Posted in Community, Your Health
Linda Willnow and Mary Coleman hiking Canyon Creek Meadows

Mary Coleman (right) with fellow Chemeketan Linda Willnow on a hike in Canyon Creek Meadows near Mount Jefferson. Bill Geibel

By Melissa Wagoner

In 1992 Mary Coleman decided to take a hike. Normally an avid golfer, Coleman wanted to branch out but her husband and golfing partner wasn’t all that interested. Her hiking career could have ended there but then she discovered the Chemeketans – an outdoor club of over 600 members whose primary activity is day hiking. 

“My husband doesn’t hike and so I have several hundred of my best friends to go hike,” Coleman laughed. “I had to rent a friend – the Chemeketans.”

Established in 1928, the idea for the Chemeketans came about when a group of climbers summited Mount Hood and – looking over the valley below – decided to establish a hiking group in Salem.

“They summited all the mountains around here,” Coleman said. “They were a force.”

Still going strong over 90 years later, the Chemeketans are a hub of information and activities for hikers, backpackers, climbers and even paddlers.

“We cover all gamuts,” Coleman said. “It doesn’t matter who you are, if you can do it with joy in your heart, you’re in.” An established non-profit, the Chemeketans are completely volunteer-run. And with a membership fee of $20 per year, it is affordable for just about everyone.

“It’s cheap, it’s healthy, it makes no impact,” Coleman said. “There are no negatives but sweat and bad knees.”

With two to three hikes on each weekend day and several scheduled during the week, it is an option for those with a busy schedule. Each outing is listed with drive time, hike distance and elevation gain. They are also rated by difficulty ranging from “Dawdler” – for photographers and those who are slow moving – through “Very Hard” – for those who like a longer, more strenuous climb.

“Go to the website and read what to take with you and what to expect,” she suggested. “You need to know what walking up hill is like. If you can walk up Danger Hill without stopping to rest then you can be in with the hard group. But if you start out with an easy hike you should be fine.”

Each hike is directed by a leader who takes reservations, verifies that all in attendance are appropriately attired, with water and snacks and heads up the hike.

“Most of our leaders are really good,” Coleman said. “They make sure people are included. And there’s always somebody who knows the geology, somebody who knows the trees – you have a little professorship if you’re interested in hearing.”

Chemeketan leaders are also the persons who select the hikes or activities on offer – each taking a month and choosing their favorite spots for that time of year.

“I’m queen of July,” Coleman laughed. “My favorites are Jefferson Park, Coffin Mountain – whatever hike is blooming is always awesome.”

Chemeketans is open to all ages – including those with children – but not to dogs.  “We don’t take dogs – period,” Coleman stressed.

For those with children Coleman suggested paying attention to the hike’s difficulty and coming prepared.

“It’s an all-day event,” she said. “You leave home at eight and you get home at five.”

Hikes generally begin at a common meeting place – often the Sublimity Park and Ride – and drivers are compensated for their gas.

“We’re hopelessly prompt,” she warned. “When they say, ‘Eight o’clock meeting time,’ we’re ready to roll at eight o’clock.”

Apart from day hikes, Coleman also enjoys the Chemeketans’ annual outing. Held in a remote wilderness area, 95 campers convene every year for a week – or two – of tent camping, day hikes and outdoor fun.

“All you do is set up your tent and hike with your friends,” she said. “I’ve missed two in the last 30 years because it’s a wonderful time.”

Coleman suggests that anyone who is interested in giving hiking a go – or who is new to the area and looking to explore – sign on with the Chemeketans. “I always tell people to sign up and ask questions,” she said. “If you even think you might want to try it, give it a try.”

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