Sub Alpine Club of America – Funny name, serious about hiking


Doug McLarnan waits on the bank while Sue Siegel crosses a stream on Doug’s plank bridge.


I first encountered hikers from the Sub Alpine Club of America years ago. I thought it was a joke.

I was canoeing on the Mohican River and stopped at a spring near Brinkhaven to replenish my water supply. A long line of hikers emerged from a pasture and I said hello.

“We’re the Sub Alpine Hiking Club of America,” a man at the front of the line announced.

I thought he was kidding.

I later came to know one of the members, Doug McLarnan. Doug has long been active with the Knox County Park District. He and I serve on the Mohican Scenic River Steering Committee. Through him, I learned that there is indeed such a thing as the Sub Alpine Club of America. Doug joined in 2005 for the physical and mental health benefits that rigorous hiking and good company provide. He invited me to come along on the club’s 90th anniversary hike. How could I refuse?

Doug gave me directions: Meet at noon, Feb. 15, on the 600 block of East High Street in Mount Vernon.

“On the 600 block” said it all. Despite its longevity, the Sub Alpine Club of America has no clubhouse, no charter, no meetings, no formal rules. Don’t bother Googling it; the club has no website. The only online presence is a Facebook page.

“No internet,” McLarnan said. “Word of hikes spreads gradually. We show up at High Street and go, that’s it.”

To remain a member in good standing, just show up for hikes. And be willing to hike in the winter. That’s when the club traditionally hikes, from mid-November to mid-March. (From time to time, club members have hiked in the “off season.”) They generally trek in the hills and valleys around the Kokosing, Mohican and Walhonding rivers and Wakatomika Creek.

I arrived in Mount Vernon a little before noon on Feb. 15. I was the first one there, parking on a street lined with well-maintained Victorian houses. Doug pulled up in a minivan with a wooden plank strapped to the top. He explained that we’d need that to cross a stream.

By 12:30 p.m., East High Street was lined with vehicles. About 25 people showed up for the hike — men and women, their ages spanning seven decades. We car-pooled to a site along the Kokosing River near Newcastle.

In honor of the club’s 90th anniversary, we hiked to Wolf Pen Springs, the same hike founding members took 90 years ago to the day — Feb. 15, 1930. It’s documented in the book “The Journal of the Sub Alpine Club of America.” (The founders came up with the name in jest. It’s easy to see why I thought the Sub Alpine hikers were joking when I first met them. They probably got a kick out of the look on my face when one of them announced the name of the group.)

The book, compiled from journals of founding member Frank Van Voorhis, chronicles the club’s hikes from February 1930 to September 1963.

More on that and Wolf Pen Springs in a future column.

At the start of our hike, we crossed a small stream on Doug’s plank bridge — which didn’t quite span the full width. A few well-placed stones braced the plank just shy of the bank and allowed hikers to cross without getting their boots soaked. Not long after that, we found ourselves making a grueling climb up an impossibly steep hill.

It was clear that members of the Sub Alpine Club of America took hiking seriously.

To be continued.

A reference copy of “The Journal of the Sub Alpine Club of America” is available in the local history room at the Loudonville Public Library.