Had I encountered the Sub Alpine Club of America earlier in its 90-year history, it would have been a far different scenario than what I witnessed 10-15 years ago. On my first encounter with the club, I looked across a field to see a happy band of hikers — men and women — coming toward me. In the club’s early days, there likely would have been no women.
The hikers would have been dressed differently, more like country gentlemen. Their pace would have been slower. They would have paused to marvel at the flora and fauna. They would have stopped for lunch, cooking a leisurely meal over an open fire.
As the club turned 50, all that began to change. More and more women joined, the pace quickened and the cookouts turned into short snack breaks.
Ann Laudeman witnessed those changes firsthand. Her grandfathers, Mount Vernon businessmen Fred Kahrl and Clyde Conley, were among the original Sub Alpine members. As was her father, Allin Kahrl. She was among the roughly 25 members on the club’s 90th anniversary hike in February.
“The hikes are more like power walks now,” Laudeman wrote in an email. “In the past, the hikers would take the pace more as a stroll, where people would mingle, visit, identify some of the flora, and relate local history and stories. We always used to stop and build a little cooking fire so that anyone could heat a pot of soup, a hot dog, or cheese on a stick. Now we are lucky to stop for half an hour at the most.”
She also commented on the makeup of the club.
“Some of the original ‘rules’ of the group were that husbands and wives couldn’t both hike, either one or the other, because they didn’t want any marital squabbling,” Laudeman wrote. “That rule was broken sometime around 1980 but occasionally it has been a problem. Some of the original women were my cousins, who would come to visit our grandparents and hike with our grandfather. Occasionally, in the last five years, there have been more women hiking than men. Once there were more dogs than people because some people brought more than one dog.”
Dennis Tuttle also witnessed the Sub Alpine Club’s evolution. He joined in the 1980s.
“I was asked by one of the old members who I used to see when swimming at the YMCA in Mount Vernon if I was interested in hiking with this group,” Tuttle wrote in an email. “I thought to myself that it was probably just some old geezers that did simple walks. The gentleman kept after me and offered to pick me up to do one of the Saturday hikes. All it took was one hike and I realized what I had been missing.”
He and his wife played a role in the club’s evolution.
“The rules at that time were to allow women to hike only during Christmas and New Year’s, when many brought their children and some grandchildren,” Tuttle wrote. “I enjoyed the hikes so much that I would do the hikes on Saturday with the men, then do the same hike Sunday afternoon with my wife Pat.”
Finally, Pat asked to join the Saturday hikes.
“I told her we could see what they had to say about that,” Tuttle wrote. “The first hike she did with the group she made a big batch of homemade cookies, which were very well received by the hikers. The rest is history. She was the first female to hike on a regular basis with the club. Over the years, women heard about the group and began coming until today there are just as many women as men.”
An informal organization, the Sub Alpine Club of America remains true to its roots — the enjoyment of winter hiking in Knox and surrounding counties. The club has little in the way of formal rules or structure, nor does it have a website. Information on hikes and photos can been seen on the Facebook page Sub-Alpine Hiking Club of Knox County Ohio.
This originally was published in the Ashland Times-Gazette and on other GateHouse Media newspaper websites.