Hikers should take their activity more seriously than a “walk in the woods.” It can be as easy or as strenuous as a hiker wants it to be. Take, for example, Coal Creek in the Panhandle forest north of Kingston, Idaho.
The trek starts off deceptively easy, meandering along the creek and through a lush forest carpeted with ferns and moss. After Mile 1, though, the trail goes up a narrow, steep hill.
Recently, we made it 3.22 miles in, 1.3 miles shy of the junction to Graham Creek, and turned back. The last incline we faced was more daunting than we expected, and my hiking partner, Tamara McKenna, found her bag of nopes.
“I have to work tomorrow,” said McKenna, a dog groomer and co-owner of Laundramutt in Coeur d’Alene. “I cannot stand all day and manage dogs if I do that hill.”
The trail gains 3,200 feet before the junction, a solid task for the hamstrings.
“Hiking shape is funny,” McKenna said. “It really depends on what you’re hiking. Most people don’t think I’m in ‘hiking shape’ because I’m chunky. But I can do an 8- to 10-mile hike, and I can do steep trails most of the time.”
By comparison, Bella, my 6-year-old Maremma sheepdog, and I did Mount Kit Carson trail at Mt. Spokane State Park last week. It’s a 5.4-mile out-and-back trail that gains a mere 1,384 feet.
It was a gentle, enjoyable walk in the woods and with a view at the top that can’t be beat.
The All Trails hiking website rates both Kit Carson and Coal Creek “moderate.”
So is the Liberty Creek and Edith Hansen Loop, an 8.5-mile trek with a 1,374-foot gain. Longer than Kit Carson but with a similar elevation gain, Liberty Creek was punishing. My friend, Terry Sasser, and I — along with Bella and Sasser’s Pembrooke Welsh corgi Maverick — started on the equestrian side and the trail took us straight uphill with few switchbacks to ease the climb.
“Every time I go hiking, I complain I’m not in shape for this hike,” Sasser said. “I enjoy hiking and sometimes we have to cut out a section of the trail or go part way. ‘Hiking shape’ is no reason to stay home.”
It’s therapy, he said, for the mind and the body.
“You just choose the hike that fits your conditioning,” he said. “I feel anyone can hike and the more hiking you do, the better you feel. The better you feel, the more hiking you can do.”