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September 2, 2012
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For Sundin, it's 6,000 and counting

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - Back at the trailhead after a 100 Club hike near Crested Butte in July, club members popped six bottles of champagne.

A little party to celebrate the day's physical achievement is one of the fringe benefits of belonging to the 22-year-old seniors hiking and skiing club.

But this celebration was extra special, as those six bottles of bubbly would suggest.

Hal Sundin, at age 86 and one of the 100 Club's original members, had just surpassed 6,000 miles of hiking as part of the club's twice-weekly summertime outings.

"We always end the hikes with a tailgate party in the parking lot," Sundin said. "People bring snacks and beverages to share, and it's just a great way for everyone to mingle and socialize after a nice hike."

It's that tight-knit camaraderie with a like-aged group of people that has kept the 100 Club active and growing for more than two decades, since its founding as a seniors ski club in Glenwood Springs back in 1990.

"There is so much support and encouragement from the other people who are hiking with you," said Tillie Fischer of Glenwood Springs, who after 15 years in the club has hiked more than 1,000 miles.

"I'm not the bravest person out there in the wild, so it's always good to know there are people up ahead and behind on the trail who are there looking out for me," Fischer said. "It's just such a wonderful group of people who you'd like to be friends with all your life."

The 100 Club was founded by the late Tom Sherman and his wife, Olly, in January of 1990 as a way to get some fellow senior citizen couples together for a weekly ski day at Sunlight.

To join the informal group, a couple's combined ages had to exceed 100. Singles could join if they were over 50.

Sundin, who had just retired to Glenwood Springs the year before (and who is also a longtime political columnist for the Glenwood Springs Post Independent), was among them.

The Wednesday 100 Club ski groups just kept getting bigger and bigger all that season, so they knew they were onto something.

"At the end of the season, we asked Tom what he thought about maybe doing some summer hikes to keep the group going," Sundin said. "We did six or eight hikes that first summer, and the next summer we decided to do a hike every week."

Within that first full summer season, Sundin and a few other 100 Club members logged more than 100 miles on area trails. So, the club started giving out "100/100" crosses to honor the most avid hikers.

"After that first summer of hiking, I remember Tom saying that he hadn't been in such good condition for ski season since he was in college," Sundin said.

The regular ski outings in the winter grew from Wednesdays at Sunlight to include a second day, on either Friday or Saturday, at Snowmass.

Likewise, the club expanded its summer season from the regular Monday hikes to a second, usually more strenuous hike on Wednesdays.

"We were averaging 30 or more people on our Monday hikes, so we added another day to give people a choice," Sundin said.

Monday hikes are usually a little closer to the club's home base in Glenwood Springs, covering anywhere from 5 to 10 miles round trip. Wednesday hikes involve a more challenging destination, sometimes including a high mountain peak or even one of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, or 14ers.

Sundin himself is also among an elite group of mountaineers who have climbed all 54 of Colorado's 14ers.

That feat was accomplished over the span of several years, he said, going back to when he was still working as an engineer in Chicago and started hiking the high peaks with his daughter, Norma, during his summer visits to the Rocky Mountains.

Norma Sundin died unexpectedly from a stroke in 2010. Hal started a scholarship fund in her memory for students to attend Colorado Mountain College's campus in Summit County, where Norma had lived and worked for many years.

"It took a few years before we had enough hikes on the schedule for people to get 200 miles in a summer," said Sundin, who of course was among the first to achieve that mark.

Eventually, it became a kind of friendly, internal competition among club members to see who could log the most miles. So they began keeping official track of mileage.

A hike leader is designated before each outing, and is responsible for logging the miles of that day's participants.

"Mile markers are put down on the trail, and when we come back we tell the leader how many miles we went," Fischer explained. "There's always a little squabbling, 'Oh, you turned around before I did ... you didn't go that far.' It's never come to fisticuffs, but it's come close," Fischer joked.

While some 100 Club members were able to exceed 1,000 miles in three or four seasons, Fischer said she had the "dubious distinction" of taking the longest to get there, at 14 years.

"I understand that someone else has that distinction now," she said. "I'm not as avid a hiker as many of the people are, but I know I was pleased to finally do a thousand."

Special awards are given every time a club member reaches 1,000, 2,000, 3,000 miles and up.

"We have three or four people who've done 3,000," Sundin said. "And there are some very active hikers who I'm sure will cover 6,000 before they're done. It just all depends on one's will and ability."

The advent of satellite Global Positioning Systems (GPS) in the last decade or so has also made the logging of miles for club members far more accurate.

Sundin told the story of a regular 100 Club member who was shy of the 4,000-mile mark by about 58 miles when he developed a physical disability that kept him from continuing.

"Before GPS, there was a high potential for inaccurate mileage," Sundin said. "So, we decided to run a GPS on some of the earlier hikes he had done, and we were able to came up with another 60 miles."

As a result, he got his 4,000-mile plaque at the club's annual fall dinner party.

The 100 Club has a total membership of about 300 these days, with members mostly from Carbondale to New Castle, and some coming from as far as Aspen or Battlement Mesa.

Dues are just $12 per year, and the club has a monthly dinner at a local restaurant, as well as a big potluck picnic every July at the Glenwood Springs Community Center.

Since its founding, the club has done somewhere between 300 and 400 different hiking destinations, and most of the hikes draw between 20 and 30 people.

The club also does occasional overnight trips, combined with a hike or two, to places like Crested Butte, Telluride and the Utah desert country.

Club hikes are anything but an intimate, one-with-nature experience.

"One of the reasons we do our hikes mid-week is so there aren't as many other people on the trail," Sundin said. "There's nothing worse than being on a hike by yourself and all of a sudden you meet a group of 30 people."

And, there's been the occasional time when the group has gotten a little turned around, he admitted.

"We weren't really lost, it's just we're not quite sure where we are," said Sundin, who is sometimes seen sporting a shirt with the words "Where the ..." (followed by a strangely spelled, Native American-looking word). You'll have to ask him about that one yourself.

"There was also the time we were preparing to do Pyramid Peak (one of the 14ers), and we were doing training hikes on some unnamed peaks," he recalled. "Someone read the hike description wrong, and wondered who the 'Unameds' were."

About a sixth of the club members are single, Sundin said, and a few relationships have even blossomed out of the weekly social gatherings.

Some members have lost spouses along the way, including himself. Sundin's wife, Mary, died in 2006. Even though she wasn't a hiker, she was involved with the club socially, he said.

Tom Neel and his wife, Emily, moved to Carbondale in 1999 and had been here for about six months when they discovered the 100 Club.

"We heard there was a group of older folks who skied and hiked, so we decided to join them at Highlands one day," Tom Neel said.

Neel recalls unloading the old Loges Peak lift, before the newer high-speed quad lift was installed, and making his way down with the group.

"I had skied a fair amount, but not real aggressively, and all of a sudden most of the group starts heading down Steeplechase," he said of the steep, expert terrain at the top of Highlands.

"A couple of ladies stayed up on the easier terrain, so we skied with them for the day," he said.

The club became a great way to meet new people in the area, Neel said.

"Probably 80 percent of our closest friends now are with the club," he said. "It's just a marvelous mixture of people, from newly retired people to longtime locals, who are all looking to make new acquaintances.

"It also keeps us all healthy and gives us every bit of physical challenge that we might want," Neel said.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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The Post Independent Updated Sep 2, 2012 12:31AM Published Sep 2, 2012 12:22AM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.