YAKIMA, Wash. -- According to Webster’s, kinnikinicks are “a mixture, as of tobacco and dried sumac leaves, bark, etc., formerly smoked by certain American Indians and pioneers,” or the plants used in such a mixture.
According to Herb Schmidt of Selah, Kinnikinicks are a mixture of gracefully aging outdoors enthusiasts who get together every Monday to hike or snowshoe, typically a trek in the five- to eight-mile range.
Most of those gracefully aging hikers, though, don’t look at themselves as members of anything, certainly not anything festooned with something as confining as a name.
But this non-group has something resembling a schedule of outings, right? And a mailing list? An email list?
“Yeah, there’s maybe 50 of us on the mailing list, but only half hike on a regular basis,” says Doug Corpron, who, at 84, is still a weekly regular in this unofficial group.
So what, then, does one call this semi-official collection of hikers and snowshoers?
“A fellowship of old buddies,” Corpron says.
With or without a name?
“Oh, Herb wants us to have a name, and that’s fine for him,” says Frank Bacon, a retired Yakima businessman.
Schmidt says it wasn’t for want of a clever name that he came up with Kinnikinicks. It was his disdain for the alternative.
“Some of the hikers in the group wanted to call us old geezers, and I didn’t buy into that,” says Schmidt, who in addition to being an avid hiker is also a retired school administrator and a former Selah councilman.
But ... Kinnikinicks?
“That’s Herb’s name,” Corpron says. “That’s still informal. Most of us just call it the Monday hiking group or the old guys’ group.”
But it’s not just guys and, actually, it’s two groups — one of which is comprised of a few folks recovering from surgeries or other health setbacks. “Says Corpron, “That’s the rehab group.”
“I hear that phrase — the rehab group — every now and then, because we’re still going,” sighs Bob Mather, who at 91 is one of the oldest surviving charter members of this non-group.
“I had pneumonia last winter and that sort of knocked my strength down, and some others in that group sort of have health problems. We still go on Mondays, but not as far or as fast as the others.”
That sort of sounds like the Cascadians, whose regular Tuesday hikes also typically separate into one faster group and one more intermediate group.
But this isn’t the Cascadians.
“I think years ago I can recall going to a couple of the Cascadian meetings and perhaps went (hiking) with them in that group,” recalls Mather. “But we sort of had our own group and that’s the way it went.”
So they’re like the Cascadians in that they meet at the same time every week at the same place — the 40th Avenue Bi-Mart parking lot, same as the Cascadians — but they’re ... not.
Not organized and not Cascadians.
“We’re very unorganized. It’s nothing like the Cascadians, and I’m sure they’re a great group,” Bacon says. “We just don’t like being organized.”
The group is organized enough, though, to have an annual potluck dinner — for three years at the Wild Horse Information Center in Kittitas County, and this past September at the Yakima Valley Museum — and to plan an annual hiking getaway to the coast, where the group uses Bacon’s “beach house” on Camano Island as a base of operations.
Sounds an awful lot like a club with a name.
What’s a Kinnikinick again?
“It’s a small, growing shrub next to the ground, that normally grows proliferously above 4,000 feet,” says Schmidt. “It has real green leaves and red berries. The Indians, I’m told, used the leaves for smoking purposes and the red berries for medicinal purposes. It’s a plant that’s very persistent and grows in very harsh climates.”
Schmidt smiles. “I guess we’re persistent, and we prevail above 4,000 feet.”
When this non-group started out, the handful of weekly regulars typically included Lex Maxwell, a mountain climber of significant regional repute, and Rolla Goold and Mather, a pair of fearless off-trail adventurers for whom a trail was an unnecessary luxury.
“I grew up here and thought I knew my back yard, but I didn’t,” says Corpron, a third-generation Yakima doctor whose grandfather set up practice here in the late 1890s. “Guys like Bob Mather would be along with a group of us, planning a hike to Bear Creek Mountain or somewhere like that, and we’d be driving to the trailhead and Bob would say, ‘Stop here.’ And I’d say, ‘There isn’t a trail here,’ and he’d say, ‘Just wait and see.’ And he’d take us up a ridge without a trail to some spectacular view.
“That’s been really fun for me, to see places from a different perspective that I didn’t even know existed.”
Over the years, other mutual friends began joining them on their weekly hikes — for both the exercise and the exchange of ideas.
“We’ve got people all sorts in this group, and that’s what makes it so fun,” Bacon says. “We’ve got atheists, Mormons, Catholics, we have some Democrats that hike with us, some people who don’t care about politics and some staunch Republicans. And we all get along.”
“We can talk politics and religion and business and whatever,” Schmidt says, “and just feel very comfortable learning about each other. It’s an incredible group.”
So, too, are the places into which the group treks — and the sense of awe those forest gems engender within the visitors.
“There’s even a religious element to it,” Mather says. “You can’t get out in all that beauty and not think there’s a higher power that created it all, because we get into some really beautiful places in the mountains.”
And they do it weekly. Summer or winter, sun or snow. In the end, whether you want to call them Kinnikinicks or old geezers, you could make the argument that they are, like it or not, members.
They belong to the great outdoors.