Out on the trails – where they spend their Wednesdays – the “Hiking Babes” are in their element. A shared passion for the outdoors and hiking originally brought the 20 women from the Halifax area together. More than a decade later, their bond has grown into a strong friendship offering social and emotional support. They celebrate their time together – and each other – by supporting The Great Trail.
Colleen Estabrooks, a retired X-ray technologist who lives in downtown Halifax, says they started making contributions to the Trail when fellow group member Darlene Stone was adamant that she didn’t want any presents for her 70th birthday.
“We made a donation to The Great Trail in Darlene’s name,” says Estabrooks. “Now, this is our traditional gift for turning 70.”
Andrée Lachance, a retired French immersion teacher and one of the 15 founders of the Hiking Babes, says, “Many of us started with a city program for hiking for women. We bonded and decided to start our own group in 2005. We really enjoy each other’s company.”
The women range in age from 59 to 78 and Lachance, who lives alone, says the group not only provides physical activity and a chance to experience nature – it also offers social stimulation and emotional support during a part of life when many face health issues, have lost loved ones and may not have family close by.
“Our connection goes beyond hiking – we support each other through difficult times,” she says, adding that group members also get together for potlucks and hiking holidays abroad.
The Hiking Babes have a special connection to The Great Trail. They have walked many sections of the Nova Scotia Trail and a stretch in Newfoundland and New Brunswick, and three or four portions are part of their regular hiking schedule, says Lachance.
Their favourite destinations vary with the seasons. “During the summer, we like to stay on coastal hikes to avoid the bugs,” she says. “In the fall, we go back to the woods.” That’s when they go out to admire the fall colours along the Musquodoboit Trailway or the Admiral Lake Loop, which affords panoramic views of the area. Looking ahead to the coming spring season, she adds, “Other places are particularly nice in the spring, with plants and flowers.”
From the Lake Charles Trail, where they’ve had chickadees gently pluck seeds from the palms of their hands, to the Salt Marsh Trail, which is in the migratory path of a variety of waterfowl and other birds, there is always something interesting to see, says Lachance.
“I like all the trails,” says Estabrooks. “Andrée knows a lot about flowers and Darlene can recognize bird calls. Everyone brings her own interests, knowledge and experiences to share along the trail. That is one of the pleasures of hiking with these ladies.”
Lachance notes the group’s lively conversations even inspired them to make an effort to pay closer attention to nature. “There was a time when we dedicated 10 minutes to hiking in silence, and we’ve often thought to do that again – it’s an opportunity for reflection and for communing with nature.”
While the Hiking Babes don’t take any new members, Lachance believes others should consider starting a group. “I would encourage anyone to hike or walk, it’s a fabulous way of staying active and healthy,” she says. “It is good for the body, mind and soul. For me, being out in nature is my choice of spiritual practice.”
For Estabrooks, Wednesdays are also sacred, and her friends and family members know not to make demands on her time unless absolutely necessary. This summer, it was her turn: Estabrooks was the 14th Hiking Babe to receive a Trail certificate in August.
For more information on giving to The Great Trail, please see thegreattrail.ca/give/.