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Member Profile
Paul Houchens: Follow Your Dream (04/01)


Paul Houchens co-chairs the Outings Committee and is an active hike leader.

You just returned from a climb in Mexico. Do you consider yourself a peak-bagger?

I don't like that term because it seems to lack a certain respect for the mountains, as if you are only out there to knock them off and add them to your list. I keep track of the peaks I climb, but what I really like is going to different places, hiking hard, and enjoying the fresh air, views, and company of fellow hikers. I am gradually exploring the northeast 4,000 footers and also attempting to climb to the highest point of each state. During the last ten years, I have climbed to the high point in just over half the states.

Where did you grow up? What do you do to earn a living?

I was born in Washington, DC, and grew up in the flatlands of central Ohio — not an auspicious beginning for someone who identifies with the mountains. I moved to Vermont with my wife, Cheryl, from North Carolina in 1992.

Two years ago we had our first child, Trevor. He is a real trooper who in his first years of life has put up with being hauled around by backpack, canoe, “pulk” (sled pulled behind a skier), and bicycle. I teach third and fourth grades at Edmunds Elementary School in Burlington.

What is your hiking / climbing experience?

My hiking experience reached its peak in 1998 when I hiked the Appalachian Trail northbound from Georgia to Maine. This was an ideal way for me to exist. In five months I had more varied experiences than I could possibly have imagined.

I started hiking as a kid with my Boy Scout troop. Most of our trips involved driving to a state park, building a big fire, setting up our tents, and staying up way too late after gorging on M&Ms. When I was 15, I had the chance to go to New Mexico and do some real backpacking. During college I took a summer job in Glacier National Park (MT), which gave me the opportunity to explore a remote, beautiful area on foot. After college I spent a year working in a backpacking / outdoor shop in North Carolina. I learned the basics of rock climbing and hiked and backpacked every weekend.

Backpacking is by far my favorite activity, though now that we have a two-year-old, I don't do that as much. Day hiking, cycling, skiing, snowshoeing, and climbing are also fun. Last year we bought a canoe and have been taking overnight trips.

What is your most memorable hiking experience?

Cheryl and I were backpacking through the Tetons a few years ago and decided to camp on a ledge at about 9, 000 feet called “Death Shelf”. (The name definitely should have told us something!) Soon after crawling into our tent for the night, the skies clouded over. It was not long until a tremendous thunderstorm blew in. Lightning was hitting all around us. Behind us was a 1,000 foot high rock wall and in front was 1,000 foot drop-off. With the air highly charged, there was nowhere to go, so we cowered in the tent for 45 minutes waiting to be blown off the mountain. Our fears were the worst when Cheryl's sleeping bag began to glow green and purple and to shoot mini lightning bolts through the fabric. Fortunately we survived to tell the tale, though we have vowed not to camp in any more places which contain the word “death".

How did you get involved with the GMC?

I met Mary Lou Recor on a hike she led on Dix Mountain in the Adirondacks about four years ago. She asked if I would be interested in leading trips, and I thought it sounded interesting. I had so much fun leading hikes that I was excited when the opportunity arose to work with Phil Hazen on the Outings Committee.

What is your philosophy of life?

Follow your dreams. If you want to do something, you better get out there and do it. If you wait for someone else to validate your idea, you will never get started.

Do you have any long distance hikes in mind for the future?

One of my dreams is to recreate the gold rush route from Alaska to the Klondike. It involves hiking 30 miles up and over the Chilcoot Pass and then paddling 500 miles down the Yukon River to Dawson City.