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September 5, 2003

Silent hiking: Group ends first season

From: Boulder Daily Camera, CO - Sept 5, 2003

Deaf and hard-of-hearing socialize as they enjoy the outdoors

By Todd Neff, Camera Staff Writer

The crunch of gravel underfoot, the rustle of wind though cottonwood leaves, the chirping of crickets as dusk settles in — Rebecca Herr can't hear the sounds of an evening hike.

Nor can many of her companions in the Boulder Silent Hiking Group, which Herr launched in May.

Herr has been hard-of-hearing for many years and thinks she may be going deaf. She has been spending more time with deaf people at events like's monthly Boulder Deaf Socials, which usually happen in bars and restaurants.

"It doesn't matter how loud it gets, because people are signing," she said, referring to American Sign Language.

Nor does it matter much where conversants physically are, as long as line-of-sight is maintained. One recent night, Herr said, she continued a conversation through a window with a friend who stepped outside to smoke.

But Herr became increasingly frustrated when it came to enjoying the outdoors. Her clear-hearing companions in the Boulder Singles hiking group spoke in inaudible normal volume and walked single-file, making lip-reading impossible.

She spent time enjoying the scenery, but also paying attention to the paths, particularly the wide ones, where deaf or hard-of-hearing people could walk side by side and communicate.

Then in May, Herr started leading her own hikes, for those whose hearing was limited but whose desire to socialize wasn't.

Between two and 10 people have been showing up. Thursday evening, the last of the group's biweekly summer outings, a group of four hiked from Mesa Trailhead through Shadow Canyon and back.

The group ranged from the deaf to the fully hearing. Russell Berry of Denver wears a hearing aid, but only to pick up basic sounds to aid lip-reading. Ann Marie Morgan, who lives between Black Hawk and Nederland, is a student in Front Range Community College's Sign Language Interpreter Program.

"I'm here to practice and work on my skill level," she said.

Somewhere in the middle were Herr, who relies heavily on lip-reading, and a man who called himself simply "Lane," who said he had moderate, or about 30 percent, hearing loss.

For Berry and Morgan, it was their first outing with the group. Lane had gone twice before.

"I'm definitely here for the camaraderie," Lane said, "And to work on my sign language."

He and his younger brother, who is deaf, made up their own sign language as children, something not uncommon. But after his younger brother went to boarding school at the Colorado School of the Deaf and Blind in Colorado Springs, Lane, 54, used sign language of any form only sporadically, he said.

Of course, as they walked the five-mile loop, the Boulder Silent Hiking Group made a good deal of noise. Though there was sporadic signing, lip-reading — with voice accompaniment — dominated.

The Boulder Silent Hiking Group will be doing Saturday hikes this fall. For more information, e-mail Rebecca Herr at

Copyright 2003, The Daily Camera and the E.W. Scripps Company. All rights reserved