Hiker Sharon Stenner has a trifecta of firsts

Suzanne Money
Special to BMN

In his introduction to the initial series of the Rim hikes sponsored by the Swannanoa Valley Museum, hike leader Wendell Begley suggested hikers bring along toboggans for the winter hikes. And Sharon Stenner thought, “what in the world are we going to do with a sled?”

Stenner, a transplant from the north, completed those hikes, all in the same year - 2010. She also completed the museum’s Rim Explorer Hiking Series, in 2014. Add to those feats completion of the museum’s Seven Sisters one-day hike in 2013, and you have a person - the only person - who has accomplished all three hiking experiences during the first year they were offered.

You might assume Stenner ended up in Swannanoa Valley because of its many hiking opportunities. Wrong. Stenner led a very sedentary life living in New Jersey and working in New York City. Her move to the Valley was first to Asheville where she joined the Asheville New Friends Hiking group as a newbie. A friend outfitted her, and off she went on hikes that were, at first, grueling 6- and 10-mile hikes that only later became pleasurable.

“It was the small things like finding a painted trillium that made it all worthwhile,” she said during a recent interview. Happenstances like that got her going and kept her going until she joined the Asheville Amblers, part of the American Volkssport Association, walking 10 kilometers once a month and then with individual groups during the week.

Stenner moved to Black Mountain and learned about the Swannanoa Valley Museum hikes while volunteering as a museum docent. She saw the Swannanoa Rim Hikes as her next challenge. And a challenge the first hike was. She was already to go, then the weather had its say. So the first hike did not actually become a reality until March 2010, and even then it happened on mushy trails beneath icy trees. Conditions did not deter the hardy guides from providing plenty of local lore on that hike, as well as the ensuing ones.

There were 10 other hikes, and in December Stenner proudly lined up with 11 hikers who completed the hikes in one year. She feels good about what she accomplished.

“It is a great source of pride to me to look up and know I have hiked the Swannanoa Rim,” she said. “And I did it within the one year.”

In 2013 Stenner participated in the Seven Sisters Hike, which was a one-day hike guided by museum female volunteers. “All of us have most likely walked Lake Tomahawk, gazed up at the Seven Sisters and thought, ‘hmm, wouldn’t it be nice to hike these?’” she said. She did, and she has a lovely medallion to prove it.

In 2014, museum leaders created a series of hikes less physically challenging that focused on providing a sense of the valley and the influences of its many families. The hikes were loaded with family connections and descriptive information about the area. (Just get Bob Watts started on the Asheville Watershed or Van Burnett on his family’s homestead, and you will have a hike to remember.) Eight hikes and one special mug are proof that Stenner participated on those adventures.

As the interview concluded, I asked Stenner two things. First, were there any unexpected outcomes?

Without hesitation she said, “Yes, most of the good friends I have made here are hikers, and I know that is the reason I will be here for the rest of my life.” Secondly, I requested her list of must-haves in order to be ready for anything and everything as a hiker. Broken-in boots, she said, as well as plenty of water, knowledge of layering, snack food for energy and, most of all, a “can do” attitude.

Where will you find Stenner today? Most likely you will see her walking in and around town with her dog, Abby, awaiting the next challenge dreamed up by the Swannanoa Valley Museum.