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The Hudson Valley Queer Rockhoppers grew out of founder Alex Rosen's desire to build community. (Photo: Courtesy Alex Rosen)

Hudson Valley Queer Rockhoppers

An LGBTQ+ hiking group aims to bring together people of all genders and orientations to connect and enjoy the great outdoors.

by Kat Merry
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Nestled in the breathtaking landscapes of the Catskill Mountains lies a trailblazing hiking group like no other: the Hudson Valley Queer Rockhoppers. At the helm of this budding queer community is founder Alex Rosen.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, Rosen sought refuge in hiking the trails around his Woodstock home to combat the profound feelings of isolation and loneliness. When in-person connections became feasible again, Rosen turned to social media to seek out other hikers in the LGBTQ+ community who were also craving a sense of connection. Before long, Rosen was leading weekly hikes with up to 15 participants, trekking along the trails of the Catskills.

Flash forward to today, and the Hudson Valley Queer Rockhoppers make up a growing community that boasts a deep sense of camaraderie. The weekly hiking group welcomes people of all genders and orientations and provides participants with a welcoming space to be themselves and make meaningful connections while hiking.

The Rockhoppers’ hikes emphasize members making personal connections with each other and with nature. (Photos: Courtesy Hudson Valley Queer Rockhoppers)

How and when did your hiking group form?

The group was definitely created out of my own personal experience feeling really lonely and isolated at the start of the pandemic. I found that going outside and hiking was really therapeutic for me, but I was missing that connection with other humans. I’d tried to connect with some people through the queer social media app called Lex, but had no luck and ended up hiking mostly alone that first year.

By the time I was heading into my second COVID winter [2021], I was really motivated by my own deep sense of disconnection, so I posted on Lex again and a couple of people responded. We met up on Christmas and hiked Onteora Lake in Kingston. Those two people connected me with more who were interested in hiking, and that New Year’s Eve, I led a group of 10 people on a hike.

I kept posting info about the hikes on Lex, but that app was often a bit glitchy, so I started an Instagram page. A ton of people started following me there, and I was connected with other queer groups, too. The group really took off from there, and since January 2022, I have been leading a new hike every weekend. 

I’m not really a social media person and I’ve never been a fan of networking, but the Rockhoppers is a hugely positive outcome from that.

What makes your group unique?

As the guide, I always make sure every person is having a positive experience on the hike. Our hikes are very low-pressure, but if someone new shows up, I always make an effort to get to know them and make them feel welcome. I always want to leave a hike remembering the name of a new participant, as well as something about them.  

The group has a tradition of taking a shot of the feet that made the hike. (Photo: Courtesy Alex Rosen)

Also, our group invites adults across all generations of the queer community. We get a huge range of ages, from 20 years old to 60 years old. Also, dogs are always welcome! [Trail permitting, of course.]

One thing that also makes the group unique is our consistency. I show up even if it’s just me and one other person. Being consistent is huge in terms of maintaining momentum and being a reliable space for the queer community.

What are some of your group’s favorite places to go in the Hudson Valley?

Sloan Gorge in Saugerties is one we really love — it has some really cool geological features along the way and it’s always been a favorite hike.

I remember one very challenging hike we did was the Hunter Fire Tower. That was so hard, we almost turned back. But it was so worth it at the top! 

Since our hikes are mainly in the Catskills, some can be a bit more challenging than others, but I try to keep the more difficult hikes to trails that are only about 2-3 miles long. The easier, flatter hikes are typically closer to 5 miles long. 

When I’m leading the group, I know I have a responsibility to motivate everyone to make it to the top. Sometimes that means people break up into groups at different paces, but we always make it to the end.

Leashed dogs are often companions on Hudson Valley Queer Rockhoppers’ hikes. (Photo: Courtesy Alex Rosen)

What are some challenges your members have faced?

Our members are going through all sorts of life challenges. A lot of our hikers are just craving that connection within the queer community, and some have more specific things going on that they are trying to work out on the hikes.

One particular member started hiking with us as a solo caretaker to their aging mother — a huge stressor for them. They ended up meeting someone in our group who had home health aide experience and was looking for work. Their connection ended up being truly life-changing for multiple people. It was incredible to witness that. 

What does the experience of walking or hiking do for your group in particular?

Our hikers get the opportunity to join a very social queer community. I know for me, being outside in nature was the biggest most accessible stress relief I had during the pandemic, and I can imagine that was a universal feeling. 

Living in a cisgender heterosexual world, the group gives people an opportunity to be in a queer space together and feel validated. There is an ease about it and being together sheds that tension around difficult things in our lives. Many of our members need support, distraction, and connection. Whether they were intentionally looking for those things or not, they end up finding [them].

Many of us have goals of trying to get back to who they were, moving forward, and not just surviving but thriving. Having genuine friendships is, from what I have experienced, the most significant way to thrive. 

Kat Merry holds a master’s degree in science and spends weekends exploring new hiking trails in the Hudson Valley with her husband and dog. Based in Beacon, she writes for local news publications such as the River, the Highlands Current, and MainStreetBeacon.com.

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