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Therapeutic Hiking 

Erik Schlimmer, a clinical MSW student, enjoys hiking the old-fashioned way, with a compass and a map. (Photos, courtesy of Erik Schlimmer.)         

ALBANY, N.Y. (June 26, 2017) – Erik Schlimmer finds peace hiking in uncharted territory in the Adirondack Mountains.

The 43-year-old is a clinical Master of Social Work student in the School of Social Welfare. After he graduates next May, he plans to be a therapist for trauma victims, especially for post 9/11 combat veterans.

At the Albany Housing Coalition several years ago, Schlimmer worked with veterans who were haunted by harrowing experiences they’d had in war. This helped him discover his purpose: helping veterans so they can move forward in life.

Schlimmer himself was an Army paratrooper in the early 1990s.

“I’m a Gulf War Era Veteran though, admittedly, the closest I’ve been to the Middle East is when I went to Cape Cod last summer,” he said. Instead, he trained in three states and was deployed to Central America during the war. He came to UAlbany with the help of a Department of Veterans Affairs retraining program.

When he’s not in school, Schlimmer pursues a passion for solo hiking and bushwhacking off the beaten trail. Rather than climb the Adirondack’s 46 high peaks – those over 4,000 feet – he seeks out the more remote wilderness areas and hikes all of the named features in one area. He calls it “name-bagging.”

He has visited the 92 named features of Lake George Wild Forest and the 106 named features of Pharaoh Lake Wilderness Area, hiked the Northville Placid Trail four times, through-hiked the Trans Adirondack Route, traversed the 270-mile High Peaks Wilderness Area trail system, summited the Adirondack Mountains’ 100 highest peaks during winter, and climbed the range’s 217 peaks above 3,000 feet.

His next goal in “name bagging” is the Hammond Pond Wild Forest, which abuts the north side of Pharaoh Lake Wilderness area, and the Wilcox Lake Wild Forest near Lake Luzerne.

Schlimmer hikes the old-fashioned way – with a compass and a map.

“This ‘old’ way of navigating demands I problem solve, which I enjoy,” Schlimmer said. With a GPS, the machine does all the work, which is not psychologically rewarding to him.

“I haven’t ever been lost, yet there are times when I am not sure precisely where I am. Then problem solving intensifies. I do detective work incorporating time, past checkpoints, compass bearings, map images, and topography to deduce exactly where I am,” he said.

“I enjoy the freedom and solitude that accompanies solo hiking,” he said.

He didn’t learn wilderness survival techniques as a paratrooper.

“The most valuable experience I gained through the military that relates to my wilderness adventures is that everything now seems easy. Being a paratrooper is one of the toughest things I’ve ever done,” Schlimmer said.

The woods have been a haven for Schlimmer since he was a boy. His family moved to a town in the Adirondacks when he was 12. He grew up in a violent home.

“I would run out of the house and hide in the woods by myself. The forest became my refuge, the animals my friends. This experience likely has something to do with why I find being alone in the woods – where no one can find me – so assuring,” he said.

During his 20s and 30s he embraced a ‘Reverse Retirement Plan’ in which he did most of his traveling, couch surfing, and tent-living when he was young. During those two decades he logged the bulk of his 10,000 miles hiked, 10,000 miles mountain biked, 2,000 peaks climbed, and 1,000 nights camped out, according to his website.

Today the wilderness is his own therapeutic setting, the field of clinical social work a way to help others.

Schlimmer has published five books about the mountains: Thru Hiker’s Guide to America, Blue Line to Blue Line, History Inside the Blue Line, My Adirondacks, and Among the Cloud Splitters. His next book, which historically decodes Albany’s 800 street names, is due out in early 2018.

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