Off the main roads: Leading a group hike …

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You’ve been asked to lead a large group of your friends out into the wilderness. Holy responsibility, Batman. What do you do? Don’t panic. Just follow these tips to help you pull off a safe and successful trip.

1. Prepare: Always research your hike. Check weather forecasts and prepare for the worst conditions possible. Make sure that you and your participants all have enough food, water, appropriate clothing and the 10 essentials. Review the topo map or mapping software, and use the distance, elevation gain, time and number of people to help you plan your itinerary. This will help you get a real feel for the true difficulty of your hike. Plan accordingly to make sure you’re not groping your way home unexpectedly in the dark.

2. Choose participants wisely: Don’t take just anybody into the wilderness. Consider participants’ levels of conditioning and experience. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to turn down people who might pose a risk to the group based on the type of trip you are planning. Remember, it’s better to hurt feelings than to injure people.

3. Lead and sweep: Every large hiking group should have both a lead and a sweep. A good leader sets a pace everyone in the group can follow without undue strain.

If you’ve gotten to the peak and half your group is utterly exhausted, you’re at a much higher risk for injury or mishap on the way down.

The sweep follows along behind the group on the trail making sure everyone in your party is accounted for. If someone stops for a bathroom break, the sweep stays back to wait. No more, “Hey, where’s George?” at the peak.

And no, do not let your inexperienced kids run ahead of the lead or lag behind the sweep unless you want to meet search and rescue.

4. Fastest last: Large group hikes tend to move along like an unwieldy accordion. The fast people at the front jack-rabbit up the trail until they realize they haven’t seen their slower partners for the last 20 minutes.

They stop, wait until the tortoises catch up, then head off again helter-skelter, leaving the tired tortoises with no real time to rest.

By putting your fastest hikers at the back of your group, you avoid the “accordion effect” and keep all of your group in happy hiking condition.

5. Backpack bathroom breaks: If a group member absolutely must jump off trail for a quick call of nature, they should leave a significant piece of gear, such as their backpack, alongside the trail to signal the sweep behind them to wait. And never go too far off trail to just use the bathroom. Too much modesty can get you lost.

6. Communicate information and expectations: Send out an email ahead of time with the trip itinerary, mileage, elevation gain and expected time back. Make sure friends and family also are aware of this information just in case someone outside your group needs to sound the alarm for you.

7. Personal responsibility: Everyone should have their own 10 essentials, map, compass and know where the heck they are going. You’d be amazed how many people just blindly follow behind the leader with no awareness of their surroundings.

You never know when you may become separated from the group. If you haven’t been paying attention, your chances of getting lost skyrocket.

8. Buddy system: Everybody on the hike should have a buddy to look out for. Buddies are responsible to make sure their partners are eating and drinking enough and that their physical condition is good. Any issues need to be reported to the group leader and the sooner the better.

Good luck and enjoy a safe trip.

 

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