When things don’t go well with group hiking

I read a blog post written by someone who had been left alone on a hiking trip during a lightning storm. It struck a cord with me and I could feel the fear that the writer was experiencing. She was hiking with a group to summit Mount Whitney, which towers 14,494 feet above sea level.

I sat back and analyzed her story and read comments from other readers. Some hikers shared their experiences of hiking with others whose pace did not match theirs, others shared tips that work for them on group hikes, and some voiced concerns that she should not have been hiking that trail on that particular day (despite summiting the mountain previously) because of how she physically felt.

Safety for yourself and your group is the number one priority, even above having fun. When agreeing to be together on a group hike, it means problem solving together.

“I was fully aware I was hiking slowly but I also knew there was no way I could go any faster. Upon catching up to my hiking crew, one of the gals told me that I need to either keep her pace or hike down to Trail Camp and wait for them to summit. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.”

In the comment section where I came across this post, someone who is a slower hiker said that they have learned to pay attention to and trust warning signs and their gut. At the point where the author was told to turn around, she should have realized that the group hike had become a solo endeavour.

I wonder what the conversation was like before she was told that she had to either keep pace or hike down by herself. Was there empathy from either sides? Did they talk about each others goals and physical abilities? It is incredibly important to keep an open dialogue with your hiking crew and to practice empathy when the tide turns. The pendulum swings both ways for all parties involved.

I have come to realize that some hiking styles do not mesh and that is perfectly OK! But if you start together, you finish together. Unless of course the slower person coherently says that you can go on a head, after an informed decision has been made.

There is no one size fits all answer to organizing a group hike and ensuring everyone feels and stays safe. Everyone has different skills and experience. Proper communication before and during the hike is vital.

A tip that I learned recently for group hikes is to have pre-determined check in points if group members feel it would be beneficial. The faster people would wait for the slower people to check in and then separate again based on pace. Some people reach out to groups because they do not want to be alone at all so check in points would not work for them. I will say it again, communicate your goals and what you need and desire.

There is the old saying, plan for the best and prepare for the worst. I hike prepared to rely solely on myself. While someone may be disgruntled that you messed up their hiking plans, you likely won’t be abandoned. Most people have common decency (or so I like to hope) but just in case, I have my own GPS unit, compass, map, headlamp, emergency shelter, water filter, and knife just to name a few things, even on well-traveled day hike trails. It’s just smart hiking to have the above things anyways.

If you do end up alone unexpectedly:

  • Slow down to keep your strength
  • Pay extra attention to footing
  • Don’t internalize the situation and take it personally. Rise above the poor decision of others
  • Try to get in contact with your loved one who you left details with so they know you are alone
  • Find new friends to hike with

A final point that I want to share about group hikes is something that I personally decided works for me. I take my own vehicle and do not car pool anymore. I like to be on my own timeline and I’m fairly confident to hang back if I feel like sitting under a tree and reading. If I can be completely honest as well, the hiking experience is holistic for me and very often on the drive to and from the trail, I blast country music. It sets my soul on fire. One of my favourite driving songs is My Church by Maren Morris.

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