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256 Better Group Hiking 2010-07-19

hiking in a small group

Last summer my wife and I spent the summer climbing the Colorado Fourteeners. To help us, a few friends hiked with us. Our friends understood that we were hiking at our own pace and they needed to keep up with us. We were not concerned with group hiking at that time.

As we descended Mount Holy Cross, fast Nick descended into the Devil's Triangle of Holy Cross. He found his way back on course; but if we had been group hiking he would never have wandered that far from the fold. Later in the trip, our good friend Robin, on her first day in Colorado struggled in the heat to keep up with us on Como Road. If we had really been group hiking we would have taken better care of our happy friend.

Group hiking is hiking in a group. That is a pretty simple concept, but the trick is to keep everyone together and happy.

This year, we have spent three weeks by ourselves and now are joined by Jon and Laura. We are group hiking.

Yesterday, we rode the bus to Glacier Gorge, hiked to Mills Lake, hiked to Bear Lake, hiked to Lake Bierstadt, and finally hiked back to the vehicles at the bus parking area. It was a total of about eight miles.

I soon had to adjust the lineup (the walking order), keep the group together, give route advice, arrange breaks, and practice group etiquette. Jon and Laura are seasoned hikers, so my job was easy. We had a great hike with plenty of entertainment.

After starting out from the trailhead, it is wise to put the hiker with the slowest pace in the front. Even if they are only a bit slower, it keeps everyone together. On longer hikes, I have at times changed the lineup several times. Anyone who starts lagging behind the group pace gets moved to the front of the line and they set the pace. It is remarkable how the new leader's pace increases after the move to the lead.

It helps if the leader knows the group. Amy is into birds right now. She will stop and try to identify birds. Laura is a sucker for flowers. I know she can spend hours in a field of wildflowers. Jon is an engineer and gets distracted by any structure. And I like looking at rocks. So between us someone is almost always distracted. The leader tries to urge everyone along keeping the group together.

There is also the possibility of the wayward hiker. It is important to know where everyone is. Just like a working, herding dog, the leader should know where all the hikers are, all the time. Some folks are very adept at going the wrong direction, always keep their whereabouts in mind.

Know the route. Even if you have never hiked the route, it is important to know where the trail goes, the connector trails, and elevation gain and loss. The leader should study the maps and guidebooks to gain all the trail knowledge possible. Always know where you are on the trail. With gps technology, it is easy. With an altimeter and a map it is also relatively easy but both methods take practice. Note: a compass is also handy, but with a hand held compass it is hard to make accurate triangulation, especially in wooded terrain. Refer to the map and altimeter or gps regularly. Don't hide the information, the leader should share it with everyone. A good discussion of location is often times exactly what is needed in order to find your position.

The more people hiking in a group, the slower the group travels. It often helps to let everyone know ahead of time where you are going to stop for breaks, lunch, or camp and to have mass potty breaks. Know the terrain to suggest the stops. Keep breaks short.

Always practice Leave No Trace and group trail etiquitte. Keep the group size small. If it is larger than six, try dividing into two groups. While walking on the trail, yield to others. Always break on hardened surfaces. Stay on the trail. And respect all of the other hikers.

It is nice to walk in a group, especially with entertaining friends. These few suggestions will make the hiking easier with more distance covered.

Happy small group trails.


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