The Basics Of Trip Leadership

Finally, here’s an example where this organization has stated a solid purpose:

“At Merrowvista we live life differently…Our days are simpler but richer. We challenge often but have more fun. The outdoors is our home. Transportation is a bike, a sneaker, canoe, or a hiking boot. We laugh a lot and celebrate effort as much as success. We work together to create a community where individuals are respected, and where our values guide our actions. We gain confidence. We share. We have fun (Camp Merrowvista).”

No matter how your organization approaches it programming; a successful program in hiking/backpacking must have a solid purpose, grounded in a philosophy that is representative of the mission. Otherwise, the organization’s commitment to quality camper experiences may wane and short-cuts taken in securing competent leadership and the necessary resources may fall below that which is essential for safety and fun!

Concept Two: Competent Leaders/Leadership

A successful program of hiking/backpacking must utilize competent trip leaders/leadership. Clearly the fundamental skills of hiking/backpacking are an important qualification. But essential to a successful program are leaders who are critical thinkers and problem-solvers. Competent trip leaders must be able to think on their feet and make value-laden decisions in a manner that ensures a safe experience for all members of the group. Allen (1998), in his book Don’t Die On The

Mountain explains this concept quite succinctly:

“While we assume the leader’s objective is to climb a peak, keep in mind that the leader’s major goal is to bring everyone back safe, and secondarily, as content as possible. The leader should focus his or her actions and decision-making on this goal. Decisions made by the leader before the trip and during form the basis for survival and safe return (p. 18).”

Other important characteristics of a good trip leader include: intelligence, knowledge, appropriate physical skills, alertness, listening ability, effective communication skill, a humble nature, selflessness, a willingness to make decisions, a good sense of humor, team building skills, a willingness to give credit where it is due, composure when accepting input, organizational skills, emotional control, applicable experience, and confidence (Allen, 1998). This is not an all-inclusive listing, and not all trip leaders will have all of these characteristics. However, these are skills and attributes any organization should seek-out when selecting the leaders/leadership for their group hiking/backing programs.

Concept Three: Comprehensive Planning

Absolutely nothing takes the place of good planning. Last spring, in the Great Smoky Mountains, literally hundreds of college-aged “spring breakers” descended upon this beautiful park. However, the temperatures in the surrounding valleys did not fairly represent the dangerously cold temperatures of the ridge. Poor planning, on the part of some of these hikers/backpackers resulted in several life-saving helicopter rescues during the week of March 12th.

I entered this National Park on March 13th and over the course my next five days walking north, I faced some of the most physically demanding winter hiking and camping in my life. However, what made this section of my longer trip successful was that I had spent months ahead of time planning for the hike. In the Smokies, I especially paid attention to critical aspects of the trail including the distances between shelters, elevation changes, footpath, and the potential for much colder conditions than I had experienced in 1972 when I began hiking the AT on April 2nd.

The first part of comprehensive planning has the trip leaders (as much as possible) involved in the selection of the hike (both destination and route). Decisions regarding destination and route will likely depend upon the availability of, and organizational access to, appropriate outdoor settings/trails. However, age and ability of group participants, and the challenges intrinsic to the choices of destination and route, require that at least someone in the organization be capable of creating this kind of “marriage” for all hiking/backpacking trips. Finally, this first part of comprehensive planning also requires that the organization meets various applicable codes/regulations for group hiking/backpacking and/or secures necessary permission and/or permits for full implementation of the program.

The second part of comprehensive planning relates to both preparation and implementation. Trip leaders should (as much as possible) be involved in the acquisition of all hiking/backpacking equipment and/or be thoroughly familiar with the correct use/application of the organization’s existing equipment (see also Concept Four: Excellent Preparation). This part of planning is also where the trip leaders must own the fundamental skills of hiking/backing.

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