Setting group expectations when you haven’t yet hiked the trail

Sunday morning I read a post on WildernessDave’s blog that delved into how diffident you can feel when you’ve decided to host a group hike but haven’t yet explored the trail you’re going to be hiking.

As Dave recounts:

We got an early start on a cold morning just as the sun was coming up.  I may not have made it entirely clear from the beginning, but I had never hiked this trail before.  I was going off of a pretty decent map and a trail description found online.  I didn’t know if there would be trail markers or not, or how easy the trail would be to follow once we got out of Spur Cross Recreation Area.  There is an expectation, when hiking with the person who has suggested the trail, that they are leading the hike.  This dawned on me shortly after we got started and I felt the pressure of needing to know where we were, where we were going and how far we still needed to go.  Every time someone asked, “is this the trail?” or “do we cross the creek here?” I felt like I should not only know the answer but be confident about it.

I appreciate Dave’s frankness in spite of what we may suppose are his ideal notions of himself; he encapsulates his experience well. I’ve certainly experienced the emotional struggle he was feeling; after all, every new trail is one you haven’t walked before. But when you’ve got other people joining you who may be new to hiking or haven’t yet hiked with you, or even seasoned hikers who may respect your abilities by reputation or proxy but don’t know the trail either, delivering on expectations can be of prime importance well before everybody arrives at the trailhead.

So how do you deliver?

Advance research is crucial for ensuring a fun, worry-free group hiking experience.

Advance research is crucial for ensuring a fun, worry-free group hiking experience.

Certainly a responsible hike organizer doesn’t show up at a trailhead as host of a group hike without doing as much advance research and planning as possible, as I figure Dave tried his best to do. Trail research can mean a good scouring of the available guidebooks, online trail descriptions, route-finding apps, weather predictions, seasonal trail conditions and hardcopy maps that you can lay your hands on – even enlisting the help of one or more of your fellow hikers – then taking the next step by setting proper expectations for the group. By all accounts, Dave is an experienced outdoorsman and, as he and I have learned from honest experience, one must also have confidence in one’s abilities as a seasoned hike leader, as well as confidence in the tools one uses to navigate the trail safely and as planned.

Which, for me, naturally begs two questions: what tools do you trust while researching a new trail and, aside from much of the typical gear you might pack with you, what tools do you trust once your group convenes at the trailhead?

I alluded to these questions in my comment on Wilderness Dave‘s post:

Once, in Paria Canyon, having seen 3 different GPS waypoints for the same trail destination prior to a hike into the Coyote Buttes, I’ll be danged if I’ll ever solely trust a GPS. Thank goodness I had my wits, a friend, trail descriptions and a map – and we reached our gruesomely twisted sandstone destination, The Wave (where we took another GPS reading that yielded yet a 4th coordinate).

While it’s preferable to have scouted a trail prior to leading a group hike over it, one doesn’t always get the opportunity, especially when the trailhead is a little further afield. But whether you know the trail or whether the hike will be a new experience, it always pays to set the group’s expectations early – once in the event write-up, then again at the trailhead before embarking down the trail. It’s at the trailhead that I tend to use words such as “discovery” and “adventure”, which I find resonate with folks. I also ask my fellow hikers to confirm my map readings so that there’s more of a consensus than an undue trust in my map-reading abilities. And that means more than any GPS interpretation can provide.

Entering The Wave, September 2003.

Entering The Wave, September 2003

It’s best to know what you’re getting everybody into…

Experience aside, you don’t want to lead other trusting souls on a group hike if you don’t know what to expect once you’re committed to leading it. But if you first take pains to characterize your hike so that you are reasonably satisfied with your expectations of what lies ahead, then when you publicly convey it as a bonafide hiking event, you’ll likely also attract the right people to your hike, simply because they will have reasonable expectations about the outing too.

Setting these kinds of advance expectations in your event write-up also raises the probability that you’ll keep out the riff-raff, which is to say, you’ll discourage those would-be attendees who, by seeing how you’ve characterized the hike, will likely realize they are not adequately conditioned or prepared; most will simply not show up for it. (Seasoned hike leaders will tell you: that’s a good thing.) Over time, you’ll become aware, and even thankful, that setting adequate expectations for your group will mean that your experience will be the fun outing that you planned rather than, as Dave may have experienced (and as I have too), an endurance exercise in people management.

So what kinds of expectations should you take pains to convey to your would-be group? The following list is a reasonably comprehensive one, and I consider its elements to be tantamount to crucial. So should you:

  • Always list the total distance. If there’s no adequate trail description handy, grab a good map and tally up the mileage between trail junctions/waypoints. Then, double-check your math – even triple-check it.
  • Always characterize the outing as a function of terrain and distance, and include seasonal factors such as weather, potential thunderstorms/flooding, and boil it down to a basic difficulty level, i.e.:
    • Easy
    • Moderate
    • Strenuous
    • Very strenuous

    As an example of this, a 10-mile hiking route in late Winter can be a very different experience than hiking the same route in the heat of Summer. What may seem like a moderate hike early on can seem brutal, unforgiving, and therefore very strenuous later in the year.

  • Always offer as much detail as necessary to get your hikers to the trailhead. This consideration is likely the most important one once people have committed to a hike’s distance and characterization, therefore requiring due diligence on your part so that all attendees arrive where you want them to – even when you want them to; i.e., how long they can expect to drive getting there.
  • Always state when you will meet and when you will hike. Because some people will have a tendency to show up at the last minute, I usually set a 15-minute window to allow for traffic conditions and to give early arrivers adequate time to get parked and perform their pre-hike ablutions.
  • If at all possible, always list an office phone number for the jurisdiction that manages the land you’ll be hiking in.
  • Always provide your own phone number or some other means of quickly contacting you during the hours and minutes preceding your hiking event. It’s reasonable to share this information privately with confirmed attendees rather than post it publicly in your event.
  • Optional, yet can make the difference in attendance numbers for many group hikes: a description of the expected experience, e.g., bird life, forests, grasslands, scenic views, tug-at-the-heartstrings chamber-of-commerce stuff if you prefer, plans for after the hike.

Do all of these things, and they will be the things that set a great hike leader apart from an armchair hike leader.

…so don’t be solely reliant on technology.

I’m sure it’s readily obvious from my comment to WildernessDave that I don’t place much faith in GPS technology; I surely don’t abide using a GPS system as the sole mechanism for safe and sane trail passage. I don’t believe other folks should do so, either; GPS technology is not nearly as reliable as some people tend to believe it is.

But whichever technojimcrackery you may hold in your hand, just because it’s got a microchip and software to control it doesn’t mean that it’s flawless! Don’t let technology (and its flaws) control you – or, by extension, your hiking buddies.

That’s not to say that GPS tools don’t serve a useful purpose. After all, they’re used to support land, sea, and airborne navigation, geophysical exploration, mapping and geodetic land surveys, vehicle location systems, and a wide variety of additional applications. The key take-away here is: a mobile GPS system is designed to be a support tool, not the only tool you should rely on.

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There are other life- and safety-critical reasons for not placing too much trust in your GPS system, as determined by researchers at Carnegie-Mellon University. To learn more, read an article titled Researchers Detect Big Flaws in GPS on the Tom’s Hardware website (a self-billed Authority on Tech).

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Researching my brain for a few final thoughts about…you guessed it: research.

If I may make one additional observation about setting expectations for your group hike, it is this: do your homework. And also know that placing undue faith solely in technology in lieu of adequate research one too many times will likely result in your being shunned as any kind of responsible leader by your local hiking community.

It’s a hard truth to saddle your horse with, but I’ve seen my share of this kind of bravado, and I cannot condone it. Indeed I’ve at times felt it necessary as a hike participant on another host’s event to step up and, using not much more than my wits and experience at reading unknown trail, help lead others back to where we started when confidence in the hike leader has been lost. Deciding to override the presumed authority of the hike organizer does not come easy, but when it’s a necessary decision, it’s always been the right decision in retrospect. Nevertheless, the profound outcome is that the experiences of all concerned could have been much more satisfying if the group host had been responsible in the first place. Fortunately this type of episode was not nearly the case with WildernessDave at Spur Cross; after all, his confidence in his abilities is hard-won from years of experience and experiment, virtue and volition, the tried and the true.

And: pre-hike research.

For the greater good, then, it’s better to deliver on your group’s expectations by always conducting thorough research – which, for the sagacity (and therefore, confidence) of the budding hike leader, should always mean advance trail reconnaissance – prior to even thinking about posting your group hike at that new trailhead.

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Have you ever organized a group hike but hadn’t first walked the trail?
Have you ever participated in a hike in which trust in the hike leader was compromised?
Please feel free to embellish upon my thoughts by adding yours.

But please, don’t judge. No group hike leader is ever a good group hike leader
until he or she makes the commitment to being one – a commitment that must renew
with each group outing.

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~winehiker

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Sunday, March 24th: Vista Grande Loop, Sunol Regional Wilderness

From Eagle Valley Trail looking east.

From Eagle Valley Trail looking east.

6.1 moderate miles, 1700′ elevation gain, early Spring wildflowers

Meet: 9:30 a.m.
Hike: 9:45 a.m.
Duration: approximately 3–4 hours
How to confirm your attendance: Simply add a comment at the bottom of this post.*

Sunol Regional Wilderness
The end of Geary Road
Sunol, CA
(510) 635-0135

THE HIKE
A trip to Sunol is a trip to the country. Unlike many other East Bay parks, Sunol isn’t bordered by neighborhoods or major thoroughfares. You can’t reach it any other way than to drive slowly on a narrow country road. When you hike the grassy, oak-studded hills of Sunol, all you see are more grassy, oak-studded hills! Those, and an occasional glimpse at shimmering Calaveras Reservoir.

Our hike is a six-mile loop tour of Sunol that reveals many of the park’s best features. It is steep in places, so come prepared for a hike that feels like a bit more than six miles. We’ll warm up gently, though; the route for our hike will navigate the relatively easy Canyon View and Ohlone Road trails adjacent to Alameda Creek before we turn uphill at Cerro Este Road. We’ll climb for at least a mile to Cerro Este Overlook at 1,720 feet, where we’ll catch our breath before we bear left on Cave Rocks Road toward a right turn on Eagle View Trail. A gentle ascent over the next mile will bring us to a magnificent view at Vista Grande Overlook at 1,680 feet. We’ll then turn west on Vista Grande Road and descend to High Valley Road, where we’ll turn left and head toward the barn and picnic area at High Valley Camp. From there, we head toward Indian Joe Creek Trail, which we’ll descend back toward where we started.

The view from Vista Grande Trail above High Valley Camp.

The view from Vista Grande Trail above High Valley Camp.

After the hike, expect to be hungry! So let’s adjourn to downtown Sunol and enjoy lunch together at Bosco’s Bones & Brew.

GETTING TO THE TRAILHEAD
From Interstate 680 south of Pleasanton, take the Highway 84/Calaveras Road exit. Turn left on Calaveras Road and drive south 4.2 miles. Turn left on Geary Road and drive 1.7 miles to the park entrance. Continue about ¼ mile to the entrance kiosk, pay your fee, then drive 100 yards past the visitor center to the parking lot across from the horse rental area. The trail begins on the left side of the rest rooms at the footbridge.

CARPOOL
From the South Bay: meet at 8:30 a.m. at the 680/Mission Park n’ Ride Lot located at the intersection of Highway 680 and Mission Blvd. in Fremont. We’ll leave at 8:45 sharp. For those of you arriving from The City or elsewhere, please contact others near you to arrange carpooling.

NOTES
Parking at Sunol Regional Wilderness is $5 per vehicle; here’s an online trail map. Drive time from San Jose may take 25-30 minutes; from SF, perhaps 20-30 minutes longer. Please allow adequate time to arrive by 9:30; our hike will begin promptly at 9:45.

Parking should be adequate at our trailhead near the horse stables. Nevertheless, I urge hikers to please carpool if possible (see above). Dogs are allowed on this hike for a $2 fee per dog.

Maguire Peaks under cloud shadow at Sunol Regional Wilderness.

Maguire Peaks under cloud shadow at Sunol Regional Wilderness.

Be sure to bring plenty of snacks/lunch items and water for the trail. I highly recommend bringing an extra pair of shoes – even clothing – to change into after the hike. Please allow plenty of time to arrive, and watch for cyclists during your drive.

Also, wear sturdy shoes for this hike – we may be hiking over rough terrain in places, and sections of muddy trail may present themselves.

The phone number above is for East Bay Parks.

Meet 9:30 a.m., hike 9:45 sharp.  See you at the trailhead!

————————— ♦ —————————

Would you like to attend this hike?
If so, let me know you’re coming – simply reply in the Comments below.
Thanks!

————————— ♦ —————————

*Your comment on this post is your RSVP. Consider also checking the box labeled “Notify me of follow-up comments via email” so that I can share my cell phone number with you a few days prior to this hike – just in case you need to contact me on your way to the trailhead.

This event is listed on my 2013 Schedule of Hikes.

~winehiker

Saturday, March 9th: Loop of the Briones Crest, Briones Regional Park

 6.8 moderate rolling miles, with scenic ridgetop views

Meet: 9:30 a.m.
Hike: 9:45 a.m.
Approximate hike duration: 4-5 hours
How to attend: Reply in the Comments section of this post.

Late winter rains add vivid color to the hillsides at Briones Regional Park.

Briones Regional Park
Bear Creek Valley Entrance
Orinda, CA
(888) 327-2757

THE HIKE
This rambling loop hike includes parts of the Homestead Valley, Briones Crest, Table Top, Mott Peak, and Black Oak trails, and is a great introduction to the southwest half of this expansive, 6,117-acre park. It’s an area of rolling hills, high ridges, and forested canyons, but the real reward for hiking the Briones Crest will be late Winter/early Spring wildflowers and those stunning 360-degree views.

Much of our route will be out in the open, climbing high atop the rolling hills that characterize this regional park, but we’ll also appreciate the wide variety of trees that grow along Bear Creek. Birds appreciate this landscape too, and we may hear the sharp cry of a northern flicker or the call of a California quail as we amble along.

After the hike, we’ll be hungry! So let’s all chow down on wood-fired Mexican comfort food in downtown Orinda at Barbacoa.

GETTING TO THE TRAILHEAD
From Highway 24 in Orinda, take the Orinda exit and drive northwest 2.2 miles on Camino Pablo to Bear Creek Road. Turn right and, after 0.3 mile, reach the entrance kiosk; continue 0.1 mile to the last parking area. Our trailhead is just beyond this last parking area.

CARPOOL
From the South Bay: Let’s meet at 8:15 a.m. at the 680/Mission Park n’ Ride Lot located at the intersection of Highway 680 and Mission Blvd. in Fremont. We’ll leave at 8:30 sharp. For those of you arriving from The City or elsewhere, please contact others near you to arrange carpooling. Thanks!

NOTES
Parking at Briones Regional Park is free; here’s an online trail map. Drive time from San Jose may take 55-70 minutes; from SF, perhaps 10-20 minutes less. Please allow adequate time to arrive by 9:30; our hike will begin promptly at 9:45.

Parking should be adequate near our trailhead at the end of Bear Creek Road. Nevertheless, I urge hikers to please carpool if possible (see above). Dogs are allowed on this hike for a $2 fee.

Be sure to bring plenty of snacks/lunch items and water for the trail. I highly recommend bringing an extra pair of shoes – even clothing – to change into after the hike. Please allow plenty of time to arrive, and watch for cyclists during your drive.

Also, wear sturdy shoes for this hike – we may be hiking over rough terrain in places, and sections of muddy trail may present themselves.

The phone number above is for East Bay Parks.

Meet 9:30 a.m., hike 9:45 sharp.  See you at the trailhead!

————————— ♦ —————————

Would you like to attend this hike?
If so, let me know you’re coming – simply reply in the Comments below.
Thanks!

————————— ♦ —————————

*Your comment on this post is your RSVP. Consider also checking the box labeled “Notify me of follow-up comments via email” so that I can share my cell phone number with you a few days prior to this hike.

This event is listed on my 2013 Schedule of Hikes.

~winehiker

Sunday, February 24th: Meteor Trail Loop Hike at Big Basin State Park

 

Remnants of logging activity linger many decades in Big Basin.

Sunday, February 24th: a moderate 6-mile loop w/ 400+ feet elev. gain

Meet: 10:30 a.m.
Hike: 10:45 a.m.
Approximate hike duration: 3-4 hours
How to attend: Click the Join button on this Facebook event* or reply in the Comments section of this post.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park Visitors Center
21600 Big Basin Way
Boulder Creek, CA
(831) 338-8860

THE HIKE
Walking the Meteor Trail Loop is a fine way to wander among the giants at Big Basin Redwoods State Park without the crowds on the more popular trails. In Winter and early Spring, the surrounding creeks burble to life, making the Meteor Trail one of the best riparian hikes at Big Basin. And on clear days, Ocean View Summit from Middle Ridge Road offers an expansive view from over 1800 feet above the Pacific Ocean.

We’ll probably arrive at the spur trail to Ocean View Summit before we know it. After many a lingering gaze, we’ll then head south, returning via the Dool, Creeping Forest, and Skyline-to-the-Sea Trails to where we started at Park Headquarters.

After the hike, we have the option of tasting the wines of Cinnabar Winery at their tasting room in downtown Saratoga, back along our return route to Highway 280.

GETTING TO THE TRAILHEAD
From the SF peninsula, take Hwy 280 to Sunnyvale/Saratoga Road. Turn south toward the hills and drive 5 miles to Saratoga and Hwy 9. Turn right at Hwy 9 and drive up the hill for 7 miles to Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35). Continue over the other side of Skyline along Highway 9 about 7 more miles to Highway 236. Turn right and drive about 10 miles to Big Basin Redwoods State Park. We’ll start our hike at the Visitors Center.

CARPOOL
From Cupertino: Let’s meet at 8:15 a.m. at Coffee Society, located at 21265 Stevens Creek Blvd, opposite De Anza College. We’ll leave at 8:30 sharp. The merchants have posted a number of signs warning “non-customers” not to park their cars in the plaza parking lot. So, please park on N. Mary Avenue behind Oaks Plaza. If you plan to meet at this carpool, please share a note with your R.S.V.P.

For those of you arriving from The City or elsewhere, please contact others near you to arrange carpooling. Thanks!

NOTES
A $10 day-use fee is charged per vehicle at Big Basin; trails maps are $3 at the Visitors Center. Drive time from San Jose may take 75-90 minutes; from SF, perhaps 30 minutes longer. Please allow adequate time to arrive by 10:30; our hike will begin promptly at 10:45.

Parking is usually adequate at the park’s main parking lot adjacent to the Big Basin Visitor Center. Nevertheless, I urge hikers to please carpool if possible (see above). Dogs are not allowed on this hike.

Be sure to bring plenty of snacks/lunch items and water for the trail. I highly recommend bringing an extra pair of shoes – even clothing – to change into after the hike. Please allow plenty of time to arrive, and watch for cyclists during your drive.

Also, wear sturdy boots for this hike – we may be hiking over rough terrain in places, and sections of muddy trail will likely present themselves.

The phone number above is for Big Basin State Park.

*A few days prior to this hike, I will share my cell phone number with all people who RSVP either by clicking the Join button on the Facebook page for this event or have commented on this post.  (If you and I are not Facebook friends, hit me up at http://www.facebook.com/winehiker.)

Meet 10:30 a.m., hike 10:45 sharp.

See you at the Visitor Center!

~winehiker

P.S. This event is listed on my 2013 Schedule of Hikes.

Saturday, February 9th: Bob Walker Ridge Loop Hike

The view east toward the Sierra Nevada from Bob Walker Ridge.

Saturday, February 9th: a “ridge run”, approximately 5.9 moderate, rolling miles

Meet: 9:30 a.m.
Hike: 9:45 a.m.
Approximate hike duration: 3-4 hours
How to attend: Click the Join button on this Facebook event* or reply in the Comments section of this post.

Volvon Staging Area, Morgan Territory Regional Preserve
Morgan Territory Road
Livermore, CA
(510) 544-2750 

THE HIKE
Morgan Territory Regional Preserve is one of the most remote and scenic parks in the East Bay, perched at 2,000 feet on the southeastern ridge of Mt. Diablo State Park. It’s within sight of Mt. Livermore, Altamont Pass, and the Central Valley.

The trail names here are based on Native American history and tradition: Coyote is a mythic personality of Indian legends, and the Volvon were one of the East Bay groups that resisted the Spanish mission system. The preserve itself is named for Jeremiah Morgan, an early settler, gold miner and rancher. Bob Walker Ridge honors a photographer and environmentalist whose efforts on behalf of EBPRD from 1984 until his death in 1993 led to additional land acquisitions in Morgan Territory and Pleasanton Ridge. (Someday it might be worthwhile to walk the length of the Bob Walker Regional Trail, which connects Morgan Territory with Mt. Diablo State Park.)

Seclusion and wilderness make hiking here a special experience. It’s really a beautiful hike. Our loop will traverse the Coyote, Volvon Loop and Volvon trails and includes a deep canyon and a climb to expansive views atop lofty Bob Walker Ridge. If the weather’s clear, we may experience a pretty fine view of the snowy Sierra. So bring your binoculars! And a camera.

After the hike, let’s return down the mountain to have lunch at First Street Ale House in downtown Livermore, where the grub is tasty and they always have 24 beers on tap.

GETTING TO THE TRAILHEAD
From I-580 in Livermore, exit onto N. Livermore Ave. and turn north. Shortly after N. Livermore curves left (west), turn right onto Morgan Territory Road and follow it for about 5.5 miles to the staging area. From Walnut Creek/Concord, take Clayton Road to Marsh Creek Road, then turn right onto Morgan Territory Road. The staging area is 9.4 miles from Marsh Creek Road.

CARPOOL
From Sunnyvale: Let’s meet at 8:00 a.m. at Tasman Square, located at the corner of Tasman Drive and Lawrence Expressway between highways 101 and 237. Park near the fence fronting Lawrence Expressway and look for me nearest the Taco Bell; I’ll most likely be sitting on the tailgate of my black Dodge Dakota pickup with black camper shell. We’ll leave at 8:15 sharp. If you plan to meet at this carpool, please share a comment with your RSVP.

For those of you arriving from The City or elsewhere, please contact others near you to arrange carpooling. Thanks!

NOTES
Wear sturdy boots for this hike – we may be hiking over rough terrain in places, and sections of muddy trail will likely present themselves.

Though parking is usually adequate at the Volvon Staging area, it may not be by mid-morning if there are other large hiking or equestrian groups also meeting there. Be sure to bring plenty of snacks/lunch items and water for the trail. Leashed dogs are allowed. I highly recommend bringing an extra pair of shoes – even clothing – to change into after the hike. Please allow plenty of time to arrive, and watch for cyclists during your drive. Phone number above is for the East Bay Regional Park District Office.

*A few days prior to this hike, I will share my cell phone number with all people who RSVP either by clicking the Join button on the Facebook page for this event or have commented on this post.  (If you and I are not Facebook friends, hit me up at http://www.facebook.com/winehiker.)

Meet 9:30 a.m., hike 9:45 sharp.

See you at the trailhead!

~winehiker

P.S. This event is listed on my 2013 Schedule of Hikes.