WHY I LEAD HIKES


After I joined the Obsidians, an outdoor club in Eugene with 500 members, I thought it might be interesting to eventually lead a hike or two.  One of the women in the club, a dynamo now 75, has led perhaps 500, and strongly encouraged me to lead.  I told her I couldn’t lead anything that I hadn’t hiked myself, so I spent my first summer in Oregon soloing many trails in the Willamette and Siuslaw National Forests.

In August, two months after I joined, I led my first hike on the Obsidian Limited Use Trail, requiring a permit, for no more than 30 are allowed in any given day, post the hike online, meet everybody at a given time and place, assign cars and drivers to get to the trailhead, then hike.  Somehow, everything worked out fine.  The first reason I lead hikes is that the club needs hike leaders.

During the next two years and the 51 hikes I led, some were easy, like in-town ones that required little driving and were on a trail or path that was familiar to everybody.  Most, however, were out of town.  I had hikes where people were spread out on 2 miles of trail, others where some people were fast and had eaten lunch before the stragglers got to the turn around point.  I had hikers who wanted to video the whole trail, some who wanted to photograph, others who used the hike as training, slowing down the group, and one, who was late to the meeting point, joining us at the trailhead and didn’t say one word to me the whole hike.  I treated falls, heat exhaustion, and often hiked a mile extra each hike.

We leaders are volunteers, but to hear some talk, one might think that only certain people lead.  I got behind two discussing various merits of leaders on an in-town Thanksgiving Day walk.  Why, I thought, don’t they lead, if they don’t like a leader’s style?  That is what I did.  So the second reason why I lead hikes is because I like having control.

Leading, however, is work.  It’s easier to show up at a hike and just do it, without having to organize it, write a description of what is expected, field phone calls from members or non-members who often would have such questions answered if they logged on to the site and read the description, ensure that the people going can do the hike and have adequate equipment, worry about drivers, know where everybody is, make sure the hike moves along, take care of any problems, and get everybody back to the trailhead safely.

I want those on my hikes to know what to expect. We leave promptly, I give the approximate speed on the trail, regrouping points, the lunch stop, and when we can expect to get back home.  If you want to hang loose and walk around in the woods, I’m not your hike leader.  If you want to see some good backcountry where not many people go, cover some ground, and get home at a specific quoted time, I am.

I put Obsidian Loop on the schedule for 1 July this year, figuring the hot June would take care of the snow.  The Forest Service told me the snow level was at 5200 feet.  I had done a hike in early June to 5600 feet, encountering only one small patch of snow.  I suspected there might not be much snow left, but to be sure, I scouted the hike 5 days prior.  Scouting is a full days’ work.  I’m doing the whole hike, including the drive. I had to buy a permit, then a few days later drove to the trailhead, the last 20 miles on a winding, curving, narrow road.  Finally, I hiked the loop, 12 miles—solo.  There was a lot of snow, although not as much as two years before.  I got off trail several times and navigated by GPS.  It was a difficult day. The Obsidian Trail is beautiful, but it takes a lot out of people— some is on volcanic rock, a lot of snow was present in this instance, there were six stream crossings, some of which were deep. Still, I was glad I did it, because I knew exactly what we could and could not do. I returned home fine, but I put on the trip description that we might be doing an out and back to Obsidian Falls, and to be prepared for snow. Two people cancelled.  One other, who had been on the waiting list, joined, and I was glad to see him, for I knew he was a good hiker.

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This is the Obsidian Trail after a snowy winter, 3 July 2014.  No trail visible, and one either knows the route or uses GPS.

Friday, eleven of us met, driving up in three cars.  We always carpool.  I had a good group, and we got an earlier start on the trail than I had hoped.  We stop at trail junctions, and as leader, I usually am not in front but somewhere in the middle, trying to have a sense where the front and back are, who is fast, who isn’t, and anything else I observe.  When we reached the first regrouping point, I discovered that one of our hikers had continued on, which was clearly not something we do. I hoped he would go directly up the proper trail to the Falls, because there were side trails that could be taken.

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Obsidian Falls from above.  The passage here was the area I was most concerned about, for it was on a 45 degree snow field where sliding was dangerous.  

From here on, I led from the front, because I knew the trail and wanted to keep the group together.  When we reached the Falls, I saw the missing person and went down to talk to him.  I first quietly asked him how he was, and when he told me he was fine, told him firmly that we waited at trail junctions.  He hadn’t heard me say that, but I had, and others on the hike could verify that, and in any case it’s a Club rule.  I had been worried about his well-being and a bit angry, but I kept my anger in check and he apologized.

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100 meters off trail, we came down this area, some choosing to glissade.

After lunch, I thought with less snow, we could complete the loop, and we did, slowly coming back down off trail through snow, my navigating by GPS and memory I had of the trail, which I knew ran near a creek.  More than once, I was concerned about not knowing exactly where I was, despite having been in the area five days earlier, but yet I knew we were going the right direction.  The map on the GPS was off by 400 meters.  Eventually, we finished the loop and hiked almost 4 miles to the cars.  For the second time in 5 days, I had to drive back down the winding road, tired, back to town.

People loved the hike.  One called it his favorite, another said he wanted to do anything I led, and a third said “That is what I call a hike.”  That’s a good day.  They aren’t all that way.  Why do I lead hikes? My third reason: Had I not decided to do this hike, no Obsidian–indeed, no person–would have seen the vast stretches of snow in the Three Sisters Wilderness that we saw on 1 July 2016.  Nobody would have glissaded, nobody would have seen a lake emerge from its winter ice, nobody would have seen the Winter Wren calling, and nobody would have known what they had missed.

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Lake emerging from ice at 6800′ elevation.

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Nobody saw this area that day but us.  Middle Sister in the right center.

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Winter Wren.  Interestingly, five days earlier there was one on this root ball, so a nest is probably nearby.

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