I’m part of a meetup group whose purpose is to get people who don’t normally hike to try getting out into the great outdoors. Because of our mission, our activities are occasionally sponsored by major outdoor groups. For the hike below, we did have a corporate sponsor.
Last year, our group went hiking in Pennsylvania. Thanks to our leader’s decision to post the hike on meetup.com, the turnout was huge! About 25 people showed up for the 2.5 hour hike. The hike was advertised as “all levels welcome” and the only instructions were, “Bring a snack, water, and an extra pair of socks and shoes because you could get wet since we will be crossing a stream”.
When I arrived at the trailhead around 8am, the first thing I noticed was the sheer size of the group and that I didn’t know many of the faces. Since I’m a relatively experienced hiker, I didn’t think much of it. I was just happy that I’d worn enough layers because it was terribly cold and windy (I never knew how much I could appreciate hand-warmers). As we got ready to step off, the group leader introduced herself and told us that due to the size of the group, her teenaged kids would be in front because they knew the route, and that she would be somewhere between the middle and end. With that bit of information, we stepped off.
Right away, a woman named Maureen introduced herself to me, said she was new to hiking, and immediately pointed out that she was older than anybody else hiking. Because I talk to strangers (I can’t help it, I grew up in the South), she and I sort of became buddies that morning. As we began ascending the trail, we encountered rocky terrain and Maureen wondered aloud if she would make it to the end. In turn, I loaned her one of my hiking poles and we kept trudging up the mountain.
Throughout the morning, Maureen was chatty and seemingly happy; but, each time the terrain got more demanding, she expressed a bit of concern: “the description didn’t say all this was on the hike.” Despite this, everything was going well until we hit the part of the trail that included climbing a set of steep stone stairs and walking over a grated bridge to cross a gorge.
The bridge was actually the half-way mark, and it was the place where the organizers asked us to pause for two reasons. First, we needed to wait on the slow hikers. Second, they wanted to take a group picture to share with the sponsor. After waiting on the slowpokes for about 10 minutes, the organizer got a little worried. After waiting another 5 minutes, she went back to look for them. The rest of us took advantage of the wait time by eating our snacks and taking pictures of the scenery and a fight between some pretty territorial Canadian geese. While waiting for our, Maureen and I became best buds, and I learned that the hike was, in fact, her first. She had accomplished a major feat simply by showing up! The organizer eventually returned, but WITHOUT the stragglers! She said she’d walked all the way back to the parking area, but didn’t see them! She asked if any of us had their contact information; nobody did. Then, someone asked if we should check the website so see if they’d posted anything: of course, nobody had cell reception at that part of the trail! So there we were, 6 – 8 people short, with no signal and no way to tell if they were okay. Nevertheless, we decided to keep going.
We took our group shot for the sponsor and prepared to climb the stairs. As we started climbing the steep steps, Maureen grew increasingly frightened because she was afraid of heights (before you ask, this wasn’t in the description either)! She literally talked her way through climbing the stairs by doing the adult version of, “I think I can, I think I can.” When we reached the top of the stairs, there was a second freakout! She couldn’t go across the bridge because the see-through grates intensified her fear of heights and falling. So, we did what we had to do. Those of us standing nearby walked Maureen across the bridge (imagine three people huddled around someone and taking baby steps – a group waddle).
Once we got across the bridge, guess what happened next? WE HAD TO COME DOWN THE MOUNTAIN via a second set of steep steps! Again, Maureen was not ready!. While I and the rest of the group walked down, Maureen sat on the steps and scooted down on her butt. But hey, if that made her feel safer, I was all for it. Once she got to the bottom of the steps, she sighed a sigh of relief, “Whew, glad I made it. This hike is NOT beginner-friendly.”
Maureen breathed too soon. Our next “obstacle” was crossing a stream that was really moving. It wasn’t that deep. Frankly, if it was summer, I bet some people would’ve intentionally worn “quick drying” boots and walked through the calf-high water. But that was not happening that day because IT WAS COOOOOOLD (about 25 degrees and windy)! To get across, we had to balance and walk across a series of large and small rocks. Boy was I grateful that I had a hiking pole! It made all the difference in the world! With Maureen right behind me, I went across with no problem and was quite geeked that I made it without a problem. Maureen was decidedly slower on the rocks and really needed that hiking pole that I’d loaned her. Well, wouldn’t you know it? Maureen fell into the water. I don’t know how it happened, but she was mortified! When she finally made it to the other side, someone asked if she’d brought the extra change of socks and shoes, and she had. But she was so humiliated that she refused to swap them out because she was concerned about slowing the group down (undoubtedly, she was also thinking about the fact that she was the oldest person on the hike). She rejected our urgings to change and said she would wait until got the rest/picnic area at the end of the trail. She had to be cold.
By this point, we’d been on the trail for more than two hours and we still hadn’t made it to the end. The full hike, in and out, was only supposed to be 2.5 hours. Funnier still is that once we got to the end, we would have to hike back!
Finally, we made it to the end of the trail! Yay!!! Those of us with more food ate again, others took pics, and made use of the facilities. Meanwhile, our group leader was desperately trying, to no avail, to reach the 6 – 8 people that we lost.
After our short break, it was time to go back and our group leader gave us options! She told us that we could either hike back the way we’d come or take a short-cut. Can you believe the group was silent, as if nobody had preferences! So, I spoke up and said, “I’d like the short cut. This hike was supposed to be over an hour ago, and I have other commitments.” Then, just as you might expect with any group, suddenly everybody chimed in saying they, too, wanted to take the shortcut. 40-something minutes later, we arrived at the parking lot where we’d left our cars. Thankfully, we returned when we did because Park Rangers were just getting ready to ticket some of us for parking in “no parking” areas (there were so many cars when we started that there was absolutely no other place to park). Maureen told us that her nerves were fried and that she was going to get a drink. With that, we chuckled, and everybody went home. From that day to this one, our group has never discussed this trip.
- Can you and your team analyze what went well and wrong with this trip?
- What could have been done differently?
- What potential liabilities can you identify?
- What were our goals, and do you think we accomplished them?
- Who was responsible for this failure, the leader or the team (those of us who’d hiked before)?
- What are some of the similarities that you see in this story that occur on your team or in your organization?