Friday, May 23, 2014

What Makes a Good Hiking Partner?

As I look back on the last couple of years, I think about how my hiking partners have changed and what I've noticed makes for long-lasting hiking relationships.  When I first began hiking, I went once or twice with a neighborhood friend who I can probably thank for getting me started on this journey when my daughter went off to college. I seriously needed a diversion and hiking proved to be the perfect way to heal a hurting heart.  Lynn was great to hike with as a newbie.  We were about the same speed and same age so we had a lot in common.  However, Lynn experienced some health problems and had to quit hiking, something I hope never happens to me.

Shortly after that, a dear friend from work made the statement to me that she wanted to hike up Mt. LeConte before she turned 60 which was only a couple months away.  She and I and one more woman I didn't know very well, but still worked with, decided we would do just that.  The account of that first trip to Mt. LeConte can be found HERE.  We had such a great time, we just kept on hiking!  Since that time, I've hiked with many different folks and have settled into a small group of regular hiking companions.  Together we've had many wonderful and a few trying experiences, but we've faced them all together and are better (and closer) for it. Along the way, I've found the value in certain characteristics that make good hiking companions and will try to delineate them here to help others be better hiking partners.  A good hiking companion:

  • Puts other members of the group (and the good of the group itself) before themselves instead of demanding that selfish goals be put before the interest of others in the group.  Make a commitment when you decide to hike with a group that the interests of the group will be equally as important as your own interests.
  • Will never go off and leave other members of their hiking group alone or go off alone by themselves unless agreed upon by the group.  We have had times when we've had to hike an extra ten miles because one group member was so far ahead of the others that when we realized we'd taken a wrong turn, we couldn't get up with her regardless of how loudly we yelled or blew the emergency whistle.  That same individual once was hiking so far out that when the only other person on the hike that day fell and was cut and bleeding, she was nowhere to be found to lend aid.  Make it a point to stay within earshot (or at least whistle distance) of other members of your group.
  • Prepares fully for a hike by knowing and understanding the route to be taken.  It's important that everyone in the group knows enough to get out of the backcountry to go for help if someone is injured.  Sharing the responsibility for knowing the route makes it safer for everyone in the group.  
  • Abides by the "rules" of the backcountry.  In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park where most of our hiking adventures take place, there are safety rules one is expected to follow when staying in the shelters or campsites, specifically regarding bear precautions.  It is only fair to the others in the group if everyone follows those rules to keep from putting everyone staying in the campsite or shelter at risk of an unpleasant or even potentially dangerous encounter. 
  • Shares the load and the expenses.  When backpacking with a group, some items don't need to be carried by everyone and dividing the load up amongst all members of the party can make sharing equipment more fair.  Packing your own pack so full that you have no room to carry shared items is totally unfair to those with whom you are hiking. Also, getting to and from hikes can be an expensive proposition if you go very frequently.  Be sure to either do your fair share of driving or be ready and willing every time to pay your part of the travel expenses.  Others in your group will not want to carry you financially for long.
  • Shares camp responsibilities.  On a backpacking trip, getting to the shelter or campsite is only part of the work involved.  Once the group arrives at the destination, much work remains to be done and everyone is already tired. Be sure that you are actively involved in gathering water or doing other necessary tasks, not simply lounging on the top bunk watching everyone else work. Believe me, that gets old quick!  Be committed to doing your part.  Not only is it the fair thing to do, but those little jobs make great memories together to make the group stronger and builds those lasting friendships.

A long-lived hiking relationship develops into a deep and abiding friendship.  Like most other relationships that are meaningful, hiking buddies put the needs of other members of the group ahead of their own, but all members are also doing the same thing.  Once that happens over a period of time, bonds are created that are tight--almost as tight as family.  That, my friends, is worth the extra effort!

Did I leave out any characteristics of good hiking buddies YOU've had? Feel free to add to this in the comment section!

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