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Date Sent:      December 20, 2007
Subject:           Too Casual?
From:               John Bondon
Report from Andrew regarding last week's weekday hike:
    Howard, Sunny and I did a 10 mile hike from Briones Overlook to Inspiration Pt. in Tilden. The setting is beautiful. It instantly became one of my top 5 hikes. It should have been 9 miles but we made two incorrect turns. That's why it was exploratory. You never find these gems if you don't do exploratories.
And from last weekend's hike:
    Howard, Judith and I led 31 hikers on what started out as a nice sunny day. Yes I got cards, presents and hugs from the hikers. The highlight though was when we hiked up from Moraga Rd. to the Rim trail and Howard asked us to wait there. Then Judith surprised me by leading the Happy Birthday song. We had 5 hikers turn back on "Killer Hill". That's when it started to get cloudy and cold. A very nice day.
Sounds like quite the festive day ... and a Happy Belated Birthday to Andrew!

Unfortunately, the day was not quite as festive for all involved. We had two hikers who go seperated from the group, though everyone returned safely in the end. And without going into the details of what happened, the events of this past weekend force us to re-examine how we conduct hikes, and what it means to be a "casual" hiking club.

Are we too casual? If you've been a member of this group for awhile now, or if you happen to know me personally, you know that safety ranks very high on my priority list. For me, hiking is about having fun, and you can't have fun unless you are also safe.

So that begs the question, are our hikes "too" casual to be safe? That was a common theme I heard this past week by some who feel our club needs more "structure". But I disagree. My day job is working in the computer field, and sometimes that means I get involved in computer security issues. When it comes to internet based crimes, it doesn't matter how hi-tech or advanced your safety measures are, in the end most breaches -- even the ones that have occurred at the most heavily fortified complexes -- all boils down to a very low-tech vulnerability -- human behavior. That's why I firmly believe that no set of controls can ever be 100% fool proof.

Case in point: our away hiking and overnight camping trip to Yosemite last year. Being an away trip, we took special care to minimize problems and plan for how to handle potential emergency situations that might arise. We encouraged hikers to use the "buddy system", to complete special emergency medical forms, and gave each hiker a special wallet sized card with key emergency phone numbers and contact information for the area. Yet despite all our planning, we did not foresee all possibilities. Two emergencies came out of that trip -- 1) a hiker who became lost and never returned back to camp that night (but was safely located several hours later); and 2) another hiker who had severe difficulty making it back down the mountain and was ready to give up. The irony in both of these situations is that both of these hikers in trouble turned out to be each other's hiking "buddy". Had they both stuck together, each of these crises probably would have been far, far less severe. So yes, we can encourage our members to take the simple precautions like hike with a buddy, but here is a classic example where not everyone will, and this turned out to be a key contributing factor in the chain of events that led to the emergency situations encountered on the Half Dome hike of 2006.

My point is we all share the responsibility for hiker safety. Don't rely on just your hike leader to be responsible for your safety. Our group is geared for adults, and as an adult, you are expected to take responsibilty for yourself and your own well being. After all, nobody knows your limits better than YOU do! And realize also, that our hike leaders are volunteers, not paid staff. Our membership is diverse, made up of people of all ages and all ability levels. Though on some hikes it may be possible to keep the group together, I don't see that as realistic on most of the hikes we do, especially when inclines of any degree are involved. There will always be the faster, "die-hard" types who will want to push ahead, sometimes even ahead of the leader, while the slower "straggler" types will be struggling to catch up. That's just the nature of this group. We are "casual" and frankly, I like it that way. We welcome ALL hikers, regardless of your experience in hiking, or your ability or fitness level. So with such a large and diverse group, don't count on your hike leader to always know the whereabouts of everyone. Sometimes people leave early and don't tell the hike leader. Sometimes people break off and decide to venture out to explore other trails. We don't have a formal check-in/check-out procedure, nor do I feel we should. As I stated earlier, we are all adults, and I don't expect the leaders to take responsibility for YOUR safety.

So do your part to help ensure your own personal safety. If you know you might have difficulty with a hike or need special assistance, give your hike leader a heads up so he/she will take special care to keep tabs on you. If you decide to seperate from the group, let the leader know! If you need to take a bathroom break, make sure the leader is aware of it. Could our hike leaders have done anything differently last weekend to have alleviated such problems? Sure, and don't misinterpret the point of my email to you today -- they will be re-evaluating their own procedures as well, as will I when I lead hikes. But I believe that when it comes to personal safety it all boils down to the simple steps we can all do, and it all starts with each one of us. If you are relying on someone else to ensure your safety, then clearly you're not taking responsibilty for yourself.

One of my goals before the year is out is to foster communications amongst our hike leaders to address issues such as this. Many months ago I actually created a new email list, similar to the Member's Only email list, but geared for the Leaders, or anyone interested in possibly leading hikes. The list exists and is ready to go. What I haven't had time to complete yet is the coding to allow you to subscribe or unsubscribe yourself from it. I hope to complete that during my vacation next week. Once that is done, know that this discussion does not end here. This will be an ongoing dialogue to constantly look for ways we can improve safety and our procedures as a group. And this dialogue should not be restricted to just the hike leaders; I encourage your thoughts and comments on this matter as well. Feel free to share your thoughts with your fellow hikers on the Member's Only email list (if you are already subscribed) or send me a note privately, if you prefer. Once everyone has had an opportunity to brainstorm and share their thoughts, I will send out a follow up email on this subject sometime next year, though most likely not until late Spring timeframe. At which time I will highlight what changes and improvements we will make as a group to try to minimize such problems in the future.


And now a preview of our upcoming hikes, by the hike leader(s):

John says of the upcoming Volvon Loop hike: "If you enjoy driving thru California countryside and getting away from the hustle and bustle of city life, then you'll enjoy the drive to the trailhead, and the hike even more!".

Evan & Tina says of their upcoming Iron Horse Regional Trail - Danville to Alamo (paved) hike on Christmas Day: "Who says you can't lose weight over the holidays? Spend a few hours working off those big meals with a fun hike on the paved portion of the Iron Horse Trail in Danville.".

You'll find more details about each of these upcoming hikes, including starting time and directions to the trailhead, posted on the East Bay Casual Hiking website. In the event of rain, please check with the hike leader as to whether the hike will proceed as planned.

See you out on the trails! :)

Happy Trails,

John




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