Having recently moved to Colorado and eager to start bagging the well-known list of 14ers, I was at a loss of where to start. While I love hiking alone, there are several reasons I was hesitant to run out the door and up a mountain on my own.
The question presented itself, “How can I keep peak bagging when I don’t know anyone or know the area?” So, I turned to the social networking site Meetup to find like-minded people who wouldn’t mind me tagging along on their adventures. A quick search led to several groups, one of which had a hike planned two weekends out. I joined and RSVP’ed, not knowing what to expect but ready to get hiking.
Guided by our experienced host Jarrod, we had a beautiful, clear day and got our summit, which was my top priority. But there were several other positive outcomes to joining a hiking group that I hadn’t thought of until jumping in.
Meeting at a park-and-ride at 5:30am on a Saturday in March to hike all day takes a certain type of person, and that crazy appreciates similar crazy. Imagine not having to convince a friend with wavering conviction or bribing someone who isn’t going to enjoy themselves. Instead, a hiking group is comprised of people who are not only willing but excited to be there in the early, cold hours of the morning knowing both the punishment and reward awaiting.
A completely practical reason for joining a group is carpooling, which can reduce several headaches. Splitting gas is a huge bonus, especially if traveling several hours away. Also, many popular trails have limited parking, and space can fill up early. Or if you don’t have a vehicle or hate being stuck behind the wheel, you’re all set.
When you get a group of hiking junkies together, you’ll naturally start sharing stories, both the good and the bad. These conversations can start you in the direction of an amazing adventure, or be useful cautionary tales to help you avoid sketchy situations and learn from others’ mistakes and close calls.
4. First-Hand Knowledge
Our host Jarrod has hiked numerous 14ers – several of them multiple times, including the one we trekked. Not only did he know the trail, he knew and prepared us for trail conditions and gear that would be required, like snowshoes and microspikes.
It’s an age-old adage: There’s safety in numbers. This is extremely true when hiking in case of emergency or injury. Even in favorable conditions, a fall can cause a sprained ankle or broken bone that, if alone, could prevent getting off the mountain. Slipping off a trail or cliff side could be fatal or at least require rescue. Dehydration or altitude sickness can cause disorientation and result in becoming lost. Any one of these is reason enough to consider a group as opposed to solo hiking.
If you’re like me and in nature for some peace and quiet, your main deterrent for going with a group is just that: a group. However, that was not an issue with the people I went with. Once there was an assessment of speed and skills, everyone naturally separated, allowing for individuals to find their own speed and groove. Leaders knew our numbers, who summited and who turned back early, and a quick count at the end ensured everyone who headed up made it safely back down.
7. Never Stop Hiking
There are three basic reasons I hike: nature, exercise, and accomplishment. Nothing recharges like time out in nature, away from the city and crowds, getting your sweat on while pushing yourself to new limits and new heights. And it’s hard to argue with the view from the top. While these benefits come despite the number of mountain buddies, a desire to not lose those reasons led me to my group.
8. Friendship & Networking
It’s not surprising that I hit it off with several other hikers; peak baggers are a particular bunch, and the support and encouragement from all in the group was present from the start. Several members of the group had been on these hikes before, and an equal number were first timers, but there were already conversations over post-hike beers about the next peak and who would be attending. Outside of these organized hikes, I’m expecting other adventures with some of these new friends.
Jarrod: “[Hosting] has allowed me to choose the hikes I want and always have interesting people to share the adventure with. When I think about the group hikes I've gone on, or organized, it's the people I hiked with that I remember at least as much as the location or the amazing scenery.”