Group and Guided Hiking

CMC hikers
CMC hikers

What is a group hike? How is it different from a guided hike?

I’ve written about the benefits of hiking with other people in an organized group.  When you hike with a group, you’re instantly with family.

Hiking groups of both kinds attract people over fifty years old. New hikers may start out as treadmill fit. They can be retired runners or just folks who figure that if they can walk for miles, they can hike.

Any healthy adult can walk six to eight miles and enjoy it. You don’t have to have grown up in the woods to hike as an adult. How much are you willing to push yourself? It is normal to feel tired and even a little sore after a hike.

Most hikers use the terms, group and guided, interchangeably but they’re different.

Both hiking groups have a leader, and a sweep. The sweep, sometimes known as a tail-ender, is a strong hiker who stays in the back and who makes sure that no one is lost or struggles behind.

The leader scouts (checks out) the hike and make sure she/he knows the route and trail conditions.

The group assembles at a predetermined place and leaves on time to drive to the trailhead. The hike has scheduled snacks, lunch breaks, and trail breaks – toilet stops in the woods. If the leader hasn’t made provisions for these breaks, then the group is just a bunch of strangers walking on the same trail.

When the group leader returns everyone safe and sound to the trailhead, she’s done her job. If she’s made the hike fun and even educational, that’s a bonus. Carolina Mountain Club does an admirable job of leading group hikes all year round. Group hiking leaders are almost all volunteers.

Guided Hike

On top of Chimney Tops with Anna Lee
On top of Chimney Tops with Anna Lee

One expects much more from a guided hike. A hiking guide not only has to do all the things mentioned above but also adds value to the hike.

A good guide is passionate about where she hikes. She loves the land and wants to pass on the excitement to her hikers.

She should be interested, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable about some aspect of the outdoors. It can be flowers, birds, trees, geology, or human and cultural history on the land. That doesn’t mean that the guide needs to be a native of the area. On the contrary, I feel a lot better about leaders who’ve done some reading, taken courses on their expertise, and can put a wider perspective on the hike.

A good guide offers you a broader view on the area. She should be able to explain where you are and who the land manager is – national park, national forest, state park, and state forest. This is extremely important in the U.S. because different things are expected and accepted on different type of land ownership.

I’m honored to lead hikes for Friends of the Smokies along with staff member Anna Lee Zanetti. Check out the hikes for 2016, the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

This post was inspired by professional hiking guide Jennifer Pharr Davis who runs Blue Ridge Hiking Company-a guide service in Pisgah National Forest.

Next time – where to test yourself on a trail in the Southern Appalachians

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