Originally published Thursday, August 10, 2017 at 06:00a.m.
The radio announcer said, “Wherever you are hanging out today, on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc., we’d love to connect with you.” Hiking is not like that. It’s a “boots on the ground” shared experience, not a virtual connection.
Sure, you can exchange stories and photos virtually, but the view, the breeze, the storm, the sweat, the switchbacks and the rest of the experience can only be shared in real time with a flesh and blood human being.
That begs the question, who do you hike with?
Having led hiking groups since 1976, most of the attendees considered hiking a shared experience. While I have hiked solo since 1976, many do not consider this to be a viable option for a variety of reasons. Therefore, we need a way to find other like-minded people to hike with, especially when new to an area.
Are you willing to hike with strangers? What do you look for in a hiking partner or group? Nigel, at the Highland Center, has compiled a list of hiking groups in the Prescott area that are open to anyone. There are also scores of other hiking groups for particular neighborhoods, subdivisions or churches. So the list is not complete, but the matter of what criteria you use to find a good match, when it comes to selecting someone to hike with, is the real issue. We have all had a variety of experiences with people on hikes that we’d like to avoid in the future. There are no guarantees, but it is important to establish clear expectations.
I would begin with pace. Can you keep up with the others? Do they prefer to move along quickly or to take their time and socialize along the way? Photography groups, birders, and botanists like to pause a lot to share this or that discovery. They are less interested in the destination, caring more about the journey.
Family groups, with kids, hike along, as my Dad would say, “steady by jerks,” pausing for all manner of distractions. Seniors generally maintain a stead, though slower pace than younger folks. There is no point to hiking as a group if you are not going to be a group. Some groups will classify a hike based on difficulty in an effort to cluster hikers with similar capabilities. Hike length and elevation gain are important elements in this classification scheme.
I rank “experience” as the next most important consideration. As hikers gain experience, they are often more interested in greater challenges, such as higher elevations, deeper canyons, and cross-country routes. Hiking Mount Hesperus and Lone Cone in Colorado, plus Devils Canyon east of Superior, AZ with a less experienced hiker proved problematic. I approached the rocky scrambles as one would embrace a dance partner. My friend thought each was a death trap.
So, whether it’s age, interest, or ability, it’s important to find a good match before you hit the trail, not only for the sake of enjoyment, but as a matter of safety. Do you trust your hiking partners to assist you if there’s trouble? Are they capable? Are you? Do your homework.
Local Hiking List
• Prescott Hiking Club (prescotthikingclub.com). Annual dues are $5. Different levels of hikes on various days of the week
• TrekAbout Hiking Club (cityofprescott.net/services/parks/programs/?category=trek). Annual dues $18. Hikes on Tuesdays and Thursdays
• Prescott Outings Club (prescottoutingsclub.webs.com). Annual dues are $10. Hikes on weekends, different levels of difficulty.
• OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) is located at Yavapai College and often has courses that lead hikes around the Prescott area: yc.edu/v5content/lifelong-learning/olli-prescott/
Ted Johnson is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.