Planning for enjoyment

  • Enjoyment
  • Challenge
  • Level of challenge and group capability
  • Empowering group members
  • Flexibility and safety
  • Balance
  • Matching trips and groups
  • Minimum age of participants
  • Maximum weight of packs
  • Physical conditioning and mental attitude
  • Trip objectives

Enjoyment

It surely must be the objective of every caring leader to see that every group member enjoys the trip. That is the reason they came - to enjoy themselves. 

Yet many people have been on just one walk and sworn ‘never again’. Why? Was it bad weather or nasty insects? Were they unfit, or did they have a negative attitude towards the activity? Was the rest of the group unfriendly or objectionable? All of these will apply at times, but most often, the main reason is poor leadership— especially poor planning by the leader. Examples of bad planning that are likely to result in beginners having a thoroughly miserable time are:

  • an unwise choice of area and or time of year
  • a poor choice of route within the area
  • over-optimistic planning - days or stages too long and hard
  • an unsympathetic choice of group members
  • a lack of help and guidance on equipment and food.

This sort of introduction to the outdoors can turn people away from a recreation that might have given them a great deal of pleasure for the rest of their lives. This book is about how to make trips more enjoyable, more rewarding and safer.

Challenge

"To adventure in the natural environment is consciously to take up a challenge that will demand the best of our capabilities - physically, mentally and emotionally. It is a state of mind that will initially accept unpleasant feelings of fear, uncertainty and discomfort,…because we instinctively know that, if we are successful, these will be counterbalanced by opposite feelings of exhilaration and joy. This journey with a degree of uncertainty in the ‘University of the Wilderness’ may be of any length in terms of distance or time; in any dimension - above, on or below ground or water. It may be climbing up a ten foot slab covered with large holds, or the biggest and steepest rock face in the world. It may be canoeing down the easiest or hardest rapids in the world, or the shortest or longest river. It may be sailing on a lake or across an ocean." (Mortlock 1984, p. 21)

Why do people want to undertake adventurous outdoor activities? There is, of course, no simple, universal answer to the question, because people are all different and structure their lives to have very private experiences and to achieve very personal goals. However, the search for adventure and enjoyable company along the way seems to be a common motivation.

Mortlock (1984) argues that the quest for adventure is a universal, innate characteristic of humanity. If this is the case, then an increasingly urbanised lifestyle, with its emphasis on comfort, security and ease, will fail to provide deep satisfaction. A reaction to this will often be a search for alternative avenues to find challenge and adventure.

A group of young beginner bushwalkers may undertake a delightful walk with beautiful views and endless interest in the natural history of the area, but what really brings them to life is a scramble up a moderately steep rock slab that looks precariously short of good footholds. The excitement and satisfaction that sparkles through the group after that scramble is vividly obvious. For all the world they have climbed Mt Everest.

That same sparkle can take longer to build. A long haul up a spur on a warm day or a series of awkward river crossings will produce intense concentration for a period. Then, when it is time to look back or look out at the view, a positive charge surges through everyone: ‘We knew we could do it!’ Mortlock (p. 21) calls these ‘peak experiences, associated with feelings almost indescribable and beyond those common to normal and routine living’, and attributes great personal and social benefits to them.

Level of challenge and group capability

Your planning should include challenging elements at a level of difficulty where group members are unsure of how they will go, but are prepared to make an attempt. To climb a long spur, to cover a large distance, to negotiate some rocky ground, to carry a heavy pack and to camp in the snow are all examples that particular individuals may find challenging in a trip. For individuals facing such personal challenges, your support and encouragement and that of the group can be critical for success.

If the challenges of a trip are too great for the experience of the participants then they may fail to meet them and suffer serious physical or emotional harm. Thus you must be careful to assess the experience and capability of every member of the group, and pitch the challenges at a level that will stimulate rather than dismay.

The greatest challenge is often the unknown. Usually group members will derive considerable support and reassurance from a leader's knowledge and experience: 'We are half way there'; 'The water in the river will be up to your knees'. If you are involved in a trip beyond your own personal limits, the challenge for the group members is dramatically increased, often to the point of danger.

At the planning stage it is not only critical to choose the right level of challenge, but also to arrange the challenging elements in the best possible way. Thought should be given to the sequence and timing of these planned challenges. For example, a difficulty early in the trip can do wonders to speed up the process of group development, creating a sense of common purpose.

The right level of challenge depends on the experience and motivation of the group. They will not always want to be challenged - sometimes they may simply want to photograph wildflowers, look at the views or enjoy a relaxing stroll through the bush. Every group member's motivation will vary from time to time, as well as undergoing gradual long-term changes.

Empowering group members

The group members will gain the greatest satisfaction and enjoyment from a trip if they feel that they themselves overcame the obstacles and made the discoveries (with just a little help from the leader!). Let them discover these things for themselves but make it easy for them to do so. Demonstrate that you have confidence in their common sense and ability to take care of themselves. In some situations you will need to exercise careful judgement to decide the degree of warning or active protection which may be appropriate when the group faces more significant hazards. As Lao Tzu, the famous 6th Century BC Chinese philosopher, said:

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worst when they despise him.

Fail to honour people, they fail to honour you. But of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will all say, ‘We did this ourselves’ ~ Lao Tzu

Flexibility and safety

Bushwalking and similar outdoor adventure activities such as ski touring, canoeing and rafting all contain elements of unpredictability. The weather may change quickly or a group member may have an accident. Plans must be sufficiently flexible to accommodate suddenly imposed difficulties.

Flexible planning does not mean incomplete planning. In fact, it goes beyond basic planning. You must first consider the points where some difficulties might arise, what those difficulties might be, and possible responses and their consequences. Experienced leaders seem to have a 'sixth sense' awareness of the areas or times when their group may be at risk.

Do not overdo the promotion of safety practices on a trip. People soon become bored by constant warnings of danger. It is much better to quietly note a hazard, explain how the group will avoid it and then steer them past the problem and onto some more positive feature.

Balance

The elements of enjoyment, challenge/achievement and safety/flexibility are very important to the success of any trip. Equally important is the balance of these three. A trip which is very safe but has no satisfying achievements will be rather dull. Alternatively, a trip where all thought and energy is devoted to achieving some ambitious goal may be very risky.

You must strike an appropriate balance between the three areas of concern. The right balance for one group may be very different from that for another group or in other circumstances, and the balance may change during the trip. Flexibility can be learned and will be more easily applied if you have thought through all the options. Judgement will improve with experience.

Matching trips and groups

You may have decided to do a particular trip and have in front of you the task of selecting a suitable group, or you may have been ‘presented’ with a group wanting to do a particular trip. These two situations demand different approaches, and at times the distinction between these two situations may become blurred, but the principles given below still apply.

Fitting the trip to the group
In this situation you could be the leader of a club trip, a school group or a scout troop. The trip may have been mooted and advertised by others. You may have had limited control over the advertising of the standard of the trip, and limited rights of veto over who may participate.

If this is the situation then:

  • You must ensure that the trip will be within the capabilities of all the group members.
  • The speed and strength of the slowest and weakest member will determine the length of the daily stages and your timetable should be flexible to allow for this.
  • If group members’ equipment is inadequate it may preclude certain route options.
  • If group members are very young or very old the trip may have to be specifically tailored for them.
  • If the group is large progress may be very slow. It may be worth considering splitting the group, if adequate sub-leaders are available. Each subgroup should have a mixture of experienced people and beginners.

Fitting the group to the trip
In this situation, you as leader should be very careful that you really do have complete freedom in selecting your group. If there is any exception at all, then the opposite strategy of fitting the trip to the group should apply. The importance of careful selection of group members increases in direct proportion to the length of the trip and to its degree of difficulty. For example, group selection would not be of major significance for an easy spring weekend walk in the Adelaide Hills, but it would be of the utmost importance for a three-week trip in southwest Tasmania.

For all trips, but especially for longer and harder ones, the following factors should be considered in the selection of group members:

  • Size of group - six persons is a good number, four is the minimum and more than eight starts to become slow and unwieldy.
  • Age - the trip may be inappropriate for the young or the old, e.g. you would not take a group of young teenagers on an extended winter traverse of the major high plains of New South Wales, Victoria or Tasmania.
  • Compatibility - this is especially important if conditions are likely to be adverse. You should know all group members, particularly their strengths and their weaknesses.
  • Fitness - fitness should be adequate for the trip and preferably as uniform as possible between the group members. The fittest should have demonstrated their ability to control any racehorse tendencies.
  • Special skills - there should be an adequate and balanced level of skills such as navigation, first aid, campcraft and bush skills in the group as a whole.
  • Equipment - this should be well proven. Do not allow your group members to take new or borrowed equipment on a long trip without trying it out first.

A short pre-trip training or trial walk is highly desirable if there are any doubts about potential group members for the long trip. It also helps to promote team spirit if the group does not usually walk together.

Minimum age of participants

Experience in Australia suggests that for adventurous trips by school and youth groups, and especially trips of more than three days duration at any time of the year, the minimum age of persons participating should be 16 years.

Relaxation of this age restriction could be considered for trips in the milder months, but the physical and emotional make up of the participants should be taken into account.

Maximum weight of packs

For adults it is recommended that pack weight should not exceed one third of total body weight. To achieve this target requires careful attention to what is carried and to choice of equipment. Experience is necessary to obtain the correct balance between weight on the one hand and safety and comfort on the other. It may be difficult not to exceed the recommended maximum weight, especially for longer trips in cold weather. For children, pack weight should not exceed one quarter of total body weight as an absolute maximum and ideally should be less than this.

Physical conditioning and mental attitude

Sound preparation and conditioning for bushwalking or ski touring is as much an issue of attitude as it is of physical condition. The importance of physical fitness for the enjoyment of a trip is obvious. It also greatly increases the chances of avoiding or surviving hypothermia, heat exhaustion or physical injury.

Although involvement in sports and other physical activities is beneficial for general conditioning, bushwalking and ski touring have their own specific fitness requirements that are best acquired through practice in the activity. This means that proper training and a gradual build up are essential prior to undertaking extended trips. Accidents occur and potentially dangerous situations develop when group members are unequal to the task set for them.

Apart from improving physical performance, the conditioning process should include familiarisation with the different conditions that may be encountered, thus strengthening attitudes to situations of stress and discomfort. Beginners on pack-carrying trips, especially school groups, should be psychologically prepared for what might turn out to be a difficult experience. They should be told that on occasions it may be wet, cold or very hot, that their feet may be sore, and that their packs may feel extremely heavy; but nevertheless they will find that they can cope and still enjoy themselves.

Maintenance of high morale enhances trip enjoyment and will help to offset exhaustion and exposure should such situations develop. Morale appears as a contributing factor in exposure cases, when coupled with low physical endurance capacity. Low morale saps energy which would be best conserved for the task of walking or skiing.

Physical and mental fitness for bushwalking and skiing can be supplemented by other physical preparation, but it is best achieved by successfully experiencing a series of trips at the individual’s level, which gradually increase in difficulty and develop or strengthen a belief in personal ability.

Trip objectives

Having decided where to go you should now have a close look at what you want to achieve on your trip and how you can make it enriching and enjoyable. There are many objectives ranging from purely physical ones, such as climbing Mt Kosciuszko, New South Wales, in winter in the shortest possible time (ensuring total safety), to more abstract ones such as enjoying the landscape or the feeling of wilderness.

Generally, trips are planned around one or two main objectives, plus some minor objectives contributing to the feeling of enrichment. For instance, you may plan a trip in spring to the Grampians with the specific objective of looking at the wildflowers, but at the same time you will be stimulated by the varied landscape, the unique geology and hopefully the pleasant weather and a congenial group. Table 1.1 lists some issues which should be considered in your planning.

Once you have defined your objectives, tell your group members about them. Prepare a pamphlet on the aims of the trip, or give a talk on what you hope the group will see and experience on the trip. Allow time at the start to remind people of interesting things that they may find along the way.

After deciding on your broad objectives, try to plan for specific highlights on each day of the walk. Psychologically it is often quite helpful to 'arrange' for highlights after tedious or difficult stretches of walking or skiing. On a two or three-day trip, plan a climax during the last afternoon. These trips can sometimes deteriorate on the last day as people become keen to get back home. Try to arrange a good view or an interesting feature toward the end of the trip and they will go home feeling pleased with the day.

Table 1.1 Some issues to be considered in trip planning
FieldComments
Geology and geographyStudy the broad geological and geographic features of the area such as base rock, stream pattern and mountain ranges. Plan to visit features of interest, such as mountain tops, granite outcrops, river flats and so on. Some geological maps are also excellent topographical maps.
HistoryFind out about the historic features of an area and plan to visit some of these a whole walk may be based on visits to historic sites.
Botany and zoologyDivide the state into regions and become familiar with the major plant and animal communities. Learn to recognise features of contrast such as changes in vegetation with altitude and soil (rock) type, and the different ages of forests. Buy some small booklets and use them to identify flowers, plants and birds.
ConservationLearn about the conservation problems of the area and the manner in which they affect bushwalking and skitouring. Become familiar with major issues such as land use in the alps. Read reports from government bodies. Join a conservation organisation. See Chapters 23 to 25.
SeasonsPlan trips with the seasons in mind: visit the foothills in spring, the alps in summer and winter, the tall forests and beaches in spring and autumn.
EntertainmentPlan for some evening entertainment, carry a song book, a book of verse, a small musical instrument or a pack of cards.

Reference

Mortlock C. 1984. The Adventure Alternative. Cicerone Press, Milnthorpe, Cumbria, UK.