Monitoring group conditions

To effectively monitor group circumstances and conditions you need to be in contact with all of the group. This cannot be done if the group is too spread out, or if you are at the front when the difficulties are at the back (which is usually where party members who are not coping end up). There are circumstances when good leaders lead from the front; and there are other times when the best position is at the back, providing intensive encouragement to weaker members who may be struggling. However, many of the most experienced leaders seem to prefer directing the group from around the middle.

You need to ask the group members how they are feeling, but you also need to be observant. Many group members who are struggling either physically or mentally will not readily admit to the fact, at least not in the early stages, which is when action needs to be taken to prevent relatively minor problems becoming major ones. If one person is experiencing difficulties, there is a good chance some of the others may not be far from it.

Occasionally, difficulties will occur with ‘racehorses’ who are difficult to restrain. The simplest way to restrain one ‘racehorse’ is to ask them to act as whip. If there is more than one, you may ask them to be joint whips or give a task with additional responsibility, such as following the navigation closely, possibly by directing a trail blazer you nominate to be the first person. If the leader has problems with ‘racehorses’, then the leader will probably need to be closer to the front. Wherever the problem or potential problem is, the leader will be most effective if physically located closest to the people experiencing, or causing, the greatest problem.

Another important point to remember is that the rest stop needs to be counted from when the last person arrives. The last members in the group are usually the tiredest, and require rest the most. It is unsatisfactory to give these people less time than they require, just because other fitter members who arrived first are eager to keep going. If certain group members are eager to get going earlier, set them a navigational challenge or give them another task at the rest point to keep them occupied.

Another useful tactic when some members of a group are becoming tired or losing morale is to start the group off after a rest stop in exactly the reverse order to that in which they arrived. This makes your whip number one and puts people who were previously at the back of the group at the front. If this rearranged order is enforced for a kilometre or two, then just being at the front of the group can have a remarkable effect on the morale of party members who were struggling at the back.