A Good Start

  • Vehicle safety
  • Vehicle's convoys
  • At the start
  • Outline the trip
  • Group rules

For a good start, it is important that all participants are at the intended meeting place on time. This sounds obvious, but many trips get off to a poor start from a lack of attention to how everyone can get to the correct spot at the intended time, complete with all necessary equipment.

Getting everybody to the correct place on time can be giving clear directions in writing or by phone, as discussed in Chapter 2. Once everyone is at the meeting place, how a leader ensures everyone feels part of the group has a major influence on how the whole trip runs. Leaders should be at the meeting place early to greet people by introducing themselves and welcoming participants. Specific arrangements required before the trip starts, such as car pooling, should be explained at this point.

Vehicle safety

More outdoor enthusiasts are killed or injured in motor vehicle accidents to or from trips than meet serious problems in the outdoors, including hypothermia, heat stress, snake and spider bites.

Vehicle convoys

If a car shuffle is required, or the group must drive further to the actual start, be sure all party members have arrived before leaving the meeting place. Many clubs suggest waiting fifteen minutes for latecomers, but do not allow trip plans to be compromised by them.

Take as few vehicles as possible. This will shorten the length of the convoy, reduce the chance of losing vehicles and reduce the impact on the environment. Explain the intended route of the convoy to the drivers in case the convoy gets separated. Nominate an easily identified vehicle as the last. At intersections, wait until all vehicles have completed the turn before proceeding.

At the start

People should be welcomed as they arrive. This is particularly important for any newcomers or beginners. Collect fees if appropriate, but it is preferable to have financial matters settled before leaving home.

Check that party members have food, water and all necessary equipment of a suitable standard. How well the leader knows the party members will determine how this is done. It may simply be sufficient to ask the group as a whole ‘Have you all got wet-weather gear, food and two litres of water?’ On the other hand, it may be necessary to speak to some party members individually to confirm they have everything specified. With school or youth groups, an examination of gear may be required.

Even at this stage you may be justified in refusing to take someone on the trip if they do not have the necessary equipment of a suitable standard. The deficiency may place the whole party in jeopardy if unforeseen circumstances arise or the weather turns unfavourable. For example, it would be considered foolhardy to take someone out on a four-day ski trip if they had left their wet weather gear at home. If you have spare gear it could be useful to take it along in case party members do not have suitable gear or have inadvertently left something at home. It may save embarrassment to some party members and allow them to continue on the trip.

Gather party members together before starting on the actual activity and introduce people. One method of doing this is to have everyone stand in a circle and one after the other state their name. An alternative method, if you know all the party members, is for you to announce everyone’s name. Or, particularly if it is a small group, you may simply introduce people as they arrive. If it is a club trip, you may want to mention any forthcoming club events and introduce other leaders and committee members. This allows new and potential club members to put a face to a name.

Outline the trip

Using a map, outline the intended route for the day and the whole trip. Include things such as:

  • planned highlights and objectives
  • likely lunch spots
  • sources of water during the day
  • alternative routes or places where choices can be made
  • expected finish time for the day
  • if it is an overnight trip, a brief outline of the route for the subsequent days
  • camping place
  • any known sections that may cause concern, e.g. steep ascents or descents, river crossings, ledge walking.

Most clubs have procedures concerning maps, but most expect trip participants to have their own copies of the correct map. Map name and sources should form part of the pre-trip information. Photocopying of maps is illegal and produces maps that are of poorer quality than originals, frequently lacking colour and are highly susceptible to water damage. Encourage other party members to follow the group’s progress on their own map so they become accustomed to using it. Let the group know you are willing to help improve their navigation skills if they so desire.

Group rules

Trips will run more smoothly if group rules for the trip are established. These typically cover:

  • those ahead of the leader must wait at track junctions and all other places of any uncertainty until all are present
  • if a party member loses sight of the person in front, particularly if off-track, they should call out for the group ahead to slow down
  • rest stops
  • if any problems occur during the trip then let the leader know immediately (e.g. prevention of sore spots by treating before blisters develop)
  • the role of the ‘whip’ or ‘tail-end charlie’.

The most common rule is that nobody leaves the track or the group without the leader or the whip’s knowledge. At the outset of a trip an experienced party member is often used as whip, or if most of the party are sufficiently experienced, you can ask for a volunteer. Ensure that the same person is not left as the whip for the whole day (unless they want to be).

Leaders should try to make it possible for every group member to have an enjoyable experience.