Hike Leading/Van Driving 101

Ledge Socorro

Author: Dawn McIntyre
Last Update: 9/4/18



Hike Leading 101


SCREENING NEW HIKERS: Leaders should quiz a new hiker to learn if they are a good match for the hike. Sometimes there are multiple new hikers to quiz and other forms of chaos at the Center but don’t feel rushed, take your time. This is the single most important thing you can do for a successful hike!

People show up with street shoes, insufficient clothing for a winter hike, insufficient and even no water, and no socks or hiking boots. Some people show up not knowing what hiking really is, and after about a mile, they cannot continue. You cannot leave them alone, so you may have to cancel the hike to see to their needs. This is not fair to other hikers, so it’s far better to turn away an ill prepared hiker before you depart the Center.

Some questions to ask: Are you a frequent hiker? What was the last hike you did and how long was it? How long did it take to complete that hike? How much water do you carry? In summer, it’s good to ask if they have hiked at higher elevation. What elevation? You may even consider asking them if they’ve had recent surgeries or health problems since we’ve had issues with these hikers returning too soon. You might ask them if they are capable of completing the hike due to steep inclines, sand, hot weather, length of hike, terrain etc.

If you aren’t convinced they’re capable of completing a hike, encourage them to sign up for less difficult hikes. Any experienced hiker will know why you are asking these things and will not be offended. We now have a Welcome sheet that is sent out to new hikers when they join that is also available at the center desks and on the ASCHG website. In that sheet, we describe the hike classes and encourage new hikers to start out with the easier hikes.

ILL OR UNPREPARED HIKERS: Even though you have screened hikers to the best of your ability, sometimes you realize a hiker cannot complete the hike due to illness, fatigue, or unknown handicap so it’s best to send them back to the van with an experienced hiker, ideally someone with a GPS or who knows the way, with the promise to stay by the van or in close proximity.

If a hiker is really sick or having scary symptoms, it might be prudent to abort the hike and get the hiker to a medical provider. If you are in cell phone range, you can check with the Center, the Presbyterian nurse line, or other medical help resources.

PLAN THE HIKE, AND HIKE YOUR PLAN: We recommend a hike leader preview a hike if they haven’t done the hike in a year or so. On hike day, don’t change your hike on a whim or allow another hiker or even park rangers to “show you a better way”. A hike leader is a LEADER and should have and demonstrate confidence and knowledge. Pre-hike or scout your hike and you will know the way. Ask an experienced leader you know and respect to mentor you until you build confidence. If you don’t have a GPS, we have people who will help you navigate.

CANCEL OR PLAN ALTERNATE HIKES: Know when to arrange an alternate hike or cancel a hike due to weather and/or road conditions. Notify the Center and driver by phone if you change or cancel the hike and send out an e-mail notice via the Web site- under the EMAIL heading, select “Send hike change notice”. Preview access roads a day or two before in cases of recent bad weather. Avoid single track dirt roads after recent rains. If in doubt about road or trail conditions, have a backup plan for an alternate hike of similar length and difficulty.

SECOND VAN REQUESTS: You may get e-mail or phone requests from hikers to add a second van. It is your decision to make as hike leader after consulting with the hike coordinator, but you must check with the Center manager about van availability. Does the Center have another van? Can they borrow a second van? Can you find a second driver? Ask yourself, can you manage as many as 24 or more people on your hike with the given terrain and circumstances?

CARPOOLING FROM THE CENTER: This possibility may come up when one van is full and no other is available. Some groups allow this; others do not. As leader, you may choose to help organize extra vehicles and provide them with directions to the trailhead. In case of problems, exchange cell phone numbers. Or you may decide to avoid complications and say there will be only one van and no extra vehicles. You’re the leader, and it’s your decision.

Carpooling from the Center may also happen when no van is available or a Center is closed for cleaning. It’s up to the hike leader to organize drivers of private vehicles and provide them with directions to the trailhead. Exchange cell phone numbers in case of problems.

MEETING AT THE TRAILHEAD: You may get phone calls or e-mail requests to meet at the trailhead. As leader, you may allow this, if the hiking group allows it and you so choose, and if the number of hikers does not go over the designated limits, such as the 10 person limit in parts of the Sandias, and the 15 limit in Santa Fe Wilderness areas and San Pedro Parks areas. We recommend exchanging cell phone numbers and provide them with a specific time to be at the trailhead. Too many complications come up if they are late or go to the wrong location so make sure they understand they must be there promptly or you will leave without them. A van full of people are not going to wait. It’s a good idea to not allow this practice with new hikers who are unfamiliar with hiking policies and procedures. You’re the leader, it’s your decision.

WHEN TO REPORT INCIDENTS AND WRITE A REPORT: Be sure to report any injuries requiring a trip to the emergency room or any accidents involving the van. Follow the instructions located on the back of the driver’s visor or side door pocket.

More Hike Leading Tips:

  1. Make sure you have a sweep. Asking for a volunteer usually works well. Your sweep will know who is having problems so communicate frequently. Count hikers in the van before leaving the center and compare with the sign up sheet. Frequently count hikers before, during, after the hike. Unless you have a pair of dependable radios to share between the leader and the sweep, keep your group together in visual contact. You may have two distinct groups of fast and slow hikers, so be aware that trying to please everyone will make your task more difficult.
  1. When you come to a fork in the trail or encounter side trails, wait until everyone makes the turn or continues on the proper trail. People have gotten separated from the group when they’ve taken the wrong trail.
  1. If chaos ensues, for whatever reason, blow your whistle to get the group together.
  1. Consider carrying your cell phone and exchanging cell phone numbers with your driver and sweep, in case of emergency, when you might be in cell phone range.
  1. Be aware that whistles don’t always work well in areas with tree cover or down in arroyos.
  1. In some circumstances, it may be necessary for the group to separate to search for lost items or if a hiker is injured. First, take a few minutes to organize and create a plan so that there are people in both groups with cell phones, exchange phone numbers, have van keys with each group (in the case of two vans), and someone in both groups with GPX tracks and hike leading experience.
  1. Watch cloud formations while hiking, and if thunderheads look ominous, turn around before bad weather hits. A little rain never hurt anyone, but large hail or lightning might. Have an alternate plan if a storm is predicted when you travel on one-lane dirt roads in rural locations. Note any arroyos that you cross going to a hike. If there is rain upstream, you may encounter a rushing river on the return. On hikes with potentially difficult roads, hike leaders should do a preview of the road conditions a day or two prior to hike day.

We all enjoy the many sides of this hiking activity, and we cannot predict everything that might go wrong, so prepare as best you can, and use common sense to deal with the unexpected.

Experiences We Have Had

Here are some issues that have come up in the last few years to give you examples of the unexpected.

  1. The sweep that wanted to teach a dawdling hiker a lesson, so walked off and left her.
  1. The hike leader wasn’t careful about the body count leaving the Center, and they arrived at the trailhead with an extra woman who thought she was going to a shopping mall. Fortunately, it wasn’t a difficult hike, her shoes were OK and enough people had extras so she didn’t perish from hunger or thirst.
  1. A new hiker who sat down and started to eat her lunch at 45 min into a 4 hour hike.
  1. The SPOT was non-functioning, the hike was out of cell phone range, and the van got stuck in mud. The mud was frozen going in but thawed before going out. How do you turn around when there is no place to do so? Back up for 1/2 mile? A solution for that moment: Drive to trailhead, turn around, then drive back out while still semi-frozen. Better yet, avoid the problem altogether by previewing the road a day or two before and have a backup plan for an alternate hike.
  1. 5 out of 10 hikers were stung by yellow jackets: carry Benadryl in an easy, quick access pocket and ointment for insect stings.
  1. Soles of hiking boots came apart: carry duct tape. (The end of a roll, flattened doesn’t take up much space). A good plan is to use old hiking socks to insulate water bottles; they can be used as emergency socks or even mittens.
  1. Heat exhaustion happens, so carry a 20 oz spare water bottle and electrolyte packets; an easy to find brand is Emergen-C. If the day is especially hot, a cooler with water for after the hike is a good idea.
  1. If you’re having problems with your GPS, try it in track up mode instead of north up mode. Some believe it’s easier to focus on where you need to go in the next 20-30 feet. Ask an experienced hike leader if they will mentor you until you feel more comfortable.
  1. At least one hike leader has forgotten to load a GPX track or had an incomplete upload process: before you leave the house, always double check your GPS unit. Take one or two sets of spare batteries.
  1. Sometimes when clearing the active log a hike leader has accidentally deleted the GPX track at the trailhead: hope someone else has downloaded the day’s track.
  1. “I want to go straight. I’m not going up another hill”, said one hiker. Be assertive, slow the pace or find some shade and rest first. Keeping an eye on the hikers at the end of the line is always a good idea.
  1. Hikers fall into or sit on cactus: carry metal tweezers or use duct tape to pull off large patches of fine cactus hairs at once.
  1. An interim senior center manager added a second van without consulting the hike leader or arranging for another driver.
  1. Be assertive with hikers who play with snakes, throw rocks off cliffs, try to push the pace, wander off or attempt to “hijack” the hike.
  1. A coordinator changes the hike at the last minute without consulting the hike leader. Solution: Coordinator call or e-mail the hike leader ahead of time and discuss the reasons why and alternate hikes.
  1. Be aware that people might have extreme exposure (also known as fear of heights) issues.
  1. Be aware there are people with bad knees who don’t read the hike description.
  1. If a person wants to go on your hike who doesn’t appear to have the physical ability or be appropriately dressed for the hike, try to talk them out of it. A last resort, better than ending up with a hiker with a serious injury, is to just cancel the hike.
  1. The leader asked if everyone was carrying water before they got out of the van and headed down the trail. All hikers assured her they were well equipped. About 1/2 mile into the hike, a new hiker announced she left all of her water in the van.
  1. Hikers arrived at the first Sevilleta trail head both by van and private car. One of the hikers traveled by car one way, by van the other way. Those in the private car left early and did not complete the second trail. Two of the hikers who traveled by van also did not want to complete the second trail. A veteran hiker said, “This isn’t done. You have to tell them that they can’t just opt out of a hike right in the middle.” Fortunately, a second veteran hiker escorted the two back to the van with the keys so they could all wait safely inside. To complicate matters, BNSF track maintenance was in progress so the van was unable to drive to the second trailhead. We had to hike a loop along the road to the observation areas instead of driving which added
    at least 1.5-2 miles to the published hike. The logistics became very confusing, and the maintenance posed a potential hazard to anyone waiting near the van. When the hike leader previewed the hike 1 or 2 days ahead, there was no BNSF maintenance at that time.
  1. In some instances, it may be difficult for hikers to sign up ahead if a Center is closed for cleaning or over a long holiday weekend. Some hikers may e-mail and ask you to sign them up for a hike. There is no way for you to do this. Encourage them to leave a voicemail message at the Center or call when the Center reopens. If the hike is the day the center re-opens, the only option is to show up and take your chances.
  1. Hike leaders cannot get the names of hikers on the signup sheet via telephone. You must go to the center to see the signup list (privacy concerns).

Remember, these are rare circumstances. It pays to be prepared.


  • duct tape- small amount in a flattened roll
  • basic pain meds, Aleve, ibuprofen, aspirin, or Tylenol
  • Benadryl in a quick to reach place and ointment for insect stings
  • blister patches, large bandaids, liquid new skin
  • elastic ankle wrap
  • tweezers
  • powdered electrolyte packets, like 4g. Emergen-C or similar brand
  • extra 20 oz bottle of water
  • flashlight or headlamp
  • notebook and pencil
  • sunscreen
  • bug spray (summer)
  • whistle or signal mirror
  • zip ties
  • multi-use tool such as Swiss army knife
  • a fully-charged cell phone or extra power pack


Van Driving 101


  1. While the hike leader and van driver should talk over issues as a team, van drivers need to know that it is their decision when to continue on and when to turn around and return to the center or do another hike. Consider what changes could occur in the road conditions that would affect the ability to drive back safely. Turn back once you determine it would be unwise to continue on.
  1. Before leaving the center, check fuel gauge to make sure you have enough fuel to get to your trailhead and back. Incidences of gas siphoning have occurred. It’s a good idea to carry a credit card or cash to buy gas or oil in an emergency.
  1. Visually inspect the outside of the van, with a quick walk around, before leaving and after you return to the Senior Center to look for obvious problems such as dangling mirrors, loose window gaskets, holes or cuts in a tire, flat tires or obvious low air pressure. Notify the center of any defects and take photos of any damage so you won’t get blamed for someone else’s mistake.
  1. Discount Tire on Montgomery and I-25 (NE corner) will check tire pressure and fill tires for free.
  1. Keep as much separation as possible with vehicles ahead of you to give good vision of the road ahead in case the vehicle swerves or there are objects in the road.
  1. Drive with extreme caution in high winds.
  1. Use caution changing lanes. Short vehicles such as sports cars or motorcycles are easy to miss.
  1. Familiarize yourself with the van’s cruise control. Particularly helpful maintaining the correct speed through Jemez speed traps.
  1. The interior light of the van is on when one of the van doors is open. The interior light might drain the van battery if it is on for multiple hours and/or the van battery is not in good condition.
  1. If there are two vans and a problem is encountered, have the second van follow the problem van until reaching the Center.
  1. Our van coordinator can arrange a tire changing class on a van. Let him know if you’re interested.
  1. Soon we will have InReach devices with two-way text communication to replace the SPOT devices.
  1. Don’t let the hikers rush you to get back to the center. Stop and get refreshments (caffeine?) if that will help you drive more safely. If there is another driver on the hike, don’t be shy about asking the other driver to drive part of the way back.
  1. Don’t let the other hikers distract you when you’re driving! Save conversation for the trail. However, the hike leader riding shotgun may have to help keep you awake on long drives.
  1. The Centers are responsible for taking care of the vans, but be aware they are frequently lax. Their responsibilities are: 1. check and fill gas tank when necessary, 2. check oil level, 3. make sure mirrors are functioning properly and adjusted, 4. make sure all head lights, tail lights and brake lights are functioning properly, and 5. engine and maintenance work is done on schedule.

VAN EMERGENCY EQUIPMENT: The vans have a suitcase (often red) with tools for emergencies but the suitcases are locked (to prevent vandalism) so it’s not easy to inventory the contents. Contents should contain: tire changing equipment, jumper cables, small shovel (might be plastic and of questionable use?).

Some drivers carry extra tools and perform extra checks especially for long distance trips to remote areas. While this is not required, it’s suggested to check tire pressure and the oil level. Extra tools some drivers carry for these remote trips: lug wrench leverage extender, small collapsible metal shovel, tire patch kit, 12 volt compressor, installing plug for tires, zip ties, chain.

WHEN TO REPORT INCIDENTS AND WRITE A REPORT: Be sure to report any injuries requiring a trip to the emergency room or any accidents involving the van. Follow the instructions located on the back of the driver’s visor or side door pocket.

We all enjoy the many sides of this hiking activity, and we cannot predict everything that might go wrong, so prepare as best you can, and use common sense to deal with the unexpected.

Experiences We Have Had

Here are some issues that have come up in the last few years to give you a
sense of the unexpected.

  1. Flat tire on the van. The van was parked at Ball Ranch, 4 miles away from a locked access gate – so calling for and getting help would take a long time. With the help of other hikers, we eventually got the tire off and changed; it wasn’t easy as the tire tools were not very good and the wheel lug nuts are very tight. It helps to bring along a “lug wrench leverage extender” (a cheater bar) and check the spare tire for proper inflation when going to remote trailheads.
  1. Another flat tire incident was solved by a hiker on the van who called AAA when no one on the hike could get the lug nuts loose. Technically, AAA is not supposed to fix or repair ABQ City vans, but they did it anyway.
  1. A van lost a front wheel bearing coming home. Driver babied it back to the center, told center not to let the van go anywhere except on a tow truck, called at 8 in the morning to tell them again.
  1. Getting stuck in the mud: be skeptical and cautious about road conditions and if you can’t get to the trailhead, then improvise and do a different hike or substitute another activity or cancel the hike and go home. Be aware that mud may be frozen in the morning so you may successfully get to the trailhead, then the mud thaws and makes your exit impossible. In most cases, there is no cell phone service in the areas with roads like this where we hike so getting help with a 4 wheel drive tow truck may be very difficult. Please note, the ABQ City garage has no such tow truck.
  1. Running low on fuel or oil: For whatever reason, sometimes the van doesn’t have a full fuel tank, so a driver should consider carrying a credit card or cash, and if need be, buy enough fuel to complete the trip. Get and keep a receipt and present it to the Center Manager, and they will reimburse you. Same applies to low oil. A driver had to buy and add 3.5 quarts of oil because the dip stick registered zero. Another option is to get a Center employee with a combination or key for a pump at the Pino Yard to drive with you to get access to City fuel.
  1. A hard rubber strip along the top of the van windshield came loose and started flapping in the wind and banging on the van roof. A large folding knife was used to cut the loose end of the gasket.
  1. Unexpected debris, a piece of furniture that had come off of another vehicle, suddenly appeared on the highway in front of a van. A split-second decision was made to swerve onto the shoulder of I-25 to avoid hitting the debris and other vehicles in the left lane.
  1. On one hike, we watched storm clouds appear in the distance. When sprinkles started to fall, we headed back to the vans. The dirt roads were slippery, but we were doing OK until we reached an arroyo we had crossed earlier. What had been completely dry was now a wide river. We waited about 45 minutes until we saw a sedan cross successfully, then both vans made it across without incident.
  1. Be aware, vandalism is a big problem in ABQ; even the front seats were stolen from a Palo Duro Fitness van.
  1. On a quick visual walk around the van, a large hole was discovered in the outer layer of rubber on one tire. Tire wasn’t flat yet. Luckily, the Center had a substitute van.

Remember, these are rare circumstances. It pays to be prepared.