Hike Leader’s Responsibilities

Last Update: February 17, 2020

The hike leader’s overriding responsibility is the safety of all the hikers. A secondary goal is the hikers enjoy the hike.

Know the Hike

The hike leader should thoroughly study and scout the hike prior to the trip. Generally, hikes will be on well-defined trails. An off-trail hike should be led only by a hike leader who is familiar with that trail and is experienced with using a GPS.

Obtain Necessary Permits

As the hike leader, you are responsible for obtaining the necessary hike permits, permission, keys and guides (if available) from the NM State Land Office (SLO), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Pueblos or other official bodies.

These organizations may be slow to respond (like two to four weeks). Don’t wait until the last minute to obtain permission.

Hiker Participation

While we can’t deny services to prospective hikers, we can assess whether their abilities and preparation match the hike’s characteristics and if not, attempt to persuade them not to go on this hike.

The following questions may help you decide if a hiker should participate in your hike or be encouraged to choose another:

  • What hikes have you done recently? [Assess the vertical gain, length, class (if known), etc. of the hikes done recently.]
  • How long did it take to complete a specific hike?
  • Are you comfortable hiking at the elevation of today’s hike and with the distance and uphill gain?
  • How is your balance when walking on rocks, stepping over fallen trees, or crossing streams (if appropriate for this hike)?
  • Are you comfortable hiking at today’s temperature?
  • What gear did you bring?  [Do they have enough water, food, rain gear, footwear, weather-appropriate clothing, etc.]

Before Leaving the Center

Before the van driver starts up the van, tell the hikers where you’re going and the hike distance and total uphill. Also mention what’s listed in the Cautions section. You’ll find that quite a few hikers haven’t read the hike description and might even think you are going on a different hike.

For hikes entirely or partially out of cell phone range, check that the van driver has obtained an InReach unit from the center for use in case of a problem or emergency.

On the Trail

Hike leaders share the responsibility with each hiker for their safety.  To ensure the safety of each participant, the hike leader will:

  • Appoint a sweep whose responsibility is to make sure no hiker is left behind or lost.
  • Check that the van driver sends the predesignated messages back to the center as the hike progresses (or has delegated the messaging task).
  • Not try to lead two vans full of hikers by yourself. If you’ve obtained a second van and van driver, also locate another hike leader who knows the trail to help you.  Divide the large group into two smaller groups, each with a hike leader and a sweep.
  • Periodically look behind to check on the hikers. If the line looks like it is getting strung out, stop and wait for the stragglers to catch up.
  • If your hikers are splitting up into a fast group and a slow group, allow the groups to separate only if each group has a leader who knows the hike and a sweep.
  • Observe the physical condition and comfort level of hikers. Periodic rests, water breaks, and pit stops are necessary.  When hiking long, uphill climbs, the hike leader should provide frequent breaks, the frequency and length depending on the trail’s grade and the abilities of the hikers. Leaders should allow enough time for each person in the group to catch up and rest before continuing. A rule of thumb is to start counting seconds between when you stop and when the last person catches up, then count that number of seconds afterwards before starting again.
  • Take a head count throughout the trip.  Minimally, a head count should be taken before leaving the center, at any stops on the road to and from the trailhead, at the start of the hike, at any major/confusing turns in the trail, when resuming the hike after lunch, and before leaving on the return trip back to the center.

For PD-FIT, LV-FIT and NDB-FIT: the hike leaders will be trained in CPR and emergency first aid; the hike leader will carry a first aid kit for use in the case of an emergency; each leader and sweep will have hand-held radios for communicating with other leaders and assistants.

You Are a Hiker

Hike leaders and assistants will lead by example following the recommended guidelines for all hikers; e.g., pack it in/out, respect artifacts and historical structures, etc.

Replacement Leader

If you cannot lead a hike that you agreed to lead, you are responsible for getting your replacement. Don’t wait until the last moment to find a replacement. In the case of an emergency, contact the hike coordinator for the center sponsoring the hike.

If you do not plan to be on the van from the senior center to the trailhead, notify the hike coordinator and the senior center. With the hike coordinator’s concurrence, delegate to another hiker your responsibilities while at the center to interact with the hikers and senior center staff and pick up our copy of the Trip Release Form.

Relationship with the Primary Hike Coordinator

The hike leader will work closely with the hike coordinator about situations related to the hike, such as changes in scheduling for reasons of weather predictions or overflow on the wait list. The hike leader will change the hike only with the concurrence of the primary hike coordinator, unless there are exceptional circumstances, such as wildfires, bad weather, or unsafe road conditions.

Report any issues associated with the hike to the primary hike coordinator.

Relationship with the Van Driver

The Hike Leader has full responsibility for the hikers and their safety. The Van Driver is responsible for determining whether or not the van and road to the trailhead are safe to proceed under the present circumstances, including the condition of the van and the current weather. It makes sense, however, that both the hike leader and the van driver will communicate with each other about their views on the situation and come to a reasonable solution.

Relationship with the Sweep

The sweep hikes at the end of the line of hikers and is responsible for making sure no hiker is left behind or lost. The hike leader relies on the sweep to assess the condition of the slower hikers and notify him/her of any problems. In most cases, the hike leader should be within visual range of the sweep to aid communication. If the hiking group uses hand-held radios (aka walkie-talkies), the hike leader should ask the sweep from time to time how far behind are the slower hikers and whether they need a break.

The hike leader should consult with the sweep in decisions affecting hiker safety. While the sweep provides assistance, the hike leader is responsible for the safety of all of the hikers and cannot delegate that responsibility.

Hike Leader/Van Driver 101

Review the Hike Leader section of this document for tips and situations that our leaders have experienced.