Guidelines for hiking in a group

Hiking is an outdoor activity and many factors can influence progress on the day. A flexible attitude is required. These guidelines are designed to ensure that all members of the group have a safe and enjoyable experience with the VIC Hiking Club. Most are just common sense, but some may not be obvious to inexperienced hikers. It is particularly important to respect these guidelines when walking in large groups of 20 or more participants, when it is inevitable that the group will spread out, and the person at the back will probably not be able to see the people at the front.

DAY HIKES*

1. The hike leader will set a pace suitable for the majority of the group. Most hikes are characterised as “Easy Pace” i.e. the pace will not be too fast for the average walker with frequent stops. Other hikes are characterised as “Brisk Pace” or “Good Physical Condition Necessary”, and the pace will be relatively fast. Walkers are requested to bear this in mind when registering for a hike. Fast walkers must be patient and not force the pace on B walks, and people registering for C and D walks marked as “Good Physical Condition Necessary” must ensure that they are fit enough for the planned route and pace on the day of the walk.

2. For groups of more than 10-12, the leader will nominate a “Back Marker”. This person is a strong walker who will have a map and know the route. They will walk at the back to ensure that nobody gets lost, provide encouragement and let the leader know if there is a problem.

3. No hiker shall walk in front of the leader or the person designated to walk at the front. This is because the leader will set a pace suitable for the majority of the group. All walkers are asked to respect this.

4. The weakest walkers should be in the middle of the group (not at the back). Within reason, the pace should be dictated by the weakest, not the strongest members of the group. If the weakest walkers are in the middle, they will not become demoralised and are more likely to keep up with the rest of the group.

5. No hiker should lose sight of the walker in front of them. This is both a safety issue and a matter of morale. If you do lose sight of the person in front, blow your whistle to attract the attention of the person in front. If you lose sight of the person behind you, blow your whistle to attract the attention of the leader and wait until the person comes into sight. It is important to stop and regroup regularly.

6. All hikers should be properly equipped. It is advisable to carry a whistle to attract attention in case of difficulty. Some modern rucksacks have whistles incorporated into the buckle of the chest-strap. On C and D grade hikes, hikers should carry headlamps and spare batteries. For alpine walks a survival bag or blanket should also be carried. It gets very cold on the mountains at night, even in the summer. Remember that people have died of hypothermia in the mountains. Hopefully you will not need the survival bag, but it can make the difference between life and death.

7. No hiker shall leave the group without telling the leader, or another member in the case of short breaks. If it is necessary to take a “comfort stop” in the bushes, try and do this when the group has stopped for a rest or to re-group, so that you do not get left behind. If the need is urgent, tell another walker, so that they can wait and watch where the rest of the group have gone, and if necessary ask them to wait. If you decide not to continue with the group for some reason, that is OK, but let the leader know your intentions. Our leaders put a lot of time and effort into preparing walks for the club, and it is important not to add to their burden on the day by disappearing without telling anyone.

8. The tips of walking poles should always be pointing to the ground, whether attached to a rucksack or held in the user’s hand. This is especially important when the poles are not in use. When not using the poles, carry them with the tip pointing downwards in front of you so that you can see where it is. If you carry the poles horizontally with the point to the back, it might feel comfortable for you, but it is not very nice for the person walking behind you. Similarly, if the poles are tied to your bag with the tips pointing upwards, they are a danger to the person walking behind you when you are getting off trains. The tips of poles should always be covered when they are not in use.

9. When walking on main roads without a footpath, hikers should walk in single file facing oncoming traffic. In most of Europe this is the left hand side of the road. This is not so important when walking on quiet country roads and forest tracks, listen out for vehicles and cyclists and let the rest of the group know.

10. After heavy rain or when the snow is melting, small streams can turn into swollen rivers with deep, fast flowing water. If it is not possible to find an alternative crossing place, then the river must be waded across with caution. KEEP YOUR BOOTS ON! There may be sharp stones or broken glass on the river bed that you cannot see. If conditions allow, you can remove your socks and replace then after crossing the river, but often if the river is swollen by heavy rain or snow melt, then the ground next to the river is also sodden and muddy. Walking with wet feet is not a problem with properly fitting boots and thick socks. These conditions are not frequent in Austria, but common in spring-time in other parts of Europe.

11. Finally, everyone is responsible for their own safety, but a little thought and consideration ensures the safety of the whole group.

WEEKEND OR LONGER HIKES

1. The group size may be limited for safety reasons or because there is limited accommodation in the area. Details will be specified in the programme.

2. Generally, only full participation will be accepted, as places are usually limited. If you wish to arrive late, leave early or arrive by car, please contact the hike leader. Your participation will be at his or her discretion.

3. Walkers should make sure they have adequate fitness for the proposed itinerary, especially in winter. Please do not take part in strenuous winter hikes, if you are recovering from an illness or not fit in some other way. If you have a problem, it puts the whole group in danger.

4. If you have any special dietary needs, please inform the leader at the time of registration.

We hope you will have an enjoyable experience, when walking with the VIC Hiking and Mountaineering Club.