102 – Screening

“Is it hard?” … “Sometimes”

Some leaders may have no problems screening, because they reject everyone who isn’t an experienced hiker with a dozen or more 4000’ peaks in the last year. Or because they accept everyone who wants to come on a challenging trip, and then may not reach their intended destination if someone too slow comes along. Our objective is to do better.

There are two approaches to screening: Some Leaders carefully screen each participant, asking for recent hikes they have been on, most difficult hike, etc.

For most of my Local Hikes I take a different approach… I accept anyone who can manage to sign up through the AMC system. This might sound ‘Dangerous’, ‘Foolhardy’, to some. But in 20 years I have found that: If anyone signs up to go on a 4-hour, 7-8 mile hike, they probably can do it. Yes, a few may be a bit slower than you would prefer… but that is a small sacrifice for saving me screening literally hundreds of new hikers.

The other thing I incorporate into ‘Beginner’ hikes is loops. If I want to do 7 miles at the Blue Hills, I might plan it as a 3-mile loop that comes back near the cars, then goes off for another 4 miles. Then, after 3 miles if someone is obviously ‘not having fun’ I can offer them the opportunity to bail out.

Pre-Covid the Local Walks & Hikes Committee ran most hikes as “Show & Go”. I ran many hikes that way, and again, in my experience, couch potatoes don’t just decide to go on a hike. I never had a problem.

If you do choose to screen participants:

Screening participants well sometimes can be hard. Some leaders would say it is the hardest part of being a leader. The good news is it gets easier with practice. And 90+% of the time the people who want to come are qualified to come.

Let’s look at a couple ‘typical’ hikes, and what we can do to screen the participants.

Example 1  A (Moderate) Myles Standish local hike, 7 miles, over gently rolling terrain at a moderate pace. This trip, while not billed as a ‘beginner’ hike is clearly on the lower end of the spectrum, and open to ‘most’ AMC hikers. So how do you handle a call from:

•           Call 1: A woman who has never been on an AMC hike, and would like to come with her two friends, who do have some experience hiking at some places like Borderland.

•           Call 2: Someone who has come on a couple AMC hikes, but recently had to turn around in the middle of a hike at Horseneck Beach and return to the parking lot because they couldn’t complete the trip.

•           Call 3: A call from someone who lives in Newton, and is concerned that they might not be able to handle driving all the way down to Carver and back plus hiking too.

(Don’t laugh, these three ‘fictional’ calls are based on my first two Myles Standish hikes as a new Leader back c.2000 for the SEM chapter.)

Call 1: After talking to the caller about her experience, regular activities etc. she seemed OK, and I told her she would be able to come, but that before I approved her friends, I needed to talk to them, just to assure myself that they were OK and that they understood the trip. (They were, and they did.)

Call 2: Turning back by yourself if you can’t complete the trip is a questionable solution. It can work OK with responsible people in clearly marked areas, or on trails with no junctions. It is a bad idea with people of unknown sense of direction, or in a place like Myles Standish where the trails are not well marked. After discussing the trail marking at Myles Standish, and the fact that the trail was 7 miles and didn’t lend itself to an easy exit the caller decided that it was probably best if they didn’t come on this trip.

Call 3: If the caller is concerned about it the screener should be too! Again, the distance and ‘no easy exit’ situation was described. Again, the caller decided that maybe it wasn’t a good idea.

If you, or the caller, decide that this isn’t the right trip for them.

It is important to talk about what other trips they should go on. This is especially important with new members. Many new members read the trip listings for a year or more before getting up the courage to call or email and try to sign up for a trip. Some people are just shy. Others are concerned that they are new, and think we will all know what we are doing, and maybe even look down at them. When you are preparing to screen calls you should look through the trip listings and note other easier trips that are coming up soon. These do not have to be BLW&H trips, but if there is a BLW&H trip, that should be ‘advertised.’ If there are no trips coming soon then a list of appropriate trips to look for in the future (Borderland, Blue Hills, etc. depending on their level.) should be suggested. Be cheerful, and let them know you look forward to hiking with them in the future. Remember, they may have been debating the call for a long time, don’t leave them feeling ‘rejected!’

The Mechanics of Screening

A personal guide. As each leader has their style, each screener has theirs also. I tend to be the talkative type. (Surprise!) Maybe someday I’ll get ‘more efficient’ or just tired of talking to new hikers. Now I enjoy it, and tend to talk forever. I find this is helpful as I can get a lot of background information without ‘prying’ and it gives me time to think about questions I’m supposed to ask.

What information to get from the participants:

Their name, and telephone number, E-mail address. It is important to know if new hikers have hiked with a group before. Some people don’t adjust well to ‘staying together.’ They want to go as part of your group, but may expect to hike at their pace, turn around/keep going in the rain, etc. It’s important to discuss these things clearly, because it’s much easier before the hike than during the hike. Ask what AMC trips they have been on, and when!, and who the leader was. (Leaders they have hiked with can often tell you that a person will be fine for your hike… or that they wouldn’t take them on that hike.)

Medical Questions  

There are two types of medical questions:

1) “Do you have any medical issues I should know about?” And

2) “Do you have any medical training?

Most medical issues normally don’t prevent a participant from hiking. If the participant, and their doctor, approve of their hiking then (except in unusual cases) it shouldn’t be an issue. The purpose of medical screening is not to eliminate participants, but to allow the leader and co-leader to be prepared for any likely medical situation, for example a hiker needing help with an allergy or insulin shot. Make sure that they feel comfortable discussing these issues. Make sure that you’re clear that you don’t care – You just need to know for their well being. (If the leader and co-leader are different sexes then there may be cases where the participant will feel more comfortable discussing the issue with one than the other. Give them the option if appropriate,)

The other medical screening, about medical training, is to allow the leader and co-leader to know what resources they will have available in case of a medical emergency. If one or more participants have WFA (Wilderness First Aid) training, or are an EMT, it is something the leaders need to know so they can react if a problem develops. If someone gets hurt on your hike you don’t want to send someone for help, then discover that the person you sent was the only one with WFA training!

Bob Vogel

Next up: 103: Before the Trip