Case Study-Part 2: Early Departure

June 5, 2019
Hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire
Hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire

In analyzing the scenario from May’s post, you may have considered the following points:

  1. The individual wishing to depart is a proficient and experienced hiker;
  2. Though they are unfamiliar with the trails in this area, they do know how to read a map and navigate;
  3. The route they hiked yesterday is the same one they’d use today;
  4. The Lonesome Lake Trail to/from the hut is very direct with a few, clearly marked junctions. This trail is popular and frequently travelled by many users.  The route is even more direct if you walk the participant to the far side of the lake; and
  5. Based upon your observations yesterday, something is clearly going on with this individual. The participant was distracted and unprepared in some very minor ways.  That behavior is atypical for this individual.


There are eight individuals in your group (including you) – three of whom have achieved leadership status, including the participant who wishes to depart.  You are at a hut with a caretaker or hut crew.  Everyone in the group has the resources and supplies to hike and stay at the hut for the night.  Most group members are carrying a cell phone and you are carrying a satellite communicator.


You’ve likely narrowed your options to the following:

  1. You ensure the participant fully understands the risks of hiking solo and that they are well equipped to hike successfully to the parking area. They sign off the trip, in sight of other group members, and agree to text you or leave a note on your vehicle when they make it back to the parking lot.  They depart the trip shortly after this conversation.
  2. The entire group shifts their itinerary and hikes back to the parking area to finish the trip early.
  3. A small group, including one of the other Leaders and two other participants, volunteers to hike with the participant back to their car. After the group reaches the parking area, the plan is for that group to take the tram to the top of Cannon. They will meet up with the rest of the group to conclude the trip.
  4. You advocate for the participant to stay at the hut while the rest of the group attempts a summit of Cannon. As a group, you hike back to the parking area later that afternoon.

Which do you choose?

This is a tricky and highly situational leadership decision. Ultimately, there isn’t an immediate right or wrong answer.  If they are willing, the easiest solution, with minimal impact on the group, would be #4. If the participant is unwilling to wait at the hut, you need to employ a different strategy.  Your baseline evaluation of this individual, including their overall well-being and whether they are equipped to hike solo, would dictate your next steps.  Based on your evaluation, if this individual is potentially not operating at 100%, you need to consider option #2 or #3.

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Colby Meehan

Colby Meehan is the Leadership Training Manager with the AMC. She lives & works in New Hampshire.