Reflections from the Field: Leader Awareness & the Changing of the Seasons

October 1, 2017
Awareness in a season of change
Samantha WillseyAs seasons change, so does our situational awareness as leaders in the outdoors

One of the most invaluable tools we have as leaders is our awareness of the factors that come into play when we are in the field. That awareness falls into three main categories:

  • Environment
  • Group
  • Self

As we shift into the colder months, digging all our layers and winter gear out of reverse-hibernation, it is important to take stock of repairs or additions we need to make to our inventory. It is also a good time to reflect on what the changing of the seasons means in terms of our leadership. With shifting weather, we also shift our awareness relevant to the three categories mentioned above.


Ready or not, it is going to get colder! Changing leaves mean changes in weather patterns including frosty mornings and possible snow and chilling winds in the higher summits. There may be icy conditions which require specific gear. Did you know there has already been freezing temperatures on the summit of Mt. Washington this fall?

Having a broader mindset of what to expect when headed outside is extremely important to make sure everyone travelling with you is prepared to face these conditions. Look at the extended forecast and maybe even check out the weather history for the area you plan to visit. This can give you an idea of how to prepare. In New Hampshire’s White Mountains, and across the Northeast region, you never know what Mother Nature will throw at you. Ask around for current conditions or check out AMC’s Backcountry Weather.


As important as what’s falling from the sky is how well your group is prepared to handle those conditions. Making sure your group has all of the necessary gear may be the difference between comfort and cold injury (for example, you may recommend a participant switch out leather hiking boots for a more insulated option). Even in October, when the days are mild, folks will want their puffy jackets and nice, warm hats when the sun goes down. Be prepared with hot drinks as a morale booster, or just in case anyone hasn’t become accustomed to the colder months yet. Also, make sure you know about your participants’ experience hiking in winter conditions before you head out. This will give you a head’s up about individuals to whom you may need to offer a bit more encouragement and guidance. Conversely, identifying those who are more experienced and comfortable in the colder temps will be helpful if you are managing a challenging situation and need additional resources.


It is normal for outdoor enthusiasts to test personal limits. We push ourselves to see what we can endure-maybe it’s a minimalist traverse that you crave, or a first-time winter ascent of Mt. Washington. As a leader for a group, it is not the time to try new things, especially when the environment is growing harsher by the day. When you take on a leadership role, you should be aware of what you KNOW you can handle and that’s where you set the leadership bar.

When the weather is cold, it increases accident potential. Anticipating what could happen in a worst-case scenario, we don’t want to be stretched so thin that we cannot responsibly navigate a potential accident scene or even an interpersonal conflict with our wits intact (and our fingertips, too!).

As we approach winter, we should consider how the situation we encounter has changed. How does accident scene management look different when it is 30 degrees Fahrenheit and 25 mph winds? How much daylight is there to reach the summit or the next campsite? Does everyone have sufficient snacks and are they eating? Is everyone drinking water? As a leader, are you practicing good self-care? If you are cold, chances are others are too.

By reevaluating these three situational components (environment, group, self) during this season of change, you are setting yourself up for success when leading a group in the outdoors. So, even though you may look at your micro-spikes today as if they are from a far-off, distant land, you may want to put them on the gear list after all.

Samantha Willsey is the Leadership Training Assistant at the AMC and has enjoyed living and climbing in the White Mountains for three years. She is a Wilderness EMT and has guided in Maine and the Adirondacks and was a trail crew leader in the Pacific Northwest.

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Samantha Willsey

Samantha Willsey has lived throughout the U.S. while working for various outdoor programs. She landed in the White Mountains for the past few years and worked as the AMC’s Leadership Training Assistant in 2017. She is also a Wilderness EMT and instructor for SOLO. She is preparing for a move to the Bahamas where she will practice medicine in a remote environment. Stay tuned for blog posts from the tropics!