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Perspectives on Outings
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by Dan Soeder, Chapter Outings Chair | 2010

Back when I was chapter outings chair in Maryland, I spent several years as a member and two years as chair of the national Sierra Club Local Outings Support Committee (LOSC). Nate Parr from the WV chapter is currently a representative on this committee. It was interesting to be on a national committee, and I got to meet, work with, and befriend people like Allison Chin, Tom Libby, Robin Mann, Carl Pope, and lots of other movers and shakers in the Sierra Club. I would challenge anyone who thinks they are too busy to participate in Club activities to compare their schedules with these folks.

The national committee work also gave me a perspective on outings programs, big and small, run by groups and chapters across the country. Outings vary with location. The biggest programs are those run by chapters and groups in southern California and in the San Francisco Bay area, which are also the largest of the Sierra Club “local entities,” as they are called.

The Angeles Chapter has a huge outdoor activity program, with dozens of day hikes, wilderness backpacks, camping trips, and many other events every weekend. The program is active year-round thanks to the favorable California weather. The large chapter size allows for specialized activities, including singles hikes, women-only backpacks, outings for seniors, gay and lesbian trips, pet-friendly outings, and even some international outings to Mexico and Central America.

Small chapters in the eastern U.S. tend to have much smaller outings programs, and activity levels vary. In the Maryland chapter, for example, the Howard County and Greater Baltimore groups have the most active outings programs, with enthusiastic chairs and a core of dedicated leaders. On the other hand, I’ve had leaders in other chapters tell me that an outings program is little more than an excuse to goof-off in the woods, and we ought to spend our time doing environmental activist work instead.

Well, be that as it may, outings are part of the Club that goes back to John Muir. Far from “goofing off in the woods,” he felt that outings were the only way to get people to understand what it was they were being asked to save, and why they should work to save it. The Sierra Club offers national outings (the ones advertised in Sierra Magazine), inner city outings for kids, and local outings run by chapters. The local outings program is the largest outdoor activity program in the Sierra Club. A somewhat conservative best guess is that approximately 20,000 people annually participate on about 5,000 local entity Sierra Club outings, the majority of which are day hikes.

A large program is bound to have some complaints, which the Club tries to handle with diplomacy and finesse. Most of the complaints are minor, and some are even silly. Two women who went on a ski outing in California complained because they

didn’t know how to ski, and all the trip leaders went skiing anyway and left them behind at the lodge. Some complaints are more serious, including another in California where an outings leader in a wilderness area got confused about a campsite location and led a caravan of vehicles cross-country onto an adjacent road. Driving off-road in a wilderness area is a felony, and one of the participants reported the incident to the BLM. The government was intending to press criminal charges against the leader, but after some frantic negotiations, including a service outing to repair the damage, the government agreed not to prosecute. The whole mess left the Club embarrassed and at the mercy of the media — you can imagine the headlines. It is unbelievable how much trouble can come from small errors in judgment sometimes.

The training requirements for outings leaders are based on safety concerns and the need for all Sierra Club leaders to follow Club policies. There have been fatalities on Sierra Club outings — not many, but they do happen. During my two years as LOSC chair, there were three deaths from heart failure, and two fatal falls on outings. In each incident, the outings leaders acted appropriately, rendered what aid they could, looked after the rest of the group, and got help as quickly as possible. Their training and cool heads kept a bad incident from getting worse.

A compilation of nationwide accident and incident reports revealed that the single most common injury on Sierra Club outings is twisted, sprained, or broken ankles sustained from falls on trails. Considering that day hikes in the woods are the most common outing, this is not surprising. Still, it was interesting to see it reflected in the data.

Hiking boots are the best protection against ankle injuries. I cringe every time I encounter someone on a trail wearing sneakers, low-top athletic shoes, or worst of all, flip-flops. When did flip-flops become acceptable hiking shoes? When I was a kid, we wore those around the pool and nowhere else. Please, if you are going to participate in Sierra Club hikes, remember that the trails are usually not paved, generally not level, and contain abundant, foot-snagging, ankle-twisting, slip-sliding, tripping hazards such as roots, branches, vines, logs, sticks, rocks, pea gravel, wet leaves, moss, and rodent holes.

Leave the flip-flops in the shower, invest in a decent pair of boots, and join us on a hike from the variety presented on the Outings webpage. Even if you do risk being accused of goofing off in the woods.

See you outside. D.S.

P.S. We have a new outings leader, Frank Gifford, who is leading a number of hikes listed in this edition of the newsletter. Please support Frank (and Ann and me) joining an activity that interests you. None of us really minds solo hiking, but not on Sierra Club outings.

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