Saturday, November 29, 2014

On Becoming a Sierra Club Regional Outings Leader

Today I led my first mentored hike as a provisional leader of the Sierra Club Potomac Regional Outings group. A few weeks ago I attended a retreat at the Bear's Den Hostel, located along the Appalachian Trail in Northern Virginia, on a ridgeline overlooking the Shenandoah Valley, where after two days I was certified in basic first aid and had completed a multi-module wilderness leadership training course. Today's hike was half of the next phase in the process of becoming a sanctioned leader of the club, and despite a rocky start I would say it was a resounding success.

Sierra Club Virginia Chapter SCPRO 2014 Leadership Retreat at Bear's Den
Photo by Ellen Hill, SCPRO
The hostel where the retreat was held is maintained by another organization I'm a member of - the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club. Just last month I completed the training process to join the PATC Trail Patrol. As it turns out, several of the mentors and trainers at the SCPRO event were also PATC members, so it felt like family - a new family I've been adapting myself into since I moved back to the region in July of this year.

One of the best elements of the weekend retreat was an evening bonding session with my fellow classmates, instructors and mentors. This was when much of the sense of "family" began to take root for me. Also, as our new SCPRO Class of 2014 peer group was forming, we made a few jaunts out to a nearby rocky overlook along the Appalachian Trail - at night, in the morning and at noon - to stretch our legs. This was a time to shift the energy to a more intimate level, to get to know folks a little more deeply.

SCPRO Leadership Class of 2014 ( with organizer Liz Guertin on the right)
I came away from the whole retreat experience knowing more about my fellow humans as we were there, growing alongside each other; I left excited to begin the next step in the outings leader training program - my two mentored hikes. So today as I was signing in some 15 attendees, you can imagine how wonderful it made me feel to see one of the old class coming along on the first real-world test of my ability to apply our new leadership skills.

The hike was titled, Hike Through History: Rock Creek Park. Here's what I had to say about it in the MeetUp write-up:
One of the country’s first national parks, Rock Creek Park is home to a rich history that often remains hidden from residents and visitors alike. On this hike, we’ll discover some of this hidden history – as revealed in the recently published “History of Rock Creek Park”, by Scott Einberger. Entering the park from Connecticut Avenue via the Melvin Hazen Trail, we’ll first traverse the southern bluffs section of the park, exploring the fall zone via the Western Ridge and Valley Trails. Here we’ll learn about a skinny-dipping president and the naming of Boulder Bridge, pre-Colonial quartz mining, the mills of the valley and other bits of Rock Creek trivia. Eventually, we’ll make our way up to Fort DeRussy via the horse trails, where we’ll talk about the fort’s critical role in the Civil War Battle of Fort Stevens.

This is a moderate hike of about 7.5 miles. The route has several ups-and-downs, and there’s also a bit of an optional rock scramble.

I recommend that folks each carry 2 liters of water; Bring along trail snacks and lunch, which we’ll eat somewhere along the way. A bathroom break/pit stop will be made at the Nature Center.
In hindsight, I would have added a few more qualifying statements, such as "there will be several stream crossings, one made more difficult due my poor route choice, the result of my failure to scout the hike in both directions." But everyone made it from Cleveland Park Metro through the national park and back again without losing a limb and with a smile on their collective face, so I'd say I achieved my overall goal while experiencing some real learning-in-action.

With "The 2 Anns", along the AT Bear's Den Rocks during SCPRO retreat
Having led more than 60 group hikes in the mid-Atlantic over the past two years, I was confident I could achieve my goals. I'm glad I'll have the chance to apply what I learned today on my next hike, coming up in December.

By the way, I didn't take any photos of today's hike, because I asked at the beginning if anyone minded being in group photos snapped along the way that might be posted on my blogs or social media domains I manage, and one person raised their hand. My hikes are all about inclusion, so I certainly didn't want to be someone managing an exclusionary process when I needed to focus on - as a host - making sure everyone felt they were part of an experience worthwhile.

My next hike will be December 20, time and place to be determined. Check out SCPRO on MeetUp and Hiking Megalopolis on Facebook for more info.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

From the PATC to the Sierra Club - for me it's about leadership

by Brian Schwarz

I'm looking forward to improving my outdoor skills this weekend, taking a class that leads to becoming a Sierra Club Outings Leader. Part mountain survival, part Leave No Trace, part leadership, the class is set at a hostel out on the eastern edge of the Appalachian's central valley in Northern Virginia, at a spot where some of the lowest mountains of the Appalachian Range rise to lift the AT off the floor of the Shenandoah Valley.

From the PATC to the Sierra Club - it's all about becoming a better leader
As a kid, I backpacked and camped somewhere in those eastern valley hills, though I believe it was a little further south of where I'll be hostel-crashing this weekend. It was sometime around my transition to Boy Scouts when I was here before. I was a pre-teen, or really I guess I was transitioning, becoming a teen. I just remember being confused about the experience of camping and couldn't really focus on whatever it was that I was supposed to be getting out of the whole thing.

The feeling? Awkward. I hadn't been in school long enough to make friends, so I just developed a crush on my patrol leader and did anything he asked me to do, with enthusiasm. I made it through. But I ended up with chaffing in very uncomfortable spots because I wasn't that great at managing personal hygiene in a simulated wilderness environment. We slept in wet tents down by the creek, at a clearing in the woods, with a field nearby for capture the flag, somewhere with no bathrooms, just a swell in the creek big enough for group bathing.

I had no idea over time it would prove to be one of the most significant of my personal experiences growing up in terms of providing a richness, texture and framework to my life that always brings me back to concepts I learned in scouting.

Hence, the blog Man of Merit where I am trying to go back and finish all the merit badges I'd not been able to complete when I was that confused transitioning teen; I'm working to fill in the gaps as I explore the art of living in the great outdoors. First the PATC Trail Patrol Training. Now this.

I feel like I finally get it. Now I'm ready to camp.