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A National Perspective on SC Outings
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by Dan Soeder | 2007

Outings are a big part of the Sierra Club’s appeal, and safety is a paramount concern.

In addition to my work with the outings program in the Maryland Chapter, I chair the national Sierra Club Local Outings Support Committee (LOSC), a subcommittee of the Outdoor Activities Governance Committee (OAGC).  Many outdoor program leaders are surprised to learn that there is a national committee to provide oversight and support.  The biggest outings programs are in southern California and the San Francisco Bay area.  The Angeles Chapter has dozens of day hikes, wilderness backpacks, camping trips, and other events every weekend 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. 

Surprisingly, at the national level, the Sierra Club does not have precise figures for the number of outings run annually by local entities, the number of participants, or even the types of outings.  Our conservative best guess is that 20,000 people annually participate on about 5,000 local entity outings, the majority of which are day hikes. 

A large program is bound to have some complaints.  The committee investigates the incident and advises the local entity on how to resolve the problem.  Most of the complaints are minor, and some are even silly.  Some complaints are more serious, including another in California where a trip leader in a wilderness area got confused about a campsite location and led a caravan of vehicles cross-country.  Driving off-road in a wilderness area is a felony, and one of the participants complained to the Bureau of Land Management as well as to the Club. 

The training requirements for outings leaders are based on safety concerns and the need for all Sierra Club outings leaders to follow Sierra Club policies.  In a little over two years, there have been five fatalities nationwide on Club outings —three heart attacks and two falls.  The falls were on separate mountaineering outings in the Sierra Nevada.   One person fell off a cliff-edge trail, and the other slid down an ice field and off a cliff after being unable to self-arrest using ice axes.  The mountaineering program underwent a thorough review by an outside Alpine expert after these incidents, and the recommended changes have been implemented. 

The cardiac incidents happened to middle-aged men, who perhaps should have been under medical care.  One occurred on a day hike in Hawaii, another took place in camp on a wilderness backpack in Yosemite, and the third happened on an international outing at high altitude in Peru.  The Medical Advisory Committee is currently working on developing better pre-trip participant screening procedures to help leaders identify those who might be at risk.  In each of the five fatalities, the outings leaders 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 reveals 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 our most common outing, this is not surprising.  I cringe every time I encounter someone on a trail wearing sneakers, low-top athletic shoes, or worst of all, flip-flops.  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 good pair of boots, and join us on a hike from the variety presented below.

See you outside!

 

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