Thinking about…judgment and decision-making on the Appalachian Trail


Hiking and backpacking along he Appalachian Trail offers more than simply an engaging adventure; it provides an opportunity to acquire and sharpen leadership skills which will serve you for life.  Judgment and decision-making come into play early on during a backpacking trip, ranging from deciding what to eat for breakfast to how many miles you hope to hike each day.  Knowing how to make astute and timely decisions, while considering all aspects of a hiking situation when employing your judgment can be life altering, and even life saving.

It’s critical to know that different situations call for varying responses.  Just plodding ahead because you “just have to get there” won’t just bring  discouragement, it can turn into a circumstance which puts you and those with whom you hike, at significant risk.  You may be hiking in solitude, but you’re not hiking alone.  Each choice you make matters, even the ones which might seem inconsequential at the moment.

When I was backpacking the Appalachian Trail  southbound through the Barren-Chairback Mountain range in the “100-Mile Wilderness” of Maine, the ideal combination of wet, wind, and low temperatures arose and began to lower my core body temperature. Since I had researched and read about probable hiking risks, I knew I was starting to become hypothermic.  My judgment became impaired, my words  slurred, and my energy plummeted.  It was important to make an expedient traverse of the range I was hiking, but it became rapidly clear this new condition merited an adjustment of strategy.  I set aside my aim of hiking ten miles, made for  shelter, changed out of wet clothing, and restored my energy eating hot soup and energy bars.  Had I proceeded  it might have been tragic.  The life-saving decision I made stemmed from honest self-evaluation and assessment of the level of risk and symptoms involved.  Knowledge, plus the strength and humility to admit that potential trouble lay ahead, were the catalysts which resulted in a new course of action.

Good decision-making skills and wise judgment start with obtaining enough information.  Throw in  a solid dose of humility, situational analysis, and willingness to chart an alternative course of action.  This will go far in creating a greater margin of safety both for yourself and your trail companions.

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1 Comment

Filed under The Appalachian Trail

One response to “Thinking about…judgment and decision-making on the Appalachian Trail

  1. This is a very important blog that I hope more hikers read. It is important to know your limits or when you are encountering a situation like yours where your core body temperature is declining. In NH we took a shuttle to the top of Mt. Washington. The driver is also a hiker. He said a hiker’s goal is not to reach the summit. The goal is to get back to base camp alive. The summit is only the half way point. We only do day-hikes but I always keep that in the back of my mind. I need to get back! BTW – you are a really good writer. You are inspiring me to improve my writing skills!

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