Group management for treks
Leading a trekking group is quite different from the usual kind of UK one-day hill walk where there is usually a strong emphasis on reaching a summit. Trekking is more a case of 'success being a journey not a destination'. In order to make that journey enjoyable, leaders need to facilitate an experience that brings the client closer to the ethnic and cultural beliefs of the country, its cuisine, religion, politics, history, flora, fauna, etc.
Leaders usually have a Mountain Leader award and experience of the trekking area. The ideal leader, certainly in Europe, is someone with the European Mountain Leader (EML) award. This is a professional award currently recognised in six European countries. The training and assessment concentrates on the softer skills of managing groups in the mountains abroad over an extended journey.
The leadership challenge is to get the client to buy into the culture of the locals
The problem for many leaders is that they meet the group for the first time at an airport on behalf of a trekking company. That goes against much of the advice we might give in the UK about knowing the group and planning accordingly. Invariably, the clients have paid a lot of money and expect to be looked after, but often with Western expectations that cannot be met.
My experience of leading others around the world suggests that the biggest challenge is getting the client to leave their British or Western culture behind. It is no good expecting chips and a Coke in a clean glass at every stop or a shower at every 'hotel' when there is no electricity within a hundred miles. The leadership challenge is to get the client to buy into the culture of the locals.
Sanitation is a major leadership issue and is often in conflict with good environmental practice. Furthermore a lack of hygiene after toileting will lead to health problems, some of which can potentially be quite serious unless treated fairly quickly. Clients must be alert to the preparation processes for salads or the issue of ice cubes in a drink. Water in many popular trekking destinations is best boiled, but if drunk cold from the rivers should be treated with iodine, not water purifying tablets. Bowel problems have jeopardised many an itinerary and are a major leadership issue.
I have known people not wanting to pee outdoors - so they avoid drinking
I have known people not wanting to pee outdoors - so they avoid drinking. This can cause serious problem, usually with young girls, and again it is to do with cultural differences.
Second in command
Having a second leader is very helpful, especially when working a relatively high altitude or remote trek. Many classic treks involve crossing a high pass or two, but if one member of the team cannot do this on, say, Day 5 of a 10 day round trek, then the whole team is faced with retracing their steps. Having a second (who has preferably done the trip before and is quite happy to split from the party in this situation) removes a massive amount of pressure. It is also worth building in a couple of spare days on a long trip.
Leading treks is quite a specialised form of mountain leadership and is getting close to guiding, partly because of the financial commitment that the participants have made which leads them to expect an interesting and safe holiday. I would advise leaders in this instance to do a 'far from help' first aid course and to carry a first aid kit including basic over-the-counter drugs for stomach upsets and other common ailments.