Yesterday morning I led my first summit hike as an Alpha Betty, a moniker given to those of us who have become trip leaders for Bold Betties (BB). BB is an organization I became involved with awhile ago – starting out as a meetup group “focused on female bonding, being outdoors, active and trying new things.”

I signed up to be a trip leader, agreeing to host one activity a month. I’ve been a trip planner for loads of activities with my friends, so I wanted to start building upon those experiences and deal with group dynamics, safety, and being an effective leader. James Peak was my first hike as an Alpha Betty!

While not everyone in our group summited, this hike really put into perspective for me what it means to be a leader in the mountains and how much folks that really do not have as much experience come to rely on your expertise, even if you think you’re a complete imposter.

Our group of 6 had some fast movers and I was so happy to have brought a couple of walkie talkies so we could keep in communication with them as they quickly disappeared over the ridge line.

A short break on the open tundra with James Peak on the upper right

A short break on the open tundra with James Peak on the upper right

Those of us bringing up the rear kept a close watch on the clouds developing over the Continental Divide. What started as a few scattered clouds started to evolve into larger masses getting just a shade darker. It was at that time that we needed to decide as a group whether we would keep going or if we felt we had enough time to get back down below tree line if any weather developed. In an abundance of caution we called it and turned around at 12,500′, about 700ft. shy of the summit.

A lil Ptarmigan blending in to the rocks

A lil Ptarmigan blending in to the rocks

While I could have felt disappointment about our non-summit, it was quite the opposite. On our way back down we did some off-trail trekking and I practiced some of my navigation skills. We also stumbled upon a family of ptarmigan who blended perfectly into the hillside. It took us a minute to recognize all of them! Eventually the faster group rejoined us at Lunch Rock as we were finishing up our sandwiches and we made our way back down the glacier as a group.

Our lead group making their way back across the tundra

Our lead group making their way back across the tundra

In the end, I was pretty happy with my first trip-leading experience. While it was just a small group hike, being able to make and execute a plan, pick a route taking group dynamics and skill levels into consideration and making sure everyone did so safely is a skill I’d love to keep developing. Being able to set aside your personal goals for the sake of the group is something we could all use a lesson in every once in awhile.

St. Mary's Lake beginning to look a lot like autumn

St. Mary’s Lake beginning to look a lot like autumn

Trail Info: 

James Peak
Trailhead: St. Mary’s Glacier
RT Length: ~8 miles (conflicting info in guidebooks)
Difficulty: 4/10
Class: 2
Start Elevation: 10,300′
Peak Elevation: 13,294′
Total Elevation Gain: 2,950′