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How to Become a Hiking Leader at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Cold River Camp

Group hikes at Cold River Camp are multi-generational requiring a slightly different mind set than adult-only hikes typically led by AMC Hiking Leaders.
Group hikes at Cold River Camp are multi-generational requiring a slightly different mind-set than adult-only hikes typically led by AMC Hiking Leaders.

The Appalachian Mountain Club’s Cold River Camp is a Volunteer Managed Facility located in Evan Notch on the east side of the White Mountain National Forest near the New Hampshire and Maine border. It’s also the best kept secret in the White Mountains if you want to stay in (affordable) private, rustic style cabins and go hiking or swimming every day in the eye-popping majesty of the Wild River Wilderness and the Caribou-Speckled Wilderness Areas, which are both within easy walking distance of the Camp’s front door.

Above treeline on South Baldface in Evans Notch
Above treeline on South Baldface in Evans Notch

Founded in 1919, Cold River Camp styles itself as a hiking camp, although it’s much more than that. Guests usually stay for an entire week, unlike the AMC’s mountain huts, where visitors stay for just one night. The Camp offers daily hikes led by volunteer hiking leaders and naturalists, usually two or three per day at all levels of difficulty, ranging from a nature trip around Province Pond or a Baldface Traverse on the Baldface Circle Trail. Hiking leaders also lead short trips to local swimming holes or gorges such as Emerald Pool, Rattlesnake Pool and Chandler Gorge.

Swimming at Rattlesnake Pool on a hot summer day
Swimming at Rattlesnake Pool on a hot summer day

Hiking leaders are in great demand at Cold River Camp and they’re well rewarded, receiving free room and board for a 7-day week (with two complete days off) when they lead 4 hikes per week and oversea a short evening program. While there are many other activities that guests can participate in at camp, the daily hiking trips form the backbone of life at Cold River Camp.

Leadership Requirements

While it is possible to become a Cold River Camp Hiking Leader without going through the formal leadership training program offered by the Appalachian Mountain Club, you must demonstrate the skills taught in that program during a Cold River Camp internship period to be recommended for a leadership position. These skills include group management, participant screening, trip planning, risk assessment, knowledge of Wilderness area regulations, trip documentation and record keeping, and excellent communication skills. Promotion to full leadership also requires current WFA and CPR certifications.

While most active AMC hiking leaders have experience with all of these skills, including current WFA and CPR certifications, you still need to participate in a one week internship at Cold River Camp before you can be promoted to full leadership status. This involves co-leading three trips and leading one, under the supervision of full hiking leaders during a one week stay at camp.

Children are delightful to hike with and can keep  up with most adults, even on moderately long and difficult hikes.
Children are delightful to hike with and can keep up with most adults, even on moderately long and difficult hikes.

Having just gone through the internship process myself, I found it to be quite useful since the hiker population at Cold River Camp, which is multi-generational, is quite different from the heavily screened adult hiking and backpacking trips I normally run in the White Mountains.

Judgement Calls

Because Cold River Camp caters to families, it’s normal to have grandparents, parents, and their younger children on a hike. This can be challenging, depending on the physical fitness of participants, since it can be difficult to keep the group together if some people are every fast and others are very slow.

Camp hikers are also not as well prepared or experienced as hikers who frequently hike on AMC White Mountain Trips and often show up wearing cotton clothing or don’t bring enough water, requiring a bit more real-time screening or risk assessment than most AMC leaders are probably used to.

For example, I normally kick people off my Boston AMC Chapter hikes if they show up wearing cotton clothing because it is expressly forbidden in the pre-trip documentation I send out to participants who register for my hikes.

But in camp, I may have no contact with participants until minutes before our trip starts, and our goal is to be as inclusive as possible, even when participants are less experienced and less prepared hikers. If weather conditions allow, I have let hikers wearing cotton clothing on my camp hikes. I’ve also modified the routes in real-time to make them less challenging or enlisted participants as sweeps, so I can keep the group together during the hike.

While the principles and techniques of outdoor hiking leadership are the same, Cold River Camp has a very different participant population and expectations. Regardless of your previous experience, the one week hiking internship at Cold River Camp is a very valuable time to practice making such judgments and to receive coaching from existing leaders familiar with the camp’s policies, procedures, and local trails in the Evans Notch area.

How to Apply to be a Cold River Camp Hiking Leader

If you’d like more information about what it takes to become a hiking leader at Cold River Camp or to apply to the leadership intern program, visit the Cold River Camp Volunteer Opportunities web page. (Hiking leaders are compensated in-kind with free room and board.)

Cold River Camp is a magical place and one that you and your family will want to visit again and again. Becoming a hiking leader is a great way to offset the cost of staying for a week each summer, while reaping the personal rewards that outdoor leadership provides.

3 comments

  1. Emerald Pond or Rattlesnake Pond? If i had to choose one to go visit this summer. I was looking at Emerald because it has some “cliff” jumping options.

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