A few weeks ago, I found myself leading a group of 22 volunteers from Kaiser Permanente…solo. Unfortunately, something had come up and my Outdoor Leadership Intern couldn’t be with me as initially planned. Well, that’s the nature of the job; flexibility is the name of the game.

I was a little flustered thinking about it as I drove out to the Grays and Torreys trailhead, but once I got there, it only took a brief moment for the season’s conditioning to kick in. Things like paperwork, the safety talk, stretch circle, work plan and tool overview had literally become second nature. I fell flawlessly into our age-old routine and ran with it.

We shuttled volunteers to the upper trailhead, then hit the trail, tools in hand. It was a long, arduous hike to the middle slopes of Grays Peak, and I had a very specific goal in mind. I needed a work site that was a couple hundred feet long and required substantial maintenance. A short distance below the upper switchbacks leading to the summit, I stumbled across a beautiful (and by “beautiful”, I mean “hideous”) stretch of trail. No sense in pushing on when the solution was right under my feet. We re-grouped, and I lined out five separate work sites, each with three-to-five volunteers.

Let’s call this the moment of truth: 22 volunteers, one leader, 250 feet of “suboptimal” trail, and a few good hours of work ahead. I gave a quick tutorial and some general guidance, then we got after it. I spent the day frantically jumping from project site to project site, answering technical questions and troubleshooting. Over the course of just under four hours, I helped move two or three large rocks and swung one tool. These exceptional Kaiser Permanente volunteers installed 27 solid check steps in that time.

“Our” section still needs considerable work to bring it up to standard, but we started it off on the right foot. Thankfully we’ll have the opportunity to finish this section in the coming weeks, since we have a handful of other volunteer groups assigned to that peak. This time next season, you won’t even recognize this stretch of trail…maybe you already don’t.

This was by far my proudest day as a project manager and group leader. And I can’t thank our volunteers enough for their hard work, patience, and creative problem solving. But most of all, for the 27 exceptionally built structures that will last for decades – and maybe even centuries – to come. Hope to see y’all back out there, this season and next!

As always, happy trails to you and yours!

Ethan Gehl

Hey, Ethan here. I just started with CFI a few weeks ago, and I couldn’t be more psyched to be living the dream here in Colorado. I’m coming from a rich tradition of service, having served with the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), the Northwest Service Academy (NWSA), and the Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC). I’ve led various crews in a wide variety of settings, including a few seasons out on the trail. This summer I’ll be out with volunteers working on some of our nation’s highest peaks. What a privilege. See you out there, yeah? YEAH!