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Hip Hop in the Backcountry: Developing Soft Skills as a Leader

Monday, October 15th, 2018

Bonney Pass Part 1: 19 Hours & Counting

Its 8pm and we have been moving since 1am. Four of us are staring down the last steep section of Bonney Pass in the Wind River Range. Camp still looks so far away, everyone is exhausted, injuries are becoming big problems, and everyone is sharing in the feeling of defeat after having to turn around 500 feet short of the summit of Gannett Peak, Wyoming’s high point.

Our view from the top of Bonney Pass, with our camp far in the distance, almost too small to see

I rig up another anchor, put Ben on belay, look at Jenny, and without missing a beat we start rapping “I’m just pillow talking with a fish,” the silly lyrics of the song we have been parodying since the 2nd day on the trail. We all crack a smile and gain some energy; camp doesn’t look so far away anymore.

Leadership Training: Not What I Expected

I’ve been told by many people that I’ve got an intense personality. I am incredibly goal oriented and have a tendency to get a little bit obsessive about my goals. When I first joined the New Hampshire Outing Club my freshman year of college, I yearned to be like the senior hardcore leaders, who casually would grind out back-to-back death marches in between major school projects and studying. I signed up for Leadership Training (LT) for the club and got excited about the new skills I would learn. I thought they were going to teach me how to train harder, pack lighter, and fix every medical issue in front of me. Instead when I got to LT, I sat in a circle with my other soon-to-be leaders, and we talked about personal feelings and group dynamics – aka “soft skills.” That was far harder for me than any death march I had been on to date.

Soft Skills: More Important Than You’d Think

As I gained experience, I realized why the soft skills at LT were so important. When leading a trip, your first priority is getting everyone back safe and hopefully happy. Emotions and feelings play a big part in your physical nature and vice versa. When you have a group of people, creating trust, acceptance, and motivation will drastically help get everyone home safe and happy.

For the #BeSafeGannett Expedition, I was lucky enough to start gaining insight into the “soft” side of many of the members. Through the time we spent training and general preparation, I got an understanding of individual tendencies, confidences, humor, and ways to motivate. It’s the soft skills that helped me understand when to take a break, when to push a little bit longer, and what specifically to say (or not say) to get an individual home safely. It was even more exemplified as team members were understanding and acting on my above actions to make impacts on an exponential level.

Rap & Wildflowers

Silly little things can help out with forming group dynamics. Being into hip hop, I taught “trap arms” and rap lyrics to one team member (who was more likely to listen to Wicked soundtrack than wu-tang clan), while she in return taught me about wildflowers and the awesomeness that I would have overlooked. This strengthened a bond and helped create trust, respect, and understanding of each other (it also inspired me to take some super sweet pictures).

soft skills can get you to look at the wildflowers

Noticing the wildflowers can help you take some sweet pictures

20 Questions X 20

That wasn’t the only, nor the biggest, interaction which drove positive group dynamics. Right at about mile 5 we started playing 20 questions. By mile 10, we had to create a whole set of rules based around the reality of said object and in which realm said things were considered real.

We passed a lot of time and miles by playing “20 Questions”

Yeah, we nerded out, and that created a set of inside jokes we could lean on and utilize when we needed a quick pick me up during the remaining 50 miles of the trip.

Bonney Pass Part 2: Down in Time for Dinner

By 9 pm we had finally made it back to camp. Chelsea, being the caretaker she is, had dinner ready in minutes. We were totally worked, super gross, had been defeated by our main objective, and still had a 25-mile trek to the trailhead. A backcountry thanksgiving dinner, busting out a few bars about fishes, and some sentimental words on how well everyone did put everyone to bed with a smile and motivation to trek out in the following days.

P.S.

Some trail jokes will follow you all the way into the front-country. After our return from Gannett, I came home one day to find a fish-shaped pillow. My pup loves pillow talking with this fish! Just one more reason to appreciate soft skills.

My dog Cocoa pillow talking with his favorite fish

About the Author

Joe Miller is an alpinist residing in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. He serves on the Pemigewasset and Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue teams. Joe loves everything about the outdoors and can be found taking full moon laps up Cannon Cliff, ice climbing classics in Crawford notch, and slaying powder on his splitboard. Joe started working at Tender Corporation in 2015, as he loves the proximity to the mountains. When not outdoors, Joe lets his inner geek flag fly; he can be found holed up with his dog and cat, tinkering with electronics and computer systems.