The sound of hiking poles slamming against stones, the chatter of birds and the rustling of leaves filled the air in late September as Jason McEwen and Heidi Fessler walked through the rocky path from Templeton Trail to Palmer Park.
Despite hiking through central Colorado Springs and an area surrounded by thousands of rooftops and businesses, there was no sign of civilization as they weaved through the trees and bushes and the rays of the sun crossed the pine needles above.
McEwen, 38, is a guide for Hike for Life, a self-proclaimed Colorado Springs-based social impact company that offers wilderness education by leading guided hikes in the Pikes Peak area. McEwen led Fessler, a Texan tourist seeking the expertise of Hike for Life, into the heart of the park.
Founded in 2018, Hike for Life has braced for an exceptional year in 2020. But the pandemic has dashed those hopes as customers saw more cancellations in 2020 than the number of bookings made in any previous year.
Despite the blow, the company used the time to improve the business and come back stronger.
“This year things have really gotten better,” said Bruce McClintock, founder of Hike for Life. “Still probably not where he was going in 2020 before COVID, but it’s been a really productive year for us. “
Hike for Life has adapted its business with online programs and shared information about hiking safely amid COVID-19. The company also used the increased activity on the trails during the pandemic to discuss the importance of trail maintenance with hikers.
McClintock started Hike for Life in the hope of providing locals and tourists with the knowledge and experience they need to safely and responsibly explore the outdoors.
An avid hiker himself, McClintock believed that guided hikes would provide a space to talk about outdoor education in an organic way.
“I’m a big believer in relationship building,” McClintock said.
That’s why McClintock goes on a hike with every potential guide he hires to learn about their passion for hiking and their personality.
“Personality is arguably the most important aspect of being a guide for Hike for Life,” said McClintock.
It’s easy to find someone with talent and outdoor skills, but it’s hard to find someone who has a passion for sharing the outdoors with others, McClintock said.
McClintock leads a team of eight part-time guides, trained not only in wilderness first aid, CPR and other essential safety certifications, but also in the company’s mission of “nurturing the community, inspiring exploration and preservation of the great outdoors ”.
The cost for hikes varies, but most range between $ 55 and $ 149 per person to guide hikers through popular destinations such as Palmer Park or Garden of the Gods or backcountry hikes such as The Crags and Pancake Rocks near the northwest side of Pikes Peak. The company also arranges trips to Pikes Peak.
McEwen leads up to three hikes a week and finds work a good balance for his time as a stay-at-home dad. The company’s social impact model was appealing to McEwen as well, especially since a portion of each guide’s income is donated to a nonprofit of their choice.
McEwen chose Big City Mountaineers, a nonprofit organization he has been involved with that runs hiking trips for “underrepresented youth.”
“This one (job) ties into Big City Mountaineers, giving back to the kids and really refocusing me on this mission,” McEwen said.
When it comes to time spent on the trails, McEwen tries to tailor his hikes to the needs and interests of those he leads.
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For his hike with Fessler, that meant an individual 3-4 mile hike through Palmer Park.
When finding a hiking guide company for his Colorado visit, Fessler didn’t want to worry about his pace. Hike for Life seemed like a perfect fit.
“It’s all about me,” Fessler said of the one-on-one experience.
Not only could she go at her own pace, but she received the guide’s undivided attention.
“You want your foot to match your stick,” McEwen told Fessler as he guided her through a jumble of boulders covering the trail. “Good work!”
The hike started off as an “aggressive” climb but every step was worth it for the view, McEwen said.
“Our micro goal is to get around that corner,” McEwen said as the pair began to move up the ravine. “Then the view will open.”
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He was right.
The trail climbed up the hill around clusters of mountain mahogany, Hoodoo rock formations, and yucca plants before spitting McEwen and Fessler at the edge of a rocky cliff just as downtown Colorado Springs and the mountains Rockies were in full view.
“I could hike my town all day,” McEwen said.