The sound of hiking poles slapping against rocks, the chatter of birds and the rustle of leaves filled the air in late September as Jason McEwen and Heidi Fessler traversed the rocky Templeton Trail in 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 passed through the pine needles above their heads.
McEwen, 38, is a guide for Hike for life, a self-proclaimed social impact company based in Colorado Springs that provides wilderness education by hosting guided hikes throughout the Pikes Peak region. McEwen led Fessler, a Texas tourist seeking Hike for Life’s expertise, into the heart of the park.
Founded in 2018, Hike for Life prepared for a breakout year in 2020. But the pandemic dashed those hopes as customers filed more cancellations in 2020 than the number of bookings made in any previous year. .
Despite the hit, the company used the time to improve the business and come back stronger.
“Things have really picked up this year,” said Bruce McClintock, founder of Hike for Life. “It’s probably not where it was going in 2020 before COVID yet, but it’s been a really productive year for us.”
Hike for Life adapted its activity with online programs and shared information on hiking safely amid COVID-19. The company also took advantage of the increased activity on the trails during the pandemic to discuss the importance of trail maintenance with hikers.
McClintock started Hike for Life in hopes of providing Coloradians and tourists with the knowledge and experience they need to explore the outdoors responsibly and safely.
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 hikes 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 Hike for Life guide,” McClintock said.
It’s easy to find someone with outdoor talent and skills, but it’s hard to find someone who’s passionate about 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 to “Feed the Community, Inspire exploring and preserving the great outdoors”.
Hikes vary in cost, but most range between $55 and $149 per person to guide hikers to 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 organizes trips up to Pikes Peak.
McEwen leads up to three hikes a week and finds the work a good balance for his time as a stay-at-home dad. The company’s social impact model was also appealing to McEwen, especially since a portion of each guide’s revenue is donated to a nonprofit of their choice.
McEwen chose Big City Mountaineers, a nonprofit he was involved with that organizes backpacking trips for “underrepresented youth.”
“This one (the job) ties into Big City Mountaineers, giving back to the kids and really refocusing me on that mission,” McEwen said.
When it comes to track time, McEwen tries to tailor his rides to the needs and interests of those he leads.
For his hike with Fessler, that meant a 3-4 mile individual hike through Palmer Park.
When sourcing a hiking guide company for her visit to Colorado, Fessler didn’t want to worry about her pace. Hike for Life seemed like a perfect choice.
“It’s all about me,” Fessler said of the individual experience.
Not only could she go at her own pace, but she received the full attention of the guide.
“You want your foot to match your stick,” McEwen told Fessler as he guided her through a jumble of rocks covering the trail. “Good work!”
The hike started with an “aggressive” climb, but it was worth it for the views, McEwen said.
“Our micro goal is to get around this bend,” McEwen said as the pair began to climb back up the ravine. “Then the view will open.”
He was right.
The trail climbed the hillside 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 Rocky Mountains appeared fully.
“I could hike around my town all day,” McEwen said.
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