The sound of hiking poles clacking against stones, chit-chat of birds and rustling of leaves filled the air in late September as Jason McEwen and Heidi Fessler traversed across the rocky path of Templeton Trail in Palmer Park.
Despite hiking in the center of Colorado Springs and in an area surrounded by thousands of rooftops and businesses, there were no signs of civilization as they weaved among the trees and bushes and sunbeams streamed through the pine needles overhead.
McEwen, 38, is a guide for Hike for Life, a self-described social impact business based in Colorado Springs that provides wilderness education by leading guided hikes throughout the Pikes Peak region. McEwen led Fessler, a Texas tourist who sought Hike for Life’s expertise, through the heart of the park.
Founded in 2018, Hike for Life prepared for a breakout year in 2020. But the pandemic quashed those hopes as customers filed more cancellations in 2020 than the number of bookings made during any previous year.
Despite the blow, the company used the time to enhance the business and come back stronger.
“This year things really picked up,” said Bruce McClintock, Hike for Life’s founder. “Still probably not where it was going in 2020 before COVID, but it’s been a really productive year for us.”
Hike for Life adapted its business with online programs and shared information about hiking safely amid COVID-19. The business also used the increased activity on trails during the pandemic to discuss the importance of trail upkeep with hikers.
McClintock began Hike for Life in hopes of providing Coloradans and tourists with the knowledge and experience they need to explore the outdoors responsibly and safely.
An avid hiker himself, McClintock thought that guided hikes would provide a space to talk about outdoor education organically.
“I’m a big believer in making relationships,” McClintock said.
That’s why McClintock hikes with each prospective guide he hires to get to know their passion for hiking and their personality.
“Personality is arguably the most important aspect of being a guide for Hike for Life,” McClintock said.
It’s easy to find someone with talent and outdoor skills, but it’s difficult to find someone with 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 business’s mission to “nurture community, inspire exploration and preserve the great outdoors.”
Hikes vary in cost, but most range between $55 to $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 leads some trips up Pikes Peak.
McEwen leads up to three hikes a week and finds the job to be a good balance for his time as a stay-at-home dad. The company’s social impact model also was attractive to McEwen, especially since a portion of each guide’s revenue is donated to a nonprofit of their choosing.
McEwen chose Big City Mountaineers, a nonprofit he was involved with that leads backpacking trips for “underrepresented youths.”
“This one (job) is connected with Big City Mountaineers, which gives back to the kids and that really recenters me in that mission,” McEwen said.
When it comes to trail time, McEwen tries to tailor his hikes to the needs and interests of those he’s leading.
For his hike with Fessler, that meant a one-on-one trek for 3 to 4 miles through Palmer Park.
When searching for 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 fit.
“It’s all about me,” Fessler said about the one-on-one experience.
Not only could she go at her pace, she received the guide’s full attention.
“You want your foot to match your pole,” McEwen said to Fessler as he led her through a jumble of rocks covering the trail. “Good job!”
The hike started with an “aggressive” uphill stretch, but it was worth every step for the views, McEwen said.
“Our micro goal is to get around this corner,” McEwen said as the pair started to make their way up the ravine. “Then the view will open up.”
He was right.
The trail twisted up the hill around clusters of Mountain Mahogany, Hoodoo rock formations and Yucca plants before spitting McEwen and Fessler out at the edge of a rocky bluff just as downtown Colorado Springs and the Rocky Mountains came into full view.
“I could hike my city all day,” McEwen said.
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