Hiking in the hills with Leon Barnaby

Some of the ingredients that go into those adventurous treks

Sunday, April 15, 2018

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WHEN people hear the word hiking they immediately visualise an everlastingly long trail that might take them days to complete.

This is not necessarily so, as some hiking trails last as little as two or three hours and hiking can be fun especially when done with family and friends.

Owner and trail guide of Jamaica Hiking and Heritage, Leon Barnaby dispelled the belief of hiking being a mighty long adventure when he led the Jamaica Observer on a hike on the Penfield, St Andrew trail recently.

The trail began at Penfield, a small district in Gordon Town and can take hikers to different locations, among the Redlight District, Rasta Camp, His Imperial Majesty School of Vision, Newcastle and the Content community.

Barnaby, who is a nature lover has been hiking from the 1980s and turned his passion into a business in 2004.

The day before the hike Barnaby informed the Sunday Observer of what to take for a day's hike.

Here is his list for all hikers:

- Pack light; use a knapsack

- At least two bottles of Gatorade

- Energy snack – chocolate, Granola bar, sweets

- 1 litre bottled water

- Raincoat or garbage bag to be used as a raincoat

- Extra t-shirt and bottom (sweats, camping pants)

- Comfortable boots, hiking shoes or sneakers that your feet have been worn into.

- Extra socks

- Cap, bandana or scarf

- Swimwear (if the location allows)


- Try not to wear Jeans – Jeans in incapable of shedding water in the event you become wet, they are not warm when it is cold and too warm when it is warm. Try to wear sweats, or camping pants.

- Do not wear a brand new sneakers

- Long toenails - Cut toenails before hike

As the team walked along the trail, Barnaby shared how he prepares persons for the journey. The first step is a safety talk.

“During the safety talk, you describe the trail, you tell them before but you tell them again where they are. You tell them the phase the hike will take,” he said.

“One of the things we guard against mainly is dehydration, once that happens everything starts to go wrong. For dehydration, you will have to sip throughout the hike. Take energy bars or snack. You stress on the environment because you don't want them to walk and litter. If you have a pounding headache and you are dizzy just stop where you are and squat,” he said.

For his hikes, Barnaby developed his own sign language, in the event that persons cannot communicate what is wrong with them.

“Not all the time people can express what's happening to them so you give them signs. If you're feeling pain in the chest hold on to your chest, if you can't breathe, just put your hand across your face,” he explained.

“For persons who don't sweat you tell them to sip water every 15 minutes. You use the Gatorade and show them on the bottle what they must finish every half an hour. We hike on average a mile every half hour. That's an average mountain mile as opposed to 15, 20 minutes on the flat.”

A part of the agreement with Jamaica Hiking and Heritage requires participants to disclose their medical conditions when signing up for the hike. Barnaby told the Sunday Observer that this is done so that the trail guides can make the necessary preparations for them.

Before starting the hike Barnaby takes care of persons with asthmatic conditions.

“For asthmatic persons we let them use a preventer pump before you start hiking, because asthma medicine races the heart. During the hike you monitor them. Sometimes you give them a band so they can be easily identified because asthma is a trigger, it's an allergy. So anything out here can actually cause an asthma attack.”

Barnaby allows his hikers the freedom of setting their own pace. If there is a large group, his team splits them into three groups according to their pace.

“The people fall in three categories — the fast set, the slow set and one in between. You have a guide in front to control the pace. Somebody is in the middle to monitor the group and somebody at the back who has more experience where if something happens they come back to me. The people who need motivating, the people who given up or people who sick. So within the first 15 minutes, you know the state of who you have.”

Barnaby noted that people's paces differ not only because of their fitness level or medical condition but also because they hike for various reasons.

“Some people hike for selfies, some people hike to learn, some people hike to get fit, some people hike because people beg dem fi come,” he said, adding that this influences how he and his team control the group.

Another interesting reason persons hike is to get counselling.

“A person will call me to take them on a hike and before we finish I know all dem stress and dem business,” Barnaby told the Sunday Observer.

Hikes done by Jamaica Hiking and Heritage is more than just walking. Barnaby interjected history lessons along the way.

“The trails have so much of our history, so I tell my hikers about the communities and the plants and their uses,” he said.

As we walked along the trail it emerged that Barnaby had a good rapport with the residents, and many of them would find it easy to tell him about their problems. He received many hellos along the way and even stopped to chat with a few of them.

The Jamaica Hiking and Heritage provides employment opportunities for the residents in different ways, as Barnaby involves the locals in his hiking activities as much as he can, hence the warm friendship they have.

“In a community, we have people that we train. I will always be on a hike but I won't always have my other persons. I train community persons and it will empower them. I pay them and if a hike comes I can send it up confidently with them.

“We use people from the community who have a skill. We use people who can cook fi we, who can drive fi we, we use people who have produce fi sell. Like in the Cockpit Country we have people weh roast yam fi we, salt fish, or whatever. So in the middle of a hike we have someone who will probably come with some pine from his farm,” he said.

When hikers see the bond between him and the residents, they worry less about crime as they hike, he suggested.

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