Capping group sizes

Tasmania specific bushwalking discussion.
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Tasmania specific bushwalking discussion. Please avoid publishing details of access to sensitive areas with no tracks.

Capping group sizes

Postby doogs » Wed 30 Mar, 2022 6:46 am

I read this brief article and it got me thinking about doing more to keep group sizes to a sensible level in our National Parks. Recently on social media I've seen groups of around 30 individuals going for day walks.
One of the things that stood out for me is the apparent lengths that the Rangers went to in tracking this groups plans and movements.
So what's a sensible number for different areas?
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Re: Capping group sizes

Postby north-north-west » Wed 30 Mar, 2022 7:59 am

Depends on the sensitivity of the area, doesn't it? Vegetation, camping options, infrastructure (if any), water, terrain.
I'm still gobsmacked by the size of a certain peakbagging group from a walking club a few years back. Some places it doesn't take much to create a sizeable impact. Of course, sometimes that's down to the knowledge and attitude of those in the group - the crash-through type do more damage than those being a bit more careful.

I'd still prefer to see group sizes limited to six for overnight/multi-day trips for most places. Four for the more sensitive areas.
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Re: Capping group sizes

Postby Aardvark » Wed 30 Mar, 2022 12:52 pm

I'm sure the majority of people don't want to encounter such large groups and i would hardly think it is anywhere near a stage where it is the norm.
Unfortunately though with an ever increasing world population we can expect no different. We're coming from an era where bushwalking has always appealed to the minority of the population so naturally we're shocked by the concept.
However, making rules such as capping numbers goes against the whole ethos of bushwalking. It is a reason i avoid some places now. Too many rules and regulations.
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Re: Capping group sizes

Postby phATty » Wed 30 Mar, 2022 1:57 pm

north-north-west wrote:Depends on the sensitivity of the area, doesn't it? Vegetation, camping options, infrastructure (if any), water, terrain.
I'm still gobsmacked by the size of a certain peakbagging group from a walking club a few years back. Some places it doesn't take much to create a sizeable impact. Of course, sometimes that's down to the knowledge and attitude of those in the group - the crash-through type do more damage than those being a bit more careful.

I'd still prefer to see group sizes limited to six for overnight/multi-day trips for most places. Four for the more sensitive areas.


I agree with your limits for the most part. I'm not a big fan of official club walks in very sensitive areas, think off track or minimal infrastructure and poor track works, this kind of stuff should just be kept to mates or under 4 people. I am interested to hear about what people think is sensible. I've always used 8 as a rule of thumb for club walks as long as the tracks and campsites are maintained. I have however seen group sizes as large as 12.

Of course, there are ways to minimise the impact, poo tubes, spreading out, split camping in different sites. How well do these mitigate impacts?

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Re: Capping group sizes

Postby ribuck » Wed 30 Mar, 2022 5:42 pm

I'm the odd-one-out as usual :)

If you have small group sizes, then either you will have more groups or you will have fewer people enjoying the outdoors. I prefer larger group sizes to either of the alternatives.
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Re: Capping group sizes

Postby ChrisJHC » Wed 30 Mar, 2022 7:34 pm

My preferred group size is 1.
:)
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Re: Capping group sizes

Postby potato » Thu 31 Mar, 2022 6:45 am

Smaller groups should be mandatory and the messaging should be clear on this.

I was once dismayed to find a very large group of KHA volunteers "volunteering" at Derschkos Hut one easter long weekend. All had driven in by car and had overrun the hut and surrounding area with their gear, cars and opinions. About 3-4 people were doing gods work repairing the hut but most had taken advantage of the gate keys and were doing the short walk to climb Jagungal. The large group excluded anyone else from using the hut. They were a dreadful bunch of entitled people.

Large groups can overrun facilities and key points and therefore place pressure on other sensitive areas.
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Re: Capping group sizes

Postby tastrax » Thu 31 Mar, 2022 8:26 am

Most agencies have 'recommended' party sizes, mainly because enforcement of mandatory numbers is expensive. There are known groups who regularly flout these limits for their own reasons. From a managers point of view having some limits allows for the creation and maintenance of infrastructure to a reasonable level that copes with 'normal' loads. These will almost always be exceeded on popular weekends. No different to roads - you never build for peak capacity as the $$ numbers never stack up.

https://parks.tas.gov.au/Documents/Walk ... olicy_.pdf - Tasmanian suggested party sizes - Page 11 - Used to be a maximum of 13 but looks like maybe the commercial operators may be pushing for a higher number (my guess only)
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Re: Capping group sizes

Postby CBee » Thu 31 Mar, 2022 8:48 am

"Man Banned from National Parks For Organizing 139-Person Grand Canyon Hike". If you like hiking you cannot possibly want to do it with 138 other people. At the registration station at Scotts Peak carpark, I noticed 2 massive separate groups (10+ people) have signed in. As predicted, Junction creek was a real mess and I had to ask people kindly to leave me some room so I could cross the creek. I rushed past this and walked two days in one to avoid this crowd catching up with me. Both groups had guides. Guides should educate.
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Re: Capping group sizes

Postby philm » Thu 31 Mar, 2022 11:57 am

That is terrible! It ruins the trip for everyone else
Max size should be 5 or less
If people need a guide they need to do easier tracks not the WA’s
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Re: Capping group sizes

Postby Nuts » Thu 31 Mar, 2022 12:43 pm

The commercial groups need a close check, with in mind that they are forced to compete statewide with private hut based tours.. and private hut group numbers were already given an exclusive advantage. Curious on the mention of 'robust tracks' and group sizes of 17.. sounds like yet another dodgy manipulation coming.
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Re: Capping group sizes

Postby CBee » Thu 31 Mar, 2022 4:32 pm

WAs are absolutely not suitable for large groups. And is not only my view. Guides and their bosses should know that too before taking customers on board. Especially when many people in the party have single tents. It is unacceptable. After witnessing Junction Creek, I could not imagine spots like High Moor or Oberon with that crowd.
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Re: Capping group sizes

Postby TentPeg » Fri 01 Apr, 2022 11:50 am

The 'voluntary' system for the Western Arthurs caters for 12 people per day. Whether that is 12 people in one group, or 12 groups, makes no difference.
Just because you enjoy your own company or that of a limited number does not mean that others should be forced to follow your path.

What happens when your select group of 4 people turn up to a camp area in a remote location at the same time as two other groups of 4 people? Perhaps the result would be a common sense response - maybe.

And what is the difference to the environment between one group of 12 walking together and four groups of three walking separately?

The answer to all this is the behaviour of the individuals in whatever sized group it is - not the size of the group. Lets not try and apply the example of some idiot in the US testing the system to our every-day activities in Tasmania. We could easily have a look in our own back yard at Cradle and Freycinet and add up far more than 139 people visits in one day.
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Re: Capping group sizes

Postby philm » Fri 01 Apr, 2022 11:59 am

The size of each group makes a huge difference not just total numbers. Have to disagree. One group will dominate a small camp site make much more noise and cook etc at
The same time. Nature is there to be enjoyed not taken over by large groups more interested in taking pictures for instagram etc…
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Re: Capping group sizes

Postby CBee » Fri 01 Apr, 2022 3:11 pm

TentPeg wrote:What happens when your select group of 4 people turn up to a camp area in a remote location at the same time as two other groups of 4 people? Perhaps the result would be a common sense response - maybe.

And what is the difference to the environment between one group of 12 walking together and four groups of three walking separately?

When I was there there was no voluntary system. Junction creek had around 30 people, nice eh? Not that this has disturbed me, because I can choose hundreds of other secluded spots to bivvy and I can do it without leaving trace with some effort. But saying that small groups are equal to big groups, is probably only valid from a mathematical point of view. Practically, big groups will move slower, will create more erosion, more noise, will only be able to use all space available at campsites because a large group will not be able in most places to organise an emergency bivouac and split. In the event of guided parties (assuming that a person who needs to be guided on the WAs has no experience), 4 groups of 1 guide and 3 inexperienced hikers vs 1 guide and 11 inexperienced hikers is huge. I want to add this: if 12 is a limit number per day, then commercial groups should stay out of hikes like this one in particular. There are plenty of other walks that can easily cater for that kind of tourism.
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Re: Capping group sizes

Postby TentPeg » Fri 01 Apr, 2022 4:35 pm

I'll step into the firing line again.

So CBEE there were two 'massive' groups of 10+ registered at Scotts Peak. There were 30+ people at Junction Creek. And you had to ask people to move so that you could cross the creek. Must have been a really nice day and people would have been swimming and generally making a nuisance.

So Philm and CBEE you aren't happy that people hire a guide to do a walk. I just hope you don't ever want to travel somewhere outside your comfort zone and then want to hire a guide or join a party of others.

So Philm any of those people out there who want to have a chat aren't allowed to. A noisy group of two can be more disruptive than a group of 12. And I remember that massive group of 1 person one day wandering down a track with a boom box going flat out. And worse, if more than two do so it ruins you appreciation of the wilderness. Sorry but the Arthurs is not what I would call wilderness. Get over it. Trying to enforce your view of the world on others smacks of elitism and we all know what happens to that in the end.

"Nature needs to be enjoyed not taken over." - But some of the greatest joys of my walking experience have been in a group getting people, who only dreamed of being able to get to various locations, to those locations. Some times it takes a big group to create the momentum to get those people there but the euphoria they experience is shared manifold with the rest of us. Those who think that wilderness experience can only be shared with themselves in a silent world need to step back and re-evaluate where their place is in the world.

So CBEE "12" is a mathematical number and somehow 12 people in one group create more erosion than 12 people not in one group. Really? The Arthurs is different because its mainly on compacted surfaces so lets consider real wilderness. 12 people want to go to a location. Some of them might even post on Instagram (side issue sorry). They have a choice. One group or three. I would suggest that the three groups do more combined damage than the group of 12. They use the 'best' 4 campsites. They are more likely not to spread out in fragile areas and they are more likely to be close together so they follow the same path.....

Back to the tenet of the conversation - capping group sizes makes a variety of groups happy. Lets jump over the wall and call those groups the extreme introverts (who don't want to have to interact with anyone), those with anxiety issues (who think others might be judging them), those with agoraphobia (who are agoraphobic), and the elites (who think others shouldn't be able to do what they have always enjoyed). And there are the FOMOs who want to attach to one of those groups but can't quite make up their mind which one.

Now to finish off this one - I don't care that people have a different view of things than me - in fact, I think that is one of the great things about a free society. I can't think of the quote right now but it is around the notion that anyone can have their own view and, as long as it does no harm, I will fight to defend their right to make that statement.

Enough from me for now.
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Re: Capping group sizes

Postby CBee » Fri 01 Apr, 2022 5:16 pm

I agree, we are lucky to be free, of saying what we want, of doing what we want and to become hiking guides if we wish, all of us. Or even open outdoor business and book every single day for years to come the Western Arthurs so we can take 11 other people and make money. Hoping that some bureaucrat would increase the daily number so we can take 40 people and make more money. Using National Parks of course.
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Re: Capping group sizes

Postby doogs » Sat 02 Apr, 2022 9:22 am

Tentpeg. I find it really hard to follow the logic that three groups of four do more environmental damage in remote areas than one group of twelve. Having seen first hand the scrub bashes, tent site clearing, littering and pad formation from one particular large group in a sensitive area, I can attest to the damage caused. It really doesn't take that many folk. Three groups of four are unlikely to take the same route, need to clear extra tent sites and are highly unlikely to want to camp in the same location as another group.
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Re: Capping group sizes

Postby Nuts » Sat 02 Apr, 2022 9:50 am

CBee wrote:I agree, we are lucky to be free, of saying what we want, of doing what we want and to become hiking guides if we wish, all of us. Or even open outdoor business and book every single day for years to come the Western Arthurs so we can take 11 other people and make money. Hoping that some bureaucrat would increase the daily number so we can take 40 people and make more money. Using National Parks of course.


Yes. this. More people, paying more money v's free movement with a mere parks pass.
For the first time, yesterday, I learned that 'trail running tourism' is a thing.
Last week I found out that, rather than a limited concession to tour operators, wilderness food driops uber-eats is a thing/pretending to be a reasonable thing.

Probably seems at the opposite end of the spectrum to bush-bashed campsites, more the hands rubbing together at the prospect of lesser care. Evidenced even in the changing language in the TC link Tastrax gave. Terms such as 'recommended' 'suggested' 'preferred' around useage and group numbers. Are these moral guidelines or (for everyone else) merely challenges to be overcome?
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Re: Capping group sizes

Postby tastrax » Sat 02 Apr, 2022 12:37 pm

There is evidence to suggest that trampling at once (ie large group) versus trampling over time (same number in smaller groups over time) is LESS impactful because after an initial trampling the vegetation may have the capacity to recover whereas repeat tramplings over time the vegetation may have less chance to recover (continually affected). BUT, and there is a very BIG BUT, the time taken to recover for all tramplings back to original condition will be many, many years for even the smallest number of tramplings in some environments. Note that this changes depending on the actual pass numbers, the environment (ie grasslands, versus herbfields, versus alpine vegetation) and slope. Its not a one size fits all problem.

https://www.researchgate.net/publicatio ... itage_Area

In a nutshell the research makes it abundantly clear that if you want people walking in 'large numbers' then get ready to harden just about every metre of track, in most environments, or put up with the impacts.

Most 'limits' on tracks across the world are brought in due to other factors - like crowding at campsites; lack of, or cost of toilet infrastructure; social 'crowding' etc. I am struggling to think of any area where its been brought in for purely environmental impact reasons.
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Re: Capping group sizes

Postby Mechanic-AL » Sat 02 Apr, 2022 1:10 pm

Surfing and bush walking exist in parallel universes . If you look at the impact of increased popularity in surfing over the past decade its not pretty.
Much like bush walking surfing is a recreational interest that makes use of a natural enviroment and is heavily reliant on the climate gods. Those two factors by themselves make it very hard to impose any restriction on it it. When the conditions are right people are going to make use of them. Cant blame anyone for that.
There are a large number of surf breaks around the Australian coast line that I wouldnt't even consider looking at now days simply because the number of people in the water at any of these places has become crazy. Even to the point where I would imagine only a small percentage of the crowd are actually having a good time. And much like bush walking the increase in numbers at the beach relates to the call for more infrastructure to appease the masses.
Bush walking is definitely having a surge in popularity and much like surfing it's pretty hard to say to somebody "sorry, you can't go out there today". I don't have any answers but I feel that surfing crowds at the popular spots have reached the point where it is almost too late to implement any form of control. For bush walking I think that point may still be a little bit over the horizon so now is maybe the time to start imposing small incremental changes for the benefit of not only the enviroment but everyone.
Unfortunately if no responsible department is willing to stump up the funds to police any possible restrictions (like the current voluntary booking system ) then any system is destine to fail and our most popular walking destinations will become the trashed out feeding frenzy that some of our surf breaks have become.
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Re: Capping group sizes

Postby north-north-west » Fri 08 Apr, 2022 5:04 pm

Six days of solo mostly off-track walking. One long solo mostly off-track walk. Over the last rise and about to head down to - shock! horror! - a track for the walk back to the car and . . .
5d-10004.jpg


Twenty five people in one group. The fresh footprints made it clear there was a certain amount of bogdodging going on in the wetter, more sensitive places. Sphagnum had been reduced to mush. Cushion plants were trampled. Not purely by them, of course.

There needs to be thought given to track placement and, yes, hardening in some of these sensitive ecosystems. Much as it grinds my gears, I'd rather be clomping on duckboards than seeing the sort of damage being done in places like this.
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Re: Capping group sizes

Postby Rexyviney36 » Sun 10 Apr, 2022 3:36 pm

They look experienced enough to know better…
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Re: Capping group sizes

Postby headwerkn » Mon 11 Apr, 2022 2:52 pm

I think 4-6 bodies is probably the sweet spot balancing safety with environmental impact and fair use of campsite space and facilities, eight being an absolute maximum and 2-4 being a better option for non-club type walks with more experienced participants.

Obviously it depends on the area and available campsite areas/facilities (if any there)... big groups quickly become a liability in places like the Western Arthurs, Bechervaise/Hanging Lake, Lake Tahune where the available tent sites are quickly filled, something that's happening way too often of late. Without mandatory booking systems that are actually policed and an investment in more tent platforms etc. these places won't get better any time soon. Simple as that.

Serious off-track treks are a tougher one to judge, really depends on the area, terrain/vegetation and available tent sites. There's definitely safety in numbers should things go wrong - and it's good to be able to cycle regularly through leaders when pushing a path through bad scrub! - but big groups move much slower and can become a liability in that respect if the itinerary is ambitious.

In defense of walking clubs, however, do remember that it is often the only way many people can comfortably attempt more challenging or off-track walks with the (sensible) safety net of more experienced club members around to help them gain both confidence and experience. Not everyone has an experienced mate or two who can invite them on such trips to show them the ropes and help build up that skill and experience over time. The club I'm involved with thankfully sets pretty low group size limits for its serious and off track walks, but there's always people who sadly miss out on these trips because of that policy.

Where possible and practical, I think it is still preferable to have slightly larger groups (not 15-20+, thinking 10-12 at absolute most) with a good ratio of experienced walkers helping guide those lesser-experienced individuals and show them how to behave properly in the wilderness... than to have unprepared small groups and individuals attempting the Eldons et. al. and putting themselves at serious risk. If clubs are struggling to meet demand (nice problem to have in one regard!) then they should be splitting groups up and delaying start times to offset their impacts.
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Re: Capping group sizes

Postby RicktheHuman » Mon 11 Apr, 2022 3:34 pm

headwerkn wrote:In defense of walking clubs, however, do remember that it is often the only way many people can comfortably attempt more challenging or off-track walks with the (sensible) safety net of more experienced club members around to help them gain both confidence and experience. Not everyone has an experienced mate or two who can invite them on such trips to show them the ropes and help build up that skill and experience over time. The club I'm involved with thankfully sets pretty low group size limits for its serious and off track walks, but there's always people who sadly miss out on these trips because of that policy.


Sorry mate, I just can't see the logic here. If someone isn't confident or experienced enough, a huge group just isn't the right answer, it's not minimal impact, and is far from setting an example on how to behave in the wilderness The remote wilderness is not for everyone, thats not sad it's just a fact.

headwerkn wrote: Where possible and practical, I think it is still preferable to have slightly larger groups (not 15-20+, thinking 10-12 at absolute most) with a good ratio of experienced walkers helping guide those lesser-experienced individuals and show them how to behave properly in the wilderness... than to have unprepared small groups and individuals attempting the Eldons et. al. and putting themselves at serious risk. If clubs are struggling to meet demand (nice problem to have in one regard!) then they should be splitting groups up and delaying start times to offset their impacts.


So you're saying a group of 10-12 is ok for somewhere like the Eldons? :shock:
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Re: Capping group sizes

Postby north-north-west » Mon 11 Apr, 2022 4:52 pm

RicktheHuman wrote:So you're saying a group of 10-12 is ok for somewhere like the Eldons? :shock:


Good luck in finding room for all those tents if the weather goes off anywhere along that ridge.

Also, people should not be doing a walk like that as a learning experience. Learn first, then tackle the harder ones. Accept that you can't go from zero to off-track hero quickly.
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Re: Capping group sizes

Postby Tazz81 » Mon 11 Apr, 2022 4:59 pm

Early 2017 I stumbled into watershed camp on the Port Davey. I’d left the first Spring River campsite that morning so was pretty shagged by the time I’d got there and was looking forward to setting up camp and crashing. To my horror when I arrived it was literally wall to wall tents (I usually check the club websites to see where they are so as I know where not to go - this trip I didn’t, because who wants to do the Port Davey?!). The HWC decided to have a group of 12 all with individual tents and essentially took over the whole campsite with a sense of entitlement that because they were a club they had more right to the space than anyone else. I was told that if I can find room I can camp there, otherwise Crossing River is only 10km away.
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Re: Capping group sizes

Postby Paul » Mon 11 Apr, 2022 7:20 pm

I had a similar experience quite a few years ago with people from the same club at Lake Judd.

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Re: Capping group sizes

Postby Nuts » Tue 12 Apr, 2022 10:16 am

Clubs should really be following the commercial group guidelines (linked earlier) (more like 6 in the Eldons?) Their impact is only ever more than less. Understood that less people per group= more groups but for routes and hard walks these guidelines would probably still result in less (people) overall, in these areas. Clubs, school groups etc, they should really embrace these guidelines rather than push the boudaries. Prerequisite walks, ballots etc. whatever it takes, their responsibility.
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Re: Capping group sizes

Postby headwerkn » Tue 19 Apr, 2022 9:51 am

RicktheHuman wrote:Sorry mate, I just can't see the logic here. If someone isn't confident or experienced enough, a huge group just isn't the right answer, it's not minimal impact, and is far from setting an example on how to behave in the wilderness The remote wilderness is not for everyone, thats not sad it's just a fact.


You've misread my point. Skill isn't binary, neither is walk difficulty. No matter what your experience level, walking with someone more experienced - or, if you want, with experience in a particular field eg. snow/winter, canyoning, rock climbing - gives you a chance to learn and 'level up' whilst extending your comfort zone. Some of us are fortunate enough to have such people within our friendship or family groups but many don't, and that's where the true value of walking clubs can be found.

No club I know of takes rank amateurs into situations beyond their abilities. Trip leaders are notoriously conservative for their own sakes and want to see stripes earned through a steady progression of increasingly challenging walks, which is as you'd expect and hope.

Commercial guided tours, on the other hand... *hmm*

RicktheHuman wrote:So you're saying a group of 10-12 is ok for somewhere like the Eldons? :shock:


Didn't say that at all. I suggested that a slightly bigger than ideal group sizes (10-12 max but very dependent on the walk's ability to accommodate) was vastly preferable to inexperienced, ill-prepared walkers attempting serious walks on their own.

Not having walked the Eldons myself yet, I'm not in a position to pull a magic number out, but based on what I've seen, read and been told from others' experiences, Nuts is likely correct that six is optimum with maybe eight as a hard limit.

I've just returned from the minor/Little Eldons and, given the extent of historic/illegal track cutting in the area, the subsequent pad development and the relatively protected camping space available below Rocky Hill, a group size of 10 or so could probably be reasonably accommodated. Provided people space out when walking through the herbfields and toilet well out of the catchment/marsh - things experienced club members tend to enforce effectively. I wouldn't recommend it of course - 6-8 would be way better - and I wouldn't want to see a bigger group out trying to get out to Camp Hill and a back in a day.

Nuts wrote:Clubs should really be following the commercial group guidelines (linked earlier) (more like 6 in the Eldons?) Their impact is only ever more than less. Understood that less people per group= more groups but for routes and hard walks these guidelines would probably still result in less (people) overall, in these areas. Clubs, school groups etc, they should really embrace these guidelines rather than push the boudaries. Prerequisite walks, ballots etc. whatever it takes, their responsibility.


Again, in my experience, clubs are indeed doing just that, at least on the bigger multiday walks (admittedly I've seen and been part of a few day walks that could have been smaller). Clubs and most of their serious members take their reputations quite seriously and aren't going to risk it doing dumb things.

As mentioned before though, it all falls apart quite quickly when other walkers don't follow the same rules and fail to book/register themselves.
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