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One-Way and Key-Exchange Hikes
by Ted Tenny

Walking one-way from point A to point B is the most natural thing in the world. Our ancestors got around that way, without having to fuss over how they would get back to where they started from.

Now one-way hikes are appealing because every step brings you fresh scenery. With planning and preparation, you can enjoy them as much as a loop or round-trip hike.

Planning a One-Way Hike
First, decide which way you are going.
You’ve chosen a route in your favorite wilderness. You could hike it in either direction. It’s usually best to get the rough stuff over at the beginning of the hike and save the easy part for last. Otherwise it may be better to start from the trailhead at the higher elevation, so there will be more downhill than uphill.

After deciding on the route and direction, look at the map to see the roads going to the two trailheads. One trailhead will be closer to your meeting place, and the other will be farther away.

Either way, you will need enough cars to transport all of the hikers, plus enough additional cars to carry all the drivers. Here’s how many 5-passenger cars you’ll need:

hikers cars
4-5 2
6-10 3
11-15 4
16-20 5

Starting Trailhead is Closer:

Drive from the meeting place to the starting trailhead. Then everybody who isn’t driving gets out of the cars, with their hiking gear. They will wait at the starting trailhead for the drivers to come back.

Drive all of the cars to the ending trailhead. Park most of the cars there, so these cars will be waiting for you at the end of the hike. Then return the drivers to the starting trailhead in as few cars as possible to begin hiking.

When the hike is over, only those who have a car back at the starting trailhead – drivers and their passengers – have to be taken there. Everyone else can just leave.

Example: Courthouse Butte to Morgan Road.

Ending Trailhead is Closer:

Drive from the meeting place to the ending trailhead. Leave one car there (usually the hike leader’s car) and others if you’ll need more than one car to transport all the drivers.

Drive to the starting trailhead in the remaining cars and start the hike.

When the hike is over, take the drivers back to their cars at the starting trailhead.

Re-convene at the ending trailhead to pick up the rest of the hikers.

Example: Horse Lake.

Another Possibility:

If the ending trailhead isn’t too far away, you might consider driving there on the day before the hike and leaving your car parked at the trailhead. This would save time: hikers could just drive to the starting trailhead and begin the hike earlier. Personally I’m not enthusiastic about leaving my car overnight at a trailhead, but it is a possibility.

Key-Exchange Hikes

You’re planning that fabulous one-way trans-wilderness hike up and over the Sierra Estrella from the Gila River to Butterfly Mountain, Quartz Peak, and down to the Quartz Peak Trailhead. But then you get the bad news: it requires a 100-mile auto shuttle. Fortunately there is a way. Have two parties hike in opposite directions. They will exchange cars before the hike, start from opposite trailheads, meet in the middle for lunch and exchange of car keys. You will have your own car waiting at the end of the hike.

No auto shuttle! Everyone can enjoy hiking, without as much driving or waiting for drivers.

I wouldn’t try this on an off-trail exploratory hike. Make sure both leaders have done the hike before and are in agreement regarding the route. Plan on a rendezvous, about halfway, but if you get there first and can’t contact the other party, keep going. Stay on the agreed route.

Hike leaders Eileen and Ted agreed to meet at Boulder Creek.

2-way radios are necessary.

The two parties don’t have to have an equal number of hikers, but each must have enough cars to transport the larger party.

Exchange cars at the meeting place, or, if the trailheads are far away, at the place where the roads to the two trailheads diverge.

Drive in caravan to your party’s starting trailhead and begin the hike.

When you are within a mile of the chosen rendezvous, try to contact the other party by 2-way radio. Don’t panic if they can’t be contacted. Sometimes the terrain interferes with reception.

When you do meet the other party, make sure all of the car keys are exchanged.

After the hike, the leaders should talk to each other on cell phones to verify that all is well.

Bring a spare car key.

Example: Needle Canyon Life March.
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Arizona Trailblazers Hiking Club, Phoenix, Arizona
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updated November 15, 2017