Leader Spotlight: Danny Casady

Leader Spotlight is a monthly blog to showcase our incredible volunteer leadership at The Mountaineers. Meet this month's featured leader: Danny Casady. He is a 6-year member who loves the experience of introducing fellow members to the mountains, coast, or an alpine lake for the first time!
Sara Ramsay Sara Ramsay
Volunteer Development Manager
January 29, 2021

For our Leader Spotlight this month we talked to Danny Casady, a volunteer leader with the Tacoma Branch who believes leadership is all about building: building character; building up others to their full potential; and building memories one peak, one switchback, and one sunset at a time.

Name: Danny Casady
Branch: Tacoma
Where do you live? Auburn, WA 
How long have you been a leader? 3 years (member since  2015)
What activities do you lead? Hiking, snowshoeing, scrambling, and stewardship activities.

Leadership Questions

What inspired you to take on a leadership role with The Mountaineers?

The sense of community at The Mountaineers. When you find a group of people who enjoy the same activities and share the same dedication and devotion to learning as you, that formed camaraderie encourages you to become an engaged participant. For myself, being a leader allows me to be more engaged and permits me some flexibility to plan trips that fit my schedule and destination. Best of all, leading allows me the opportunity to serve others who want to get outdoors. Each of our trips is an opportunity for someone to get outdoors and to possibly meet a new lifelong friend. In some cases, it may mean that someone no longer has to recreate alone in the backcountry, in a place where there truly is safety in numbers. I have met so many wonderful people in this role. It is an amazing feeling when someone experiences the mountains or the coast or an alpine lake for the first time. The beauty is overwhelming, and I am so happy to be a part of helping that moment happen.

WHAT IS THE BEST, FAVORITE, OR MOST MEMORABLE TRIP YOU'VE HAD WITH THE CLUB?

Oh my. Do I really have to pick just one? Every trip, every experience for the most part has been special in its own way. Looking back through my experiences over these last few years, all the trips hold special memories and feelings of accomplishment, of determination, or sometimes the need to go back and finish the goal that got away. I think the experiences that stand out are the ones where we were all communicating - whether it be laughing and making jokes on the hike in, or verbally suffering on the way out from a very long day, or that weather system that moved in unexpectedly. The people in The Mountaineers are truly amazing and when we are all in this thing called adventure together, well, I don't think there is anything else quite like it.

How has your leadership style evolved as you've gained experience?

I think that perhaps I have become a better listener and I am fairly sure that the rocks have smoothed out some of the rough edges over time. I am naturally an introvert, so there is always some measure of anxiety that precedes a trip, but that has lessened over time. Following a strict planning process helps me alleviate any concerns and usually makes for a more relaxed trip. My goal is to not make every outdoor experience "my trip". I'll organize the trip planning, guide it along as needed, and make executive decisions as required; but it is every participant's adventure. The feedback from each trip is an important tool for personal growth. I read ALL the feedback from the trips and where I can, I try to incorporate suggestions when they are presented. I have been afforded the opportunity to bear the title of "leader", but for me it is about building: building character; building up others to their full potential; and building memories one peak, one switchback, and one sunset at a time.

IT'S OFTEN SAID: "GOOD JUDGEMENT COMES FROM EXPERIENCE; EXPERIENCE COMES FROM BAD JUDGEMENT." ANY LEARNING EXPERIENCES YOU CAN SHARE TO HELP OUR COMMUNITY BUILD THEIR GOOD JUDGEMENT?

I am a huge fan of "plan for the worst and hope for the best" and tied closely to that, the post-trip assessment. I have been known to obsess over a trip during the planning stages - the more uncertainty, the more I obsess. Call it a fault. Recently, I was on a private trip with a friend. We were bagging peaks at Mount Rainier and decided to spend the night at Chinook Pass. Since we were there, we decided we would try to bag Yakima Peak - after all, it's right there! We both knew, especially after having to work an hour later than expected, that we were in an extremely tight daylight window.

Well, I am sure you know where this is going. We drove to the pass, grabbed our gear, and headed up and over the north ridge by way of the standard route from the parking lot. The idea was to cross the gully and take the west ridge to the summit. But that sun was getting pretty low on the horizon, so we made some adjustments. We decided to head straight up the gully, hanging climbers right where the rock was not as loose. We made it to the summit just as the sun was going down behind Sourdough Ridge. After taking a couple of photos, we quickly came down from the summit block and made our way to the trail on the west ridge as we had already decided descending the gully in low light would be a bad idea.

Then it got dark; really dark. Then the trail disappeared, and the ridge became steep. We had already donned our headlamps and agreed that it made sense to stay in close proximity on the way down. One, so we didn't become separated and two, so we didn't kick rocks down on each other. Somehow, the trail was not nearly as clear as the trip research indicated, at least not under those conditions. We thought we might be off route, but when it drops off on either side, you're pretty much the only place you can be.

When we reached a point on the ridge from where I could see the headlights of cars coming from both sides of the pass, I knew we were in for an adventure. We moved along, 15 to 20 feet at a time assessing the route and watching for gullies and cliffs. After all, there are forty vertical feet between those lines on the map. We had a rope but were hoping to not have to use it.

So onward we went, a little at a time, headlamps shining off into a light fog that had formed. We would go forward for a bit, check our map and GPS, then move a little more. Pretty soon, we reached the end of the ridge and we were able to traverse over to the north ridge and back to the parking lot.

Afterwards, we sat at the back of my Subaru, made tacos for dinner, and did our post-trip debrief talking about what worked, what didn't work, and what we could do better next time. I think we both agreed that we may have been a little over ambitious given the daylight. Surprisingly, the mountain was still there in the morning. We both agreed that taking our time and carefully assessing (repeatedly) our current situation on the ridge made a lot sense and worked in our favor this time. I had studied the route and knew it, quite literally, in the dark.

But what I saw in reality didn't match my expectations. It is in those moments that you question yourself and adjust as necessary to meet the situation. Listen to your gut instincts; they are usually correct. We were prepared to sleep on the ridge had we needed to, but fortunately that wasn't the case.

What advice do you have for aspiring leaders in The Mountaineers community?

First, just do it already. It is rewarding beyond belief.

Second, set expectations - always! This goes for trips, classes, and field trips. Remember what I said about reality not matching expectations and then questioning your own decisions? That is what we do as humans. Our minds will fill the gaps if no one has set expectations. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we don't. Try not to put your trip participants through the exercise of guessing what's next.

Last, keep it safe and have fun. Getting to the destination should never take priority over managing risks. I wanted to say safety here, but we do things every day that could be considered unsafe by someone. Knowing the risks and your ability to manage those risks will help you gauge which trips may be suitable for your participant's enjoyment.

Is there aNYTHING ELSE WE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT YOU?

I have always enjoyed climbing, but I also have a mild fear of heights. I think of it as a safety switch; something that reminds me to pay attention, to be situationally aware. I love to travel and explore new places. I have visited 38 states and I have lived in seven. I recently decided to drive across the country to attend my daughter's wedding. I basically lived out of the back of my Subaru for three days each way and it was my first time to visit Utah and Nebraska. We live in a beautiful, vast, open country and I believe each of us have a responsibility to preserve that for our children and their children. I enjoy being in the mountains but also on the coast or at the local crags. It's a safe guess that if it happens outside, I'll enjoy it. Except for mosquitos, I don't like mosquitos.
Lightning Round

What's your go-to place for a post-trip meal? Bruno's or Wapiti Woolies if in the Mount Rainier area.
How about your best trail snack? Bacon! (Cooked, of course.)
What's your favorite close-to-home adventure? Naches Peak Loop: A short, easy hike, but the views are amazing.
What "luxury item" do you bring on most trips? An inflatable pillow for overnight trips. My camera for day trips.
What's next on your bucket list? It's a deep bucket, but at the moment, Josephine Lake is next on the list.

is there Someone that you'd like to see in the spotlight?

Send an email to Sara Ramsay to make a recommendation for one of our upcoming Leader Spotlights!