Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Wisdom of the Mountain Guides

Racoon faces after the climb, Adv BC
Cho Oyu 2005. Two Sherpa guides
in yellow jacket
 First – let me commend all the great mountain guides out there. I see their role as a life-and-death profession more than just some guy touring curious individuals to the top of a mountain. Being a non-professional, non-full time mountaineer that I am – I rely on the experience and expertise of veteran guides in my more challenging trips.

I’ve had great guides that were part of my success, in expeditions and career growth in general.

In most relatively ‘easy mountains’ – I never needed guides and would venture out sometimes on my own, occasionally not having knowledge of the trail or route, in a country or territory that I was not very familiar with. With many years of experience and outdoor trainings – those ventures were not an issue. I’ve ‘guessed-hike’ my way to some local trails in the Philippines, sometimes under heavy rains mostly during my me-only weekend escapades; invented ‘trails’ in Rokko mountain in Japan and in Puk-an-san South Korea, even in some snow-covered hills in the Pyrenees (Spain) - and generally following a ‘banat lang’ (just go) gung-ho attitude in many other places.

But more serious and very demanding mountains would require some help from someone who climbs mountains as his/her profession. In fact, I always include a ‘get a good guide’ in one of my tips, to hopefully increase the chance of success, and more importantly – ensure SAFETY. Not all guides were made equal though – some were pain in the *ss but fortunately for me, majority worked in my favour.

It would be a pity to lose some of the great ‘quotes’ or insights or philosophy from my past guides – so allow me to share some of them here:

1. “Pole, Pole” (Swahili for slowly) from my Tanzanian guide. While this is ‘generic’ – the general philosophy of taking it slow whilst doing high-altitude climbing is vital. Go fast – you may end up severely AMS’d. Or worse.

2. “Look, man, the weather is changing. You’re exhausted. Think about your life, your guide’s life. I’m not your guide, but you have to think for yourself. The mountain is always here, you can always go back to climb.” – Said one concerned Russian guide after seeing me in a tired-hypoxic state. I was with “just-go-no-speak” sub-guide who didn’t seem to be bothered by my condition. Being stubborn (or hypoxic) I didn’t quit and continued, only to be shooed down later by my lead guide. But his line of - “The Mountain is always here....” is something that I will always remember. This echoes Ed Viesturs’ line of ‘There’s no mountain worth losing your toes or fingers for. One can always come back’ (or something like that). Generally, all these simply means – ‘fight another day’. i.e. if one finally accepts defeat!

3. “Food, very important. No appetite, no energy, no climb!” - from my Everest guide – Lhakpa Sherpa, scolding me after learning that I wasn’t eating enough of my meals. I ‘fixed’ it by teaching my cook how to prepare Filipino food. And I took his words to heart in my future climbs.

4. “There are only three sports in the world--bull fighting, car racing and mountaineering. All other sports are nothing but games!” - from Jacob, Vinson guide. While it was partly said in jest – the realization that mountaineering is DIFFICULT and DANGEROUS meant a much greater demand from the individual climber. You may be able to simply quit in some ‘sports’, but you could die if you simply give up while climbing. You can ‘fail’ in some sports and live – but could ‘fail’ in climbing mountains and die.

5. “You should treat each other like brothers, like family and not fight.” – from Jemmy, Manadoan guide in our West Papua trip. This was directed to our porters representing 2 rival tribes – Moni and Dani. While this was not intended for my climbing team – the message is a good reminder for the mountaineering communities – to treat each other with utmost respect. The recent ‘Everest Brawl” in C2 was a strong reminder that we do forget to behave like ‘mountain brothers’ from time to time.

6. “Don’t rush it, enjoy the climb!” – this one from Dirk – my German teammate in Cho Oyu. He’s a guide in the Alps, and does solo climbing (8000m). I’ll add “Take it one step at a time, focus on the next milestone”. Too often, we rush on things to see its end. Climbing big mountains are at times a big patience-test and one can just be too eager to summit to finish and go home. We have to enjoy the process, to live the journey and not rush things. Further, over thinking and over worrying of the big, last task (ex. summit climb) could be overwhelming and add to one’s anxiety. By breaking down big objective into smaller goals (ex. focusing on Camp 1 and not think about summit) - it makes it not just easier to accomplish, but it allows one to actually have the right mindset and mood to enjoy that part of the journey.

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