Mountain guiding is unsurprisingly a strenuous profession, however as with anything it seems to get’s easier over time. Being quite new to the game I found some of the psychological pressures and stresses to be the most draining part compared with the actual physical load on my body. Sure walking down from Mont Blanc when you are tired and dehydrated at the end of a long summer can be hard, but sitting down in the evening with a ton of maps, looking at forecasts and trying to plan a safe and fun tour for an ambitious client can take a lot of time and mental energy. I always want to give my clients the best day possible and I often agonise for hours in the evening or the days before over where the best weather and conditions will be. This eats into time that should be spent stretching, eating, drinking or just straight up chilling out, which I find to be the most important thing to not let the physical stresses catch up.
In terms of decision making in the mountains and the pressure and stress this can give, I find the best approach as a guide (and a climber or skier) is to operate under the premise of “stress free guiding”. By this I mean that I don’t want to get stressed or be stressed when I’m working as this clouds my judgement and makes keeping it safe and fun much harder. On an exposed ridge I tend to find I move worse if I’m constantly worried about my client falling off or that storm coming in faster than expected. I try to listen to the stress and ask myself what am I getting worried about? Is it the weather or the conditions? Do I think this is too much for the client? Do I feel like I’m getting pressured into trying to do something as that’s what they have paid for? Do I simply feel like I can’t do the climb whilst keeping enough of a margin of safety for the client? I try to intrinsically look at the situation which sometimes takes a short moment and normally the answer is obvious when I look at it from a holistic or wider view. Changing the plan can be hard and there is often a lot of selling the new idea but I find that if the person you are with is involved (to a certain degree) in the decision making then it is easier for them to understand why I don’t want to do something.
Of course, there are physical stresses in guiding too but I like to keep these to a minimum in a variety of ways. Keeping it slow and steady is often the easiest way to make it easier for both you and the client but in some cases there is a need to move fast, like on the Hornli ridge of the Matterhorn for example where you ideally need to be up and down in around 8-9 hours. I’ve never particularly struggled with moving fast on alpine terrain, but I do when I have a lot of weight on my back. I’m pretty fanatical about cutting down the weight and those who climb with me know I like to keep the weight to an absolute minimum. This also reduces stress on joints when coming downhill which is very important if you spend a lot of time doing it. This is one of the reasons why I spend the whole winter skiing as I find it is a lot easier on the body especially if you spend most of the time touring and skiing powder! I’m also getting into thinner and lighter ski’s and lighter ski boots as this puts less pressure on the knees when you are skiing harder snow which, let’s face it, if you ski every day you will encounter a lot of hard snow.
I find that staying strong is one of the most important factors for me and I’ve realised more and more how weak I’ve been over the years and how this has hindered my performance during big efforts. My main focus this year is to get stronger and have a solid training program that can help me to maintain this through a sporadic schedule of guiding and doing my own personal adventures. I find that I often feel quite tired after a long climb mostly just down to having spent a whole day stood up, but I’ve actually been getting weaker as the big muscles aren’t being used as much as they would if you were moving faster.
Finding the balance between not over working myself but still improving my fitness and capabilities is tricky but I’m sure as with anything, over time my body and mind will adapt, and I will find it easier and easier to manage this.
If you are interested in exploring the alps and looking for a guide then go check out Dave’s website.