Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Career Thoughts

Every couple months or so I get an inquiry from an aspiring guide. Some are partway there, while some are totally new to the idea. All are genuinely curious and super passionate. This is one response that I composed a couple months back.

First, there is a broad field of options under the label of “outdoor professions”. What I do is in one, specialized corner of that landscape. It happens to be, in my view, the most lifestyle-friendly and financially responsible corner, but it is also the most dangerous and requires the most pre-career background. 

What I do is best called “Commercial Mountain Guiding”. I take people rock climbing, mountaineering, backcountry skiing, ice climbing, and ski mountaineering. I do so about half the time here in Wyoming’s Teton Range (my current home) and about half the time elsewhere around the western hemisphere. I complement this income with some outdoor gear consulting, some avalanche safety instruction, and occasional Air Bnb rental of my home. 

Every single day is amazing. Sometimes waking up and starting is drudgery. But each day in the mountains and with excited, passionate, healthy clients is a gift. It’s a demanding gig with great rewards. Yesterday, for instance, I woke at 4am to workout, then drove an hour and a half to a field site for a day of standing around in the cold. Over the shoulder was perhaps the greatest possible view of the Teton range. I was home by 6pm and finally sat down for an episode of TV after dinner and dishes and repacking and gear maintenance and post-day notes at 8pm. Up today at 5:30 for a slightly gentler, but similar agenda. These are pretty busy days. 

I did a little bit of skiing as a kid, and got into backpacking as a teenager. Late in college (I graduated in 2001) I resolved to become a professional mountain guide. I buckled down on that path immediately after college. 2017 was the first year I was both a homeowner and maxed out my IRA and 401k contributions. I basically mark 2017 as the start of my actual career. Up to that point was career development of some sort.
I don’t have kids, but I want to. I have a string of ex-wives and ex-girlfriends that all cite my lifestyle (traveling and/or dangerous) in respective breakups. I think it's possible to have a relationship and a family, but it ain’t easy. 

In short, it’s an amazing way to spend my time and earn a living. But it is hard. There are other outdoor recreation fields that require far less education and experience. These other professions (hiking, rafting, bicycle guiding. Also, so-called “outdoor education” like the National Outdoor Leadership School or various wilderness therapy programs) are easier to enter but you hit a career and financial ceiling well before income and lifestyle stabilize. These other gigs are a common stepping-stone for young people seeking a career as a guide. 

Reading back through this I realize that it all sounds quite negative. I guess its tough to put into words. The social media streams tell part of the good side of the story. The setting is spectacular, to put it mildly. The real “perk”, though, is the interpersonal interactions. I spend hours to days to weeks, in intimate and serious settings, with excellent people. I have relationships with some clients that span more than a decade and I meet new people every month. I cannot think of another profession in which I could meet and interact with people like mountain guiding allows. Relationships with clients are symbiotic, professional, personal, and very appreciated, regardless of whether it is a few hours of rock climbing or a 10-year shared pursuit of some huge goal.  

Friday, April 19, 2019

Various Expedition "Kits"

I'm headed to Alaska for two months, starting tomorrow.

I spent yesterday revamping my various "kits" of small things. It was a good job done, and I better organized everything for extended wilderness travel. This is how I roll:

It all starts with the day-to-day emergency/first aid kit. I keep this page largely updated, and that post is one of my most visited pages on the site. I revamped this yesterday too. This kit goes everywhere with me; Short, long, high, basic. Big pack, small pack, it always has a place. 

On most trips I add some or all of this "day-to-day" kit:

[]toilet paper
[]hand sanitizer
[]Dermatone white
[]Dermatone clear
[]lip balm
[]toe/hand warmers
[]Extra ziplock
[]Potable aqua tabs

All in a zip lock, in a small black stuff sack

On overnight trips, a rigid sunglasses case with eye and tooth care is added. 

And then, for bigger, wilder trips, these various "kits" are added as needed. For AK 2019, all of it. 

First, the expedition first aid kit addendum. In addition to what's in the standard first aid/emergency kit:

[]2 pairs gloves
[]Various gauzes
[]Blister covers
[]Anti diarrheal
[]daytime cold medicine
[]nighttime cold medicine
[]Advil PM
[]cough drops
[]Alcohol wipes
[]KT tape
[]Coban/Vet Wrap
[]Steri strips
[]Tincture of Benzoine
[]Antibiotic ointment
[]Spare contact lens
[]ace wrap
[]ear plugs
[]ski strap
[]Hand sanitizer
[]AMGA altitude guidelines
[]Wet wipes
[]All in a rigid tupperware
[]First aid book
[]hardcore painkillers
[]Loratadine (claritin)
[]Needle and thread
[]Hand/toe warmers
[]skin salve
[]Iodine pills

Next, a bulked up repair kit. Also, in addition to stuff already in the standard daily kit:

[]Duct tape
[]Leatherman Charge
[]Leatherman bits
[]Leatherman bit extender
[]Thermarest repair kit
[]3-4 needles
[]Heavy nylon thread
[]Dental Floss
[]Tenacious tape
[]Alcohol wipes
[]bailing wire
[]zip ties
[]Free Sole
[]Pocket Rocket
[]All stored in a suitable sized snap lid tupperware
[]Barge Cement
[]super glue gel
[]one large trash compactor bag
[]Electrical tape
[]Various strings
[]Elastic cord
[]small side lock buckles
[]cord lock
[]Torx 25 key
[]allen keys 5, 4, 3, 2.5

When the expeditions involve skiing, this kit is added:

[]Bit driver
[]torx 15
[]torx 20
[]torx 25
[]flat head bit
[]small phillips
[]Pozi drive bit
[]Two drill bits
[]Various screws, t-nuts, bolts. 
[]Including bolts for sled construciton
[]duct tape
[]glide wax wipes
[]skin wax
[]kick wax purple
[]steel wool
[]two ski straps

Finally, a bulked up collection of toiletries etc:

[]Hand sanitizer
[]extra contacts
[]contact case
[]gold bond
[]wet wipes
[]dental floss
[]ear plugs
[]hand salve
[]big nail clippers
[]hand and toe warmers
[]vitamins. Glucosamine, fish oil
[]tiny pack towel

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Three Things Thursday, Issue #24

3.31.2019. Coal Creek. Rosie. 

I think a great deal about the concept of "risk". Recently a guide and mentor initiated an online discussion of all aspects of risk. I made the following comments, and think they deserve a more permanent home. The initial discussion prompt was wide-ranging and open-ended.

  •  I'm fascinated with the concept of risk... In every way. Especially as it pertains to our pursuit of mountain sports. And to our shared public policies and perspectives. And everything in between. We often get really confused about what is risky and what is scary. Sometimes they are the same, sometimes they are not. Good mountain risk management identifies all four quadrants on the scary/risky matrix (scary and risky, scary and not risky, not scary and risky, not scary and not risky). Those with good life skills effectively separate those same four quadrants in all parts of life. We have major and collective issues when we conflate the four quadrants of the scary/risky matrix.
  •  Also, I find I do better at so-called "risk management" when I realize that risk is part of what I seek in the mountains. I hypothesize that even the most self-identified "risk averse" among us somehow value the risks. Do the mental exercise: Would you like doing what you do in the mountains if you eliminated (or even truly and meaningfully reduced) the risks? What's the difference between top-roping and leading? Really, it's just risk. We like the risk. We need to own that. We don't go to the mountains with risk on one end of a tug-of-war rope and our goals on other. Our goals involve tangling with the risks. It's all tangled together. We each have our own "risk tolerance", but even that phrasing is flawed. We don't just tolerate it. We seek it. Even those of us that that really don't like the idea of being labeled "risk seeking".
  • On my first read-through I missed your prompt about "post event mental trauma". I'm no psychologist, but since when has that stopped anyone?... In watching and accompanying many others as they respond, emotionally, to mountain emergencies, it seems that the greatest correlation is with pre-event mindset. Those that are "surprised" by some sort of loss to the mountains battle the most. Those that understand, accept, own, and even embrace the potential costs, before the fact, are best equipped to deal with the inevitable (yes, inevitable... the mountains will take at least something from every one of us that practices in the mountains) losses. The best defense is a good offense; the best thing we can do for ourselves to prepare for that inevitable loss is to visualize and process and accept that loss, before it occurs (that being said, likely the absolute worst thing we can do for someone who has just suffered a loss is to point out its inevitability and to point out how "it is what we signed up for"). If you find yourself pondering some version of "I just couldn't handle it/forgive myself/envision/sleep at night if my partner/spouse/client/guide/friend/neighbor/random stranger died in the mountains", ponder on and dig deep. Do the mental work now, before facing it unprepared.

Bonus comment, and my favorite from the thread. Credit to Canada's mountain risk-management guru himself, Grant Statham. Grant is (or at least was) employed by the Canadian federal government to ponder mountain risk management, particularly as it pertains to avalanche safety in their National Parks. He's also got a long and deep resume of rad mountain endeavors, personally and as a mountain guide. 

It's interesting how almost every risk discussion focuses on loss, including these comments. This perspective provides a dramatic, but incomplete picture of risk. Most people here are reporting their encounters with loss (injury, death) but few are talking about gain (success, life). Invert every one of these stories of loss and you will find a gain that was not realized. This is important because positive consequences are the reason we accept risks in the first place. Risk is not risk without a potential gain, however small or esoteric it might be. I think we do the concept of risk a disservice when we join the rest of society and focus the discussion on loss alone.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

2018 Year in Review. Athletics and Adventure, Non-Work.

By the numbers...

* 1102.5 hours of action in 2018.
* 556300 vertical feet ascended
* 587 climbing pitches
* 19 days alpine climbing
* 161 hours of action on alpine climbing days
* 102 days backcountry skiing
* 561.5 hours of backcountry skiing
* 4 days bicycling
* 4 hours bicycling
* 27 days in which the primary training was in the climbing gym
* 8 times I went to the climbing gym in addition to some other sort of adventure
* 42.5 hours climbing gym
* 19 days hiking
* 81.5 hours of hiking
* 96 days of rest
* 14 days rock cragging
* 29 hours of rock cragging
* 35 days of multi pitch rock climbing
* 181 hours multi pitch rock climbing
* 5 days running
* 6 hours of running
* 9 sick days
* 21 travel days
* 7 days of weight training, with no other exercise that day
* 8 more weight training sessions, each on the same day as some other activity