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Climbing with a guide is (or should be) a lot of fun. A few things are a bit different from going out with your pals.
The guide’s job is basically to help you have fun, get to the summit and down again, and to help you avoid the many hazards of the wild mountain environment. Usually these priorities don’t interfere with each other. In fact, with the guide watching out for many problems, you can relax a bit more and concentrate on the fun part.
Fun” means different things to different folks. Some like a personal climbing challenge, other just being high up in the air. Some like to learn, others like to simply enjoy the experience. Almost all of our Alps climbing guiding is on a custom basis, so we should be able to get as close to your definition of “fun” as weather, climbing conditions and personal abilities allow. You can help us to do this by letting us know how you, in particular define “fun”.
Many folks come hoping to climb some of the big-name peaks, commonly the Matterhorn, Eiger or Mont Blanc. A couple words of caution:
The Matterhorn and Eiger are difficult climbs. They require an ability to move smoothly, steadily and relatively quickly over very steep, always exposed and occasionally technical terrain, and this for many hours on end. If you have never done anything quite like them before it is hard to know what to expect, and harder still to know if you have the necessary skills. An important part of your trip will be learning what these peaks require (by doing other ascents), while at the same time determining whether you have the needed skills and abilities. One of the main objectives for your trip should be to discover what, if anything, you need to learn or do to bring these peaks within your grasp.
Another important determining factor on these peaks is the current conditions. Even the smallest amount of snow on the extensive rock climbing of the Eiger and Matterhorn can put them out of condition by making them too time consuming, not to mention too slippery, to climb safely. Once the snow falls, several days of sunny weather is needed to put them back into condition. In a bad summer, the “in condition” days may number as few as maybe 12 to 15 days out of the entire summer season. When the Matterhorn and Eiger are out of condition we’ll try to do other great climbs in the area that are not as conditions sensitive. Being psychologically prepared for this will help you enjoy your trip and appreciate all the variety and challenge that the Alps have to offer.
Mont Blanc, by comparison, is mostly a snow climb and is less prone to being out of condition. In fact, if the weather is good, snow conditions, whatever they may be, almost always permit an ascent.
All in all, the best strategy is to come with a flexible outlook, rather than a specific “hit-list”.
The guide also must help you to manage risk. There are quite a few ways to “get the chop” in the mountains. But the primary three are; falling off the mountain, getting hit by something from above, and freezing to death. We have different strategies to deal with these, worth discussing briefly here:
Falling is the greatest hazard climbers face and claims the most lives. We primarily avoid falling by climbing well and carefully. As a back-up, ropes and other gear can often reduce the likelihood of injury if we do fall. One of the protective techniques we commonly use on the broken terrain of the mountains is called “short roping”. By using only a small amount of rope we can move together when the terrain is easy, and belay short harder sections, with little or no slowing down during transitions between the two. Short roping it means moving together, carrying the rope at the ready, and belaying as necessary. You still need to climb the mountain yourself, providing all the necessary skill, will power and upward momentum. Even the strongest guide can’t drag anyone up a mountain.
Getting hit by something from above is best avoided by not being there when that thing falls; helmets only slightly reduce the risk of injury from getting clobbered. Avoidance depends on being able to move quickly through hazardous areas. Some of these hazards are time related, such as when afternoon warming releases otherwise frozen-in rocks. In such cases timing is critical. In general mountains are more “active” as the day warms. For this reason, and to take advantage of better snow conditions, we start early and try to finish early.
Freezing to death is best avoided by not going out in bad conditions, and this is our primary strategy. Also, we may choose a different objective, one where hands and body can stay warm though more continuous movement. But good equipment is also called for.
Understanding what the guide says.
The guide may give instructions about how they want you to climb a particular pitch, or where they want folks to go, or not go. Be sure you understand these instructions! Speak up if you don’t. Keep a constant ear out for critical info, and where you hear it, pay attention.
Skiing with a guide Skiing with a guide is (or should be) a lot of fun. A few things are a bit different than tearing it up at the local area with your buddies, and we thought it might be helpful to discuss a few of them here.
The guide’s job is basically to help you have fun and to help you avoid the many hazards of the wild mountain environment. Usually these two things don’t get in the way of each other. In fact, with the guide watching out for problems such as avalanches or crevasses, you can relax a bit more and concentrate on the fun part.
The guide looks for the best snow and the best skiing within the constraints of managing risk. In a group of varying abilities what defines the “best skiing” will vary from skier to skier. When we have a varied group we will often give more options for the better skiers, while helping those not so skilled find easy-to-ski lines. Hopefully we can make everyone happy.
The guide also must help you to manage risk. One of the main ways they do this is to control where the group skis and how they ski a particular pitch. When it matters, the guide will use techniques that increase their control. Where hazard is minimal, the guide will ease up on the reins a bit. But group control, and the guide’s ability to maintain it, is a central need of the guide for risk management. There are a few things worth mentioning.
Understanding what the guide says.
The guide may give instructions about how they want you to ski a particular pitch, or where they want folks to go, or not go. Be sure you understand these instructions! Speak up if you don’t. Keep a constant ear out for critical info, and where you hear it, pay attention.