Damien Gildea wrote:I've never been a client on a guided expedition, so normally I'm strongly - some would say too strongly - in favour of going unguided and anti-masscommercial guiding. Just to be clear - I believe it's better to start small, build your skill, get your own experience, don't buy short-cuts and go as high, or as hard, as you can under your own steam. Don't endanger others and truly own your successes. ...they should hire the best guide service they can.
OK. I'll bite. I have been a client on a guided expedition, two in fact. And I agree with your statements above (although trimmed a bit).
My first was a glacier mountaineering course in the North Cascades with Alpine Ascents. I lived in Texas and had no easy way to get into mountains with glaciers to learn these skills. The most time and cost effective way was to sign on with a service and take this class. The team was an interesting mix including a wanna be seven summits climber (who didn't make it two hours into the approach), to a girl taking the class so she could climb with her boyfriend, to me, an experienced hiker, backpacker and rock climbing instructor. Although it was cool to summit a mountain, the goal was to learn the skills so I could apply them to future climbs.
My second was Mexican Volcanoes with Sierra Mountaineering. Ixta and Orizaba seemed to be the next steps in my climbing career and having a guide service handle the majority of the logistics allowed me to focus on my training and my other day to day responsibilities. I had no doubt that I was ready to make the climbs, with or without a guide. The guide provides a factor of safety.
I plan to go to East Africa in January and February with Sierra Mountaineering to climb Mt. Kenya and Kilimanjaro. SMI is requiring me (and my brother) to go on a multi-pitch rock climb in the Sierra with a senior guide to demonstrate our abilities. This is good.
I've also led expeditions (I use the term loosely) of Boy Scouts of up to 10 days in remote areas of Colorado, New Mexico and into Switzerland, including hikes to over 14,000' and glacier climbs, so I understand the responsibility a guide service (or individual) should feel toward the safety of their team.
Based on my experiences, I've come to the following conclusions:
1. If a climber elects to utilize a guide service, pick the best service out there that will deliver the services you need. If you want only a permit and logistics support, don't expect help on the hill.
2. A guide service should vet their clientele to ensure that clients are qualified and capable of safely performing on the hill. I wouldn't hold it against anyone if they said I wasn't qualified to climb K2; I know I'm not.
3. Climbers should start small, build their skill, get experience, but there is nothing wrong with getting the assistance of a reputable guide service to learn the required skills. This is tough when you love mountains but aren't lucky enough to live near mountains.
4. Climbers and guides should understand that climbing popular peaks will expose you to more objective hazard due to the larger populations on these mountains. See the picture above and read the stories of 1996 at the Hillary Step.
Reputable guide services have their place in the economy of the outdoors if climbers can understand their own limitations and the responsibilities of the guide.