Summer blends to autumn, now ripening to winter, and I gaze as the colors fall to the swelling white blanket outside, soft and inviting. As a full time guide, seasonal change gives me time to reflect on what my job, my life, entails. I sit in front of my screen now, remembering the ridges, the weather and people I encountered. My dreams, my fears, the anxious and joyous moments I’ve experienced whilst moving about these hills, burdened and enlightened with the task at bringing my clients safely up, over, and back down. What’s it like to live the life of a mountain guide? “You have such a perfect job,” or the tired cliché “You have lovely office.”
I get up, can’t sleep. Davos still has the avalanche risk at 3, two weeks after the snow storm, yet those signs of risk have not presented themselves to me these past three days as I slide in and out of valley after valley, mountain top to mountain top. Shall I stick to my plan for today? After 25 years of skiing together, Janet and Will follow flawlessly through risky terrain, waiting, traversing, skiing and climbing at just the right tempo to make our passage as safe as it possibly can be. After 25 years together, we know each other better than most of my friends. Indeed, we are very close friends, having shared so many extremely intense moments together, hours pushing ourselves up hill, arriving back down well after dark, cold, wet and tired, ready for the long drive back home to the warmth of our beds.
What’s it like to be a guide, to live this life. Sitting here reflecting, looking at my bank account and calculating my financial responsibilities. Who am I? Father, son, brother, guide, lover, friend, counselor, spiritual comrade… The conversations we have about life, while disappearing into the hills, naked before that spark, that power we all feel which binds us living beings together. I open my inner thoughts of fear of failing, of falling, of dying, of succeeding. Who am I. I am Hans and right now I am your friend and guide ready to share another fine experience in these hills. Who knows what the future will bring. Risk? Life?
We left the bivouac at 4:00 this morning. What a sunset that was! And the three of us, alone at altitude, surrounded by the 4000ers, cooking our supper by candle and head light. I slept so well, so open to today’s adventure, route. I slept so well, so cosy under my pile of (slightly) rat infested blankets, feeling me, just me, not concerned with whether or not I would succeed or fail on this new (for me) alpine route. And here I am now, happy. Yet we see how the rock on the leeward side is coated with rime ice, making foot placement slippery to say the least. Happy I am, yet my fingers are so cold, I don’t dare wear gloves for not feeling the holds. Happy I am, yet the rock is SO crumbly and loose, chunks falling 800 meters to the slopes below. The route description said nothing of this! Happy I am, to feel me, cosy inside, as I imagine the sun coming soon out of the mist to warm us. My two clients on my rope have such different levels of experience, one so slow and awkward, the other so competent and helpful to the other. Happy I am, repressing my urge to reach the summit quickly, but rather stay here and now, feeling each hold, sunny side warm, cold side still so cold and frozen.
What I’ve discovered about my life as a guide, my daily struggles to reach the top, is so much like life itself. Yes, it is my dream job, though I never for a moment, growing up on the Big Island of Hawaii, where riding horses all day and catching a wave on the weekends, could have imagined I would someday be a Swiss Mountain Guide, sharing adventure every day with the most lovely people on this Earth.
And for that I am thankful.