Maddie Crowell, a Salomon freeski ambassador, spent last summer guiding on Mt. Shasta in Northern California. In this story, she shares her experiences as a first-year guide, and tells the ins and outs of what it really means to take people up the second highest Cascade volcano and reach 14,179 feet.
As a rookie, getting into the guiding scene can be a bit tricky and, like most things in the mountains, there can be a big learning curve. I spent the last four months living out of my truck, climbing the same mountain one or two times each week. From mastering the art of snacking and client care to dialing in my rope skills, I learned a lot during my first season of guiding on Mt. Shasta. While there were the classic hard skills I hoped to grasp, there were a thousand unexpected eccentric details that I never thought I would learn or have to do in order to help
HIGHLIGHTED BELOW ARE 10 THINGS I LEARNED AS A FIRST-YEAR GUIDE
GUIDE LIFE IS THE EPITOME OF MASTERING THE SKILLS OF A DIRTBAG WHILE STILL TRYING TO DEVELOP A PROFESSIONAL CAREER.
As a mountain person I’ve done my fair share of dirtbagging, but this summer, in an effort to actually put some dollars in the bank, I had to learn how to pinch the pennies where I could while at the same time present myself as a clean, well-respected-professional. I opted for the truck life to save money on rent, and I can count the number of times I slept in a bed last summer on two hands. In lieu of paying the outlandish fee to fix my AC compressor, I bought a battery operated fan that could be strapped to my steering wheel to prepare for the 100 degree NorthCal August heat. My truck doors and canopy windows work as a laundry rack to avoid the $3 drying fee at the laundry mat. This way I could save a couple bucks and always show up with a clean kit when meeting clients for the first time. I have also have publicly brushed my teeth with La Croix, which has nothing to do with saving money, but falls in the realm of being a fancy dirtbag.
THERE IS A THING CALLED "GUIDE PACE". .
When you know you know. Pacing your client to the top so they can get there in a timely fashion without pushing them into a 15-hour day is a balancing act between walking super slow and striving for short ten minute “maintenance breaks” (aka: snack time) every hour.
YOU WILL HAVE A LOT OF THINKING TIME. I'M TALKING OPTIMAL THINKING TIME.
Walking at guide pace means that you have a lot of time to think. I wrote my entire bridesmaid speech for one of my best friends during an extra slow approach day.
I WILL BE ADDING "SNOW MELTER" TO MY RESUME.
This season I melted a lot of snow for water at our high camps. Some guides are what I call “active” snow melters and are constantly stirring, adding snow and removing water. Other guides take the “passive” route and fill the entire pot with snow, put the lid on and and then just wait. I also learned you can actually burn snow if you don’t add an inch or two of water to the bottom of the pot.
NEVER SAY NO TO A FREE SHOWER.
I love showers so trying to stay clean without access to a regular bathroom that I could walk to from my bedroom was a bit cruxy at first. On day one of guide training my friend Nicole, who was already a second-year lead guide, told me to become friends with Jenna because she was a local guide and had a shower she sometimes let the people use. Needless to say, Jenna and I are friends now, but she is also one of the coolest chicks I’ve ever met. Jumping in the river or a lake with a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s can also be considered a free shower. This learning point also pertains on trying to maintain the illusion of a professional while actually dirtbagging.
THE BURRITO MEAL IS BY FAR THE BEST MEAL WE SERVE.
Not only are you trying to get your clients safely to the top, you are also their personal cook for 2-4 days. I learned that bringing an extra lime or cilantro goes a long way and making guacamole in a zip lock bag can make your burrito meal next level.
AT TIMES I FELT LIKE A MIX OF A PROFESSIONAL SNOW SHOVELER/SNOW ARTIST.
During the early season we have to dig out tent platforms and kitchens at base camp. By my second trip I quickly learned that efficiently creating a flat space for my clients to sleep on would go a long way for their resting ability and, in turn, limit complaints. Creating functioning snow kitchens with sweet cubby holes, cooking spaces and seating can easily make or break meal time.
LIFE REVOLVES AROUND SNACKS. AND LUNCH STARTS IMMEDIATELY AFTER BREAKFAST.
So many snacks. I went through a phase where I pretty much only ate a gummy worms and pringles on our three-day guided trips. Then I tried to do snacks with no processed sugar. Then there was the series of trips with the “picnic” of hummus, crackers and cheese. One trip all I wanted was deviled eggs (so random). Oh, and once I ran out of snacks on the last day of a trip and the honey dijon chip, peanut m&m burrito was almost as good as the real burrito meal.
BEDS ARE NOW CONSIDERED A LUXURY ITEM.
I spent 87 consecutive days either sleeping in the back of my truck or in a tent on the mountain. When I finally flew home for a friend’s wedding I spent the week perfecting my afternoon napping skills because I couldn’t resist falling asleep every time I sat down on a bed. By the time the summer was over I had slept in a bed for nine nights out of 121.
THE CLIENT WHO THANKS YOU THROUGH TEARS OF GRATITUDE ON THE SUMMIT MAKES UP FOR ALL THE CLIENTS WHO COULDN’T TIE THEIR SHOES OR BUCKLE THEIR BACKPACKS.
The best part of this job is watching people push their personal limits. Everything in life is relative and for a lot of people climbing Mt. Shasta is one of the hardest things they’ve ever done. It’s amazing to watch someone perceive and achieve something that is out of their comfort zone.
Overall, the summer was a success. While there were highs and lows, I think I would give guide life a 10/10.