New Blog Series: The Life of a Mountain Guide

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Being outdoors and being active. Climbing a mountain every day. Braving the elements. That’s just what mountain guides do – they are regarded as adventurers and other climbers look up to them. At least that is what I thought before I joined five guides on tours of the mountains in their backyard: Großvenediger, Olperer, Großglockner, Wildspitze and Wilder Kaiser.

Michael

When he is not working, Michael Gams is out exploring this... View author

Many people see guides as living the good life. They climb every day and bring people to new places they never thought they would be able to reach. And they get paid for it. But what’s it really like to live the life of a mountain guide? Last year I met five mountain guides to find out.

Atop Olperer Mountain with guide Bernhard Neumann.

The Myth of the Lonely Hero.

I thought mountain guides are your typical taciturn, lone wolf types. Fit, weather-beaten, never talking about their feelings. In short, not the type of person to have a nice chat with. Nor an interview. To tell you the truth, yes, I have met some of those. At first. But the first impression is often misleading, as very soon it became apparent that they all are professionals who live and breathe the mountain life. One guide told me how his uncle used to take him climbing the rugged Wilder Kaiser Range at an early age. And talked about the severe mountain accident his uncle suffered many years later. Another one assured me that family was the most important thing in his life. He took his ten-year-old son along on our tour of Großvenediger Mountain (which is Austria’s fourth highest mountain just in case you didn’t know…). And what I experienced on my guided tour of Großglockner, Austria’s tallest mountain had nothing to do with a solitary lifestyle at all. In fact, it was exactly the opposite. I got to know the local mountain guide during a jovial gathering at Stüdl Hut. Very jovial indeed. When we returned from the summit of Austria’s tallest mountain the next day, we were warmly welcomed at Adlersruh Hut by fellow guides and friends. Sigi. Bernhard. Matthias. Kilian. Guido. The more I got to know each one of this five mountain guides and the more time I spent with them, the more I realized that the popular myth of the lonely hero up on the mountain was not true.

Mountain guide Matthias Wurzer (pictured to the right) greets a friend at Adlersruh Hut on Großglockner Mountain.

Restlessness.

On any given day, you can find them climbing a mountain—are they trying to “run away” from something? I couldn’t get this question out of my head. One of the guides told me that he has been climbing the same mountain for more than 900 times. Sounds somewhat restless or perhaps even senseless. But then again, it’s his job. After all, I too repeat the same things again and again, day after day in my job. On the other hand, each of the five mountain guides raved about the peace and the silence they find on the mountain. Not necessarily at the mountaintop, which often is a crowded place. More on a long, difficult rock scramble. Upon viewing a glacier glistening in the sun. Or, early in the morning, basking in the magical atmosphere of watching the sun fill the air over lofty peaks with its warming glow. These are the moments when the mountain guide goes ahead without saying a word.  And I follow him, speechless. Sometimes words are just not enough.

Shortly before the sun’s majestic arrival over Großglockner Mountain.

Mountains Far Away.

Chile. USA. Italy. Switzerland. Norway. Iceland. Scotland. Canada. This list of countries visited by the five mountain guides could go on and on. Especially the younger ones have travelled a lot in their lives. And yet they all live in small towns and villages, somewhere in Tirol. Mayrhofen, Vent, Lienz, Wörgl, Prägraten. This is where they grew up and this is where their roots are. The faraway mountains are their window to the world and to different ways of living. I met one of the guides during a private trip to Chile and we climbed a volcano together. He has climbed many mountains at the other end of the world. Travelling and climbing abroad gives him a broader perspective of the world than he would otherwise have. He likes expanding his view and his understanding of the world.

Mountain guide Guido Unterwurzacher signing the summit book on Wilder Kaiser Mountain.

Mountains in the Backyard.

Mountains mould people’s characters. Sounds pathetic but it’s true. At least in the case of the five mountain guides I had the honour to meet. They all have a love and deep respect for the mountains. One told me that he would love to remove the fixed wires along the exposed summit ridge of the mountain in his backyard, for, in his opinion they mean less safety for mountaineers. And it would give back the mountain its original, unspoiled face. They all told me that ‘their’ mountain has always been captivating and became a good friend in the course of time.

It seems as if the heights of the mountains in their backyards are a splendid setting for their work—and climbing these majestic giants gives them a pleasure of which they never tire.

Descent from Wildspitze Mountain with mountain guide Kilian Scheiber.

From Großglockner to Wildspitze, from Großvenediger to Wilder Kaiser to Olperer: This summer, we will be telling the stories of five Tirol mountain guides and the mountains in their backyard. The new “The Life of a Mountain Guide” series starts here on the BlogTirol in May 2017.

Photo Credits: Tirol Werbung / Jens Schwarz

1 Comment

  • Joshua Baruch
    Amazing article with incredible pictures! The life of mountain climbing guides is so like this. They live this life and have a strong bond with the mountains. It definitely won't let them get bored of it. Hats off to these guys!