It takes a bit of effort to track down some of our guides, and among the hardest to keep track of is Ben Adkison! Ben has been guiding for Mountain Trip in 2011 and guided two teams up Denali for us this past summer. Immediately before heading to Alaska, he had been in Africa and the Middle East. He’s off to Peru this week, but I managed to pick his brain a bit in between adventures to ask him some questions in our ongoing series of TODD TALKS!
T: Why did you choose to become a Mountain Guide?
B: I’ve spent most of my life in the mountains so I knew early on during college that I didn’t want to leave them anytime soon, so I decided to figure out how to make a living in the mountains and share my love for the outdoors with others.
T: What experience did you have when you started guiding?
B: I started out guiding with a number of personal mountain summits under my belt and a lot of general outdoors experience. A couple of jobs and a class on public speaking also helped me out a lot with the client communication aspects of the job.
T: What sort of courses, education or certifications have you taken along the way?
The profession requires that I keep up on numerous certifications and I have elected to educate myself by taking some others. Here is a brief run down:
- Medical Certs: Wilderness First Responder with additional training specific to high altitude, extreme cold and rescue scenarios.
- Avalanche Certs: American Avalanche Association Level 1 and 2
- Mountain/Outdoor Certs: Leave No Trace Trainer, Outdoor Leadership and Education Seminar, Glacier Rescue, Short Rope Techniques, Roped Self Rescue, and various other technical rope trainings provided by AMGA instructors
T: Where have you guided?
I guess it might be easiest if I list the places I’ve had a chance to guide? Here goes:
In the U.S.:
- Alaska: Denali expeditions and mountaineering courses in different parts of the Alaska Range
- California: Mount Shasta and the Sierra Nevada Range.
- Montana: Numerous backpacking trips and rock climbing courses around Missoula
- Utah: Backpacking trips in Capitol Reef National Park
Internationally, I’ve guided:
- Antarctica: Mount Erebus and the High Altitude Polar Plateau and Dry Valleys Region
- Argentina: Aconcagua
- Chile: Northern Patagonia Ice Cap, as well as the volcanoes Osorno and Tronador
- Ecuador: Cotopaxi, Cayambe, Chimborazo
- Mexico: Popocatepetl, Ixtahuatl
- Peru: Various peaks in the Cordillera Blanca
T: If guiding is not your only source of income, what else do you do to make ends meet?
B: When I happen to be back in the U.S. during the winter, I teach avalanche education classes for the West Central Montana Avalanche Center, but lately I’ve been in the Southern Hemisphere during the norther hemisphere’s ski season.
Nearly every second of my time off from guiding is consumed by photography. Besides being a mountain guide, I am a nature and wildlife photographer. I love being able to capture a moment of light and share it with the world. You can view and purchase my photos at www.benadkisonphotography.com
T: What is the most rewarding part of the job?
B: Sharing the mountains with people, having the outdoors as my office, and the light glistening on a new blanket of snow after a storm.
T: What is one of the greatest challenges of the job?
B: There really isn’t much that is easy about mountain guiding: I’m always away from home, out in the cold carrying heavy loads and always seem to be digging in the snow. But I would say the hardest part is leaving my warm(ish) sleeping bag when it is -40 out….or even when it is +5 out!
T: What are your goals in the profession?
B: I didn’t start out guiding with an agenda of specific mountains that I wanted to guide since I am usually pretty content wherever I happen to be. But the more I explore the world the more places I find that I want to go. Currently the Himalaya and Kilimanjaro are at the top of my list for places I want to guide.
T: How do you train / keep your skills fresh?
B: It is really hard for me to go more than a day or so without moving too much. I have to get out and go for a run or hike or climb to keep myself sane. I’m not very good at focused training so I just stay active so I don’t have to do that sort of training. I also try to get as many of my friends into mountaineering as I can so I get to keep my instructing and technical skills fresh when I bring them into the mountains.
T: How do you return to the same venue over and over, yet still keep it fresh for your clients?
B: Luckily, I either have different people each time I return to the same place or the same people that I get to take to different places, so I thrive on any difference with each trip. Every time one of my clients tells me how amazing the views or experience is I make sure to take a moment and look around and let everything sink in and remind myself how great it is to be out in the mountains.
T: How do you manage risk on big, cold mountains? If this is too vague, maybe give me one instance of how you managed risk on a recent trip.
B: When things start to get rough in the mountains I think the best thing that I can do is to stay calm. This helps me keep looking at the big picture and helps me avoid tunnel vision.
T: Do you have any tips or advice for people who are considering climbing a big, cold mountain? Give us one specific thing that you do to take care of yourself in an unforgiving environment.
B: Get into better shape than you think you need to be in and be sure to bring something to keep you entertained on stormy days because those down days can be some of the toughest.
T: What do you do for fun in your spare time?
B: Buy plane tickets! I can’t seem to stay in one place for very long so I’m always looking for new places to explore and photograph. I’ve been getting more and more into trail running as a simple way to stay active wherever I happen to be.
T: Who is you favorite boss?
B: Myself….C’mon, Todd– There is no safe way to answer that…!
Here’s a bit of a “Shout Out” to Ben’s Photography, and one of my favorite images Ben has on his site: