Get a Guide and Go

Filed in Expert Articles, General Information by on November 9, 2013

Tom Wiesen

Many of us want to learn more about nature and go farther into the backcountry. However, we are always limited by our own current skill set. Finding someone to teach us new skills and instill confidence is key to elevating our personal understanding and gaining expertise about this vast and complex landscape that we live and play in.

A guide may be someone you hire or it may be a friend who simply knows more than you. Of course, we can get a book and try to take information from print, and then apply it out in the field, but this is the hardest way to learn. The fastest and often most fun way to learn is through dialog out in the field between you and someone with expertise.

For instance, have you ever wanted to learn animal tracks? You look in the book and then they look different in the field. That’s right, an animal’s print looks different in powder than on sun-crusted snow. Sometimes more than one animal is walking in the same track, such as when a pair of coyotes hunts together, and this can distort what you’re seeing.

When in the field with someone who knows, a lot of the mystery goes away. Every circumstance is unique and this is what makes learning something new so difficult to teach yourself.

For example, as a rock climber I am more or less still in the beginner realm. Every time I go rock climbing, I am lead by a friend who is vastly more experienced than me. Generally, the more expert your guide is, the broader the knowledge base is that he or she can bring into the experience, and you will simply learn more.

One of the scariest scenarios is being led by someone who only knows only a little bit more than you do. I see this in the backcountry all the time. A couple of young guys in their early twenties pointing it down some sketchy terrain on their snowboard or skis.

And they have not a clue that there is serious avalanche danger in what they just came down, or that there were sharp boulders just beneath the snow’s surface in that area at the bottom of the run where they were blazing at warp speed.

By the grace of God, they make it to the bottom alive with the rush of adrenaline coursing through their veins. They congratulate each other with a high-five at the bottom like they’re kings of the mountain. This is an example of Recreational Darwinism at work. Over time, some will not be so lucky and will perish. And it is not that they are fools, they’re just ignorant.

Some learning does not require an element of danger, but is rather more of an intellectual pursuit. For instance, how to find and view wild animals, how to identify every bird that flies through this county, or how to recognize every wildflower that grows here during the summertime.

These pursuits are next to impossible to learn on your own, and even though you may think you are making headway, a certain amount of your observations and interpretations will be inaccurate. It’s hard to do any better because to err is human.

A person can spend season after season trying to learn more, but will only make a small amount of progress. Learning can be greatly speeded and is a lot of fun when you learn from an expert. The exchange of ideas and information can happen at a very fast rate. For instance, you may learn more about finding animals, birds, or flowers in a single afternoon with a guide than you could in an entire decade of trying to tough it out on your own.

So why not get a few friends together and hire a guide for a day? Treat it like a college course designed just for you. Maybe you want to increase your backcountry skiing skills, your skills at route finding and navigation, or your skills as a naturalist.

Or maybe you have family or friends in town that you are entertaining. If you hire a reputable guide service to take you and your friends out, you are likely to seem a bit more of an expert yourself. Guides take care of all of the logistics, all of the safety, all of the navigation, the timing, and matching the difficulty of the outing for the ability of the group.

Some people think that guides are expensive, and for the most part that is true. Similarly, plumbers are expensive, auto mechanics are expensive and professional photographers are expensive. Guides are expensive because they are highly skilled professionals and spend their workday exclusively serving you and your party enabling you to have more fun, to go farther, and to learn more. A guide’s level of responsibility is high.

Other “tradesman” like carpenters or gardeners don’t want clients to talk to them. It makes their job harder. Guides on the other hand will enhance conversation, will invite intriguing questions and will personally strive to give you the best experience that they can. Guides are there to personally serve you.

Remember, local professional guides are resources that are always here for you to draw upon. Whether you want to be a better hunter, birdwatcher or backcountry skier, your path to enlightenment is only a phone call away. Use your local guide services and get more out of life.

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