Guiding Lessons on Artos
I've been guiding since 1993, and yet I still have my challenging days. One of the hardest – and most rewarding – aspects of guiding is rarely the climbing itself, but rather the challenge of reading clients physically and mentally, and making decisions based on those observations. It's an interpersonal game, and one which requires great empathy, understanding, flexibility, and patience. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes not as well.
Yesterday, Art, our Turkish guide Çelit, and I set off to climb Artos. A relatively obscure and rarely visited summit, it was just opened to foreigners two years ago. While not terribly high – the summit is 11,604 feet – the low beginning altitude of 6,000 feet makes for a sizable day. Our plan was to move upward and acclimate, with the summit not being a focal point.
A few hours into the climb, it was apparent we were not moving at the pace we needed. By noon, we were at 9,000 feet; another 2,600 feet of mountain rose above, and a long ridge lay between us and the top. My gut told me to make the
conservative call, to turn around here and focus on the climb of Ararat in the days ahead. But, both Çelit and Art wanted to continue. The weather was impeccable – not a single cloud marred the azure sky. We had a full moon, which would help if we were out after dark. And, I knew this summit would mean a lot to Art, and a long, but safe, day in the mountains can teach powerful lessons.
So, we moved onward and upward, reaching the top a few hours later. Art was exhausted, his usual quick sense of humor dulled by the exertion. We exchanged
congratulations on top, and started down almost immediately.
Generally, the descent from a peak is far quicker than the ascent; on average, we guides assume ½ the time going down as going up. Art, however, has trouble moving down; being a big man, he struggles with his center of gravity and sense of balance while descending…especially on uneven footing. We had 5,500 feet of that ahead of us…It was going to be a long one.
True to his nature, Art kept in the game with a good attitude despite the pain I knew he felt in knees, feet, and back. He kept plodding, one foot in front of the other, picking his way downward.
It is often in descent when guides are tested the most. As people who spend most of our lives in the hills, we're generally pretty adept at covering terrain quickly. And, on the way down, we know how quickly we could be back at the car; but, as guides, we need to move only as quickly as our clients can. Patience – and empathy – are virtues.
As Art, Çelit, and I moved down, I kept reminding myself of what it was like when I was first starting my climbing career, about how it felt when I was exhausted, at my limit physically and yet had to muster the energy to keep going. I would also rec
all days on Everest, pushing through excruciating fatigue to descend thousands of feet after topping out. “Artos is easy for you,” I reminded myself, “but it's Everest for Art.”
I had to banish the thoughts of how fast I could go if I were alone; those non-productive thoughts only breed increased frustration. I could see Art was doing his best, he was trying hard and doing well, and there was no more I could do or ask aside from gently encouraging him onward through the waning daylight.
Before long, the nearly-full moon rose over the ridge of Artos, and just in time as the sun set over the Van Sea. We continued our trudge downhill. Headlamps, while available, I found could not be used as there is still some PKK activity in this region; after dark in this area, Çelit said, being slow and secretive was better than fast and obvious.
Eventually we made it back to our van. It had been a 17 hour day, but we were back, safe and sound, if not a bit tired. And, most importantly, we were all still laughing. A good day, and positive lessons learned by all.
We're taking a rest day today in Dogubeyazit, and will begin our climb of Ararat tomorrow morning. The forecast is good, and we're optimistic.
More to come…