Posts Tagged ‘Mountain Guiding’

We’ve Lost a Good One.


This post is dedicated to the late Maria Figueroa Norabuena, who I consider the heart of my Peruvian Family. The matriarch, she died recently of complications while in Lima getting medical treatment, and is survived by her husband Daniel, (pictured), a large family of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren mostly in Huaraz, and the surrounding villages, in Peru.  She lived in a small hamlet outside of Huaraz where she and her husband baked bread for many of the townspeople and restaurants in Huaraz. They also grew crops and had farm animals.  My condolences go out to Daniel and his family.

Daniel and Maria

Daniel, and his late wife Maria of Huaraz, Peru

I met Maria through my friend David Sanchez Figueroa, co-owner of the vegetarian Restaurant Salud y Vida, (Health and Life) when I was mountain guiding in Huaraz some years ago. I became godfather to her grandchild Joseph, and have always felt part of the family. It must be a past-life thing but we’ve all been very close over the years of visits.

With the coming of video calling, I was able to keep in close contact with the whole family, and especially with Maria while she was with her daughter in Lima undergoing treatment.  I had the opportunity to spend some screen-time with her before she died and am so grateful for that time. It reminds me, again that life is short.

I have a vivid image, (and a video), in my mind of my wife Amanda, and Maria, playing “Laugh Dancing” in the restaurant’s kitchen. Someone starts a sound track, and the object of the game is partner up with someone, and dance with a straight face. The first one to crack a smile, usually caused by the opponent’s antics, loses. Maria won, hands down. I don’t remember the exact maneuver she pulled, but it had us (all generations of the family) laughing hysterically.

When I first came to Peru as a mountain guide, Maria used to pinch my cheek with her fingers, saying “Que Pena” (“What a pity”) when she learned at my age of 40+, I still had no wife or child. (Since then I’ve been married since 2009 with an eight-year-old son, which made Maria much more happy with me) Every climbing season, when I’d come back into town, she’d give me the pinching, “Que Pena” again, when I was still in the same sorry state.

Becoming a Godfather to her grandchild, Joseph, and seeing what family can really be in Peru, changed me. I grew up as a bit of a narcissist, mountain guiding, single, and although an outdoor educator, still caught up in my seeking the perfect high. A light bulb when off in my heart when I observed what family really means in the indigenous an Latino sense. We had Peru on our short list of destinations of where we were considering having a family, precisely because of that observation.

Maria was a strong woman with a keen sense of self, sense of humour, a huge heart, and a fantastic matriarch who will be missed by her large family, and even… a gringo here in New Zealand.

Since this post, I’ve received this comment from Maria’s grandaughter, Jina (translated from Spanish):

Thank you very much Randall for this publication in tribute to my beloved Grandmother, she was just as you describe her, she left such an imprint on every corner she traveled, she was a woman very loved by all of us who now mourn her sudden departure. You are right, she was in a very delicate treatment that began in January, but on 15.05.2020 her body did not resist.  I still remember every joke she made to me, even one day before her death we joked, and she laughed out loud.  Always her take on life was all joy.
Perhaps you were motivated by her to form your own home, with her phrase, “what a shame”, because she wanted to see everyone with family, family as she had it with my grandfather, who showed that true love exists.
Their advice is recorded in my heart.

I’ll never forget my grandmother. She will always be in my memory and heart.

Huaraz Maria Obit

Near the hamlet in which Maria lived, with the Cordillera Blanca, Peru’s highest mountain range, in the near distance (copyright 2020 Dexter R Richards)

Glacier Peak: Washington’s Remote Volcano


Unfortunately, no bike trailer

By Kurt Hicks

Glacier Peak should be on every Cascade mountaineer’s tick list.  While folks averse to walking might complain about the long approach (about 15 miles each way), it is perhaps the most scenic and ecologically

One of Kurt's clients en route

diverse that I’ve ever done in the Cascades.  Our trip began with a seven mile bike ride up the closed USFS 49 road, since it was temporarily closed due to a miniscule washout.  The biking was quite reasonable and went quickly with mountain bikes and pull-behind trailers.  Read the rest of Kurt’s story…

Touching The Void in Alaska


Going with the flow
Text and Images: Randy Richards

Last July I found myself sitting and staring at my stuff in a hot storage locker in Park City, UT. I had just moved out of my last relationship, and was practicing being in the moment. “Hmmm,” I thought, “I wonder what spirit may provide for the next big adventure.”  Keeping an open attitude, a sense of humor and staying light-hearted, I pondered.  Just then, I got a call from an old friend at Outward Bound, who I’d not heard from in years.

Denali, The Great One

Denali, The Great One

He was asking me if I’d like to teach a mountaineering program in Alaska. It’s been a while since I’ve been on the role call for OB Wilderness in the West. I’d been busy with Alpine Ascents International, Outward Bound Professional and now Mountain Spirit. He was also stepping back in temporarily at his old admin job. I only got the call because he knew me and had his old contact list out.  I wasn’t even in the OB computer system anymore. Regarding this Alaska proposal, I told him, “Let me think about that…. I’ve thought about it, when do I leave?”

Lost Lake just north of Seward AK

Lost Lake just north of Seward AK

Before long, I was on my way from Alta, Utah (thanks to Bob and Glenda Cottrill by the way), to Seward AK, packing bickies in the food room, checking tents and stoves,  and back in the OB swing. I was prepping to co-instruct a mountaineering segment of a sea/mountain combination program for Outward Bound Wilderness located at their Seward basecamp.  I’ve been pretty busy with Mountain Spirit Institute these days but decided to take a bus-man’s holiday and go back to what, in part,  inspired MSI in the first place. We had 10 bright and motivated kids who were eager to learn, climb and mix it up.

Students near Lost Lake

Students near Lost Lake

When I met the group, they had already been 12 days in kayaks. The thing that strikes me about Alaska is the sense of expansiveness, the “no thing ness”. Of course there is plenty there to see in all it’s splendor, but I wonder, after all these years and miles in the mountains, why this experience was so deeply different than my previous days. It wasn’t about the place as much as the experience I was perceiving.

I’ve spent literally years on the trail and backcountry. I learned to climb in the Alps, where I learned not to kill myself. I took classes with the Austrian Mountain Club, but that was only minimally effective as I missed half the lecture content. My Austrian  was pretty limited at the time. But I learned a few things. But I was young.

The author, Alaska backcountry

The author, Alaska backcountry

I think having gone through what life can throw at someone over a few years, has change my wilderness experience. I looked about me at my fellow instructors, and at my students. Of course I knew they were having their own “ah hah” moments as well, while out there,  but I felt as if I were “touching the void” (without having to go through Joe Simpson’s epic). I’m not sure why it was that way, but the silence which I’ve heard over the years had a depth to it that I’d not experienced before. Is it because of where I am in my life? I could lean into the wind’s howl, or its whisper, into the void…

Peaceful Rainbows at BaseCamp

Peaceful Rainbows at BaseCamp

Of course I can’t put it into words. It’s  similar to what Byrd Baylor’s writes in her story, “The Other Way To Listen” where she does a very solid job of telling the story of someone suddenly finding a mountain singing back to him while on a hike.

Alaksa’s Mt. Ascension was an admirable and beautiful peak, with spectacular 180 degree views, with the Harding Ice field to the south, and Lost Lake and a minor peak to the north. The north face of Ascension has couloirs and arrets dropping off directly to the valley floor below.

Summit view to SE from Mt. Ascension

Summit view to SE from Mt. Ascension

The students did well, gaining the upper slopes of the glacier, route finding, laying wands, and making the summit. The coastal fog rolled in, which made finding basecamp, on the eastern shelf of the range, a bit of a challenge.  Our back bearings could have been better.  Maybe more on that adventure another time.

I’ve been rambling on a bit about the mechanics of the climb, which are relatively important. But what was absolutely important for me, was my new and improved experience of the mountain vastness. Maybe it was just Alaska, but I doubt it.

You think you remember, after being out for a while. But you don’t. You can only be reminded of the vastness, of your place in it all, by going back out there. And not just climbing a damn peak, but coming to terms with the end of it all, the cold, the wind, the rocks and the snow.

Students heading south to Seward after their expedition

Students heading south to Seward after their expedition

Solo is a big part of Outward Bound and we at Mountain Spirit have our own twist on it as well. Getting out while you still can, stepping away from the machine just makes sense.  Whether with a group or solo. And as Willie Unsoeld used to say, when it’s time to come back to civilization, you’re better equipped to really contribute something to the cutting edge.

Guiding, The Mountain Life


Randy Richards, Founder
Executive Director
Mountain Spirit Institute
Images: R Richards

R Richards at ice climbing school site, Mt. Baker, WA

The author, ice climbing site, Mt. Baker, WA

I was rummaging through my images the other day, and came across some pictures of guiding on Mt. Baker and teaching mountaineering instructors on Mt. Hood. What’s the difference between guiding and experiential education in the mountains?  The main difference to me is, experiential ed encourages, or shows people a way to better walk their talk.  It allows them space to try new things, physically, mentally an spiritually, in a new environment. The mountains, and a group of people climbing them,  can provide a vehicle for huge growth. Guiding on Aconcagua, Argentina, and in other areas of South America,  I noticed that groups and individuals , whether facilitated or not, go through huge experiences while at high altitude. If the organization has processes in place that allow growth within the group, both positive and challenging experiences can happen. It’s not guaranteed it will happen but may happen. It’s whether or not they have the OK to express what goes for them is the key.  This determines whether it’s a positive learning experience or not. We all will learn as we go through our life, that’s mandatory, it just depends on how one chooses to receive them these learnings, by blessings or lessons. I prefer blessings at this point in my life. Some individuals, after having prepared for the summits in the high altitudes, still weren’t lucky enough to have made it to the top.  

The Guiding Life

The Guiding Life

They either had a bad summit day, weren’t hadn’t prepared physically, had an unfortunate bout of altitude sickness or some other ailment, or of course, the weather kicked in as it tends to do on high mountains. Guiding, at least through some of my expriences working with certain guide companies,  wasn’t really set up to allow the full range of emotions that can happen in the mountain environment.  Big stuff went down too. Just think  back to the events that surrounded the “summit teams” on Everest during “the big disaster”. I recall John Krakaur’s comment in his book about Everest, that stated, “we were a team in name only”. More about this in another post.
Guiding is a big fun, but for those wanting a bit more depth to their experience, I’ve got a notion. We can delve into more of  who we are, while being out there with others.

Richards and clients, Summit Mr. Baker

Richards and clients, Summit, Mt. Baker

That’s why I started Mountain Spirit. Learning to respect the mountains through knowledge of safe travel, and learn from an exchange with the mountains, the spirit of the place. Our mission at MSI is facilitating connecting to one’s self, with each other and the environment. We’re well past the time where we can simply be observers of our environment, let alone be adventurers for adventure sake. (See my entry on Willie Unsoeld below).
More and more colleges are offering Adventure Education in there Health Department offerings. I was an adjunct faculty for an adventure education department for a brief time. The current state of our world demands that we better use our time and energy wisely if we’re heading to the mountains. I’ve given up downhill ski lifts for this reason. It’s bad enough I drive to the mountains, but at least I’d better use my own human power for my day to reach the top of the mountain.

Training Instructors, Mt. Hood, OR

Training Instructors, Mt. Hood, OR

Willie Unsoeld had it right when he said that we need to  get out there for  “our metaphysical fix”, which does indeed make the world a better place. When we come back we can be better contributors to society. I know, I’m a healthier, more well rounded person for my years in the backcountry.
So what’s this about “walking our talk”? There are countless guided groups, who are well cared for in the mountains,  as are spiritual groups that do shamanic work high in the Andes. Do the latter go there mostly to say they worked with a shaman in the Peruvian Andes? Does their study and knowledge help them to better interact in their immediate day to day lives?  Do they chop wood and carry water. I often wonder.

Summit Sunset Silhouette, Mt. Baker

Summit Sunset Silhouette, Mt. Baker

I’ll close with an oft quoted saying from Sun Bear, “If it doesn’t grow corn, I don’t want to hear about it.” Climbing mountains is certainly not growing corn in the literal sense, but if you approach it right, (read: right livelihood), than I believe you are indeed making the world a better place. Do the pilgrimage, just don’t use too much gas getting there.