A College Mountain Guide
by Kim Ehrlich (courtesy Marmot)
At age 14, I climbed Mt. Rainier with painfully inadequate gear. I had rented a down Marmot Parka from a nearby rental lodge several months before my climb. However, when my climbing group met as a team, it turned out that another climber had forgotten to pack a down jacket. I had another, lighter, down jacket that I kept for myself while I let her use my rented Marmot Parka. I really regretted it, as she was much warmer than I was for the duration of the trek. Conditions were so bad on summit day that I could only see a couple of feet in front of me, and both of them were mine. I learned my lesson: Not all jackets are created equal.
It’s been 6 years since then, and I’m happy to report that I am now the proud owner of many Marmot jackets. They travel with me everywhere, both up the mountains and to the classroom. I’m 20 years old now, and a junior at Cornell University, School of Hotel Administration—“The only place where you walk up a 45-degree incline in 20-degree weather to get a 30 percent on a prelim.” While I spend most of my weekdays in a variety of lecture halls, my heart lies outside those walls—in the mountains. When I’m not in class, I’m often working out the logistics of a training trip or a backpacking/climbing trip.
For the last 2 years, I have been actively working as a guide for Cornell. I recently guided a 6 day backpacking and rock climbing trip to the Adirondacks for a group of incoming Cornell Freshman. In guide pairs, we do all of the logistics and preparation for our trips. The two most labor and time intensive parts of preparing for guiding are the food shopping and gear inventorying. Grocery shopping before trips is always an adventure. Two people trying to shop for up to 12 other people they don’t know and occasionally a medical form that says “Highly allergic to peanuts”…so much for GORP. Sometimes these trips more closely resemble a game of Survivor than anything else—Outwit, Outlast, Outshop.
Typically after shopping for our trips, we head back to the gear headquarters. At this point, we consolidate all of the food and gear to make even piles for everyone on the trip. Inventorying the gear and making sure that we have the right equipment makes all the difference for a trip. If you forget something as simple as a lighter or matches for the stoves, all your food is raw (I’ve learned the hard way). An even larger concern, however, is ensuring that the people we guide for are outfitted correctly. Ever since my experience on Rainier, I have found it imperative to go through gear with my “trippers” product by product before we leave.
Often people read our packing list and see that they need a raincoat or waterproof outer layer. I’ve had “trippers” show up with ponchos from the local supermarket. While the “poncho in a bag” meets the waterproof requirement, it does not provide any additional support or comfort. I always notice and appreciate when someone comes prepared with gear appropriate for unpredictable Northeast weather. Whenever I see a Marmot DriClime Windshirt, PreCip or SoftShell jacket, I breathe a sigh of relief because I know I can keep my own jacket this time. Having the right food and gear for your needs is comparable to being prepared for exams. Preparation is the cornerstone of succeeding in the most extreme environments: the mountains and the classroom.