Friday, March 7, 2008

Get to Know Your Guide: An interview with Richard Riquelme

Every week, we take the reader into the inspiring and ever-changing life of an American Alpine Institute guide. Every AAI guide is very experienced in alpine and rock climbing, and all have received professional training in advanced guiding techniques and rescue. Collectively they have one of the highest levels of wilderness first aid, avalanche, and Leave No Trace training among the world's international guide services. For profiles on all AAI guides, please click here.

This week, we interview Richard Riquelme.

Age: 38

Hometown: Chillan, Chile
Recent trips and expeditions with AAI: Ecuador High Altitude Expedition, Backcountry Skiing in North Cascades

A Guide's Life
How were you introduced to mountaineering?

I was 15 years old when my father took my family to the Chillan's Hot Springs Ski Resort, which is located in the Andean mountain range two hours from our home. We climbed a little mountain all the way to the summit at about 8400', though my mom and sister didn't make it. I really enjoyed it and after that I started going camping, and climbed some minor peaks - mostly in the Andes under 10,000' - with a friend who knew about knots and gear because
he was a boy scout. Then when I was in college, I started taking courses in rock and ice climbing and mountaineering, and joined the mountain club at my university. All of the sudden, I was guiding professionally at the age of 24!

How do you stay in shape and what are your favorite training activities?
I don't have any secret train
ing regimen, but I do walk as much as I can every day, and I do a lot of hiking, backpacking, climbing, and skiing. Fortunately, my work keeps me in shape.

Who is the most inspiring person in your climbing life?
Reinhold Messner and Wolfgang Gullich.

What are your other interests besides climbing?
I enjoy technical reading about avalanche research, new gear and climbing techniques, and human history (like the Mayan Calendar), as well as all sorts of other sports. But spending time drinking beers with friends is my favorite one (he laughs).

Where is your favorite place to travel?
My favorite place is this beautiful planet where we live, and for travel - anywhere on the planet is good for me. I like exploring new areas, whatever the geography.

On the Technical Side
Describe your climbing style.
I go clean and free as much as I can, minimizing my impact where and whenever I can.

What has been your most technically difficult climb?

My most difficult climb was the variation of the direct west face route to the south arete of Toqllaraju (19,797') in the Cordillera Blanca in Peru . It was incredible because it was about 18 hours round trip, and we ran out of water. Also, the visibility was very bad
because there was a blizzard with heavy snow, high winds, and cold temperatures. The hardest part was to locate camp in the dark, while it was snowing, but we eventually found the tent in the middle of the night at 17,400'. We were dead with exhaustion from this glacier descent in the dark!

What is your biggest strength as a climber? Biggest weakness?
My biggest strength is my mental status, and my biggest weakness, I would
say, is the lack of specific training of group muscles for rock climbing.

A Guide on Guiding
Is there anything you know now that you'd wish you'd known when you were just beginning to climb?

Yes, why I did not start climbing and skiing earlier.

When you guide, what piece of advice do you find you give most
often to climbers?
I tell others to be easy on themselves, because a lot of people ask t
oo much of themselves. And when a beginner starts, the over-acheivement approach doesn't let them see the potential joy one can get if they just don't push too much.

What qualities do you think are most important in a guide?
Passion, Patience, and Mental Peace

Name a few guide"turn-ons" (for example, what makes a good climber on one of your expeditions?).
My top ones are self-sufficiency, common sense, and the willingness to leave the comfort zone to learn and experience new ideas. It is important to see life from someone else's perspective.

Describe a memorable even that has occurred while guiding for AAI.
Every time after I teach some skill or technique, I like it when the climber does it like they have known how to do it for years.

What are your must-haves (e.g. favorite foods, equipment)?
I really like light and tasty foods like couscous and mash potatoes (which can be done in no time), and also a pouch or two of tuna fish in red or yellow curry - depending on how much you like spicy food, MMM-m!
As for gear, light is right and lighter is righter. A food dryer is great if you really want to make meals on your own, a Jetboil stove (they work really well from mid-spring to mid-fall), a Grivel Evolution Ice Axe, and an AirTech G-12 pair of crampons, and for expeditions I like the Denali Intuition liners for my plastic boots.

Describe your achievement of which you are the most proud.
I am proud that I am more open to learn from people like you and me, rather than just from "experts in the field."

Any closing comments on what you're looking forward to in the next year?
Well, I'm excited about all the studies I've been doing on avalanches the last few months. I teach avalanche courses and backcountry skiing, as well as guiding the peaks, and I am psyched about teaching more avalanche courses next December. This spring, my wife and I are going to Chile in April to visit my family for two weeks. Its been four years and I have two new nephews I haven't met. And this summer, I am happy to be going back to Alaska and to be guiding Denali, the great one, before returning to the North Cascades for some awesome alpine climbing. It's going to be a great year! Oh yeah!

No comments: