Friday, March 14, 2008

Get to Know Your Guide: An interview with Erik Johnson

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 Erik Johnson.

Age: 29
Hometown: Spokane, WA
Recent trips and expeditions with AAI: Denali (West Buttress) and Alaska Range Mountaineering

A Guide's Life
How were you introduced to mountaineering?
I went on a weeklong backpacking trip in the Pasayten Wilderness when I was 14, and at age 16 I was hooked after taking the Spokane Mountaineers climbing school.

How do you stay in shape and what are your favorite training activities?
I’ve always found that climbing is the best way to stay in shape for climbing; not just for your legs, arms and lungs, but also mentally and judgmentally. The more time you spend outside in the mountains, the more tuned your judgment and overall awareness becomes.

Who is the most inspiring person in your climbing life?
I can’t single anyone out; it’s more of a cobbling together of some great aspects of some great people. A few people I admire are Shackleton, Lowe (Alex and Jeff), Hillary, and Croft.

What are your other interests besides climbing?
I spend a lot of time and I spend a lot of money taking photos. I also ski as much as I can and fix old boats as well.

Where is your favorite place to travel?
China has been one of my favorites, and I hope to get back there soon. I recently returned from Patagonia and would definitely like to return. Other favorite spots include Alaska, Red Rock, the Sierra Nevada, Moab, Icefields Parkway, Squamish, Index, Wind Rivers, Tetons, Bugaboos, North Cascades, and Needles. The list only grows longer for every new place I go to!

On the Technical Side
Describe your climbing style.
Slow and steady with lots of gear.

What has been your most technically difficult climb?
The Harvard Route on Mt Huntington in Alaska.

What is your biggest strength as a climber? Biggest weakness?
I would say that my strength is the ability to get on the right pace and go for a long time. Biggest weakness? My ice climbing skills have eroded over the past few years, as I have been spending my winters in the Southern Hemisphere – austral summer down there – not much ice.

A Guide on Guiding
Is there anything you know now that you'd wish you'd known when you were just beginning to climb?
I suppose I would have focused more on one thing or the other – school or climbing. Trying to do both can be difficult, and much of the time you don’t end up having time for either.

When you guide, what piece of advice do you find you give most often to climbers?
Awareness. Trying to concentrate on your surrounding environment, hazards, conditions, and weather. The more you work on this, the less you have to think about it; and your awareness becomes second nature and peripheral.

What qualities do you think are most important in a guide?
Teaching skills -- even on guided trips and expeditions (as opposed to courses where the focus is already on teaching) there is a good deal of instruction. The more effectively you teach, the better the climb goes.

Name a few guide"turn-ons" (for example, what makes a good climber on one of your courses?).
I think that flexibility and a commitment to keeping oneself healthy, happy, and hydrated are important qualities for a climber.

Describe a memorable even that has occurred while guiding for AAI.
My first year guiding, we had five straight days of rain on the Easton Glacier of Mt Baker on a six-day mountaineering course. At the 12am start on the glacier, it was still raining. When dawn broke and our rope teams climbed out above the marine layer clouds, we crossed into one of the most beautiful and memorable summits of my life; it was like climbing on a sea of clouds.

What are your must-haves (e.g. favorite foods, equipment)?
I’ve been impressed with the Petzl Adjama harness on a recent trip. Also, good coffee and a small point and shoot camera are indispensable.

Describe your achievement of which you are the most proud.
I have used my background in geology and my guiding experience to go to the Antarctic. I worked there as a field guide, working with science groups from around the world on exciting and important geological and climate related projects.

Any closing comments on what you're looking forward to in the next year?
Spring skiing and warm granite are just around the corner!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It was great to learn more about AAI guides Richard and Erik. I've climbed with both over the years in different hemispheres. What I find most unique about mountaineering guides is that they're not cookie-cutter guides. They have their own personalities and slight variations in how they do certain things. As a result, I learn more, make comparisons, and am able to improve my training and equipment systems.
Art Huseonica
Maryland, USA
Denali Ice Agers