Friday, March 21, 2008

Get to Know Your Guide: An interview with Jason Martin

Every week, we take the reader into the interesting 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 Jason Martin.

Age: 35
Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada and Bellingham, Washington
Recent trips and expeditions with AAI: Red Rock, Sierra, Cascades (past trips: Denali, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia

A Guide's Life
How were you introduced to mountaineering?
I started dabbling with both mountaineering and rock climbing at about 19. I was involved in the mountaineering club in college. A lot of my basic skills came from those days climbing with friends I still climb with.

How do you stay in shape and what are your favorite training activities?
Up until recently, I guided year round. There wasn’t a need for any type of additional training. When I do train, I like to hike, run uphill on the treadmill, and go to the rock gym.

Who is the most inspiring person in your climbing life?
The author and climber Greg Child has always been an inspiration to me. His writing style is tight, engaging, and sometimes even comic. His accomplishments in the mountains are too vast to contemplate.

What are your other interests besides climbing?
I am a playwright, screenwriter, film critic, and outdoor adventure writer. I spend a large amount of my free time writing or thinking about writing. I love to talk about dramatic structure in film and theatre and discussing the merits of one script over another.

My plays have been produced throughou
t the United States and Europe. Seven of my scripts have been published in anthologies. One of my screenplays was optioned – though never produced – in 2003. I’ve written two climbing guidebooks, and my writing has been published in numerous magazines and newspapers. I used to think that my interest in theatre and film was the polar opposite of my interest in climbing and guiding, but then I had an epiphany. I realized that my interests in climbing and my interest in story structure intersect. Climbing actually has a clearly delineated dramatic structure. If you recall your high school English classes, you might remember a chart that looks like this:

You might remember that exposition is what provides the background information on the main character and the
world that he lives in. When the character becomes enmeshed in the story and has to deal with obstacles the action begins to rise. The climax is the moment of greatest tension and emotion. And the remainder of the chart deals with story resolution.

In climbing, getting prepared for something big or difficult is like exposition. Getting on the mountain or route is the same as rising action. Dealling with the crux of the climb is like the climax. And getting back to the car safely is analgous to the falling action and resolution.

Of course – just like in the movies – every now and then a climber thinks that the story is over. He thinks he’s going to get back to the car safely and there won’t be any more challenges. And every now and then there is a surprise. In the movies we find out the monster is not dead. In real life a storm moves in on the descent
or some other obstacle stands in the way.

When I realized this I finally understood that my interests are the same. Going on a climbing trip takes us away from our normal every day lives and puts us somewhere special. The same thing happens with the best books, movies and theatrical productions.

Where is your favorite place to travel?
I’ve worked in Bolivia for AAI on a number of occasions and always love going back there. I’d also like to travel to the French and Swiss Alps on a climbing vacation. I’d also like to bring one of my plays to the International Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland

On the Technical Side
Describe your climbing style.
My style of climbing depends heavily on physical strength. I’m heavier and less flexible than many of my peers, so I focus on the one thing that I know will carry me through…brute strength.

What has been your most technically difficult climb?
I soloed the North Face of Chair Peak in the winter about five years ago. I encountered some mixed sections up to 5.4 and some Water Ice 2. The route isn’t super technical, but it was scary because I was alone. I knew that any type of mistake would be the end. I’ve cut down significantly on my soloing since that adventure. Now, it’s enough to know that I did it once a long time ago. I don’t need to do it again.

What is your biggest strength as a climber? Biggest weakness?
My biggest strength is my persistence. I don’t like to give up on a climb. My biggest weakness is my persistence. Sometimes you should give up and move onto the next route.

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 wish I knew what I was doing back then. I learned a number of bad habits from friends early in my climbing career.

When you guide, what piece of advice do you find you give most often to climbers?
On rock, I tell people to look at their feet. Often people will look at their foot for a moment and then look away just as it is about to touch the rock. Make sure you look at your foot until it is exactly where you want it.

On glaciers, I often find that when people step over the rope to get it onto the downhill side, they stop. This really slows things down, especially if every person on the rope team stops to step over the rope. I find that I repeatedly have to tell people not to stop as they step over the rope.

What qualities do you think are most important in a guide?
1) Patience: It’s common for guides to have to repeat themselves. It’s common for guides to have to move more slowly than they would if they were climbing with other guides. And it’s common for a guide to have to put in a little extra time with some climbers who aren’t as fit or experienced as others.

2) An ability to re-climb the same route over and over again, but still find it enjoyable. This is incredibly important for individuals who want to last in this profession.

3) An overdeveloped sense of responsibility: When you’re guiding, people are putting their lives in your hands. It is imperative that you don’t take that responsibility lightly. There is no room for arrogance in this profession. Guides need to focus on their climbers, not on their need to be recognized as cool or as a guide.

Name a few guide"turn-ons" (for example, what makes a good climber on one of your courses?).
It’s great when people are focused and listen carefully to instructions. It’s great when people have their camping and backpacking systems dialed. And it’s great when people come with a positive attitude and are ready to learn.

Describe a memorable event that has occurred while guiding for AAI.
At the top of a route called “Geronimo” in Red Rock Canyon, I had a climber propose to his girlfriend. It was a very cool thing to be involved with. Please click here to read the full story.

What are your must-haves (e.g. favorite foods, equipment)?
I always bring a book on multi-day trips. If I’m halfway through it, I’ll cut it in half to save weight. But you will never find me in the field without reading material.
I’m a huge fan of trekking poles, especially when I carry a large pack. I strongly believe that they protect your knees and help you keep your balance when you’re carrying a lot.
The Jetboil stove is extremely quick and useful.
I carry a one-man tent. It’s light. It’s warm. And it preserves a bit of time in the day for me to be alone with my thoughts, my book and my journal.
I took the back seats out of my Astrovan so that I could use it for road trips. Having a vehicle that you can sleep in is a nearly essential requirement for a guide. It is not uncommon for us to live out of our cars for short periods of time while working away from our home base.

Describe your achievement of which you are the most proud.
My greatest production, my most fierce summit, and the source of my greatest pride and joy is my daughter, Holly.

Any closing comments on what you're looking forward to in the next year?
My wife is pregnant again! We are anxiously looking forward to the adventure of a second child.


Anonymous said...

I've been watching this series and waiting for one of the guides I know to be profiled. Jason's a great guide and can definitely fill the down time on a trip with conversation. I had a great time on a Rainier trip he guided in 2006 and just missed out on climbing at Red Rocks with him.

Anonymous said...

Congrats on your upcoming second child, Jason!! I was with Jason in Bolivia, and then in WA the next summer back in 04'-05'. He's a great guy, and a wonderful guide, but he needs to work on his Ayamara accent.

-Dan, NJ