Friday, April 4, 2008

Get to Know Your Guide: An interview with Joseph Anderson

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 Joseph Anderson.

Age: 31
Hometown: Bellingham, Washington
Recent trips and expeditions with AAI: ski mountaineering, backcountry ski guiding, ice climbing, avalanche training
Upcoming trips wit
h AAI: more ski mountaineering in the North Cascades followed by the May 19 Denali Expedition

A Guide's Life
How were you introduced to mountaineering?
I was nine years old the first time I went skiing, and it was on icy hills in New Hampshire. When I was 14, I got my first real initiation to skiing in the French Alps! My first time climbing rock occurred when I was 16 on a NOLS course in Wyoming. It wasn’t until I was 18 that I started climbing rocks on my own time, outside of a guided trip.

How do you stay in shape and what are your favorite training activities?
Good question -- assuming that I do stay in shape! Lately, my favorite training activity has been breaking trail in deep, light powder with my skis. Then I get to ski down in deep, light powder and go home and feast.

Who is the most inspiring person in your climbing life?
Mr. Miyagi, Mahatma Gandhi, Muhammad Ali: balance, devotion, and self confidence!

What are your other interests besides climbing?
I enjoy hanging out with my wife and kids, building stuff, history, philosophy, politics, percussion, community, and eating.

Where is your favorite place to travel?
My favorite place to travel is my early twenties. In the future, I hope to travel towards financial fortitude.

On the Technical Side
Describe your climbing style.
Thoughtful and accurate.

What has been your most technically difficult climb?
The climb of which I’m most proud is in North Carolina - it’s called Whiskey for Breakfast. This is a rock route with about 20 feet of very difficult climbing, and only two #3 stoppers for pro. I mentally rehearsed the moves in my mind for months before taking on the challenge. When I finally climbed the route, I felt an inner calm that will last a lifetime.

What is your biggest strength as a climber?
I climb for myself.
Biggest weakness?
Finding the balance between climbing and the rest of my life.

A Guide on Guiding
Is there anything you know now that you'd wish you'd known when you were just beginning to climb?
If I knew climbing and mountaineering was were going to be my livelihood, I would have trained harder and earlier. I would never have guessed in those first few years that I would be supporting a family by guiding.

When you guide, what piece of advice do you find you give most often to climbers and skiers?

What qualities do you think are most important in a guide?
- The ability to key into each climber and understand their individual needs and interests.
- To know when to be patient and when to be directive.
- To understand when to put more responsibility in the hands of the climber I’m teaching.

Name a few guide"turn-ons" (for example, what makes a good climber on one of your courses?).
I appreciate climbers who are there for the over all experience and those who keep a positive attitude and good sense of humor throughout the course.

Describe a memorable event that has occurred while guiding for AAI.
A few years ago, I took a family from the North East onto the lower Coleman Glacier for a single day of late summer ice climbing. The couple had two boys between the ages of 9 and 14. It may have been one of the simplest trips I have ever guided, but I will always remember how excited they were to be there and excited to try this crazy activity. Every step was like a dream come true for the whole family. It was really touching, and I realized that climbing is for everybody -- we’ve just got to get the word out there!

What are your must-haves (e.g. favorite foods, equipment)?
A sufficient amount of calories and a warm sleeping bag.

Describe your achievement of which you are the most proud.
Two happy and healthy boys.

Any closing comments on what you're looking forward to in the next year?
“In Wildness is the preservation of the world” - Henry David Thoureau.

It should be noted that Henry says “Wildness” not Wilderness. Wildness is a state of mind, not a place that is managed by a government agency. Nobody has more control over your state of mind than you do.

Preserve the World: Play outside and bring others with you!


Anonymous said...

I'm excited to have Joseph Anderson leading our Denali Ice Agers expedition. Noted in an earlier Blog entry, the Denali conditions this year sound encouraging.
Art Huseonica
Denali Ice Agers
Maryland, USA

Anonymous said...


I think you'll really enjoy having Joseph on your Denali trip - I've spent 3 weeks with Joseph over two AAI courses and learned so much from him. I hope to return to the N. Cascades next winter and do a ski mountaineering course with him.

adriana said...

Joseph is a truly gifted guide and a patient teacher. He transfers his knowledge and experience with ease. My husband and I are looking forward to having the opportunity to benefit from his experience first-hand one day!

Anonymous said...

Well written article.