Friday, April 25, 2008

Get to Know Your Guide: An interview with Justin Wood

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 Justin David Wood.

Age: 33
Hometown: It’s hard to pin me down. I’m pretty all American, California born, but I’ve also spent many years in Texas, Washington D.C., Chicago, and the past 15 years tooling about western Washington. I now live with my wonderful wife and loyal 95-pound German Sheppard in the lovely hamlet of Bellingham, Washington.

Recent trips and expeditions with AAI: This winter I’ve been ski guiding the steep and deep around the Mt. Baker ski area and instructing avalanche courses. Rock-wise, my last stint of work was at Red Rock instructing basic climbing skills and guiding classic moderate multi-pitch routes; most recently, Lotta Balls II 5.8, and Solar Slab IV 5.6.

Upcoming trips wit
h AAI: I’ll be shipping off to Alaska in a few weeks to work in the Denali National Park for five weeks on Mt. McKinley’s West Buttress, and will also be rock climbing in Alaska in the Little Switzerland area.

A Guide's Life
How were you introduced to mountaineering?
I started backpacking and pulling plastic (gym climbing) when I was 23. Mountaineering adventures soon followed. I worked as a backcountry ranger and later on, as a climbing ranger for five years in the Olympic National Park in Washington. A large part of this work required reconnaissance of the high traverses and climbing routes on the Eastern side of the park. I spent a good amount of time touring about the early season high country in crampons and soloing the rotten rock pinnacles routes along Mt.Cruiser’s Sawtooth Ridge. One thing led to another, and I was soon obsessed with the wild high country of the Cascades Range and climbing the range's most classic routes.

How do you stay in shape and what are your favorite training activities?
Running is a necessary evil in winter, but I much prefer backcountry skiing anytime I can. Skinning is a great low impact workout. Adding and few pounds of weight to every stride for thousand of reps builds incredible endurance and you can't beat the quiet winter wilderness setting.

Who is the most inspiring person in your climbing life?
My friends and climbing partners.

What are your other interests besides climbing?
Art and music were huge in my more formative years; mainly drawing, painting, printmaking, and playing guitar. I’m currently doing the pre-med studies and working towards an eventual Master’s Degree in Nursing, so that occupies most of my free time as of late.

Where is your favorite place to travel?
The ease of access within the French Alps makes those mountains incredibly fun for skiing and alpine climbing. This summer, I’m looking forward to guiding in the Little Switzerland area of Denali National Park and making my first trip to the Bugaboos in the Selkirk Range of Eastern British Columbia.

On the Technical Side
Describe your climbing style.
Balancing free with fast is essential in the mountains. I resist having “rules” beyond surviving. Splitter granite crack climbing is my favorite as far as cragging goes, and I don’t “work” routes. I suppose you could say my emphasis is towards “onsighting,” but even that changes from time to time depending on how obsessed I am with a particular route. My bottom line is not leaving trash behind in the mountains so the next person can enjoy the route as much as I have.

What has been your favorite climb or route?
Hmmm, that’s a tough one. In the past year or so, probably Naija on L’aguille Vert (IV 700m M4 80). It was a perfect day, and the route was in excellent condition. I was climbing with a good friend who never ceases to make me laugh. The walk along the summit ridge to the second highest mountain in the French Alps reveals an incredible expansive view. From Mt. Blanc’s Brenva face, to the Grande Jorasse, the Argentiere Cirque, and the Matterhorn in the distance, it’s all there.

What is your biggest strength as a climber? Biggest weakness?
I’m your typical jack of all trades mountain guide. You’ll never see me climbing 5.13 sport routes in some magazine, that’s just not my interest. But if you want to climb or ski long classic mountain routes, I’m your man.

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 would have hired a professional guide, learned the right way the first time, and progressed soooooo much faster.

When you guide, what piece of advice do you find you give most often to climbers and skiers?
Master your mind. Stop negativity dead in it’s tracks. Don’t get hung up on with the “I’m too…… (fill in the blank)” line of thinking. It’s our worst enemy, so try to focus on the possibilities instead.

What qualities do you think are most important in a guide?
Patience is the one attribute a guide should definitely have. Familiarity with the medium you work within is also very important. I’m primarily an alpine guide, so in my case, “mountain sense” or experience/time in the mountains is really important. Lastly, but certainly not least, is technical proficiency, within the medium a guide works.

Name a few guide"turn-ons" (for example, what makes a good climber on one of your courses?).
Enthusiasm and a sense of adventure are key.

What are your must-haves (e.g. favorite foods, equipment)?
An MP3 player with a radio is pretty high on the list, but fresh ground coffee is probably number one. Puffy jacket = happiness!

Any closing comments on what you're looking forward to in the next year?
I plan on living to be an old man in the mountains, so keeping the big picture in perspective is essential. Know your limits and trust your senses. The world’s best climber is the one having the most fun.

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