Friday, May 16, 2008

Get to Know Your Guide: An interview with Andy Bourne

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.

This week, we interview
Andy Bourne.

Age: 34
Hometown: Bellingham, Washington
Recent trips and expeditions with AAI: Red Rock climbing trips
Upcoming trips and expeditions with AAI: Part 2 Alpine Mountaineering and Technical Leadership, and an expedition to China this fall

A Guide’s Life
How old were you when you first started climbing?
I was introduced to climbing when I was 14 living in Tennessee. A friend bought a rope and a figure 8 descending device and we went to Backbone rock in Damascus, VA to rappel from the top. We had n
o idea what we were doing and I’m surprised we survived. My first actual climbing experience was on a highway roadcut with the same rope and equipment, not exactly the most inspiring location.

My first experience with mountaineering was actually on Aconcagua in 1997. While living in Minnesota and working at a climbing store, a guy came in looking for partners for an Aconcagua expedition and I took him up on it. It was a very eye-opening experience as I was not prepared for that type of environment and it was my first time at altitude above about 6000 feet! We did not summit needless to say. Soon after that, I moved to Washington where I started alpine climbing in the Cascades with Coley Gentzel. We both worked at REI while throwing ourselves at peaks and learning things the hard way.

How do you stay in shape, and what are your favorite training activities?
Well, I don’t really stay in shape, but I try to do so by backcountry skiing and rock climbing/bouldering. During the winter in the Northwest, I ski and I have a gym membership and try to workout regularly. But when spring rolls around, I only like to workout ou
tside. I will occasionally do an uphill trail run and I ride my bike instead of driving as often as I can. My main focus is to try to stay in good hiking and rock climbing shape - which can both serve well on alpine climbs.

Who is the most inspiring person in your climbing life?
There’s several people I am inspired by. One is Fred Becky, his mountain explorations are unmatched by almost any other person in history, and he’s still going after it at
80+ years old. Peter Croft is also someone who is very inspirational for his solos throughout the Sierra and the world. Lastly, the late Charlie Fowler was one of the few true global explorers who didn’t try to make a name for himself, but managed to experience some of the most far flung places on earth, often by himself.

What are your other interests besides climbing?
Travel in the third world, Asia especially. Anthropology, culture and language, playing guitar, and working on my house.

Where is your favorite place to travel? Where do you hope to travel in the near future?
I already gave it away, my favorite place to travel is Asia. It is the most “foreign” culture compared to our Western way of life a
nd the people are welcoming, cheerful, and polite. The culture has so much history, the landscape is diverse and amazing and the traveling is generally quite cheap. It is the complete package in my opinion.

In the near future, I would like to see more of South and Central America. Specifically, I want to see Cuba, Nicaragua, and Peru.

On the Technical Side
Describe your climbing style
I don’t really have a style. I just try to find aesthetic climbs without major objective hazards (like cornices and serac fall). High quality alpine rock climbing is by far my favorite type of climbing.

What has been your most technically difficult climb?
The Grand Wall on the Squamish Chief probably.

What is your biggest strength as a climber? Biggest weakness?
My biggest strength is that I’m so buff. I mean I can really crank when I want to, but that brings us to my biggest weakness, I’m too lazy to want to crank really hard so I just end up climbing easy

A Guide on Guiding
Is there anyth
ing you know now that you’d wish you’d known when you were just beginning to climb?
Yes, to always wear a helmet.

When you guide, what piece of advice do you find you give most often to climbers?
Tie knots in the end of your ropes when rappelling, double check everything when rappelling, always use clear commands on pitched out terrain, keep eating and drinking, keep a nice steady pace that you can maintain.

What qualities do you
think are most important in a guide?
Being articulate and decisive, while multi-tasking and being positive.

Name a few guide “turn-ons” (for example, what makes a good climber on one of your courses, ascents, or expeditions?).
Someone who is generous and considerate, otherwise just plain ol’ good physical condition.

Any memorable events while guiding for AAI?
Summiting Whitney with Bruce Worley, John Church and Ellen from Louisia
na, they were just a really cool bunch of people to hang out with, even for being such old farts! Another was climbing in the Daxue Shan Range in China with Dominic Hodson, Bob Krueger, Guy Sgan, Gustavo Fiero, and BJ Whalen in 2005.

What are your must-haves? Favorite foods or gear?

Any closing comments? I look forward to trying to balance a more sustainable lifestyle while still managing to climb and ski.

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