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Guide Caroline George on the challenges of feisty mountain weather
Posted on August 17, 2011

By Caroline George

One thing I love about my job is this: It sure keeps you on your toes … both figuratively and literally, of course. But this year has been more on the figurative side of things.

Europe has been hit by a southwesterly flow of weather that even the best forecasters have had a hard time understanding and interpreting. Since guiding is very weather dependent, it has made my job quite difficult … but all the more interesting.

Clients email me way ahead of time to book me for their dream climbs or their dream week in the Alps. And it really means the world to me to do my best at making them discover my backyard, in the hope that they will love it as much I do, that they will enjoy the climbing and get to reach their dream summit.

For this to happen, though, three factors must be met: The client must be in good enough shape to achieve their goal; the conditions on the route must be good; and the weather must be decent. Last summer, this was hardly ever an issue. Sure, there were times when I had to rack my brains a little in order to find a better destination than the one originally planned, but it was the exception to the rule, and there was always a great alternative to be found. This year, however, I can’t recall many days going according to plan.

Guiding can be intense in itself, because you have to plan for the climb, figure out what the itinerary is going to be, book huts and hotels and cable cars (a perk, really!), make sure conditions are good on the route, brief clients on what to expect on the climb, what gear to take, make sure they have the gear they need and that they are using it right, make sure you have the right gear to guide a climb, pack your bag, manage clients on the climb, acknowledge hazards and manage them, come home at night, and repeat for the following day. But this year’s unstable weather has added a whole new level of stress.

At the end of July, I had a great client to climb both the Mittellegi Ridge on the Eiger and the Hörnli ridge on the Matterhorn. I met him the day before the trip started with the weather outlook in hand and had to break the news to him that none of these climbs would happen. That’s always really hard for me to do because people have traveled from far away for this, took time off work and away from their family, all to do “Plan B” climbs. But weather and conditions are something that I can’t manage, and that’s a responsibility I always have a hard time not taking on as my own. So I try to find other satisfying options, but this summer the weather forecast would drastically change from the one posted in the morning to the one posted in the evening, forcing me to constantly change plans and adapt. This was stressful, but we almost always made it work.

This past weekend, however, the forecast was for three days of beautiful weather initially—and ended up being the worst three days of the summer throughout the Alps. Even farther south, where the weather was nicer, the winds reached up to 50 mph at lower elevations. So we resorted to going to the museum and eating ice cream. Sometimes you just have to accept the reality and not try to force things. And I think clients are understanding of that, but I always wish I could have done more and found where the one patch of dry weather was hiding and made it work.

As I write this, the sun is blasting through my window, and I am about to head on up to a hut for the first bluebird day of guiding in a long time! This spell of bad weather makes me appreciate the sun and beauty of the mountains all the more. It will be such a nice change to be able to focus on my job and on the clients, and not worry about the weather.

Author: - Wednesday, August 17th, 2011
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