Mountain Climbing Guides, Caddies, and You

Last month, Kami Rita Sherpa broke his own record for the most ascents of Mount Everest, summiting for the 25th time, during Everest’s first climb of the year. As his name implies, Kami Rita is a member of the Sherpa Tibetan ethnic group living in Nepal. Many Sherpas are highly regarded as elite mountaineers and experts in their local area. (Over the years, the term started to be used by foreigners to refer to almost any guide or climbing supporter hired for mountaineering expeditions in the Himalayas, regardless of their ethnicity, and has become shorthand for a guide or mentor in other situations.) Outside magazine senior editor Grayson Schaffer described the life of the Sherpa people this way: “Sherpas are Everest’s workforce—the literal backbone of the climbing industry there …Without the hard work of the Sherpa porters, it would be largely impossible for Americans and Europeans with slightly above-average physiology, and well above-average disposable income, to scale the world’s tallest mountain.” And yet the climbing guide lifestyle is treacherous and often filled with tragedy. “It’s a lucrative way of life in a poor region, but no service industry in the world so frequently kills and maims its workers for the benefit of paying clients.” These climbing guides share their experience and expertise of these mountains (as well as their strength and endurance) to keep their clients safe on the way to and from their goal.

There is an interesting parallel between climbing guides and caddies in the game of golf. Caddies also use their physical strength to support a player – carrying their clubs along the course route – but more to the point the caddie brings a steady presence, expertise, and partnership. A caddie helps with club selection, wind direction, and reading the greens, but they also know what to say and when to say it if the player is struggling.  There are complex socioeconomic factors and power dynamics involved – more so in the case of the climbing guides – but I wonder if we can still use the similarities and differences between these two groups to learn something about ourselves.

Both climbing guides and caddies are supporting roles; sharing their wisdom, experience, and level-headedness to guide others through high-stress situations. They are not seeking fame and fortune for themselves, and are rarely known by name. How can this help us build community this week?

This Week’s Tip:

Consider how you are – or are not – like a climbing guide or caddie this week, and where you could benefit from a guide yourself:

  1. Ask how you are sharing your wisdom and experience with others. Where you are, consider your motivations – is this in partnership to support others on their journey, or to raise your own profile? Where are you holding back?
  2. Consider your boundaries. The level of personal physical risk is significantly higher for climbing guides than caddies. For the safety of the group, the climbing guide needs to remain fully focused and attentive at all time. Sometimes our support of others can become all-encompassing, but it’s not usually life-threatening; check in with yourself and consider adding limits to your availability for others to ensure time for your own self-care.
  3. Think about where a guide might be helpful for you. Where are you struggling at the moment; either in finding the right tools for this next step or more broadly in reaching your own personal mountaintop? Consider the resources and mentors available in your personal life, your community, and your workplace. If you’d like some help finding a guide, be in touch; we can help connect you with someone.

We’d love to know how this goes for you; contact us or post in our Facebook group.

Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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