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Why I Guide – By Riley Cox

Written By Riley Cox

Jeff was not a large man, but neither was he small. At about 5’ 10”,  his legs were like tree trunks, his powerful calves rippling with exertion as he climbed his way up the smooth granite dome.

He farts, a loud trumpet sound that reverberates off the rock, “I could poop myself I’m so scared” he says. “don’t think I’ll even make it to the top, just go right here on the cables”.

“No Jeff” I exclaim, “stay focused and breathe, nothing else exists right now, just you and the rock. Positive thoughts and breathe, you will make it”.

‘Don’t you dare poop on me!’, I think, struggling to find ways to keep him calm. He had been so stoic, so composed up to this point, always speaking with a kind and awe-inspired thought. I saw Jeff as a giant teddy bear, a rock anchoring his wife and daughter on this six-day backpacking trip through the Sierra Nevada mountains. Now, both were already out of sight, cresting the top of Half Dome.

“Keep pushing Jeff, stay strong, more than halfway there”, I encourage. I move up behind him, resting on the same janky wooden slate, almost cradling him, trying to act comforting. Jeff slumps against the rock, one hand on the cable, breath heaving, legs shaking, he is so terrified. I give him my best smile, trying to reflect the glorious sunrise peaking over the mountain tops behind us. He sees me there, calm and joyous, and a look of utter hate passes over his face. He mutters a phrase that is less than kind towards me, turning his head back and resuming his determined slow march up to the top of Half Dome.  I laughed then, deep bellied and genuine at that true expression of emotion. The type of unfiltered honestly only real struggle brings out.

As I reach the summit I congratulate Jeff’s wife and she responds with tears on my shoulder, weeping with relief and triumph at her accomplishment. Jeff soon arrives and bear hugs us both. Clean streaks are running down his dirty face from his own crying. Naturally, I cry too. This type of emotion is too powerful to withstand. I want to feel it, the power of their victory washing over me and filling me with a sense of pride. This is why I guide. Experiencing and facilitating life changing moments is more refreshing to my soul than any dip in a high alpine lake.

Seven hours and ten miles later, we were in our last mile, laughing about the experience on the cables. He apologizes for being angry and I shrug it off, telling him it wasn’t personal, I understood. When we get back to the cars he shakes my hand and thanks me saying, “This was the kick start my family and I needed, this was a life-changing trip”. I just nod and say you’re welcome. In the end, it was just another day’s work for me, the same day I have done a dozen times over. But Jeff fused me with an energy that day, a charge to my soul that will power me through the hardships to come. This is why I guide.

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