Meet Raymond. You arrive at the park entrance center on your international vacation hoping to do some mountain climbing before you fly home. The park headquarters just assigned Raymond to be your guide on a 3-day expedition to summit the most technical mountain climb in the Philippines. He does not speak English. Do you trust him?
The instant we see someone new, in the workplace or in the wilderness, we launch a system of rapid-fire evaluation almost unconsciously.
- Does Raymond seem fit, active and healthy for a climb?
- What does his gear look like? Durable? Lightweight? Brand names you recognize?
- Is his body language approachable and friendly?
These judgments yield that instinctual feeling of comfort or uneasiness. (For more information pack the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell to read at the campsite on your next trip.) When things go wrong on outdoor adventure trips there is often a gut feeling of apprehension that might forewarn an accident. The problem is that we have a tendency to ignore such apprehensions when we become so committed to a particular plan that it appears to be the only option.
As you size up Raymond, a language barrier prevents you from gleaning any additional information about his experience. Now do you cancel your climb while standing at the base of a mountain? Or take your chances and trust the park to provide a competent guide?
On Mt. Guiting Guiting, the most technical mountain climb in the Philippines, I chose to trust Raymond. Despite his questionable footwear, he passed my “blink” test. For the next three days, we barely spoke but he guided us carefully and proficiently. And he even refilled our water jugs, while we were taking photos at our first summit campsite. All in all, we had a successful and incredible trip!
But the real key to outdoor adventures is gathering information in advance so that you do not end up in a position where you must choose between swallowing your uneasiness to complete the trip or canceling altogether.
When traveling to a new place try to gather information from multiple sources: the internet, the local town, other travelers, even restaurants, and hostels. Be sure to have multiple people confirm the same story, whether that is simply the time a bus leaves or the skill level of a particular climb. In a place where guides do not typically complete any technical or safety certification training, advance knowledge is important. While my ascent of Mt. Guiting Guiting with Raymond was very successful, a few months later I failed to verify the competency of my guide and was unable to summit a neighboring peak because this guide took the wrong trail and soon we were bush whacking to even make it back down.
Finally, if you want to add community service to your trip, try contacting the park staff at your destination to find out if their guides have completed any emergency medical training or would be interested in a Basic First Aid or other more advanced course. Most countries have a local Red Cross Society. With a little fundraising, you could coordinate a Red Cross training event, conducted in their local language, to certify these guides as Basic First Aiders. Your efforts would help make the park a little safer, and perhaps allow the guides to make a bit more money for their families.
One year and two months after I summited Mt. Guiting Guiting, Raymond and the other mountain guides at the park participated in a 4-day training course by the Philippine Red Cross and earned their official certification in Basic First Aid.