Read the full story by Margaret Wheeler ’97 as told to Jim Collins ’84, originally published in the January/February 2013 issue of Dartmouth Alumni Magazine.
Margaret Wheeler ’97—only the second woman in America to earn full guide certification—revels in her backcountry way of life.
I know people say there are no new places left to explore. But the experience of adventure and exploration is different for different people, and it’s different again when it’s your job to bring people into the mountains. There’s a relationship between risk and adventure—there’s also a relationship between perceived risk and adventure. As a guide I have to be hyper-aware of managing real risks, but I’m also aware of the heightened perception of risk that my clients feel when they leave their comfort zones. I feel enormous responsibility not only for their safety but their experience. As a result, I try to anticipate what they need, even when they can’t articulate it themselves. I focus on their reactions. I get to share their sense of wonder and accomplishment, to experience their sense of newness as if it’s my own. It can be thrilling.
Plus I get to move my body, be active and get really tired.
I took my first guides training course in the winter of 2001 in Donner Pass, Calif., and was completely hooked. It was the ski mountaineering course and it was all practical. We were out in the field, in an absolutely awesome landscape, with people following me around, giving me feedback all day for eight days. It was intense and fun, and I loved all of it: being with people, being outdoors, the analytical thinking it required, the preparation, pushing myself beyond what I imagined I could do.
I thought, You can get paid for doing this? Could this become my life?
So that’s what I wanted to do.