Blinded by the romanticism of a dreamy summer job guiding in the wilderness, I had packed up everything I owned and boarded a three day ferry heading for Skagway, Alaska. I found myself stranded in a strange place, questioning every step that had led me there. Working as a mountain guide had been a dream of mine for some time and I wasn’t sure how it would manifest itself, until an entry level position as a rock climbing and ziplining guide came my way. In a swift turn of events, what seemed to be a step in the right direction left me alone in Alaska, disagreeing with the morals and safety of my company. While I am grateful to have had this chapter and lesson involved, if I’d known beforehand what I know now, I would have made different decisions. The next time I put myself out there, here are some things I will consider.
Company structure: Who is in charge and what is their goal?
The next time I apply for a guiding position, I will make a point to speak directly with management and make sure we are on the same page. I want to work for a company that has the client's best interest at heart. That includes everything from overall experience to safety. Does the company actively seek out and implement improvement for clients and employees? Do we share goals and morals? Am I comfortable associating myself with these people and putting my name on this company and all that they stand for?
Safety: How to attain and maintain it.
I am going to put this summer job on my resume understanding that the time frame looks suspicious since I left early. I will use that as a platform to talk about my experience with the company and explain the concerns and reservations that ultimately made me feel unsafe and unwilling to partake in and put clients in a system I did not agree with. I will also use this as a segway to question potential employers about their safety practices, regulations, and statistics. What is their protocol? What is their accident history? What improvements have been made in response to accidents? Are they affiliated with an accredited safety program who inspects them regularly? What is my liability as a guide? Guiding is inherently dangerous, but there are ways to minimize margins for error and I want to work for people who make it a priority to keep that margin as tight as possible.
Money: Do I have enough to go, will I make enough to stay?
Guiding is beautiful and remote, that’s the whole allure. You will find yourself in the far reaches of the world. It’s easy to plan for the expenses of getting to those places; you can track airline, ferry, train, and bus tickets. However, something I overlooked was the expense of living in a place so remote. Prices are raised because everything has to be imported on a barge. You’re also living in a tourist destination designed to make a profit off of vacationers. Is training paid or unpaid? Is housing provided? Are you required to buy your own gear? Slow down, take a step back, and think about the logistics of working and living in a new place instead of getting caught up in colorful google images and a stuffed suitcase propped against your door ready to go.
Advancement in the company: Started from the bottom now we’re…?
My main objective with any position I seek out is to advance as far as I can. If I’m going to invest myself in something, I want to believe in it enough to make it come to full fruition. Working as a rock climbing and ziplining guide made sense because I had the goal of working my way up to being an international mountain guide with the company. That being said, the fundamental problems I saw on the ground floor were red flags. If things are slipping through on the small scale, what’s slipping through on the larger, more dangerous scale?
Back up: Plan B and when to use it.
When preparing for an exciting change, it’s not fun to make a plan B. But it is an important step not to be overlooked. Give yourself an out in case things fall through, or something unexpected happens. This means budgeting an emergency fund and looking into different job and housing options in the area. Don’t use it as a crutch, sometimes you have to tough it out and see it through. But if you need to cut ties for whatever reason, it’s better to have something in place than trying to scrounge something up in a frenzy.
I’m not discouraged from guiding by any means. I may have left this experience, but I am not a quitter. I am not done, I am learning and growing. I will find my way home. I will work, save, plan, and try again. And eventually, I will get it right. That’s the whole point of guiding, right? To be able to make tough calls, know your limits, and find your way back when you get off track.
Meredith Reitemeier is a writer, artist, traveler, photographer, and climber living in Fayetteville Arkansas. She works as a guide for the university outdoor center and is always planning and saving for her next adventure. You can follow her journeys at @reitemeier or thoughtstashblog.
Photos by Caden Handley | @handley.imagery