Name: David Hamilton
1st ALE Season: 2006
What first brought you to Antarctica and to work for ALE?
I led two trips to Antarctica while working for Jagged Globe, a UK based expedition company. I guided Mount Vinson climbs in 2003 and 2005 plus a Last Degree ski trip in 2005.
In the spring of 2005, one of the ALE partners joined me on a ski expedition to Mt. Ararat in Turkey and we got talking about the ALE operation. He suggested that I apply to join the guide team and I worked my first season for ALE in 2006.
How does climbing in Antarctica compare to the other regions of the world where you’ve guided?
Guides work on ‘popular’ mountains. That’s where the guests are! Sadly most of the world’s popular peaks are getting too busy for my liking. Antarctica is one of the few places where there are enough guests for guides to be able to make a living, yet it remains uncrowded and unspoiled. Conditions can be harsh, it can be cold and there can be periods of bad weather, but the long periods of stable weather enable the vast majority of visiting climbers to make successful ascents.
What’s the most important skill an Antarctic guide needs to have?
Guides need a good mix of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills. The hard skills include being able to look after yourself and your guests in a harsh mountain environment, keeping everyone safe, and making good decisions about climbing, navigation, and weather. The soft skills are all about caring for your guests, understanding what motivates them, providing reassurance and encouragement where needed, and helping the climbers realize their dreams.
What’s the best part of living at Mount Vinson for the season?
Vinson Base Camp has got to be one of the best postings in the world for a mountain guide. The location is superb and the climate is usually warmer and less windy than Union Glacier. It is undoubtedly the cleanest and best kept base camp of a ‘popular’ mountain and it is a privilege to ensure that it stays that way. The small staff team work hard to look after our guests and there is a great atmosphere in camp when successful climbers return from the summit of Mount Vinson.
We’ve heard you’re a pretty good cook, what’s your go to meal for hungry Vinson climbers?
The fresh-cooked meals at Mount Vinson never fail to impress our guests, many of whom arrive in Antarctica expecting to be fed freeze dried food. Most guests will spend at least 3 nights at Vinson Base Camp so we aim for one meal each of steak, fish, and chicken, with potatoes, pasta, or rice on the side. Fresh vegetables are usually available and we also have a good stock of frozen vegetables as a back up. Fresh fruit and cakes from the Union Glacier bakery are always popular too.
Did you always want to be a mountain guide or did you have a previous profession?
After university, I had a brief spell in the book-selling and publishing world, but I was always thinking about my next climbing trip. I hit on the idea of starting my own small trekking operation in the Karakoram mountains of northern Pakistan in 1987, which enabled me to spend a lot more time in the mountains and fund my private climbing trips. From there, I progressed to guiding people up the mountains that I had become familiar with.
When you’re not on a mountain, where in the world would you choose to be?
On a sunny terrace enjoying a glass of wine. I don’t mind if there are mountain views or sea views, but perhaps a combination of the two would be best.
What items do you always have in your pack on summit day?
- Snacks and drinks that are easy to consume – easy to open packaging is usually more important than the contents.
- A variety of hats and gloves that can be swapped as conditions change, plus face mask and goggles for the worst weather.
- An easy to use camera plus a warm spare battery. Often the guests can’t use their own cameras, so it is nice to be able to provide the photographs that record their once in a lifetime achievements.
How long have you gone without a shower?
The Vinson staff are very envious of the new Union Glacier showers. It is the one area where we can’t compete. We can manage a once a week hair wash using a bucket. It is not unusual to wait more than a month for a proper shower at Vinson Base Camp, but I have never counted the days. I once did a 37 day ski trip in the Karakoram without washing, but that’s not something to boast about.
How do you spend the rest of the year, when you’re not in Antarctica?
I am usually in mountainous parts of the world, either working or playing, and when I am at home I spend most of my time planning my next trip. I have been to the Himalayas at least once a year for almost 30 years and have spent more days and nights at high altitude than I care to remember. So now I am happy to enjoy hiking, climbing, and skiing at lower altitudes in the mountains of Europe. I spend a fair bit of my free time in a quiet corner of the southern French Alps close to the border of Italy. Recently I have rediscovered cycling, which can be done far from the mountains, and I am always a willing crew member on my friend’s 40 foot sailing boat off the west coast of Scotland.