Italy’s isolation has been a long couple of months for Carlo Cosi – a mountain guide, not allowed into the mountains. Used to taking climbers out every day, Carlo spends his whole life outside, exploring, tutoring and mentoring. We spoke to Carlo to hear more about his career as a mountain guide and what he loves most about exploring the wilderness.
The first time I put on my skis I was three years old. I immediately fell in love; it was like flying. For years I “skied” on the carpet in the living room at home, imagining myself in the mountains, skiing, climbing, walking, exploring. My grandfather was considered the strongest Paduan mountaineer of his time, he was one of the pioneers of this activity in my hometown. He climbed walls that are still considered difficult today… and this was 60 years ago, without today’s technologies, and with hemp ropes tied around the waist. Unfortunately, he died when he was very young, in a car accident. But my grandmother’s stories kept him alive and in my mind, he was superman. My father was a keen climber but I’ve definitely been the one to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps, with all my might.
My favourite place to climb are the Dolomites. Tofana di Rotzes, Marmolada and Tre Cime di Lavaredo are my favourite walls, the exposure and the climbing style that we have here is rivalled by none. These are not easy climbs by any means and establishing a respect for the mountains is essential. Being out on the mountains every day, you learn that the most important thing is control. It is essential. Never panic, take a deep breath, think. You must always know how to listen to the mountain, see every slight change or sign of danger. It’s not easy at all, sometimes you feel it in your stomach that you have to go back.
And that feeling is one you have to pay special attention to when you’re with a client. Sometimes you have to make decisions that will disappoint the client, shatter their dreams even. Try telling a customer who has travelled from Australia and has trained for years for this moment that the weather is getting worse and – just 100 metres from the top of the Matterhorn – you have to go back. But it’s essential to make those decisions so that you and the client are never in danger.
Of course going into the mountains with different clients all the time, you get some really different characters. Sometimes you have a client that comes with an itinerary that would be the envy of any climber, and they request to climb a hard route… yet they can’t even stand on the path. Or there’ll be times that a customer wants to try a via ferrata – Italian for “iron way” – referring to a route equipped with fixed anchors like steel cables and ladders because a friend of theirs made it. But they don’t have the slightest idea of what it means to walk on an exposed ledge. Some may even suffer from vertigo.
Working with all these different clients, handling their expectations and emotions, there are of course times that I perhaps would not regret an office job! It is in these moments that, as a mountain guide, we understand how important patience, passion for your work and the ability to relate to any type of climber is important in this job. Leadership skills were a key part of the guide course I did, to become an official mountain guide. You have to make decisions and do it instantly, without hesitation, otherwise you might be putting yourself or the client at risk.
This is one of the many reasons it can be very different climbing by yourself and climbing with a client. Sometimes clients think their guides are somewhat like cable cars and they have to be tied to us to get to the top. And that’s hard work. But one of the other reasons it’s so different – and the reason I find it so fulfilling – is their reactions when they do get to the top. When I climbed the Matterhorn for the first time with a client, I was nervous the whole time. But when I reached the top, my fear fell away. The happiness of realising someone else’s ultimate dream – climbing the Matterhorn – was a wonderful thing.
And that’s why I do it. Being able to inspire budding climbers is an amazing thing, giving them the confidence that they can get to the top. I think it’s really important to remember to have fun. One thing I find when I’m guiding is that often clients want to the most difficult climb when actually, they’d enjoy an easier climb much more. And it’s essential to enjoy the climb and appreciate where you are – because it’s always breathtaking! You don’t have to look at the grades or go for the extreme descent – you have to make sure you’re doing what you like and are enjoying it.
I hope that I can carry on enjoying the mountains for years to come, getting more and more experience to be the best mountain guide I can be. My next goal is to become a guide instructor. I like the idea of teaching and passing on my passion not only to clients, but to people who would become my colleagues.
To read more about Carlo Cosi’s experiences as a mountain guide, click here.