Rob Gowler has been guiding full-time since the mid-nineties and is considered one of the best, mainly working for the Alaska Mountaineering School and Jackson Hole Mountain Guides. He also consults for outdoor gear companies, rigs equipment for TV shows and rescues, counsels other guide services, trains and runs mountain teams, all while embarking on his own personal adventures. He has helped many up-and-coming leaders in the backcountry advance their careers and is well-known in the industry.
Of all the outdoor activities and sports you do, which is your ultimate favorite?
Over my outdoor career, my favorite activities have changed around a bit for sure. Through my late teens, 20’s and into my 30’s nothing even came close to rock and ice climbing and ski mountaineering. I still really enjoy climbing and skiing, but I’ve added a lot of activities into my lifestyle that I spend as much time doing now, like surfing, kite surfing, paragliding and speed flying, ultra running, cycling, mountain biking, pack rafting etc.. At one time I could say that I had a favorite activity, but I can no longer say that. I can say, though, regardless of the activity, that my favorite time is time spent in the mountains.
What drives you, or continues to drive you, to be a part of the guiding/ outdoor industry?
I have been heavily involved with the outdoor/ guiding industry since the mid 90’s. Being a part of the outdoor industry is a lifestyle choice for sure. Instead of having my life revolve around work and material things, my life revolves around being outside, staying fit and active and doing the things I love in the mountains. The guiding industry is, generally, seasonal work and in order to piece it all together throughout the year I have always have to be willing to travel a lot. I love seeing new places and meeting new people. An outsider might look in on my life and think that I don’t work all that much and that I spend the majority of my time goofing off. That’s not entirely true and I guess just having a life that looks like that from the outside is what drives me. It’s not all about work after all.
Who are your heroes?
Definitely Gareth Richards, President of Outdoor Prolink!
[Gareth was Rob’s professor of Outdoor Education at Prescott University back in the day.]
Do you have a favorite piece of gear?
I don’t have a favorite piece of gear. Gear comes and goes. I like and need it all. I’m glad I have the ability to get the right equipment for the job. I do like having the lightest stuff available. I have to thank Outdoor Prolink and companies like Mountain Hardwear for that, for sure.
Where do you escape when you’re having a bad day?
A long trail run is a definite go-to on a bad day, although to be honest I don’t have a lot of bad days.
Have you ever had a challenge that made you question your passion or why you do what you do?
Not really. I have certainly had difficult trips with difficult people who make my job not as enjoyable at times. But it has never made me question the big picture of what I have done with my life for the last 20-plus years. 99% of the people I work with are great! They have a real desire to learn to be better climbers, mountaineers, skiers and stewards of the wilderness. If only 1% of my clientele is difficult, I’d say that those are pretty good odds, especially compared to the overall population. People that choose to go on adventure related ‘holidays’ are a pretty good breed.
What’s next on the list for you?
I just flew off from a successful Denali expedition a few days ago. I’m going to take a little time off to go running, paragliding and mountain biking and slowly make my way to the Tetons for the rest of Jackson Hole Mountain Guide season. After that I’ll be heading to Oman for some safety/rescue work, then I’m not sure yet. A lot of this type of work comes very last-minute. It always comes, it’s just hard to plan for sometimes.
What’s your favorite meal to cook for clients on the trail?
I’ve been told that my enchiladas are pretty good. I usually make those at 14,200’ on Denali but it’s definitely not my favorite meal to cook, ‘cause they’re pretty difficult to make, especially when cooking for 9 people on 6 MSR Whisperlite stoves and 2 fry-bake fry pans and all the while you still have to be melting snow and making hot water…The easiest, lightest, most bang for your buck breakfast though (also easy to make) is probably hash browns and bacon. It’s not the quickest, but if you pre-soak the hash browns it’s pretty fast and it stays with you for a long time.
What’s the craziest situation you’ve ever been in while guiding?
I’m not really sure. I have been in some pretty crazy situations over the years, mostly all good though. I do a lot of safety and rigging work in the reality TV industry. Most of the adventure TV shows like to go to places where no one has ever been before. So I get to go to some of the most remote places on Earth and do scouting, course design, stunt work, medical support and behind the scenes safety stuff in some pretty amazing places. Often times we just pick out a spot on the map or on Google Earth and have a helicopter take us as close as we can get and then we jump out and have it pick us up at another place on the map.
On one of these adventures, I was stung in the head, face and throat (inside) about 20 times by wasps. We were in such dense jungle canopy that we could not have gotten out with a satellite phone, two way radio, SPOT, Delorme In-Reach or BGAN. We had access to a helicopter with an external winch for extrication, but no way of calling for it. Luckily it was me that got stung and I wasn’t allergic. I immediately took some Benadryl, a steroid and had some EPI Pens in hand and kept bushwhacking. We were about a two days walk to civilization, and I had about ten people with me at the time.
Do you have any advice for guides just starting out?
The best advice I can give newer guides is: work hard, whether this is working hard to maintain good working relationships with your clientele or working hard for the guide service(s) who are employing you. BE EASY TO STAFF! The guiding season is all about making hay while the sun shines. Be AVAILABLE during the season. Put aside your personal climbing goals until you are not needed. Trust me, if you work for a big company they will be having a difficult time scheduling guides. The easier you can make it for them the more likely they are going to keep putting your name on the schedule. Take any and all assignments given to you (as long as the assignment is within your ability). Some companies have guide mentor-ships. Others don’t. As a newer mountain guide you are going to have to go through the AMGA, which is both good and bad. Just keep in mind that even if/when you become a fully certified guide you still need to be humble, a good employee, and be willing to learn from the local “niche” guides.