Monday, July 31, 2017

Russell Brice Retires From Mountain Guiding

While this story is linked to the events that took place in the Karakoram last week, I thought it was significant enough to give it its own post. Mountaineering legend Russell Brice has announced his retirement from guiding, bringing an end to a long career that has been groundbreaking in many ways.

For those who don't know, Brice is the head of Himalayan Experience or Himex as it is often called. He has been a pioneer in commercial guiding for years, having led his first expedition to Everest back in 1994. Over the years, he has personally bagged 14 8000-meter summits, including two on Everest, which has given him a unique perspective on what it takes to successfully reach to the top of some of the biggest mountains in the world. That shaped him into one of the best head guides in the world in terms of organization and logistics, as his teams often provided important leadership and decision making on the peaks that he guided on.

For the past three years, Himex has brought climbing teams to K2 with the hopes of making successful summits on that mountain as well. None of those squads ever reached the top, and that seems to have weighed on Brice. In his final update for the season that has just ended he wrote this:
"So once again it would appear that I have made a bad judgment call, and should really be still on the hill. I came here at the request of my members because they put their trust in me. I took this on as an honor but also as a great challenge to deal with this mountain. I have failed, it is time for me to give up this game. I have enjoyed the experiences along the way, it has not made me rich or have a stable home life, but I have managed to see many parts of the world and meet many interesting people along the way. It’s time to hang up the guiding boots and put my own personal boots on. 
Russ"
In recent years, Brice has been extremely cautious about putting his clients in harms way. Back in 2012, he cancelled his expedition on Everest out of fear of a serac collapsing along the route through the Khumu Icefall. He received a lot of criticism for that decision, but in 2014 that same pillar of ice did indeed collapse, killing 16 porters shuttling gear up the mountain, putting an abrupt end to that season.


Himex was always known for having excellent facilities, guides, and leadership. Its Base Camp on Everest had amenities that others did not, and Brice brought a level of leadership and organization to the mountain that was often lacking in the past. At times, he was a source of controversy and a lightning rod for criticism, but he always had the best interest and safety of his clients in mind. This has become more and more evident in recent years, even as other teams have pushed the envelope in their quests for success, while Himex teams often waited for safer opportunities.

One can't help but wonder of this decision has been on Brice's mind for some time. The landscape in mountaineering is changing dramatically at the moment, as low cost Nepali operators become more prevalent. Teams like Himex are finding it harder to attract clients in an environment that is more competitive than ever. Brice has been one of the men who has helped paved the way for commercial guiding on the big mountains, and he will certainly be missed. This is truly the end of an era, and we definitely wish him well in all future endeavors and adventures.

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