Get to Know Outdoor Guide Ben Gilbert

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Ben Gilbert started The Blue Space Outdoor Adventure Travel Guides’ Co-operative to run adventure trips with partner companies around the world. The company now operates out of Nepal, and Gilbert works as an outdoor guide and life coach, helping people learn about themselves through all-terrain, multi-day hiking trips. He’s a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, member of the Snow Leopard Network and advisor to The Child Space Foundation Nepal. He has been trained in bushwalking, canyoning, navigation and advanced canyon rescue operations, and has guided in the French and Spanish Basque Pyrenees, Mallorca, Sweden, Norway, Ukraine, Mexico, Costa Rica, Chile, India, Nepal, Tibet, Japan, Thailand, Australia, the U.S. and the U.K. He has written five books.
How did you get into your field of expertise?

I got off a plane in Kathmandu, went trekking and met a guy who asked me to run white-water rafting trips. Then I went into business (running treks). I learned the hard way — the politics in Nepal changes and it all ends up in smoke. You couldn’t function properly, corruption was huge, so I had an idea of a co-operative (called World Peace Trekking) rather than a company. … I started specializing in small pockets of Nepal where nobody goes and taking people there.

How did you make the transition to becoming an outdoor guide?

I was in the Ukraine running a conservation project. … There was an American couple there (and) I ended up giving them life coaching. I thought, ‘I don’t want to be a life coach, it’s boring,’ but if I could hike with them, not tell them how to live their lives but get them to look at their lives in a different way, it works.

What does a typical day look like for you?

There’s a lot of hanging around, a lot of chatting to people, to get work. I could be writing, I could be doing a tour, I could be doing nothing. You put your focus on finding people. … What gets me work is being out talking to people, being recommended and being different. If you’re a guide who goes to Everest Base Camp, you join the cue.

Do you have a certain style of guiding, or do you just run with it on the day?

If you don’t know the people, you don’t know what’s going to turn up. My style is slow and consistent and steady. Accidents happen in the outdoors usually through hurry and speed, when you’re stressed because the pressure is on.

What’s the best part of your job?

Not having a 9-5 job. Most jobs are sitting in front of a computer, so having that freedom, (but) it comes with a price where you may not make much money.

What’s the most bizarre experience you’ve had on a guided tour?

There was a German guy (and) what he wanted to do every morning was take all of his clothes off and go into the bushes with his camera, and that’s what he bloody well went and did. We don’t know what he was filming.

Every job has its ups and downs. Are there any aspects of your job that you don’t like?

Repetition of the same routes. Cancellations — you get that, you have to get used to it. If you do big trips with lots of people, it’s very demanding. You need to be a babysitter for a lot of people. … (But) if you’re a guide and you’ve got the work, what do you have to complain about?

As an experienced guide yourself, can you explain the benefits of hiring a guide?

People get hurt in the outdoors, but (guides) minimize the danger by understanding the small things that ruin a trip. That could be drinking bad water, a branch that could drop on your tent — if we don’t get over that pass by mid-day we’ll be stuffed. They keep you safe and they stop you wasting time if you’re a busy person. I use guides myself. I was in Scotland less than a year ago — the routes are so complicated in Scotland I hired a guide for three days and it was great, I did everything I wanted to do.

In your view, what makes a good outdoor guide?

Patience. You have to have a long history of the outdoors. And a varied history of the outdoors. A lot of kids go into guiding and they get a piece of paper and they work for an outdoor company and do health and safety oriented type of guiding — everybody’s got the right insurance disclaimers — (but) by the time you go on your hike it’s been so sanitized the adventure elements have been greatly reduced. They’re not guides in the sense that I mean guides, out there in all different terrains. You have to like people, you have to be personal, but you have to have boundaries.

Do you have any tips for people interested in booking a guide like yourself, but aren’t too sure what to look for?

Every guide will probably tell you they can do the job — I think recommendation is everything.

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