Learning from the best: A trip supported by the Karl Nagy Memorial Scholarship


Editor’s Note - The practice of guiding is no doubt an art, and the opportunity to mentor under professional guides can be an invaluable experience for those aspiring to the discipline.

In 2001 the Karl Nagy Memorial Scholarship was established to help aspirant guides and volunteer leaders develop their skills. This past summer Bree Kullman was awarded the scholarship, seeing her off to Hallam Glacier for the 2018 GMC. There she watched, learned and led with the camp’s guides - navigating through complicated terrain, maintaining efficiency and a genuine rapport with her ropemates.

In the following trip report she provides us with a personal account on why it is so important to stand beside professionals in the field.

For more on the Karl Nagy Scholarship, check out the link at the end of this article.

Photo: Jesse Kao

Standing on End

Photo: Jim Firstbrook

Wildfire smoke sagged over our dirt heli-pad as GMC guests, gear and staff were ferried load by load to the Hallam Glacier Camp. Mountain Guide Paddy Jerome and I were chatting before the next flurry of helicopter activity, when he abruptly stopped mid sentence:

“Your hair is standing on end.”

He immediately clicked the PTT button on his VHF radio and relayed a warning to the helicopter pilot: static is building in the atmosphere, warning of the possibility of lightning.

I was impressed. Now that is what it means to be a professional mountain guide. As the 2018 Karl Nagy Memorial Scholarship recipient, I was slated to spend the week learning from experienced GMC amateur leaders and professional guides like Paddy. My education had begun.

Keep ‘em Moving

It was day four of camp and I had made sure to get on the day’s outing with Helen Sovdat, the third North American woman certified as a mountain guide. Today, there are 14 active female mountain guides in Canada. With odds like that, I was not going to miss the chance to learn from Helen.

Photo: Jeff Stokoe

We left basecamp at 06:30 with our eyes set on Wiser Peak, a trip which involves hiking, scrambling, glacier travel and a 120m snow slope leading to a rubble summit. Happy to revisit the terrain, this would be my second time assisting on Mt. Wiser.

What Helen taught me that day was anticipation: she was always two steps ahead, leaving each rope transition primed for the next, and planning the details of our descent while leading us on the climb. With beta from the previous Wiser summit party, we had enough rope to prepare a 120m lower down the face while the last of the participants tagged the peak. If anyone felt uneasy being lowered, they had 120m to get the hang of it. 

Past the bergschrund, down the Magic Carpet Glacier and back on the rock, we had finally earned ourselves a twelve-minute lunch break. Helen shared stories about her time working with Outward Bound and her experience moving through guide training. Sandwich gone, rope coiled, she was up and shouldering her pack again; it would be a shame to miss teatime at camp.

Jesse Milner (Ski and Apprentice Rock Guide) told me earlier in the camp, “Speed is safety in the mountains, keep the team moving.”

Helen sure knows how to keep ‘em moving. 

Taking it out Front

Up until this point I had taken up lead in parallel with guides or otherwise had happily followed their lead. But the real test, a unique opportunity the Karl Nagy scholarship provides, is getting out front for real. On that trip up Mt. Wiser, Helen put my rope team out front to ascend and descend the glacier. She followed close behind to offer feedback. The responsibility and challenge are suddenly very real when you have just the landscape in front of you and the trust of participants following in your track. But this is what guiding is all about.

Photo: Ben Churchill

As an aspirant guide, gaining mileage out front, with the security of someone so experienced behind you is invaluable. There exist very few opportunities like this along the way.

I’ll reiterate how incredible this opportunity is — a big thanks to all the people who donated to this scholarship and to the leaders who take recipients under their wings!

Cracking the Riddle Glacier

By the final day of camp, I had observed and learned from guides and leaders on two different summit days and skills days, all on the south side of the valley. Meanwhile to the west, teams were turned back after attempting to navigate the Riddle Glacier, the access to the Hallam Icefield and surrounding peaks. With the good graces of the kitchen staff, Ian Welsted and Jesse’s team rallied for breakfast at 04:30 on Friday morning, optimistic about cracking the Riddle.

Photo: Leo Parent

Photo: Sally Baydala

Ian set an incredible pace for our team of eight as we manoeuvred over moraines, with Jesse in the back eyeing the line he was eager to try. These gents flowed swiftly through the morning ascent, transitioning our rope teams over ice, snow and around crevasses. A member asks for a quick break, but the pace is sacred - I assure folks that we will rest when we get to the col. A few minutes of silence and someone else observed the fact that I used the word when.

“Huh?” I replied, confused.

“You said when we reach the col Bree, not if!

I smirked. “Yeah, we are going to make it!”

At 09:45, Ian asks who wants to make the radio announcement. Smiling ear to ear, one of the participants makes the call,

“The Riddle’s been cracked!”

“Hey congrats,” replies basecamp, “Aren’t you glad the kitchen staff woke up at 03:00?”

Photo: Ben Churchill

The day on the Riddle taught me the discipline involved in alpine guiding; the discipline to pace, keep track of time and maintain a softness throughout. While they had set a mean pace and no-nonsense schedule, Ian and Jesse also exuded patience, kindness and ease throughout the day. That combination pulled out the best in people. They had led a day that checked all the boxes: we arrived back at camp safe, as friends, having climbed a mountain. Now that is what it means to be a professional mountain guide.


That final night at camp we celebrated the closing of the 112th GMC as Lawrence White spoke of the integral partnership between the ACC and ACMG. I thought about all the people who had sat in similar tents over the years, some participants, others leaders, and people like me, moving through the paces and gaining mileage - filing away lessons for the next opportunity to learn and grow. I thought of all those who had shared ideas, wisdom and warnings in tents like this at GMC’s, basecamps and bivys. I thought of mentors, both made and in the making.

Photo: Dave Riley

Someone who I consider a mentor introduced me to the ACMG as a career path back in 2014. He knew Karl, and that last night at camp he was kind enough to share some of his memories of the man. “We are living through history,” he said. I couldn’t agree more.

In my application for the Karl Nagy Memorial Scholarship, I wrote of creating meaningful spaces for mentorship in the mountain community. I want to thank the ACC, the ACMG, those who supported my application, Week 6 participants, staff, leaders and guides who took the time and energy to mentor me during the 2018 GMC. It was an incredible learning opportunity, to experience such a historic Canadian alpine event and to spend time getting to know everyone in our shared element: the mountains.

Onwards and upwards.

Photo: Phee Hudson

Interested in becoming a leader?

For aspirant guides and volunteer leaders, finding opportunities to hone their guiding skills in a controlled and mentoring environment can be a big challenge. The ACC’s General Mountaineering Camp is the ideal location for leaders to build skills and the Karl Nagy Memorial Scholarship can help it happen.

This scholarship was established in 2001 to assist aspirant guides and volunteer leaders in the development of their skills. Until his death in 2000, Karl set an outstanding example as a mentor in the mountains and was well known for his leadership, safety and success. Karl was admired and loved for his exuberant attitude in the mountain environment that he played and worked in.