After he graduated from university, John Race considered law school – but an expedition to the Himalayas’ Shishapangma Mountain changed the course of his career. Since then, the alpine guide has led trips up Denali and Everest and retraced explorer Ernest Shackleton’s route across South Georgia Island on skis. Race plans all the trips he guides and provides medical care en route. He advises novice climbers to take it one day at a time. “The biggest goals are too big to digest at once,” he says. “Those who stand on top aren’t always the most talented, but they’re the most dogged.”
By Emily Haile
Name: John Race
Years on job: 22
1. Avalanche beacon
This 380-gram Tracker DTS avalanche beacon pulses at 457 kHz, the standard international frequency. If a climber gets buried, group members switch their own beacons to receive the signal and begin searching. The first quarter of an hour is crucial for survival. After that, “things get pretty grim”, Race says.
2. Ice tool
The Petzl Nomic Leashless Ice Climbing Tool has a steel pick and an aluminium-alloy shaft. “You could stick it in a crack and stand on it, and you’re not gonna break it,” Race says. Strong and versatile, it allows for dry-tooling – navigating dry, rocky patches – as well as vertical climbing on ice.
Race carries a Nonin Medical oximeter – which measures blood-oxygen saturation and pulse rate – on all high-altitude expeditions. The device operates in temperatures down to minus 30. When a team member’s oxygen levels drop, Race may mandate a retreat to lower altitudes.
Race owns six pairs of skis for snow conditions from deep powder to breakable crust, but the G3 Spitfires are the best all-purpose skis in his collection. They perform well on downhills and, at 3,5 kg per pair, are light enough to make ascents comfortable. “It’s not an outrageously sexy ski,” he says, “but it’s super-reliable.”