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GUIDING LIGHT - (Outside Traveler Magazine, Winter 2006)
If you’re salivating for serious adventure, Skip Horner is your go-to guide. Horner, who co-founded Victor, Montana-based adventure travel company Skip Horner Worldwide with his wife Elizabeth, was the first person to take clients to the tops of all Seven Summits. He’s led first descents of 11 major rivers around the world and is currently on his way to his 21st ascent of Kilimanjaro- with clients in tow, of course. Just a few days before Horner’s trip to Africa, Stephanie Pearson caught up with him as he packed his ice-ax and binoculars.
TRAVELER: You often say you were born to guide. Why do you love it so much, and what makes a successful guide.
HORNER: I know I can get myself to the top of a mountain, but the big thrill is getting up there with a client. I love that. I love to see people have a great time and feel good about themselves. I like it when my clients reach their goals, and there’s still so much of the world to see- for me and for everyone.
TRAVELER: Great guides have great disaster stories. What’s yours?
HORNER: I was guiding the first-descent of a river in Madagascar when I came down with cerebral malaria. I was dying fast. They left me behind on an island in the middle of the river with the trip doc. While we waited for an airlift, the doc kept me alive by force-feeding my medicine, and by chucking stones at the crocodiles that inhabited the island. I had two interesting ways to die. The helicopter arrived two days late but it turned out fine. We survived.
TRAVELER: What’s your idea of a vacation?
HORNER: I always tack on some extra time before or after a trip for myself- or better yet, with Elizabeth. I’m going to Kenya four days early to do some birding in the Kakamega Forest. I look for birds wherever I go. My life list is up to about 1600 species. In the last year we’ve ‘vacationed’ in Romania, Namibia, South Africa and Sri Lanka after guiding trips in the vicinity. We were just curious about those countries, and they were nearby and very appealing.
TRAVELER: Do you have any advise for aspiring guides?
HORNER: I was lucky to get in on the adventure travel boom early. It wasn’t even called that when I began adventuring. Now there are so many people who want to guide that it’s hard to make a good living at it. If someone really wants it, they have to love people, love the outdoors, have solid and specialized skills, and love living a financially insecure life. It’s great while you’re young, but it takes a special person to make a career out of it.
TRAVELER: Is there one place you’re still dying to see?
HORNER: No, there are many! I want to go to Siberia. I’m attracted to the enormous remoteness of it. I want to climb in the Mulanje Mountains in Malawi, a range you never hear much about. I want to ski to the South Pole. It’s on my calendar for next December. Also, some day I’ll sail across the Pacific.