Hiking and mountaineering have evolved over the years, with an inextricable link to the mountaineering community, societies and clubs. Within tight and clearly defined procedures, rules and standards, boundaries have shifted in every sense – number of tours and clubs, number of conquered peaks… A huge merit for promoting and enhancing this beautiful sport goes to mountain or hiking guides. In the past, there were some legendary guides that paved the way for younger generations, so it is well deserved that we call them mountaineering legends.
However, in the last ten years, hiking and the organization around it have changed considerably.
I feel that there has been an exceptional popularization of hiking and that the structure of participants has changed. It is no longer a sport reserved only for the middle aged and the elderly. A big impact, in fact, a tectonic shift was made under the influence of computers. Firstly, as a result of being seated in front of computers for many hours, an increasing number of young people are looking for some balance, so they turn to sports and recreational activities in the forests and mountains. Secondly, a number of websites and social networks promote the amazing beauty of our region, provoking a reaction: “It’s really beautiful, why wouldn’t I try it?” When demand increases, the topic of money is necessarily brought up. And when it comes to money – eh, this further leads to many things.
As of recent, there has been an enormous number of new private clubs and various groups of lovers and fans of nature… Now, I’m not saying that there are only charlatans in the new clubs and that in the old, “renowned” ones they are all great experts. No! The guides and clubs have now completely mixed up. Even in the largest and oldest mountaineering clubs, which should have an enormous reputation, there are guides that announce programs and expeditions which are clearly not going to happen. It’s all about the person, his or her face and honor.
The mountain guide should be a person who has been deeply engaged in hiking for many years, who was certified by a relevant association, and through the practice and assistance of a mentor acquired the necessary knowledge and skills to manage a group of hikers. The guide must be extremely familiar with the terrain where he is leading the group; he must have passed it several times in different weather conditions and seasons. It sounds pretty good in theory, but in practice it happens that the long-standing, highly ranked guides of the mountaineering societies miss the tracks, and only with the help of navigation or a phone are able to get back on the right path.
Also, the mountain guide must be ready for unexpected rain or fog and to have a backup plan, as well as the ability to improvise.
Since guides form their groups, they need to have a detailed program in place, as well as a selection process. This is especially important for more demanding tours. Most believe that 20-25 kilometers is not that much, and that it is not particularly demanding to pass through a canyon or cave. However, in these situations, some people reach the limits of their capabilities and face their greatest phobias. For the purpose of an easier and faster “filling of places in the bus”, all applications are accepted, so it happens that a person on a canyon tour is not a swimmer, is afraid of jumping in the water or is completely unprepared for the adventure. I still remember this boy who went for a full-day adventure in the canyon of Crna Reka, only in his slippers and without any drinking water supplies. Simply, this is not the way it should be!!! If someone is not aware of the tour specifics, the guide is the one who should provide information or remove this person from the group.
This is not a hiker
Then, I met people suffering from acrophobia (fear of height), who were forced to cross a bridge hanging above a river, not to mention the people whose physical condition could not bear the planned mileage. All this creates a negative picture. People who “strayed” go through a hell, and develop a deep repulsion towards outdoor activities, and on the other hand, the more willing participants experience delays, changes of agreement, slower rhythm, exiting from the canyon or forest in the dark, or returning to Belgrade after midnight, none of it in line with a previous agreement.
Of course, safety is the first priority and everything needs to be done to help a companion during a tour, but this should be thought of while you are forming a group, and not while in the canyon, when this person is faced with a jump from a four-meter waterfall.
Since I mentioned the bus a few times, let me say a few words about this aspect. Each guide, depending on the size of the group, engages a particular type of transport. I feel that there is a widely spread opinion that if climbers can sit on stones and sleep in sacks and tents, they can also ride in any old thing. Before I started hiking, I thought that the bus from the movie “Ko to tamo peva” (a cult Yugoslav movie) was sold for scrap a long time ago. Unfortunately, it was not. It is clear to me that better quality buses are more expensive and that guides balance between price and quality. Also, the guide is not guilty if a breakdown occurs on the bus.
But if a bus cannot climb faster than 30km per hour, so it travels twice as long and smoke is coming from the exhaust pipe into the cabin, I feel as if I am hiking in Pančevo (notorious for its industrial air pollution) or 29th November street, and then I get sick of the little nature I get to see.
In addition to responsibilities, mountain guides have rights. The right to design what and how they will guide, to select an assistant, the right to postpone or change the route, remove unfit or inadequately prepared participants and the right to compensation. As I am the one who organizes tours in my surroundings, I know very well how difficult these activities are and I fully agree that guides need to be compensated for all the effort, work, and responsibilities they have. But some people have no measure and everything is seen through money, so the beautiful principles of sports, socializing, staying in nature, healthy life almost disappeared, and everything is reduced to earnings.
This text is critical, but only to point out a number of negative things that are currently happening. This does not mean that quality hiking guides have disappeared. I had the opportunity to go on tours with guides that have deeply embedded human and moral principles and I hope they will keep that level in the future. I want to believe that there are quality people and guides I have not yet met. I deliberately did not want to mention any particular club or guide, either in good or bad context. My idea is not to point my finger at them, but to draw attention to the current situation.
People do not give up faith because of bad priests, children seek knowledge in spite of half-educated teachers, so you have to hold out and find your way to enjoy nature. The essence of going to nature is more important than the people who represent some organizations. Change clubs and guides you go with, until you find the ones that really suit you. There are still honest people who will take you selflessly and for decent money around the beautiful areas of the Balkans, and provide you with a breath of nature that is necessary to live through the day. And you can always organize on your own, by following instructions from this blog. 😉