The six aspiring trails guides cross-check equipment and each load a neatly compressed pack onto their back. There will be no demarcated campsites, tents or prescribed routes for the next four days. We wish to explore beyond convention, amidst the spheres of holistic trails guiding.
The vocation is more multifaceted than popular definition and qualification criteria would suggest. An appropriate definition of a trails guide is someone that can facilitate a fulfilling multi-day primitive walking safari in a remote, dangerous game, environment. In order to repeatedly achieve their objective, trails guides must develop a method (recipe) that incorporates only the necessary components (ingredients) and recognize their significance (measurements).
Our ‘recipe’ or holistic trails guiding philosophy is based on the concept of three multi-disciplinary spheres. The first, and most significant, can be referred to as genius loci – the spirit of place. It represents the immediate landscape and natural processes that weave through that landscape to create an exclusive ecosystem. The practice of elucidating the interdependence of all the components within that ecosystem creates the feeling of purposeful wildness. This need not be restricted to the physical. After all, this is the original and permanent home of the human spirit. It therefore includes an emotional natural component and associated events, such as when a dysfunctional (over-civilised) individual reconnects with nature and functional space through spontaneous intuitive insight. Fundamentally, it is the ‘coliseum’, the source of our passion and inspiration and should be treated with the utmost respect at all times.
The second sphere encompasses all the ‘Soft Skills’. These are non-quantifiable aspects which determine the trails guides’ success as facilitator. This is the space in which we spend the majority of our guiding time, probably as much as 85 percent. It includes personal and social relations, intuition, attitude, approach to nature, philosophy and experience. This is essentially the more feminine of the two latter spheres. Correspondingly, a humble and considerate temperament towards the environment is beneficial.
The third sphere is concerned with ‘Hard Skills’. This is a very impersonal space, which includes the
practical and physical skills required, especially while on Primitive Trails. Some of the hard skills include making fire (often by friction), securing and collecting water, camp site selection, rehabilitating the fire, theoretical knowledge and shooting. These skills are specific, quantifiable and can therefore be assessed. Trails guides generally spend very little, probably less than 15 percent, of the total trail time in this sphere. For example, shooting is a hard skill that should by right be practiced ad nauseum, but will only account for a nano fraction of a trails guide’s hard skill repertoire during his career, if at all. This sphere pulses with masculinity and can provide refuge for inflated egos. A temperament driven by bravado and dominion should be avoided.
Due to its nature, the trails guide qualification is based predominantly within the third sphere. Admittedly, it is extremely difficult to quantify a trails guides understanding and appreciation of genius loci and application of soft skills. However, when you consider our ‘interdisciplinary spheres of trails guiding’ concept, achieving the trails guide qualification is merely an acknowledgement that a particular candidate has complied with minimum legal requirements – within a single trails guiding sphere. It is the K53 of trails guiding.
The nucleus of trails guiding, as with most applied sciences, is experience. Merely knowing when to avoid an encounter is valuable beyond recognition. Nonetheless, occupational trails guides will encounter threatening situations due to the combination of an extraordinary amount of time spent in the field and the infinite possibilities of circumstance (weather, structure, animals in motion and at rest etc.). Fortuitously, this work environment is forgiving as experienced trails guides manage to negotiate more than ninety-nine percent of confrontational incidents without converting them to lifeless matter.
However, we should be realistic. The notion that an occupational trails guide can go his/her entire career without having to shoot an animal in self-defense, as long as they conduct themselves according to the textbook, speaks for a lack of experience. The perception is the equivalent of arguing that a driver by profession is exempt from a vehicle accident, as long as he obeys the K53 guidelines religiously. What then about the external variable that jumps a stop street, red traffic light or falls asleep behind the steering wheel? The law abiding driver has no influence on this eventuality, and considering the amount of time he spends on the road, is clearly not exempt from falling victim to an accident. The driver in him/herself is not a detached traffic component, just like the trails guide is not isolated from a natural environment and its infinite possibilities of circumstance.
Pause for a minute to consider one of a trails guide’s greatest responsibilities. Nine lives over a four-day period. Nine lives instead of the maximum trail limit of eight persons, because trails guides are not exempt from injury or death. Therefore, the responsibility is not restricted to the individual that has achieved the Lead Trails Guide qualification; it rests equally as heavy on the shoulders of the Back-Up Trails Guide.
Clearly it makes more sense that aspiring trails guides accumulate experience as part of a structured and durable Trails Guide Mentorship constituent, rather than by trial and error.
By synergising our ‘interdisciplinary spheres of trails guiding’ concept with structured mentorship trails, we will not only stay current as a fraternity, but help drive the industry forward and raise the level of trails guiding across all guiding sectors in Southern Africa.
Our fire flickered modestly on that clear and still night. ‘Watch duty’ had been rather uneventful prior to my shift, but I settled next to the flame with anticipation. This is a time to reflect. It feels good to be part of something such as this, we are another link in the chain as we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us.