The Hut

The Ab­bot Hut

Gripped - - CONTENTS - by Bran­don Pul­lan

While work­ing as a ski pa­troller at Mar­mot Basin in Jasper, Mark Led­widge caught his first glimpse of Parks Canada’s war­den ser­vice. By 1985 he be­gan work as a pub­lic ser­vant, not your typ­i­cal nine to five, where the work was steady. And while not ev­ery­one in the war­den ser­vice was cer­ti­fied, Led­widge saw that the fu­ture of work­ing in the pro­gram was to be­come a moun­tain guide.

Led­widge was right.The cer­ti­fi­ca­tion stan­dard set by the As­so­ci­a­tion of Cana­dian Moun­tain Guides was adopted by Parks Canada as far back as 1955 when the famed guide Wal­ter Per­ren was hired. He started the moun­tain res­cue pro­gram. It was ob­vi­ous to him early on that a ca­reer in the moun­tain res­cue pro­gram re­quired guide cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. Led­widge is a full acmg/ifmga cer­ti­fied guide and the head of Vis­i­tor Safety for Banff, Yoho and Koote­nay national parks. He says the shift from a gen­eral to a spe­cial­ized team hasn’t come with­out some adapt­ing and has been ac­cused of elitism and push­ing agen­das. Know­ing how to ski and climb is only half the bat­tle. Just be­cause some­one’s a guide doesn’t mean they could ac­com­plish a moun­tain res­cue for an or­ga­ni­za­tion such as Parks. “We’re very se­lec­tive in mak­ing sure we pick the right per­son­al­i­ties,” Led­widge adds. “One of the most sat­is­fy­ing things for me is the di­ver­sity. That’s what builds the team.” Just as a healthy for­est sup­ports trees of var ious ages, Led­widge’s col­leagues span four decades.The best part of hir­ing young, mo­ti­vated in­di­vid­u­als is the en­thu­si­asm they bring with them.

“They have no ex­po­sure (to govern­ment) but br ing new ideas to the ta­ble,” he said. “It’s re­ward­ing how quickly they learn. I’m try­ing to step back and not sched­ule my­self for res­cue leader shifts too much. I was al­ways for­tu­nate and was given the op­por­tu­nity to do things. That’s how you learn. Now it’s their turn.” Led­widge re­marks about his cur­rent role in men­tor­ing new mem­bers of the team.

Led­widge is prac­ti­cal yet funny at times. Some­times he deals with tech­ni­cal res­cues (avalanches and crevasse falls) and other times he deals with peo­ple who try their luck hik­ing trails in high heels, which re­sults in in­jured an­kles. Is the job as much fun as it sounds?

“There’s a per­cep­tion that our job is glamorous,” he says. “But it’s like any job. There are good parts and not-so-good parts. The perks in­clude ex­ten­sive travel across the coun­try with a var ied land­scape. He’s been to over half the national parks in the coun­try. Led­widge says “the af­ter math of some of the calls can be pretty ugly. It can be more dif­fi­cult than deal­ing with the ac­tual sit­u­a­tion. Help­ing peo­ple to get through their tragedy is a big thing.” He hopes the work he does makes for a bet­ter time in the moun­tain parks for both tour ists and recre­ation­ists.

“We want to en­hance peo­ple’s ex­per ience in the moun­tains.” Led­widge ex­plains. “It’s not just about sur­viv­ing an ad­ven­ture, we want them to come back and en­joy the parks time and time again.”

In Fe­bru­ary, Led­widge was pre­sented with the Queen’s Di­a­mond Ju­bilee Award – a sig­nif­i­cant piece of me­tal, un­like any he’s owned be­fore. The medal cel­e­brates Queen El­iz­a­beth’s 60th an­niver­sary as monarch and is pre­sented to mem­bers of the pub­lic ser­vice who have demon­strated out­stand­ing ser­vice to Cana­di­ans. While a lit­tle un­com­fort­able and fid­gety in pressed pants and a dress shirt, Led­widge’s smile at the cer­e­mony was gen­uine. Con­trary to pop­u­lar be­lief, guides clean up hand­somely when they de­sire.

Led­widge, who is soon to re­tire, says he likes what he does and en­joys go­ing to work: the in­fec­tious en­ergy from the younger guys is con­ta­gious. He can­not say for cer­tain what will hap­pen post-re­tire­ment.

“I don’t like the word re­tire. What­ever I do next doesn’t have to be to­tally re­lated to what I’m do­ing now but I’m go­ing to work. I’d even con­sider cut­ting lawns.” Led­widge quips.

Above: Mark Led­widge dur­ing a res­cue on Cas­tle Moun­tain in Banff National Park in 2012

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