MARTIN CHESTER PROFILES HIS OUT-AND-OUT HEROES IN THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF MOUNTAIN GUIDING. NEXT UP: BRUCE GOODLAD. OVER TO MARTIN…
Staring out to the yacht, I could see the polar bear stalking across the sea-ice between us and our safe haven. Bruce stood next to me with the rifle, while I pulled the flare pistol from my pack. Waiting calmly for the bear to wander off in search of seals, I wouldn’t have wanted to be with anyone else, and realised that Bruce was put on this planet to take people to polar places by yacht. How on earth did that happen…?
You will probably know of Bruce Goodlad as the author of those amazing books on ski-touring and alpinism (such as Alpine Ski Touring, 2019, and Ski Touring, 2nd edition, 2019). You may know of him as an IFMGA mountain guide and you may recall that he has been technical director of British Mountain Guides in his time. But he really comes into his own on a sail and ski adventure to the mountains at each end of the earth.
Bruce first went sailing in a wicker basket when he was two months old. Really! With his dad in the merchant navy, the sea is in Bruce’s family and sailing is in his blood. From those tender years onward, the family always had a boat of various kinds, and they spent every summer (all six or seven weeks of it, once his dad became a teacher) sailing around the coast of Scotland. But this is not the story of a privileged trustafarian. These were humble adventures in 21-27ft wooden boats. No luxury gin-palaces here! Perfect for learning a healthy respect for the sea and developing the skills of a young sailor.
ALL AT SEA
By the time Bruce was 17, he had already made the committing crossing (by sail, of course) to Norway. With this family interest, his father a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and a library of inspirational books around the house, Bruce developed an interest in polar exploration and the iconic sea-faring expeditions of our times.
I say “of our times” because when you quiz Bruce about his knowledge of history, he takes umbrage with the term: “Don’t forget it wasn’t that long ago that Scott went to the Pole. The next person was Ed Hillary in a tractor – it was like going to the moon back then.” Our world has got smaller incredibly quickly.
Our recent trip to Svalbard is a great example of this phenomenon. At midnight, we were sitting in the pub in Longyearbyen. With a 2am flight to Norway, and a quick transfer in Oslo, we can be eating breakfast in Manchester by 10am. The world may have shrunk, but places like Svalbard are (thankfully) still as wild and natural as ever.
Once at university, Bruce’s love of climbing took over and he became part of the Scottish winter climbing scene. Nine months in Antarctica for the British Antarctic Survey followed, where Bruce was able to work, ski and explore with a couple of other influential field assistants, whilst honing his affinity with the polar environment. He went on to work a season as a guide on Mount Vinson. As a consequence, Bruce has now spent well over a year of his life in Antarctica. He just loves that stuff!
A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY
Qualifying as a mountain guide, at 30 years old, Bruce quickly realised this was a golden opportunity to combine several of his greatest passions: guiding, Polar exploration, sailing and skiing. Seeing him at work in Svalbard, I can vouch that he was a man in his element, where others would be overwhelmed by the complexity.
“On a selfish level, you get to deploy all your skills as a guide – it is so much more rewarding.” Good news is that the rewards are reaped by the whole team!
Bruce has now been lucky to deploy these skills in some of the wildest places on earth. With some six trips to Finnmark on the Goxsheim; a couple of other trips to northern Norway; trips to Russia, Iceland, Antarctica and three to Svalbard (and counting) few have more experience than Bruce. He really knows what it takes to make these trips a success.
At the end of the day, the formula is simple. Bruce lives and loves to “go places where it is just me, my clients, and the mountains. Places I don’t know, where decision making is not compromised” – either by other people or by prior experience.