Erik Decamp

Mountain Guide

I have made some choices.

Or, should I say, my choices have made me.

In 1975 I was a young graduate of the Ecole Polytechnique and I was what in France people call a polytechnicien with a mix of respect and a light smile. Respect because these guys have worked really hard to get there (these studies take place in a very competitive environment) and a smile because they are supposed to be super-rational, pure intellectuals. Common sense doesn't seem to belong to the curriculum...

That same year I became aspirant-guide, the first step before becoming a fully diplomed UIAGM mountain guide. I wasn't really aware of making a conscious choice but somehow I did. I started following my own route in life, leaving the straight avenue of a business career.

Going my own way

For this route I had no model and nobody to explain how to do it, or what mistakes to avoid. I was just opening a path with a lot of good cards in my hand and, as everyone, a lot of hidden pit-falls. I mentioned that I had a good set of cards and in many respects, I knew I had some of the best ones. And I knew I was lucky. But this kind of "luck" often seems like a responsibility – you have food and water, you're in shape, you have a map, a compass, an altimeter, why shouldn't you find your way?


The process started with passion as key ingredient. It was my engine, my fuel, and maybe my spare wheel. Without passion I would't have moved and I would have followed the career path that everyone thought I would. Without passion I wouldn't have been so confident in my future. This immediate passion for climbing had deep roots. One of them was certainly the very intense feeling that when you climb, your body and your mind work together. It is a very deep satisfaction.

Keeping the balance

Moving, is all about leaving stability. And stability is all about making choices. I could have chosen to be a scientist, an engineer or a manager. I could have chosen to be a full time guide. However, I didn't choose. I wanted to grow up, but not only in one direction. It is an unstable ambiton. For me, balance is a value.


Time is a great teacher. I gained a lot of experience as an alpinist and as a guide. I got some experience in dealing with the fragile balance I had chosen. In the mountains, I realized that experience allows the development of what we call, in a lazy way, intuition. I realized that emotions should be accepted as valuable partners in the process of decision-making because, if we dismiss them, they jump right back in through the window!

The gift of teaching

In the meantime I was guiding people in the mountain. When you are a young guide, you tend to go for a climb with a client. Later, you realize that you go with a client, to a climb. I have chosen this profession because I like mountaineering. And I like to share this passion, and introduce other people to this world. My first experience of what guiding could be was, as a teenager, behind an experienced guide. And I felt an almost ethereal connection that filled me with energy. I never forgot it.

Add value to the experience.

I guided, I took pictures during my expeditions and I wrote about my climbs and my profession. I sent the message, but received no direct feedback from the receivers. Without real feedback, I was not fed. Lack of fuel, in a way. Something different had to happen. I had spent years living adventures in the mountains, now I had to figure out if it made any sense for people who do not live in the mountains. Re-visiting my mountain experience, finding the words to talk about it in the corporate world, trying to explain what it made me discover and sharing the result of my discoveries with non-alpinists. This is my present challenge. Guiding and corporate activity feed each other today.

A secret garden

Photo has a special place in my heart. Since I do fewer expeditions, I take more time for photography. It is one one these secret gardens we all need...

And above all, life!

I am not at all a philosopher, and it would be presumptuous of me to assume that role. I am not so comfortable with the title of this section (My philosophy) and if you can suggest me a better one, you are most welcome. Just one more word, as a conclusion; in critical moments, in the mountains or elsewhere, never forget, that life is certainly the best thing in life.