With the collaboration of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, the Petzl Foundation put together and financed a training program and a training manual, and equipped the training center. Petzl’s field tests manager, Patrick Magnier, is the volunteer project manager.
Journalist Christophe Migeon interviews Patrick Magnier:
You personally started this training program…
Patrick Magnier: That’s right. I went to Nepal in 2005 as a tourist, but I had the idea in the back of my head of getting involved in a humanitarian project, related the mountain environment, if possible. I contacted the mountaineer Henri Sigayret, who was living in the Khumbu with his Sherpani wife and their son, and who wanted to create a training centre for professional mountain guides. He had already started a project north of Katmandu. The next year, I went back to personally teach four sessions with Henri. This trial run turned out successful, so when I got back I spoke to Jean-Jacques Eleouet, who runs the Foundation, and he immediately embraced this project.
Photographies: Patrick Magnier
What precisely is the mission of this program?
Patrick Magnier: Trekking is one of the primary resources of Nepal. However, despite the generous aid of several countries, the training for guides lacks an organization that would look to the future. It exists, but it has gotten stuck in a routine which does not correspond to reality. A lot of good will, nice acts of solidarity and training, externally as well as locally, have taken place, but without any real dialogue.
When I met Henri Sigayret, he was desperate to see his efforts to create an operational training center for mountain professionals take shape; he had spent a lot of energy and his own money on the construction of the climbing wall and the building itself. His idea started from a very simple fact: a lot of Nepalese guides have real competence and have for a long time demonstrated that they are an essential key in the success of mountain expeditions and trekking. Some of these guides are just as good as occidental guides and are sometimes also very strong climbers. But a lot of them are lacking the basics that would allow them to be completely autonomous.
The mission of this program is to help Nepal reinforce its mountain guide training capacity by putting in place a nationwide training plan, validated by international institutions.
Photographies: Patrick Magnier
What does the site look like?
Patrick Magnier: The building has three classrooms, entirely re-equipped by the Petzl Foundation, which are pretty much multi-purpose. One of them houses the library; the second one has the dining hall; and the third classroom transforms into a dormitory at night. A beautiful 10 meter climbing wall is for now partially set up. Sunar Gurung, the first Nepalese person to obtain an internationally recognized mountain guide certification, is the technical director.
Whom are these courses for?
Patrick Magnier: Most of the candidates come from the vast trekking regions like Khumbu or the Annapurna, and others are from Katmandu. For now, pretty much all of them are already working in the trekking business. The goal is not to offer a certificate, but to prepare them for the NMA training (rather than replacing it), a bit like in France, where the Regional and European Center for Tourism (CRET) prepares candidates for state diplomas.
How are relations with the NMA?
Patrick Magnier: As good as can be expected in a country like Nepal. Communications are sometimes interrupted for several weeks for technical reasons, and so it can be difficult. Since they have come to understand that we have no intention of encroaching on their training, the NMA members are totally in the game. Their collaboration gives an official aspect to the program.
Are there fees for these courses?
Patrick Magnier: Yes. It is the NMA that unfortunately sets the registration fees. I think they are much too high, considering the cost of living in Nepal. It is one of the points on which we’ll have to work in the future. There is no real selection yet and the recruitment process, still in the hands of the NMA, is based too much on the buddy system. I would like to organize a real selection and offer it to people who are motivated but who don’t necessarily have the means to pay for it.
How many courses are there every year, and what do you teach?
Patrick Magnier: Until now, we have organized five courses each year, which consist of three weeks during the winter and two in the summer. We started with 12 candidates, and then it became 15 per course, which represents 75 candidates trained each year. The program is both theoretical and practical: tying in, belaying, bailing from the top, and crevasse or big wall rescue… This is the opportunity to review such diverse areas as the basics of technical safety, map reading, physiology in altitude, ecology, nivology, Himalayan history, team leadership or diet on a trek.
Our goal is to make the candidates aware of security issues when a party is been guided on the mountain, and to give them a general feeling for the profession. To go even further, we could eventually imagine this school growing to provide training not only for mountain guides, but also for canyoning, mountain biking, river canoeing and rafting and even paragliding guides. All these activities have grown significantly in Nepal and will no doubt need the same foundations for training.
What has the Petzl Foundation financed?
Jean-Jacques Eleouet, Petzl Foundation’s General Secretary: We financed the planning and the teaching tools, as well as a 280-page training manual. We also provided the technical gear, sponsored the volunteers and paid the French and Nepalese instructor salaries, as well as financing the additional installations in the classrooms and the climbing wall.
Are you planning on remaining involved for a long time?
Patrick Magnier: We are aiming to give the training center its autonomy by 2010. Our goal is to give the center the resources to really make it happen, but with local solutions. With the help of international institutions, we are looking for financing, which could mean sponsorship, local private financing or partnerships. In this domain, everything is possible.
Jean-Jacques Eleouet: If it doesn’t work, we will withdraw. The Nepalese have been slow to take on their own responsibilities and must take charge of the organization of their training program. We are working with them in this direction.
Don’t you feel a bit like you’re doing the job of a trekking tour operator?
Patrick Magnier: Some of them are already training their guides at conventions. A lot of training exists, but the choice is often disjointed and lacks coherence. My dream is to be able to gather all the French and Nepalese people involved around a table, rethink everything, and put in place a real training curriculum for guides. Maybe creating a standard label would bring a certain quality to the training.
We created a training memento for the candidate that describes all the aspects of the course. It is written in English, and there are a lot of drawings and images in case some of the candidates speak only Nepalese. In the future, we would like to organize this training in other countries like India, Russia, Mongolia or even South America. Organizing this training in Nepal is a very good test since Nepal is not really an easy country!
Jean-Jacques Eleouet: The system will only run with a global training plan in place. This is the key to solving the problem. We are working with the International Mountaineering Federation (UIAA), an international organization representing millions of mountaineers and climbers around the world, which would allow, political tensions aside, the installation of a training program recognized by everyone in every country.
About Patrick Magnier
Born November 9, 1951
Mountain Guide, Ski and Paragliding Instructor
Petzl’s onsite testing manager
Favorite places: Corsica and Asia
Favorite person: Gandhi
Passions: Photography, Taichindo (a quite confidential martial art), deep-sea navigation, paragliding
For more information...
about the project and the NMA: NMA-Newsletter
about the NMA : www.nepalmountaineering.org