An Interesting Life: Interview with Aidan Loehr, Part 1

by Mike Singer on September 11, 2009

During his most recent migration south from Alaska to California for the winter, my friend Aidan stayed at my house in Seattle for a week, and I pinned him down one afternoon for a more focused conversation than our typical chats. I wanted to better understand why he does the things he does, and I wanted to share his answers with No Map. No Guide. No Limits. readers. With my MP3 recorder on the kitchen table capturing it all, we talked for an hour about the fantasies and realities of adventure—about risk, sacrifice, and reward. I asked him some challenging questions, and I found myself surprised by his answers. Given what he does for a living, you may be too. You can listen to the recording at the end of this post.

Whenever the caller ID on my cell phone displays a long, unfamiliar number, I always answer. I know it’s Aidan, calling in on a satellite phone from the side of a mountain somewhere, thousands of feet above sea level. As a professional climbing guide, he’s been to the summit of Denali (20,320′) many times, as well as to the top of other peaks in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, and the Sierras. He’s also led clients on expeditions to the summit of Aconcagua (22,841′) in Argentina, and up remote mountains in China.

Aidan Loehr in China

When he’s not climbing for money, Aidan climbs for fun. He often takes advantage of a free plane ticket to an exotic location to work on some personal “projects” while he’s there, like attempting the first solo ascent of Minya Konka in China (24,776′), or being the first person to successfully climb the west ridge of Mt. Dogonomba (19,553′). In the latter case, the summit itself was incredibly small. “I had to kneel on the tippy top of the mountain because it was so tiny,” he explained. “If I stood up and the wind blew, I would have been blown off and they would never find me.”

Sometimes, the sat phone calls come from a more comfortable, if perhaps an even more precarious, place: the cockpit of an airplane. Aidan also works as a pilot. Once, he called me in the middle of the night from the cockpit of a small single-engine Cessna high above the Atlantic on his way to Spain: he just wanted to say hello and see if I could check the weather in the Azores for him on the Internet.

Since he started flying professionally in 1993, Aidan has logged more than 16,000 hours flying people and cargo in airplanes of all sizes. He’s flown skydivers in Washington State, worked for air taxi companies all over Alaska, hauled fuel to remote Alaskan villages, flown for a relief organization in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and ferried small aircraft from the U.S. to new owners in Europe, Africa, and South America. This past summer he worked for a while flying biologists low over the Bering Sea, hundreds of miles west of the Aleutian Islands, surveying whales.

To say that Aidan lives an adventurous life would be, by most people’s standards, an understatement. He doesn’t consider himself an adventurer, though. He’s a highly skilled mountain, rock, and ice climber, as well as a gifted runner who regularly pounds out 20 miles or so just for fun. Yet he doesn’t consider himself an athlete either. He views his life as “interesting,” not “adventurous,” and he views his athletic ability as nothing more than something that allows him to do the things he wants to do.

Here’s Part 1 of our conversation. I’ll post Part 2 next week.

Press the Play icon to begin streaming the audio, or right-click the text link and choose Save As or Save Link.

Right-click to download the MP3 file (29 minutes - 13 MB)

Mike Singer is the Publisher of No Map. No Guide. No Limits.

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