Your Go-To Adventure Buddy

In this interview with Andre Gougisha, we find out what it means to move to the Pacific Northwest from New Orleans and embrace outdoor adventure.
Suzanne Gerber Suzanne Gerber
Publications Manager
March 21, 2017
Your Go-To Adventure Buddy
by Suzanne Gerber, Publications Manager

Funny songs and unlimited jokes. That’s what Andre brings to the mountains according to his friends — along with his gregarious nature and enthusiasm for people. He moved from New Orleans to Seattle with his mom and sister after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, staying for college and beyond. 

“Water has been an ongoing theme in my life,” Andre says. Mountaineering is actually a recent endeavor on his part. Sailing, scuba diving, and rowing all came first. As a matter of fact, he had never really seen snow before moving here. There aren't many snow-capped peaks near New Orleans. 

Andre's first time in the snow was in 2007, on a trip to Vail, Colorado where he learned to snowboard. Well, tried to learn. In his words, "First day: spent most of the day on my butt. Second day: spent most of the day on my butt." He's since discovered he’s a better skier than snowboarder.

Learning how to use an ice ax didn't come naturally to him
either. And he has a scar on his chest to prove that. It's from his climb of the Tooth at Snoqualmie Pass, with some of his friends. It was his first time traversing in the snow with technical gear. In his words, "Everything was fine to the top. It was when I was coming back down – I was almost to the talus field when I lost my footing. I started hurtling down the slope towards a little underbrush/rocky area with dead trees." He hadn’t yet learned proper ice ax arrest technique but managed to slow down. In the process, he tore his favorite shirt and scraped the skin underneath, leaving a scar. Snow still managed to surprise Andre. “We don’t have that shit in Louisiana,” he said. 

It was also on this climb that he first truly got a view of the surrounding peaks from the top of a mountain. He remembers stopping at the anchor on the second pitch and being awestruck. Andre and his climbing partner were the last in the party — so it was just him on the mountain, in the middle of nowhere, on a bluebird day. He said it was amazing how safe he felt with his trust in the ropes. Though he admits his conditioning could have been better. 

Andre now schedules his climbs well in advance — he puts the date in his calendar and starts training diligently. By default, he's a cyclist, which adds cardio to his daily commute. An added benefit is that he's ready to go when someone says, "Hey, are you free for a climb this weekend?" 

Or the opposite might happen — it's all planned out but the climb is called off for one reason or another. Andre has now attempted Shuksan three times. 

On the first attempt, he said, "A few of us got all the way to the meeting spot. Then someone called and said they couldn't make it. We decided not to go without them and drank a beer of disappointment at the parking lot. "

Andre actually ventured out of the parking lot on his other attempts. His third was his closest to the summit. It was impromptu — the weather window was perfect and he and his friends really wanted to make it up Shuksan after the other failed attempts. They had to do it in a day because they didn't have an overnight permit — they lost out on the last one. So after work on a Friday, they drove up to the trailhead running off the sleep they had from the previous night. They made it to the trailhead at 11pm, downed some coffee and started hiking.

Andre would have made the summit — the rest of the team did — but a rock hit him at the bottom of the summit block on Sulfide glacier. It hit his helmeted head first, and then his hand. He wasn't badly hurt, but his hand was swollen, so he decided not to climb further. He stayed behind while his friends tagged the summit and returned. He waited three hours, listening in to the radio chatter and napping. They all made it back to their car at midnight — 25 hours after they left.

In 2014, Andre decided he wanted to climb Mount Rainier. He told his main climbing buddy (the same friend who brought him up the Tooth and Shuksan). His friend, being a responsible Mountaineer (and Basic grad himself), told Andre to get some crevasse rescue training. So Andre signed up for Basic Climbing with the Everett Mountaineers. 

His biggest surprise as he delved into mountaineering was all the gear involved. "You can easily fall down a gear rabbit hole,” he explained. But he enjoys the spirited discussions that occur around technique or gear choice. "Which way is the best way?" The larger the group, the more options.

After learning rescue techniques, climbing Ingalls Peak, Eldorado, Guye, and South Early Winter Spire – along with taking Wilderness First Aid and Navigation – Andre was a Basic Climbing grad. He's ready to go. 

Andre's now scheduled to climb Rainier this June. And who knows? He thinks Kilimanjaro might be a good goal for 2017. 

Continuing as a Volunteer

Andre could have left The Mountaineers once he learned the skills he was looking for, but his enthusiasm for people and helping others succeed brought him back as a volunteer. He now teaches the ropes to the “newbies” with the Everett Mountaineers. He's most excited about volunteering for Rock Two. Snow is still not his favorite.

The next class he plans to take is Leading on Rock, though he's already taking classes in a new sport: fencing (not through The Mountaineers). His goal with all these skills he's picked up over the years? To be the best adventure buddy ever.

This article originally appeared in our Spring 2016 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, click here.

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Anita Elder
Anita Elder says:
Apr 01, 2017 08:32 PM

Andre, are you taking classical fencing? If you'd like to take historical fencing, I can hook you up. I'm personal friends with the maestro of the Academia Della Spada in Seattle. My husband is a member and fences with rapier, saber, broadsword and some others.