Meet Alpinehikers Guide: Zach Dahlmer

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We understand that its nice to know who you will be exploring the trails with during your Alpinehikers tour. My name is Eryka Thorley and I work in the Alpinehikers office as well as guide in the Alps. Each month we will be introducing you to another member of our fantastic guide staff in Europe and the Southwest. We look forward to hitting the trails with you soon.  Enjoy!

From the crest of an ocean wave to the top of a mountain pass, Zach Dalhmer is in his element. He’s spent years exploring by land and sea – both with others and alone. His quick wit, easy smile, and endless collection of stories make him a pleasure to share the trail with. We sat down with him recently to learn more about his early years and hear some of his entertaining stories.

Sailing on board the Schooner Thomas Lannon in Gloucester, MA

Me: How did you first get into guiding and how long have you been doing it?

Zach: When I was 16 I had my first guiding gig working for an adventure camp in Massachusetts where I grew up.  At this camp we would take middle schoolers out rock climbing, dory rowing, and camping.  After a few years of summer camp work, I started working as a sail charter guide, crewing a 93 foot schooner on day tours.  For the next 9 years I worked crewing sail boats and ultimately this experience is what opened my eyes to the possibility of working seasonally as a guide.  Since then I’ve been guiding in one form or another, for 17 years.

Me: Tell us about your childhood years…

Zach: I grew up in a really special corner of the northeast, about a mile inland from the coast and just on the edge of 3,600 acres of conservation land full of forested trails, granite boulders, and huge abandoned fresh water filled stone quarries. Some of my earliest memories are of running around in those woods all day with friends.  It was awesome!  During summer we’d hike and run till we overheated and then we would stop to swim and drink from the quarries.  Some days we would cliff jump, while other days we were out on the rocky coast snorkeling for lobster and harvesting mussels.  My friends and I would take to the water in anything we could get our hands on – from busted up parts of old docks to plastic fish totes; much later a few of us wrangled sea kayaks which was a big improvement.  In winter we would fire up the sauna at a friends place and bust through the ice on a quarry for a startling cool off.  We’d skate and have neighborhood wide hockey games or go cross-country skiing if the snow was good.  When I got a little older I started surfing more, and travelling, at first with my dad to Hawaii, Nova Scotia, then California chasing waves.  I also started travelling more to hike and backpack in the White Mountains further north.  I spent a lot of time on my own too out in the woods and on the coast in search of solitude, which was good for me.  It’s how I did a lot of my soul searching then, and still do now.      

One of the best days of surf I’ve ever had, Southern Baja California

Me: When you’re not guiding in the Alps, where can we find you?

Zach: I’m always trying to balance my time between the mountains and the ocean, so when I’m not working in the Alps and I have an opportunity to travel, it’s usually to go surfing somewhere.  On the road in Southern Baja, camping on the coast, and looking for waves is a good bet.  

Me:  What’s your favorite part about guiding in the Alps?

Zach: I’d say my favorite things about hiking in the Alps in general are that the places feel timeless, like they haven’t changed in a long time; the landscape is like nothing I’ve ever seen anywhere else in the world; and there seems to be a real spirit of working hard and playing hard–the locals seem to enjoy a cold beer on a sunny deck almost as much as they enjoy climbing up and over a 9,000 foot pass to get there.  It all makes it a fun place to be.  I like guiding there because I get to share similar experiences with others looking for adventure.   

Me: Do you have a spirit animal? 

Zach: I’m not sure about a “spirit animal”, but I have had a couple interesting encounters with sea lions in the Gulf of California.  In one instance I was free-diving on Isla San Pedro Martir way out in the middle of the gulf, in a cove where there was a huge litter of sea lion pups.  These pups as it turns out, tend to be very curious–especially if you put on a dive suit that makes you look a lot like, well, a sea lion.  I found that if I swam slowly enough and didn’t move much they’d come say hi.  At one point a parade of maybe forty of them, one by one, would dart right up to me then duck over one of my shoulder and out of sight.   This happened countless times except for the last one of the group which swam right up in my face and then stayed, cocking its head as if to say “what are you?!”  We locked eyes for what seemed like forever, and it was so close I could’ve kissed it.  My sense of wonder at that moment was quickly overcome by that weird sensation you get when you’re being watched.  Very slowly, I turned around to find that the other 39 pups, as soon as they had ducked over my shoulder, doubled back and were staring at me in a big curious floating mob starting about a foot from my head.  It seemed that last brave soul had engaged me in a bit of a staring match as a decoy for the rest of the gang to get a closer look.  I turned back to the decoy who apparently had figured out that the gig was up and they promptly took off.  With my next glance every single one of the others had silently vanished, retreating I guess to the rocky shadows on the other side of the cove. The whole thing happened in about a minute, but it was as close as I’ve ever been to something that big and wild for a long time.  

Chalet du Plan de l’Aiguille serves a really nice blueberry torte, this is mid-run on the Grand Balcon Nord, Chamonix

Me: What is your favorite Alpinehikers tour?

Zach: I’d have to go with the Haute Route.  I really enjoy getting out to the more remote mountain inns and huts in the Alps, and this route has multiple options for consecutive nights at places like Louvie, Prafleurie, Dix, or Moiry, one hut after the other.  You’re out there for a few days at a time between towns, plus Chamonix and Zermatt are two of my favorite towns in the Alps.    

Me: What is one thing that would surprise us about you?

Zach: I’ve always had this fascination with the idea of being a musician.  I’ve written about two dozen or so original pieces, acoustic singer-songwriter type stuff, and at one point played a semi-regular bar gig.  When I moved out to Prescott the little bit of performing I did pretty much stopped altogether except for the odd campfire session now and then.  I don’t play much anymore, but once in a great while I still think about what that path would’ve looked like.

​Pre-trip evening briefing at Schwarzwaldalp at the beginning of an Alpinehikers guided Bernese Oberland Part A.

Me: What’s one maybe frivolous thing that you always carry with you on a tour through the Alps?

Zach: I think most guides carry some sort of alternative footwear to put on once the boots come off, and a lot of the huts keep slippers for guests to use, but I’ve gotten in the habit of keeping a pair of leather Birkenstock clogs and a pair of my mom’s hand-knit socks in my pack when I’m out on the trail.  They’re kind of bulky and heavy for the purpose but I like having them on those cooler rainy nights we can get during the shoulder seasons.  One night at Schlernhaus, in the Dolomites, I had gone out for a sunset walk up the hill and left them on the shelf by the front door where the boots go.  A hiker from another party thought he scored the best pair of hut slippers in the house–it was an awkward moment when I had to track him down during dinner and ask for my shoes back but we had a pretty good laugh over it all.   

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