Sharing a Passion for Patagonia: A Conversation with Merlin Lipshitz
In recent months, I’ve had the great pleasure of speaking with a number of GeoEx’s trip leaders. I’ve interviewed Bill Jones, who leads GeoEx trips to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Algeria; trekker extraordinaire Bart Jordans, who has been leading GeoEx journeys in Bhutan since 2000; photographer and Himalaya expert Manoj Sharma, who leads our trips to mystical Ladakh; and Africa explorer and leader Brad Hansen, who will be leading upcoming journeys to Chad, Congo and CAR, and Tanzania. I love these conversations with far-flung leaders. They connect me with the larger world, remind me of the passion we all share, and recharge my wanderlust.
Most recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing famed Argentinian trekking guide Merlin Lipshitz. This aptly named mountaineering wizard has been climbing since he was 15 years old and has summited peaks in Patagonia, Peru, Bolivia, the United States, and Europe. Merlin became a certified member of the International Federation of Mountain Guides Association in 2005. He has been leading trips and expeditions for more than 20 years, and will be leading GeoEx’s Into Patagonia trips in 2021 and 2022.
I hope you enjoy our interview!
Don George: When and how did you become a trip leader?
Merlin Lipshitz: I started my career as a trekking guide in 1998, working at El Chaltén, in Southern Patagonia. In 2000, I had the opportunity to work as a local guide for GeoEx with Al Read, and since then I have been leading one or two GeoEx trips every year.
What motivated you to start leading trekking trips?
When I first visited El Chaltén in the 1995-96 summer season, I fell in love with its mountains and decided to return every summer. On that first trip, I spent six weeks climbing and exploring. After that trip, I decided to pursue a career as a mountain guide. I settled in El Chaltén in 2001 and have been living here ever since. In this way, I could be closer to Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre and could take advantage of every climbing and exploring opportunity that arose.
I love that you pursued your passion and made it your profession! That’s very inspiring! Can you summarize your experience as a trip leader–where you have led trips in the past, and for how many years?
For some 20 years, I have specialized in guiding in Southern Patagonia, both Chile and Argentina; I have also led trips in Bariloche, Chiloé Island, and Estancia Chacabuco. For many years, I have been privileged to lead GeoEx’s classic Into Patagonia trip, which visits Santiago de Chile, Punta Arenas, Torres del Paine, El Calafate, El Chaltén, and Buenos Aires.
You are a greatly beloved trip leader, and you have been lauded by GeoEx travelers for many years. For you, what are the qualities that distinguish a really great trip leader?
I think the most important quality is to love what you do, and to share your passion about nature and mountains with your guests. That’s what I love to do, and I think I have the best job in the world! My goal is to share all my knowledge with my guests, and to inspire them to go farther, explore more, and understand more deeply.
That’s wonderful! And it does sound like you have the best job in the world! When you lead our Patagonia trips, do you have any particular goals?
Yes! My goal is to make all my guests fall in love with Patagonia, as a once-in-a-lifetime experience that they will never forget! I think I must succeed, at least sometimes, because for many of my guests, this turns out to be not a once-in-a-lifetime experience–they come back to explore Patagonia again!
This definitely makes me want to experience Patagonia with you! In addition to inspiring your guests to fall in love with a place that you love so much, are there other rewards of leading trips?
Yes, every trip offers the opportunity to meet new guests and to discover new places. I love experiencing Patagonia through my guests’ eyes, because every traveler brings a new experience of this wonderful place. And even when I visit somewhere that I’ve been many times before, I always find something new.
I am a trip leader too, and I completely agree with you! No matter how many times I visit the same place, it’s always new–partly because the people I’m with are new, and I experience it through them, and partly because I’m new too; I’m different from the me that was there before, and so I notice and experience different aspects of that place.
I think this attitude is critically important, and it makes me want to ask you–based on your many years and journeys as a leader, how do you think a good trip leader can enrich a traveler’s experience?
Well, in my case, my guests love to hear my personal climbing stories. These tales give the travelers a deeper sense of connection to the places we visit, so I always try to tell some of those. And whenever I have a chance, I share a slideshow, on my laptop or on a larger screen, showing my ascent of Cerro Torre. People love being part of that experience!
I can imagine–that sounds thrilling! Looking back through your GeoEx trips over the years, is there any one experience that you especially love?
It’s very difficult to choose just one! Generally speaking, I love when I can surprise my guests, and when the experience of a trip is higher than their expectations. That is very satisfying for me.
In terms of a particular experience, reaching the viewpoint of a big peak on a clear day is always a highlight. I never get tired of watching Fitz Roy or Cerro Torre; for me, these are the most impressive mountains in the world!
What’s your best travel memory?
This is very hard to say–I have so many great travel memories! I think that travel–exploring the world, visiting new places and new cultures–is the best investment in life. And as I have said, I am very fortunate that my hobby and my job are so close to each other!
If I had to choose, I would say that there are a few moments in the mountains that will stay in my mind forever, like reaching the summits of Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre for the first time. Those moments have changed my life, and they live vividly within me even now.
Those are fantastic memories to have–and it’s wonderful that you can share them with your travelers! You’ve provided a great sense of your love for Patagonia and your passion for taking travelers there. Do you have any last words for GeoEx travelers who might want to travel on one of your trips?
Yes! Patagonia is not just one more destination to visit–it is really a unique place on Earth! I will do my best to show you the very best places in Patagonia and to share all the knowledge I have gained in my life, climbing and guiding in Patagonia. I want to give you the same passion that I have for this very special place!
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To find out more about our Patagonia trips with Merlin Lipshitz, call our travel experts at 888-570-7108.
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Do you have a question for Merlin Lipshitz about his life in Patagonia? Or a favorite travel memory you’d like to share? Please add your comments below. I always love hearing from you!