Rock Guide Course 2018 - Red Rocks, NV
In the Mountain Guiding profession there is little other than pure experience that can hone your skills in the hills and on the rocks. The books and articles available do a decent job of laying a foundation, however they are no substitute for hands on experience and situationally dependent decision making skills. And although experiential learning is a very valuable tool to me, I am also very thankful for organizations like the AMGA who offer courses to train guides in mountain skills in a hands-on, low stress environment, with real time feedback from experienced instructors in mountain craft. Last week, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend one of these courses in Red Rocks, Nevada and learned far more about managing people and decision making than I originally anticipated.
With nearly 8 years of climbing experience and an extensive background knowledge of rope systems and rescue components, I was curious as to what I might learn. In the initial days of the course, it was all a review. The systems, although rusty coming off of 6 months of ski patrolling, were familiar and easy to reacquaint to memory.
After a few days of review, we began talking about efficiency in transitions, station management, and client care. The systems, although familiar, were chosen with thoughtful reasoning and ample anticipation of the subsequent move. The reasonings for choosing particular systems were definitely of the more valuable discussions we had on this course.
Being a mountaineering guide, the anticipation of going from long intervals to short intervals are crucial decisions in moving efficiently and safely thru the terrain. The exact location at which you make the transition, along with the specific short interval technique you use, are both key elements to keeping your team safe and comfortable in somewhat hazardous terrain. --- Pulling from what I already know about mountaineering, it was easy to see the benefit in anticipating the next move on rock terrain. One of the biggest learning outcomes for me in this course was putting into practice the anticipation of rock transitions in order to move more efficiently through multi-pitch terrain while also paying attention to client care and ways to keep an organized belay station to maximize that efficiency.
Having well thought out reasons for implementing techniques as a guide or recreational climber are what separate parties who climb in style from those who just get by. Being able to articulate that judgement and decision making is also an important part of gaining the trust of the other climbers on your team (and also in being able to be a an effective teacher of rock guiding skills). Another big takeaway for me on this course was being able to discuss my decision making with the instructors and getting feedback on whether or not the systems I installed were the most appropriate for the situation in accordance with my reasoning. I felt that by the end of the course, I was justified in my situational reasoning for implementing the new tools and transitions that were cemented into my 'guide quiver' throughout the course.
CLIENT CARE & RISK MANAGEMENT
Client care and special attention to risk management strategies were also a very beneficial discussion included in the course. One thing, I failed to bring attention to before the course, was that I had hardly any experience managing inexperienced climbers in multi-pitch 5th class terrain. This dawned on me throughout discussions of how to anchor clients thru lowers and belayed rappels, stance management, and special attention to the consequence vs. likelihood scale. In the final few days of the course, I was thinking more and more about the situationally dependent nature of these decisions and began to ask more specific questions about client ability vs. selection of mitigation strategy. These discussions shed some light on the complexity of the decisions that go into navigating ambiguous terrain such as 3rd and 4th class scrambling or descents. These conversations will stick with me long after this course is over and I anticipate that I will grow in understanding through experience, however, in the same token, with greater complexity in circumstance comes a greater complexity in answering those questions of "what is the best solution?" I welcome the challenge and look forward to developing my "guide sense" further.
Overall, the course was a great success. I not only learned a lot about being a rock guide, but also made a bunch of great friends, got to escape the snowpocalypse in Montana for a few weeks, and reignited my stoke for rock climbing! It may still be snowing in Montana, but my mind is wandering more and more to the warm sunny days of endless 5th class granite ridge lines and cool summer afternoons spent sending splitter cracks at Index or sitting by the crystal clear river with a cold cider in hand. (More to come later on that topic.) But for now, I'm living my life with the mantra that:
"These Are the Days!"
Whatever they may bring, I am stoked to be along for the ride (and I hope you are too)! Thanks for reading my course recap! Feel free to reach out if you have any questions.