Cold temps above treeline and in the shade kept the snow cold, chalky to powdery, lower down slope conditions varied from corny to crusty. Views sprawled across the deep glaciated mountains of the Chugach Range from the maritime zone surrounding the small port town of Valdez Alaska. Including the mighty Meteorite, the expansive Wortman’s and Deserted glaciers, all the way to the continental mountains of the Wrangell St Elias. In the week prior to and throughout the AMGA Advanced Ski Guide Course & Aspirant Exam we were treated to generally clear visibility and stable snow conditions. These great conditions allowed us to stake claim on a variety of classic Thompson Pass descents such as Tones Temple, Berlin Wall, Cherry Couloir, and many others while developing as professionals in one of the greatest freeride zones on earth.
After a full season of shred a diverse group of well-prepared guides converged upon the Chugach Range. Traveling from renowned ski zones in Iceland, Japan, Tetons, Sierra, Rockies, and the Cascades. These men and women brought an amalgamation of skills and insights gained through years of dedicated experience. Tossing bombs and ski cutting in ski area snow programs, fast pace turn and burn mechanized ski guiding, self-reliant human powered touring, and rugged steep ski mountaineering experiences led quickly to engaged discussions. Climatological snowpack metamorphism, targeted snowpack observations, and weather patterns, were factored to create our daily avalanche hazard assessment, danger ratings, and subsequent run lists. Not only were the course candidates well versed in all things snow sliding but so were our instructor/ examiners. Forest, Amos, and Mike delivered direct feedback on technical skills and application but also on a variety of perspectives of client care, the soft side of guiding. Even with ultra-diverse personalities, goals, and experiences all of the candidates and instructors created a supportive learning environment that fostered an opportunity to progress and succeed.
During the advanced ski guide course, the art of track setting and transitions were improved. Once that art was hard-wired, we focused on a mountain sense that enabled safe ascent lines and rad fall line descents. To practice mountain sense, we went and booted up the Stairway and Karat Chutes on Mount Dimond. While increasing our vulnerability to avalanche and overhead cornice and rockfall hazards we made accurate assessments on slope stability, wind loading, and rise in temperatures to maintain a suitable margin of safety. When practical we busted out the rope and added a complimentary element to the ski discipline. The rope provided security and granted us access to challenging and complex terrain on the Worthington Glacier. Another technical skill we applied was the short rope. While scrambling along Berlin Walls 4thclass mixed rock and steep snow we moved together prepared to brace a slip or short pitch when needed. Lowering and belayed skiing techniques opened up more terrain options. On the firm summit slopes of the Python high client rewards were achieved. Not only were client rewards achieved but guide security and perhaps as important, guide rewards were achieved. Throughout the course, we were given immediate feedback on our movement skills. Skiing mellow glacial pow, steep settled buff, and refrozen below treeline schmoo requires a diverse shred technique, mainly shred to inspire! Technical skill application, risk management, and client reward go hand in hand in hand. As a result, we climbed cool summits, enjoyed soft turns across the glaciers, over snow-covered moraines, and down glacial tongues into the valley.
Since we received and applied quality feedback, spent a week improving, the candidates understood our instructor’s expectations, so we moved confidently forward with the assigned guiding objectives. Socked in milky clouds and moderate snowfall rates met us for a day of guided assignments and to our surprise the instructor team proposed the option to start the aspirant exam a day early. The initial shock was quickly overcome and the candidates deliberated then accepted the proposal. A quick mental shift and the team prepared to perform at their best and at least, comparable to the level of a certified ski guide. Risk management, client care, technical systems, application of those systems, terrain assessment, mountain sense, professionalism, movement, and instructional technique were practically applied to achieve our daily shred objectives and achieve our aspirations to become Assistant Splitboard/Ski Guides. Through the aspirant exam process we demonstrated and were assessed at a standard to which employers and clients can be assured. Every candidate demonstrated the skills necessary to guide on complex glaciated objectives thus opening up additional opportunities. Most definitely the advanced ski guide course and aspirant exam was 10 days of turning it on.
Thinking back to when I decided to pursue snowboard guiding it wasn’t even really a thing. Splitboards were a gimmick, people didn’t have them, avalanche education was in its infancy. I remember the laughs of old schoolers who would scoff at the thought of a snowboard guide. Asking, “What are you going to do? Snowshoe?” At the same time a few snowboarders were carving the path. After persevering through the early days of splitboarding and mastering the split magic the only laughs I hear now are from the colleagues I’m ripping turns next to. I love being surprised by having 5 splitters on the course. Every one of these guides have contributed to the art of split guiding during a time of rapid snowboard guide development. Numerous times throughout the course I smiled while thinking how grateful I am for receiving the F.O.R.G.E. Scholarship, how much snowboard guides have progressed, about the people who laid the foundation for all splitboard guides, and how proud Rick Gaukel would be of all the AMGA apprentice, assistant, and certified Splitboard Guides.
Green ferns wave and tree leaves flutter overhead the spring cloverleaf and cherry tree flowers have bloomed. Along the green flow of the Nooksack River the sunlight reflects in calm pools, off babbling flumes, and over cascading waterfalls. Punching the gas, Daniel and I accelerate uphill past snowmelt fed curbside creeks and old growth deadfall dripping in moss. We pass the White Salmon base area and in March the walls of snow were 15 feet high but as we continue above 4,000' the walls are now 5 feet high and there is much less snow than I thought there would be. Last month I was in Colorado where they clearly are a month or two behind and when I left we were getting regular 14” dumps of snow. But here in the North Cascades passing Picture Lake, the Mountaineers Baker Lodge, and chair 1 to park at Heather Meadows it is warm, sunny and by maritime standards dry. At this point we are committed to our trip by dropping off our shuttle vehicle at the end of the Watson Traverse.
This 17 mile traverse was originally done on a day in 1939 by Dwight Watson, Erik Larson and Andy Hennig (http://alpenglow.org/skiing/baker-2004/index.html). When they pioneered this route they started low in the valley near Glacier Washington. Now we have the privilege of driving 8 miles up Glacier Creek Road to the trailhead at 3,600’.
At the Heliotrope Ridge trailhead a few cars were in the parking area, but as afternoon wore on to evening the lot slowly filled with ambitious climbers. One of them would be our 3rd team member Jack and eventually later that night Carl, our fourth team member had arrived. By the time we shouldered our packs at 5 a.m. Saturday morning there were dozens of climbers and skiers booting up the Heliotrope Ridge Trail. Meter deep patches of firm snow slowly melt into puddles and muddy trails lead us through the first switchbacks. The four of us continued boot packing up to the Hogs Back camp with splitboards and skis on our packs. By this time we had caught several groups that started earlier than us and we all gravy trained to 5,400’. Gradually the rosy hues of sunrise filtered onto the summit ice cap of Mount Baker. At the same time we put our splitters and mr. chomps to work and skinned onto the Coleman Glacier. Below the looming and ominous black buttes, Lincoln and Colfax, up to the 9,000’ Coleman-Deming saddle our exquisite contours, allowed us to avoid numerous crevasses while we effortlessly passed many groups. After a several hours of causal skinning we reached the saddle, took a break, and reviewed crampon and ice axe use. As we exited the lower angle slopes of the Coleman Glacier and entered the steeper frozen snow slopes of the Deming Glacier we developed great crampon foot work with ski poles in hand eventually trading those for ice axes for our final 1,700’ push up the Roman Wall.
Onto the wind buffed and iced ridge line above the crevasses of the Deming Glacier, across from the conga line of climbers on the Easton Glacier Route, under a sunny rainbow colored halo, we duck stepped then crossover stepped while gazing up at the Roman Wall. Near the top the angle eased and we made our last few steps onto the enormous summit ice cap. Finally on top we relaxed with lunch, conversation and accomplishment. After a short break we wandered over to the 10,781’ Grant Summit, soaked in the views of Shuksan, Takobia, and Tahoma then headed back towards the Roman Wall. At this point we said goodbye to Jack and Carl since they were descending back to the trailhead via the Deming and Coleman Glaciers. As for Daniel and I we would stay the night atop Komo Kulshan and descend the Park Glacier in the morning.
Soft swooshing grains of snow and crisp ice crystals pattered against the tent as they tumbled south across Komo's vast ice cap. The wall of snow on the windward side of the tent deflected prevailing winds creating fluted drifts and small piles under the vestibule. The immense brisk alpine darkness fell away to broken scattered islands of pulsing artificial light far below. Bellingham, Everett, Seattle, Vancouver indistinctly melt away into the lowlands as warm rosy and orange hues spread across the cool black, blue, and violet pre dawn sky. A night spent high above the Pacific Coast overlooking the Puget Sound, Straight of Juan De Fuca, Straight of Georgia, the Salish sea gazing upon the Olympic Peninsula, Vancouver and the San Juan Islands felt like observing a newly discovered civilization while in orbit.
First thing in the morning we ventured out to observe current conditions. I wandered over and peered down on the Park Headwall. It had been wind scoured down to hard melt freeze crust mixed with pockets of drift that hung over gaping bergschrunds and crevasses. Looking over at the original party's descent route, the Cockscomb, hanging snow fields fell off into giant open holes, a maze of snow bridges covertly could provide passage to those willing to hang it out there. That's when it became clear that the skiers right line on the Park Headwall entrance was dirty and the Cockscomb entrance was filthy. Safe passage on either route would have been at least contrived and at most dangerous, despairing, or deadly.
The forecast for our descent was a bit warmer than the day before. Since we anticipated snow conditions to soften our camp was packed, harnesses were racked, splitters assembled and we were strapped in ready to descend off the 10781’ summit by 10 a.m. Embarking down the most reasonable entrance onto the Park, we found enough softened snow on the upper Boulder Glacier to slide a turn, to edge, to maintain control during our onsight of the Watson Traverse. Down the summit cone with ice axes in hand, following along the summit cliffs we slowly slid turns on sun kissed snow south east for 600' until a passage north would grant us access through crumbling volcanic scoria. Along the rock ridge separating the Boulder from the Park, across the first snow bridge, over a concealed crevasse at about 9,900’, the snow varied from sun softened to wind buffed dust to coarser hard packed melt freeze crust. Even though traversing further left would have linked in directly below the dirty right line on the Park Headwall we aligned above our next landmark simply dubbed "the bulge." This next section of ridge divided the glaciers and lead us down a moderate ramp for the next 700’. Next we continued on the south side margin avoiding a series of big holes. Then far above the Park Cliffs and lower ice falls we previously identified snow bridges at 9,200’ that would lead left and take us across the dished out center of the Park Glacier towards our next landmark the blue ice block. Traversing mid glacier, below the headwall, under hanging seracs, across ramps, bridges, and slopes we ended up slightly lower than anticipated. So we boot packed 25 yards above the blue ice block as we were soaked with an overwhelmed feeling of admittance into this colossal landscape.
Once we reached the lower Park directly below the Cockscomb we cruised turns down 2,100’ of moderate slopes, weaving a path among frozen trap doors, on snow that was like sun softened butter, a popsicle left in the fridge, like an almost frozen beer slushy that’s just soft enough to slurp out of the can. Surfing down to a prominent black rock horn at 7,000’ we exited from the Park Glacier and continued our descent north east another 1,300’ below Portal South onto the Rainbow Glacier at 5,700’. A single complex descent included fall line turns on hard pack to corn snow, ice axe plunging traverses over snow bridges and crevasses, a short kickable boot pack next to the house sized blue ice block. Weaving, slashing, buttering, axe spike dragging turns on a never ending glacier took us down nearly 5,200’ from the Grant summit into the Portals. Congratulatory hoots and hollers exuded between sun drenched ear to ear grins. Feeling the beating afternoon heat we transitioned to split mode, and began our sweaty one hour ascent to the pass in between Portals West and East. Meandering along Ptarmigan Ridge we descended the Sholes Glacier in split mode, climbed 800’ up to point 6,332’ at the headwaters of Wells Creek where we had lunch and melted snow for water.
An alternative in great conditions would be to stop where the Park, Rainbow and Mazama Glaciers intersect and climb over Portal South to Portal West then descend the Sholes glacier for a 1300’ run. This adds a fair amount of ascent but the reward is another great run.
By this time the snow had softened to sloppy slurp slush on a firm frozen bed surface which made good turns but also focused and deliberate skinning. Another 1,300’ run down smooth corn, through a short rock chute, over roller slopes, under Lasiocarpa Ridge and the sentinel Coleman Pinnacle, took us into the Wells Creek drainage. The next couple of hours we were like bouncing human sing along balls while traversing in split mode below Ptarmigan Ridge, up to the Table Mountain Pass, under South Table, across Artist Point, over rolling humps of snow, next to the deeply buried summer road, back into the closed ski area, down old groomed trails, split skating with out skins, along flat trails, past families, hikers, snowshoers, finally we arrived at Heather Meadows.
A buzz of activity at the parking lot greeted us. Daniel and I traded our heightened mountain senses for relaxation accompanied by cold Washington ciders and beers. The Watson Traverse took us 2 moderate days covering approximately 17 miles with one of our runs descending nearly 5,200'. This is truly a classic repeatable ski traverse over a legendary Cascade Volcano in one of the best split boarding zones anywhere.
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Snow is still piling up above treeline depositing the deepest snowpack of the season. We have become intimate with an entire winters worth of layering and welcome the commonly stable spring skiing conditions. Our legs are strong and our endurance is high from miles of track setting up thousands of feet through the thigh deep.
AMGA advanced ski guide courses and exams are wrapping up winter programs while summer programs such as rock guide courses, advanced rock and guide exams start to swing. Many of us are making our annual migration north towards the arctic circle to chase deep cold snow at the same time a long cold wet winter drives others to escape to drier climates like the Colorado Plateau. In the coming weeks we will strengthen our fingers on sandstone varnish plates and granite chicken heads, pump our guns on run out pitches up fountain sandstone, and remind ourselves that 5.9 was a hard rating in the 60’s and sure feels hard this early in the spring. After the first day of rock work for the season I am reminded of the skills we as a result of the American Mountain Guide Association Rock Guide Course.
The American Mountain Guide Association rock guide course increases a guides confidence and abilities in multi pitch rock climbing terrain. A wide range of technical skills will align guides and instructors with preferred practices of the trade that will leave onlookers bewildered and in awe. Tacoma based guide Andrew Powell said,
“I impressed a group of Seattle Mountaineers on the top of Concord Tower on WA Pass when I converted a munter hitch into a clove hitch after belaying my client to the summit. I learned that skill in the RGC.”
Since the course last year I have progressed through other baseline guide track courses and along the way I gained professional and personal climbing experience. These experiences have developed a foundation in the fine art of mountain guiding. The AMGA instructor team members deliver their art in a professional structured manner that enhance professional guides. Often times we learn something that wasn’t in the course description or handbook. Bozeman and Jackson Hole based guide Cat Coe says the best thing she learned on course was,
“That you can make a living out of guiding! Inspiring to see instructors with different approaches make it”
Year after year the world of american mountain guiding continues it's upward progression with a commitment to professionalism. Employers play an important role in this upward progression by encouraging guides to train and certify through the American Mountain Guide Association. For many, applying for and participating in a course for the first time can seem intimidating.
When RGC participants were asked "Did this course help and would you recommend it to others?," the irrefutable response was “definitely.”
Whether or not you believe in the AMGA or plan to certify as a rock guide, the rock guide course will develop technical, personal, or instructional skills. If nothing else you get to climb with exceptional people at some of the best climbing venues in the country. Who knows you may even get to ride in a new friends hot boxed Subaru on your way to a stare down with an overprotective turf defending goose.
The Wind River Range was shrouded in clouds and the sun cast a rosy evening hue against the sky. Passing by Rock Springs, Pine Dale and Bondurant dusk drew darker and the road gradually became wet, drifted, then snow packed. I was greeted in Jackson Hole for the American Mountain Guide Association Ski Guide Course with the wrath of inversion and negative 25 degree temps but the cold quickly faded. After meeting Tom at the Stagecoach we drove up the winding road, skinned out the sunny south side of the parking lot and shredded some of the great linkups that are possible through out the Teton Pass zone. The inversion kept the south aspect snow in great shape and after a few laps we discussed the next day objective with a couple cold ones at the Stagecoach.
The following morning started with an ambitious alpine start of 8 a.m. and before I knew it we were in Grand Teton National Park packed, skinned, and caffeinated, charging uphill across the frozen Bradley Lake under Tepee Pillar, into the meadow, below Nez Perce and the east and west hourglass, looking up at the east face of the Middle Teton, in the iconic Garnet Canyon. Our long haul among spectacular scenery was rewarded with wind blown recycled powder on a moderate line called the cave. In the high-handed winter alpine, among mountains that make legends or break wannabes, shredding down a cliff lined chute, traversing high across snow covered crumbling canyon walls, jibbing rock skipping fall lines, back to the toe of the canyon, slashing steep open powder cloaked cliffs dripping in ice we exited the mountains. Groups of shredders trickled, rolled, bounded, onto the frozen stage of Bradley Lake chatting about our lines, our stories, and shared our laughter, smiles, and excitement after a day of skiing.
A rest day and systems check followed before we went to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort for our first day of the Ski Guide Course. On the first day after the group delivered introductions and received a briefing on the coming 12 days we enthusiastically loaded onto Big Red and shuttled up nearly 4200’ to the top of Rendevouz bowl to warm up for our movement skill evaluation. So we bombed down the mountain trying to keep up with Course Leader Rob Hess. Our next couple laps included bumped out bowl skiing through mountain top fog, ski school style groomed slide turns, and tight, steep, chute shredding all with a video recording of our every turn. We reconvened at the base area and reviewed the video of our runs, discussed coaching methods for our clients, and called it a day.
The following days we filled Big Red to access steep powder slopes, bowls, and chutes plummeting 4,200’ while learning the finer points of the invisible rope. It was easy to keep rewards high and white rooms freshly painted among the rock lined chutes, faces, and forests we guided.
To conclude our mechanized backcountry down guiding days we stayed inbounds and built snow anchors and managed lowers with Mike Poborsky. This was a great day since we tried a variety of lowering techniques using us snowboarders as guinea pigs. Since we are turned sideways the pull of the rope on the harness can be awkward, it torsionally rotates the riders at the tie in. So we rigged an equalized tether to the uphill side of the rider, then we practiced being lowered regular or switch in other words tip up hill or tip downhill. Even though we were lowering on a rutted and difficult slope the 3 splitters (Tom , Frank, and Jere) had the opportunity to discuss the pros and cons of each technique. While it's still debatable I believe an equalized tether with the splitboard tip uphill, switch lower, worked the best.
Meandering through the moraine and snow covered willows, ascending through old growth forest among braided skin tracks, skinning through boot deep blower in alpine meadows, onto near tree line ridges looking up at the Grandest of Tetons and down to the elk refuge thousands of feet below we ascended to our first touring objective in Grand Teton National Park, namely 25 short. Mike Poborsky explained and demonstrated, then we practiced the finer points of track setting and turning techniques. A quick but thorough snowpack evaluation along the way led us to the top of this classic "low hanging fruit." Long, open, evergreen lined, powder filled slopes descends into the deciduous and bare treed meadows to the valley. At the bottom a little one foot skating with poles, through frozen wetlands led to split mode skating back across the groomed skate ski track and the trailhead.
On our seventh day we headed back into the park and skied Albright Mountain, another Grand Teton National Park classic. This more committing objective gave everyone a chance to refine up and down guiding skills. This grand outing above timber line, plunged down through stiff wind slab and the summit chute, onto Albright's shoulders and slalom pine groves and meadows, we ripped fall lines that left us with huge smiles filled with light dry Teton blower.
After recuperating with a day working on technical skills, including sled construction, lowers and load transfers we finished early to take care of any last minute details before the long awaited multi-day yurt based tour. The course itinerary and progression worked great as we transitioned from mechanized guiding, then touring, and eventually multi-day hut based access. The next day we met in Victor Idaho, drove up to the trailhead, and headed up to the Baldy Mountain Yurt.
At this point in the course everyone has been applying new skills, developing old ones, and generally feeding off of each other and our instructors. After reaching the yurt we settled in, began working on beacon search skills and building snow shelters. This quickly led to evening when we found ourselves in the toasty wood stove warmed yurt, wearing comfy down booties, preparing fresh stir fry, while Ullr provided peppermint and cinnamon refills. Nearly a week into the course good conversation and networking, satisfied appetites and thirst, were accompanied with a healthy dose of the winter pattern, El Gordo.
The next morning Gordo and Ullr kept spirits high with powder stoke and delivered a fresh foot of snow. The two groups set off up the wandering ridge line, peering for positive visibility and condition assessments. After traveling through snow blowing meadows near tree line we descended back to the yurt, snacked, then headed off to some low angle hot lap glory. The remainder of the day consisted of storm snow analysis, collecting data, gaining feedback, and the occasional hoot and holler that echoed off trees as ear to ear grins blasted through repeated face shots.
Our last night at the yurt and a sense of conclusion set in as hot drinks and conversation complimented a hearty dinner. Then finally it was our turn to dig, build and sleep in our snow shelter. Through trial and error Brendan and I attempted to replicate Rob Hess's shelter. We constructed a large snow shelter with an all important wind blocking door that proved to be cozy. Morning greeted us with a warm hearty breakfast and loads of coffee and tea. We vacated the yurt then Mike thoroughly covered mechanical advantage raising systems. The time finally came for our final descent of the trip. Hauling overnight packs up through ridge line glades and meadows, we transition to dreamy powder fields and onto the meandering skin track, eventually we reached the weir and crossed the shallow stream back to the road. This long descent provided great snow, a bit of on sight route finding, and a variety of split board techniques to manage the variable terrain and slope angle. Once back on the snow covered and packed road we skinned and skated back to the cars where we unloaded packs, changed clothes, and headed to the nearest watering hole, to feed, refresh, and generally relax after 11 days of knowledge, experience, networking, and fun hog having good times.
Our last day was brief but perhaps the most influential. As part of being stewards of the national forest, national parks, and public lands, we had a Leave no Trace discussion. But this wasn’t a lesson on the 7 LNT guidelines, as guides we should already be implementing this with clients. Rob led the discussion on what this means in regards to the direction of the American Mountain Guides Association and the perception of the organization in the eyes of the public, the land managers, and the international community.
As stewards it is our responsibility to demonstrate what sustainability, conservation, and land use is. It is up to us to exemplify this message to our clients, to other groups, and to land managers so that we express the absolute value of hiring an AMGA trained and certified mountain guide. Of course as AMGA trained guides and instructors we have technical skills and interpersonal skills, some better than others. But we also have a responsibility to positively influence the public about the impact and value of our actions while connecting with the landscape we travel through.
Headed to Jackson Hole for the American Mountain Guide Association Ski Guide Course! Click Blue text for Links to Fundraiser
Its official! I have been accepted to participate in the American Mountain Guide Association Ski Guide Course in Jackson Hole Wyoming and I will be participating as a splitboarder.
In order to be accepted into the program an individual has to be at a high level of physical fitness with a deep level of experience which includes successful completion of the AMGA Rock Guide Course, the ability to ride steep terrain up to fifty degrees in a variety of snow conditions, the ability to ascend and descend 4,500 vertical feet per day, and acquire American Institute for Avalanche Education and Research (AIARE) Level 2 or equivalent training. In addition to this a participant needs to be able to navigate in white out conditions, execute multi-burial avalanche rescue, build winter shelters such as a snow cave or quinzee, and implement Leave No Trace practices.
The AMGA guide track programs follow 3 disciplines through 10 courses and exams totaling 90 days. The first level courses are the rock, alpine, and ski guide courses. So far I have completed the Rock Guide Course, next is the Ski Guide Course and in June 2016 I will participate in the Alpine Guide Course. After this I will work towards the advanced guide courses and aspirant exams. These courses and exams occur during the same time period. Finally, after completing all three advanced courses and passing the aspirant exams a candidate gains the title of aspirant mountain guide. This series of courses, exams, personal and professional climbing sets the stage to fully complete the certification process by preparing them for the final exams. Successfully completing all of the courses and exams in addition to professional and personal experience a guide has become an American Mountain Guide/IFMGA Guide. This is the highest level of certification American mountain guides can receive and is an internationally recognized certification. After successfully completing the programs an individual is eligible to guide in other International Federation of Mountain Guides Association (IFMGA) countries such as in the European Union, New Zealand, and Canada. On the AMGA data base surprisingly there are only 107 American Mountain Guides!
The public is recognizing the value and importance of having a trained and certified guide. My desire to seek out training, peer review and feedback, and internationally recognized certification speaks explicitly to my commitment, the level I am held to, and the highest level achievement for American Mountain Guides. This is why I believe in the American Mountain Guide Association training and certification. Bringing into perspective that mountain guiding is a highly technical trade with even higher risks that should be recognized with the highest respect. Often times AMGA certification is compared to receiving a doctorate in guiding and looking at the time, professional experience and money committed to it there is no doubt this is a fair comparison.
Each year the organization has a number of scholarships it awards to guides. This is a very competitive field with professional athletes, mountain guides, and entry level climbers applying for the scholarships. Unfortunately, I did not receive one of the scholarships however I am not deterred from pursuing guide training and certification. While attending last years AMGA annual meeting in Boulder I participated in a fundraising seminar. It was then I recognized what others have done to secure finances for courses and exams. As a result, I have started a fundraising campaign on the popular site Go Fund Me. It called “Jere’s Ski Guide Course.” All of the blue text are links click away to find out more.
The $2,600 raised from this campaign is the cost of the course only. Jere’s Ski Guide Course campaign (click the blue text) allows everyone the option to donate any amount you wish but I have added 4 reward levels to show donors my appreciation. It is my desire to give back to all of you who have supported my goal of raising $2,600. The first level is a $200 donation called “Powder Hound” (click the blue text) and receives a day of guided skiing or splitboarding, rock climbing, or whitewater rafting. The second level at $400 is named “Ski Bunny” (click the blue text) at this level a donor receives a custom 10x30 photo that has been printed with a matte finish and mounted on gator board. Finally, “Hot Dog” (click the blue text), a $500 fourth level, is a 15x30 photo that has been printed on metallic and finished with a U.V. protection coating and has also been mounted on gator board. These rewards have been professionally printed and mounted by the incredible staff at The Breckenridge Photo Shop.
Thank you to everyone who has inspired, continues to contribute, and is willing to help this process. From friends and family to mentors, clients and employers, I would not be able to continue providing the best trips and instruction with out our partnerships.
The subtle soundscape of Bonobo resonates through muffled sleeping bags as a signal to wake up. It’s still dark as I reach for my head lamp, our lights dance around the tent walls as we stir awake. Crawl into our clothes, rustle out of warm sleeping bags, and out into the cool midsummer mountain air. We drift with soft breezes to our hanging bear proofed bags of food, drop and rummage through them to find breakfast while we boil water for hot coffee. Its only 3 a.m. but its time to start a day of alpinism. Fortunately, we packed our gear bags last night and thankfully they weigh a fraction of other climber’s packs.
When preparing for a single or multi-day wilderness alpine climbing trip I carefully consider every item I pack. How necessary is it? Is it required or for comfort? Is it single purpose or multi-purpose? Can the weight be trimmed down? All of these factors contribute to comfort, speed, efficiency, safety and success in the alpine.
As one of my mentors said “an arsenal of ropes is necessary.” So one item that has become an integral piece of the alpine rope arsenal is the Sterling Fusion Nano 60m x 9.2mm bi-pattern dry rope. At 52.6 grams per meter this rope is obviously light weight but here I will reflect on my experience including out of the package use, preparing the rope, coiling and packing, durability, and ease of use.
After careful consideration I selected this rope based on weight, length, diameter, functionality, ease of use and the added bonus that its made right here in the United States. In short order the folks at Sterling quickly shipped the rope from their Biddeford Maine facility. A couple days later I had it out in Eldorado Canyon to work out the kinks before taking it to the alpine.
At the base of the route I ground stacked the rope straight out of the package. Noticing some twists and coils Chris re-stacked the rope as he pulled it through a carabiner. The rope looked good so we started our climb.
After the first pitch of climbing I immediately noticed the benefits of the Nano 9.2. First it was easy to handle while I clipped into protection. Second as I pulled up the slack flaking knee length lap coils, the rope was compact and comfortable. Even more, as Chris followed the pitch, it smoothly fed through the ATC in guide mode.
Chris led up the next pitch and as he climbed the coils and twists reappeared. I gradually worked the coils down the rope as it payed out. After he arrived at the anchors and was off belay I quickly remedied the issue. I attached myself with a personal anchor, untied, worked out the twists, and tied back in. Then I followed the pitch and we prepared for our descent.
In order to ensure a straight running rope, we simul-rappelled the route on single strands. This was the last time the Sterling Fusion Nano 9.2mm 60m bi-pattern dry rope coiled or twisted. Finally the rope had been prepared for more committing routes. The next route would be on a Rocky Mountain National Park classic, The South Face of the Petit Grepon.
This is when the next benefits appeared. I looped mountaineer coils just above my belly button tied off and attached the rope to my pack. Again I loved the compact coils that fit neatly around my 35 liter pack with out any potential of sagging loops or snags while on the approach. Perhaps most noticeable was the ropes light weight. In combination with a stripped down alpine climbing rack, a day’s worth of food, and extra clothing my pack was light, compact, and held close to my body with little sway as I scrambled during the approach.
As with the other route we climbed the Sterling Nano 9.2mm was easy to handle and clip into protection. With slightly stiff handling often accompanied with dry ropes it was easy to pinch and clip into protection. In addition slack pulled easily and ground stacked super tight leaving ample real estate for 2 climbers and even enough space to have a seat on. Again lap coils were incredibly compact but also soft and supple enough to allow for clean easy flipping onto the other climber.
Another great feature of this rope is the bi-pattern sheath. On one side is a solid color and on the other is a yellow diamond pattern. Seemingly the most obvious use of the pattern is while setting up rappels. When threading the rope through fixed anchors and subsequently hand flaking it is easy to locate the center before tossing or saddle bagging. But what I found to be a surprise is the improved efficiency of kiwi coiling. As soon as I reach the center of the rope I take an additional 15 coils into the kiwi, tie off, and this leaves me with about 15 meters. This remaining amount I can hand coil for short roping, drop while protecting short pitches or use with natural terrain anchors and belays. What's more the sheath is quite durable. After I wrapped it around rock horns, flakes, and running across rock slabs it barely showed any sign of use.
The final great feature of this rope is the dry treatment. While climbing in the alpine there are many opportunities for the rope to become saturated. Either from rain fall during afternoon storms, being dragged through snow and ice on glaciers, climbing steep snow in couloirs, or on snowy faces. This dry treatment limits the amount of water the rope absorbs.
All though it's been nearly 12 hours since we started in the morning we still have smiles on our faces. We descend through loose rocky scree and talus, the heat of the day has passed and we slowly cool after hours of continually paced movement. Eventually we reach tree line and gently glide onto well traveled and worn trails. Across split log planks, above lush wetland wildflower blooms we reflect on our favorite parts of the climb.
On the hike out of every alpine climb with the Nano I am still stoked that I added it to my arsenal of ropes. The comfort of carrying it on long approaches, the compact ground stacks, efficient lap flaking and kiwi coils, the durability on natural terrain features, and speedy rappel setups have consistently contributed to my successful alpine climbing trips.
Quick draws and extendable slings are critical pieces of equipment for traditional, alpine, and even sport climbing. They help to reduce rope drag by allowing the rope to move in a straight line. In this way a leader can easily move upward with out being pulled down. Perhaps more importantly a straight running rope better distributes the force of a lead fall by allowing the rope to absorb more force and thus reducing the impact on one or more pieces of protection. Another important contribution of a quick draw or extended runner is to prevent cams from walking into a crack and causing under or over camming. Even more nut placements will not be compromised when the leader climbs above the piece of protection. When guiding multiple clients in parallel rope technique an extendable runner makes it easier for the followers to unclip their rope from the protection. One example is with climbers of different heights. For shorter climbers an extended sling can be pulled closer so they can unclip their rope. When using caterpillar rope technique the second of three climbers can easily unclip their rope, while still being able to comfortably clip in the third climbers rope, often times with out pulling up slack.
An extendable sling can also provide easier and safer clipping while on lead. When a lead climber places protection at chest to head level a sling can reduce the amount of rope needed to clip. I have found added comfort in placing gear around shoulder level, extending a sling, then reaching down and clipping the carabiner into the rope. On the other hand reaching down to grab the rope, pulling up slack, then clipping the rope into the carabiner increases the amount of energy needed, reducing efficiency, while creating additional slack in the system. So using an extended sling while clipping has less rope available thus reducing the potential of a long leader fall. This combination of equipment and technique adds comfort and safety while reducing steps and creating efficiency.
Over the years I have used many different quickdraws and slings. In the past couple years I have been using Trango 60cm and 120cm Ultratape slings with Black Diamond Neutrino carabiners and Cypher quickdraws. This setup has proven to be light, durable, and affordable. But I was looking for something lighter with lower bulk. This lead me to search out a new sling and draw setup. Eventually I decided on the ultra lightweight and low bulk Black Diamond OZ quickdraws and carabiners paired with 60cm and 120cm Dynex runners.
One of the first benefits of this kit is the hood wire on the key lock nose of the OZ carabiner. This unique feature offers lead climbers smooth rope, bolt and piton clipping with out snagging on the nose while at the same time the follower will benefit from the ease of unclipping from bolts, pitons, and ropes. The hood wire also reduces the chance of an open gate failure from debris or ice.
The next benefit on the OZ-Dynex extendable runner set up is the weight, or lack thereof. The location of the route will determine how many runners I rack. But in areas with longer pitches such as Lumpy Ridge in Estes Park I may climb with six 60cm and two 120cm extendables. Where as if I’m climbing shorter and often wandering and traversing pitches of Eldorado Canyon in Boulder I’ll rack up to ten 60cm and two 120cm runners. In any case if I were to rack my ten single length and two double length Dynex runners with two OZ carabiners each I carry a total weight of 33.5 ounces or about 2 pounds.
In addition to this I could carry six OZ quickdraws. These are great for crack climbs where I’ll use more cam then nut placements and the route has a plumb line compared to a meandering one. These draws are easy to clip onto the cam sling while the rubber straight jacket on the rope end carabiner allow for controlled one hand, fingers on the outside or single finger on the inside rope clipping. All six of these draws weigh in at 13.2 ounces or about 0.8 pounds.
In comparison my old quickdraw and extendable sling kit weighed in at nearly 4 pounds but when I built this new kit it lost nearly 24 ounces or about a pound and a half. So why does a pound and a half matter? First of all on alpine routes with long approaches such as the Backbone on Dragontail in the Enchantments or Ellingwood Ledges on Crestone Needle in the Sangre de Cristo this pound and half will make a difference on single day car to car assaults. Additonally on these long days this weight savings can be transmitted to water or food weight, extra thermal layers, a bivy sack or that little bottle of celebratory libation. What’s more is the possibility to shave another ¾ of a pound by using Dynex runners with only one OZ carabiner! This would drop the total quickdraw extendable runner kit to a scant 1.7 pounds! Now imagine how hard you could climb with that weight savings.
Lastly and this came as quite a surprise is the reduction of clutter on my gear loops and gear slings. The Dynex at 10mm is 2mm narrower that the Ultratape at 12mm. In addition to this the dynex runners are great for equalizing anchor points.
With all of these benefits it goes with out saying there are some drawbacks. To obtain low weight and low bulk the equipment is smaller. While my average size hands easily handle and clip the OZ carabiners with a 9.2-9.8mm rope there will be those with larger hands and larger diameter ropes that have a difficult time with these carabiners. I have also found the hood wire is to large to clip certain piton eyes. While most of the time this may not be a big deal blowing an onsight at your limit because you couldn't clip a piton protected crux would be disappointing. Another drawback is the lower melting point of dynex slings. When used as an extendable sling this doesn’t create much of a problem, but this limits it’s ability to be used as a friction hitch such as a third hand back up, a progress capture, or tractor, in mechanical advantage or belay escape situations. Of course these runners can be used in these applications but it seems as though their strength will be reduced and perhaps should no longer be used as a runner on lead climbs.
So if weight and bulk are important considerations then this extendable runner set up is top notch. Easy rope clipping on bolts and most pitons is a benefit for both the leader and follower. Add in the fact that compared to nylon, Dynex absorbs less water and is less stiff when frozen, Dynex excels in alpine conditions when temps drop below freezing. In my opinion and from my experience the reduced melting point and smaller carabiner size are outweighed by more racking space on gear loops, reduced drag from weight and the ability to send harder for longer from the crag to the alpine.
Not much can be said about the spring weather in Colorado except maybe "Mayuary" as powder hounds have coined it. Fortunately for those of us in Colorado, March and April provided ample climbing time under perfect weather. Naturally in classic Rocky Mountain style, these warm and dry months faded into cool and wet weather patterns in May. In the week leading to the American Mountain Guide Association Rock Guide Course the wet weather started and persisted along the Front Range. Of course, thinking ahead for a moment, the heavy rains and cool weather will have positive impacts for the potential wildfire and drought. Conversely for rock guides this wet weather forces many of us to get creative to stay motivated.
On Day 2 we headed into the center of the universe, Eldorado Canyon. We met at another historic spot namely Supremacy Rock. Again Pat Ament led one of the countries early hard routes, Supremacy Crack 5.11b. Except this day we wouldn't climb the route. The day started out with ground school that included belay transitions to lowering using caterpillar rope technique, ATC flips, munter lowers, pre-rigged and belayed rappels. Eventually we led out in groups of three on Time Out, Play Time, and Route 0 to practice theses skills. Clear morning skies crumbled to storm clouds, then rain, and lightning. Fortunately we were able to practically apply the days lessons, namely the ATC flip and lower, belayed rappel and pre-rigged rappel before the rock became wet.
Day one of the course would set an unexpected precedent. We started off with introductions at the AMGA headquarters in Boulder. Unquestionably there was a deep pool of talent filling the boardroom. There were local Coloradans that taught at community colleges and guided clients from Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park to the San Juan Mountains. Equally there were guides from Wyoming that spent weeks in the Wind River Range only to return to Grand Teton National Park and lead trips up the Grand. In the same way as me the other participants recognized the appeal of taking the rock guide course in Boulder and more specifically the legendary Eldorado Canyon. This attracted guides from as far as Washington and as it turns out may have had better climbing conditions. Never the less we had the all star instructor team that included International Federation of Mountain Guides Association certified guides Angela Hawse, Rob Hess, and Tom Hargis and also AMGA rock guide and Colorado Mountain School lead guide Mark Hammond. Through their unfathomable experience they would teach us decades of collective rock guiding knowledge.
After a morning of discussion we headed up to Castle Rock in Boulder Canyon. A short drive through the canyon led to this historical landmark. When in 1964 Royal Robbins and Pat Ament free climbed the nations hardest free route of the time Athletes Feat at 5.11. Here we reviewed many skills including knots, coils, and anchors. By afternoon, thunderstorms had built overhead and many cracks of lightning prompted us to call it a day.
features. Typically this lesson would have been followed with practical application on the ridge but once again with thunderstorms threatening the instructor team decided to relocate. Surprisingly we would meet former director of the American Mountain Guide Association, Kyle Lefkoff, at Mateo in Boulder.
After a few days of rain and limited climbing time we were treated to bottles of wine and cheese samples while Kyle discussed the finer points of client care. As guides know client care is paramount. Ensuring their safety with proper route selection and hazard mitigation, rope system use, weather appropriate gear recommendations, and adequate nourishment for the day however Kyle’s presentation offered more than that. First Kyle gave his background as a guide and former director of the AMGA along with his contributions to The Access Fund. Next he went on to give each course participant a scenario of who, where, when, what of a trip that included meals, accommodations, and don't forget the spa. These scenarios allowed each individual to describe a custom trip at their home crags. Over trays of cheese, pate, crackers, through bottle after bottle of wine everyone described their ideal day of climbing and entertaining. This was a great exercise in client care that led into “Kyle’s five rules of guiding.” The first rule is safety first then tipping. Second is climb, eat, spa, drink, repeat. Third is never lead beginners on a route you wouldn’t solo. Kyle’s fourth rule is to make sure everyone has a cell phone, and everyone has everyone else’s cell phone number saved to memory. Last is nobody climbs until the waivers are signed. Thanks to Kyle for the unexpected hospitality and insight to a side of guiding that can get overlooked. Furthermore this discussion showed our instructor teams ability to adapt to the inclement weather and keep each day full of pertinent lessons. You can check out one of Kyle's contributions "key to success as a mountain guide and in life" on the AMGA website.
a great location. Here Mark Hammond explained and demonstrated proper execution of the 45 minute drill and accurately and concisely completed the entire lesson in what seemed to be under 20 minutes. After this demo we scaled the walls and executed a hanging rescue drill. Subsequently, to maintain a rock climbers sanity, we climbed a few plastic routes before we continued to the next lesson. As soon as everyone completed the drill and was satisfied with gym climbing the skill presentations continued with Rob Hess demonstrating parallel rope belaying and stacking as they applied to stance and transition management.