I first heard of the AMGA from an American Mountain Guide in Chamonix, France. To be more specific, I met him in the Gouter Hut, after I clumsily knocked his boots over in the dimly lit entryway. I asked about the patches he was brandishing on his jacket and he happily fulfilled my curiosity, “This is the PhD degree of mountain guiding, it’s what allowed me to make this a career”. I was intrigued and even fascinated at the prospect of achieving my own “mountain PhD” but at the time I was a freshman music major, studying abroad in nearby Geneva, Switzerland (if you were wondering, I still am paying off those loans). Rolling the clock forward to 2017, the Advanced Rock Guide Course and Aspirant Exam held this spring (2017) marks my halfway point to IFMGA Certification! This program would prove to be invaluable, comprehensive, and full of on-route jokes (Sometimes known as ORJ’s).
Our first day of the course was our skills portion of the Aspirant Exam, including the rescue drill, knot pass, and the movement assessment. We had exactly 50% of the candidates examined on the new drill, 50% examined on the old (with the AMGA in a transitional period we were given the choice of which drill to perform). The movement drill was held (queue drum roll) on “The Fox”! What may come as a surprise was that most everyone had climbed it already, as if they knew “The Fox” was a common exam route (satirical tone intended). The send train on that foxy crack ran the entire day through the last candidate. Whew. One exam day done!
Day two provided immensely valuable skills refreshers with parallel roping, station management, transitions, aiding, and pack hauling. We also were exposed to Art Mooney’s “east coast” tie in versus our other three instructors’ “west” clip in with the second guest’s rope. To each their own, doesn’t it say somewhere there isn’t one AMGA way?
Day three was spent short roping up the mighty “North Peak” in Ice Box Canyon. My crew was with Clint Cook, who had plenty of first hand knowledge with this short roping area. We practiced and polished a variety of “shroping” techniques interspersed with healthy doses of scrub-oak thrashing. Remember: Scrub Oak builds character…whether trying to pull your rope through it or walking through it, you didn’t wear shorts did you?
Days four through seven were our on-route mock-guiding days and for me, proved to be the portion of the course where my “rock guide lightbulb” flipped on, as I solidified and polished my rock guiding techniques. Day One: Lotta Balls Wall, Bruja’s Brew & Triharderal with Clint Cook. We started off with a demo from Clint, he’s the man. Day Two: Lower Solar Slabs, Beulah’s Book & Johnny Vegas with Rob Hess. Rob effortlessly showed us a great time while still providing great feedback and coaching. I would also argue that Rob pulls off the Petzl Sirocco Helmet (that super light orange one) the best. Day Three: Ginger Buttress, Ginger Cracks & Power Failure with Eric “Wheels” Whewell. Our group gleaned a great deal from Wheels, and on a side note is a fellow alumni of Western State Colorado University. Turns out he and I had the same stories to tell about the same professors. Gotta love Western! Day Four: Magic Mountain, Community Pillar with Art “Moondog” Mooney. It was a pleasure spending our last day of “coaching” with Art, who always had helpful ways to improve our guiding. One of my fellow candidates also made the observation that Art and Christopher Walken have some similarities…do you see it? “I got a fever, and the only thing that’ll cure it, is more rock
climbing” (not cowbell).
Our final two days were spent on our Aspirant Exams, with two laps on the Angel Food wall day one. Our second day was on Chasing Shadows to Dark Shadows. I must also note that we had the pleasure of seeing Alex Honnold freesolo up to our belay ledge from Excellent Adventure (5.11a). He then proceeded to down climb our route, but not before asking for beta, true story! This program truly was fantastic and I cannot thank Rob, Art, Clint, and Eric enough. For future candidates concerned about stress, Rob Hess put it well in our intros: “At the end of the day, we’re still rock climbing in the desert and that’s not a bad thing”. And saving the very best for last, THANK YOU (times one thousand) to Mountain Hardware, who made this possible!