Young Aspiring Guide- Patrick Dunn

In early March 2021 I left Bend Oregon and headed south to Red Rock NCA with immense excitement and so many nerves. I was heading to partake in my first AMGA Rock Guide course, something I had prepared for and dreamed about for years. But this journey wasn’t so simple. One year earlier, I was packed and ready to go for this exact same trip when I got the call that my original RGC was cancelled because of Covid-19. A week later I was unemployed and quarantined in my home with so much uncertainty of what the future held. The year that unfolded was one full of many lessons and new beginnings. I took most of 2020 day by day and things eventually seemed to shift more positively with COVID. Eventually, we could climb at Smith Rock again and there was hope that I would soon, one day, be able to complete this course, a major goal in my life. So when I left home, almost one year later, to finally achieve that goal, I was overwhelmed with gratitude.

2020 was an incredibly hard year for most of us. Simultaneously, it was a year of awakening and new beginnings for many of us as well. For me, this year gave me the opportunity to develop the LGBTQIA2S+ affinity programs that I joined the AMGA in order to create. It gave me the time and space to create a business model and find resources to make my dream a reality. It also illuminated the absolute need and importance of these affinity programs. I came to this course to soak up every second, every ounce of wisdom and become a more well rounded guide and instructor. More importantly, I came to my rock guide course as a representative of a community that hasn’t always felt welcome in the guiding and outdoor community.

I also stepped into my course with a lot of discomfort. I knew that I wasn’t the first and nor would I be the last. As a gay man navigating the guiding world, I questioned my abilities and my place in the AMGA. Do I fit in? Will I be good enough? These questions bounced around my head but I continued to remind myself how far I had come and how much I had already achieved. Though there are many complexities and nuances to my experience, the reality is that there exists a culture in the guiding community that causes many to feel excluded.

To me, this culture is a hyper masculine and often ego driven culture of bragging and one-upping. Throughout my course, this culture wove its way through the days. I danced between wanting to participate to fit in and knowing that I needed to show up as my authentic self. The reality is, that because of all this, I struggled to perform at the level I had hoped. My climbing felt awkward and robotic. My execution of the new systems I was learning felt ungraceful. A majority of my mental energy was used navigating my discomfort amidst this culture instead of focused on the task at hand. Ultimately, I reminded myself that this experience is not uncommon and I began to feel motivated to overcome it in order to change it.

All of this inner turmoil about fitting in and feeling uncomfortable turned into a drive to continue on my path in creating programs that are inclusive and safe. This is why the scholarship from Young Aspiring Guide Fund was so important for me. Without this scholarship, I believe I would have procrastinated on taking this course even longer. With the financial backing of this scholarship, I had the opportunity to step into my own discomfort and move through it. I owe an immense amount of gratitude to Young Aspiring Guide Fund for granting me this scholarship. Not only did it push me out of my comfort zone, it also helped me to learn new skills and systems.

The systems I learned were invaluable in my transition from recreational climber, to being an efficient and organized guide. The days of ground school were full of practicing countless new systems. On those days, we filled our toolboxes with techniques and procedures. When we got on the rock we had the opportunity to practice how to choose from those new skills and learn through trial and error. The format of the course was intentional and though the long days of ground school were mentally taxing, I appreciated how those days laid the groundwork for developing the guide mindset around decision making.

Ultimately, the final days of my course became a practice in being present. I began to focus on the movement and the beauty around me. I tapped into the new knowledge base I had developed and utilized those skills on my climbing assignments. Though there were cultural differences within my climbing group, we still enjoyed the long days together and shared in the adventure. Friendships were cultivated and I found so much value in my instructor’s on-route lessons. In the end, this course represented so many qualities that I love about rock climbing – the relationships we build with each other; the critical thinking while navigating steep terrain; the process of overcoming mental complexities; and the privilege to do all of this while experiencing the epic natural beauty of our planet.