Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Rock Instructor Course

Ever since I moved to North Carolina, I have been preparing for the AMGA's rock instructor course.  I spent my summer getting the required resume and technical skills.  It seemed like a daunting task at first.  I arrived having only a dozen or so multipitch climbs under my belt but needed 50.  When everyone told me it would be easy to get the required climbs, I laughed until I managed to complete multiple multipitch climbs in a since day early on.  From then on, it was game on.  Then in August I was able to complete the requirements by climbing two grade III routes in a few days.

From that point on, my focus shifted to getting in shape. Since my heel was better I attempted to start running but realized that I don't like running.  Instead I made it a goal to do something everyday whether that be running, hiking, climbing, or a combination of them.  Then September hit.  Work slowed down but it seemed like I was still busy a lot of the time.  I was either working on the house I lived in, guiding, or climbing.  Eventually trying to get in shape fell by the wayside.  Then the week before I was to leave for Oregon, I had to drive to Illinois unexpectedly.  Once back in North Carolina, I rushed around getting things packed and in order for me to leave.  Luckily, Monday morning I was all set to make my way to Central Oregon.

Once in Oregon I felt I could relax finally.  I was here.  The next day, I went out to Smith Rock to get used to the funky rock there and set up camp.  Since I flew I did not have a car so I would be staying at the bivy site right there in the park.  The first morning of the course I awoke at 5 AM, well before my alarm.  After going through what would become my normal morning routine, I headed to the rendezvous point for the first day of the course.  In full character of myself, I arrived at the set meeting location 45 minutes early.  I then had the privilege to sit there and enjoy the cool, brisk autumn air.  Finally, after everyone arrived the course initiated.  We went over introductions, the goals of the course, and a few other discussions about professionalism, guides notebooks, guide meetings, risk management, and what every guide should have with them.  At this point it was close to noon so we took off for the North Point at Smith Rock.

The North Point is a great teaching location but not on this day.  It never seemed to warm up that day and the North Point stays in the shade given its norther aspect.  There we went over protection, anchors, knots, belaying and other basic skills that we should have known before arriving at the course.  We then jumped into belaying with the plaquette device (ATC-Guide, Reverso, GiGi).  From there we learned belaying multiple clients up a pitch and also rope management at a belay station.

The second day started in a very similar fashion.  After a guides meeting, we went down to the dihedrals area and went over descent techniques.  This involved lowers and rappelling.  I learned a lot in these lessons, especially in the area of client care.  After going over these things and practicing it was time to hit the rock.  I started by doing a route called Bookworm (5.9).  It starts as a hand crack and widens to an offwidth at the top of the first pitch.  From there we followed a bolt line and joined up with the second pitch of Bunny Face.  I was climbing with Keith (one of the instructors), Max, and Claude.  I brought them up each pitch then did a single double rope, stacked rappel to get us safely back to the ground.  While Keith was coming up on a fixed line, he broke a hold off.  This was the start of encountering poor rock conditions for the remainder of the course.
Keith Garvey demonstrating lowering techniques

After that route, Max led us up an easy bolted line to the top of the Cinnamon Slab area. Then Claude led a gully/ chimney route that ended on a ledge shared with Cinnamon Slab.  When I got up there, every person from the course was hanging out on this ledge which comfortable fits 3.  It was probably quite a site for those climbers around us to see everyone crowded on that ledge.

On day three of the course, we split up into two groups.  Max and Claude went with Angela while Ryan, Leslie and I went with Keith.  They were going to do a demo of a guided multipitch route.  Keith chose White Satin (5.9) to take us up.  This route only has one good pitch which is the third and also presents many guiding challenges.  I managed to get hit in the helmet by a falling rock while belaying Keith on the third pitch.  This route also showed us that the rock was not the best quality on the multipitch routes.  After topping out, we rappelled onto the back (west) side of Smith.  We then made our way over to Spiderman Buttress.  There Leslie led up two pitches.  After he leads, I was given the rack and told to take us to the top.  Once up on top of the buttress, Ryan was in charge of getting us down.  We did two rappels back to the ground, closing out day three.
Keith on the top of White Satin

On day four we spent the whole day learning short-roping techniques. Since it was a Saturday, we decided to avoid the crowds during this day of instruction.  We elected to hike to the top of the Smith Rock Group.  This is the massive group of rock formations to the southwest of the main part of the park.  The top of the group has a good selection of easier scrambling terrain in which to practice short-roping and short-pitching techniques used when guiding 3rd and 4th class terrain. I really enjoyed learning the "ropes" of guiding this type of ground.  Later in the day, we had to short-rope over to a summit pinnacle and then guide each other up it.  It was a very short easy pitch but it led to some great views of the entire park.  The only bad part about the day was that it was really sunny that day.  I managed to get some heinous helmet strap tan lines. For the rest of the course we were able to apply these techniques to everyday guiding. 
Angela Hawse showing us how to short-rope two people

Day five was one in which we just did mock guiding all day. That day, I was grouped with Ryan and Max with Angela as our instructor.  Our original plan was to climb Zebra-Zion, top out, then head over to the Monkey Face and climb the West Face Variation.  Well people were just starting the first pitch of Zebra-Zion so we headed over to Phone Call from Satan (5.9) and did that as a first pitch into Solar (5.9).  Ryan led all three pitches of this route.  It was a really fun route with a great position on the third pitch.  After topping out, Max was in charge of the “decent”  It wasn’t really a descent since we continued up with a long pitch then split into two groups and short pitched up this ridgeline to the top. 

Once off of the ridge, I led us to our next objective, the West Face Variation but to our dismay a group had just started up the first pitch.  Our back up plan was to do Trezlar but that was also taken.  We resolved to climb Tale of Two Shitties (5.10a).  I led up the first pitch hoping for a good belay ledge.  I reached on spot that would accommodate us with minimal discomfort but the gear was so bad for an anchor that I continued up into the dihedral of the second pitch to set an anchor in better quality rock.  The second pitch is a beautiful dihedral that goes to an overhanging, juggy  crack.  The dihedral was a lot of fun but a bit heady.  I didn’t know that it stayed about the same size the entire time.  For most of the pitch, the crack remains in the size range of #1 and #.75 camalots.  I could have used one more of each to protect the pitch adequately.  Instead, I just have to push through some sections of it.  Finally, at the overhanging part, I resorted to resting on a solid #.4 camalot before tackling the final jugs.  After resting for a minute I took off up the jugs and made it to a nice ledge from which to belay.  Once everyone was up, we decided that a decent was the best option given the time so we did two rappels back to the ground.  I beat myself up over this route.  I felt I could have done much better than I did but After looking back the only bad thing I did was choose a route that was a bit too close to my limit to guide three people up.

Day six was our rescue drill and scenario day.  The weather was supposed to be sub-optimal for the day so we had a backup plan of going to the Bend Rock Gym and doing the drill there.  Luckily, the rain came early on and scooted off to the east early in the day.  We started out by going over different aspects of rescue techniques under the pavilion at Smith.  Then after lunch we headed to the north point so that we could all get a chance to run through the rescue drill.  The first run I was the patient.  I had the privilege to hang from a rope for 40 minutes.  Luckily I brought a prussic and a four foot sling so that I could stand up on that.  Next I had a chance to run through it.  I had done it before in the shop at the headquarters for Fox Mountain Guides but this would be my first time on vertical terrain.  It is a bit tougher.  I ended up having some troubles with ascending back up a fixed line so my time was not as good as I was hoping.  That will change soon though.  Once we finished the drill, I decided to climb a route that was right there just to get some climbing in that day.  It was enjoyable to climb a short sport route.
Day seven, we resumed the mock guiding.  I was teamed up with Ryan and Angela.  We had been given guiding assignments of Voyage of the Cowdog (5.9) and Peking into Moscow (5.8).  Given the location of Voyage of the Cowdog and the relative temperature we elected to not do it since it would be in the shade all day.  Instead we started out with Peking to Moscow, which Ryan led us up.  He did a marvelous job.  Then we hiked back down to our packs.  From there I led up us Super Slab (5.6).  If you haven’t done that route before, I would suggest you do it.  It has some of the best rock we encountered at Smith.  It provided some guiding challenges but I felt that I nailed it.  For the first time on the course, I felt like I was doing really well.  The only thing that I was critiqued on was a runnout on the last pitch.  
Ryan on the final pitch of Super Slab

On the eighth day, I was teamed up with Angela and Leslie.  We were going to do another up and over day.  We started on Cinnamon Slab and took that to the top.  From there we crossed over and descended besides the Spiderman Buttress.  That felt a bit adventurous because we got to go down a slot to get back to the ground.  From there we hiked to the base of the West Face Variation (5.8).  Our plan was to take it to the top by the diving board.  The first pitch is stellar.  It get airy just 20 feet off of the ground with a fun move around an arĂȘte on to the face.  From there you go up some blocks to a killer dihedral.  After the dihedral you have a few bulges to navigate and then you arrive at the belay.  Most parties go left from here and do the direct variation to the notch between the main wall and Monkey Face.  We continued up a 5.6 pitch that traverses right around a roof.  It then cuts back left  to the bolted anchor.   This pitch proved to be one of the most challenging.  After coming around the right side of the roof, I got a good look at the next pitch.  It looked horrible and had a good number of pigeons guarding it.  Also, I noticed that if I were to go to the bolted anchor it would produce a ton of rope drag and put a very nasty traverse into the pitch. At first I checked out a crack straight above me.  It didn’t look like it would yield sufficient gear for an anchor.  Then I went to the base of the dihedral of the next pitch.  The rock there looked crappy.  So against what I should have done, I went to the bolted anchor and started to haul up rope.  When Angela came around the side of the roof and saw what was before her, she very gently told me that having a traverse like that would not fly.  To bring Leslie up, I went over to that initial crack, took more time to find gear then belayed her up to the crack, then down to the bolted anchor.  From there we rappelled back down to the ground but not without a few snags.  When pulling the rope from the first rappel, it got stuck on a chock stone in a chimney.  I then had to climb back up to free it.    Once we were back down, Leslie took us over to the Kiss of the Lepers area.  There we did the first pitch of First Kiss (5.7).  That concluded our day.

The ninth and final day to be on the rock, I teamed up with Max and Keith.  Max and I kind of tailored our day to give Keith a chance to get on some classics that were a bit harder.  We started off on the Picnic Lunch wall.  There we warmed up on Honey Pot (5.9).  After that we did Teddy Bear’s Picnic.  It is three pitches of 5.10 that offer great rock, good climbing, and an amazing position.  It goes up this huecoed face then on to knob climbing.  The second and third pitches traverse slightly to the left and get out on an arĂȘte to offer some sweet exposure.  The cruxes are not super hard, just delicate.  Max did a great job on the climb and on getting us back to the ground.
Max leading the way up Teddy Bear's Picnic

After that, I led us up Misery Ridge trail over to the Mesa Verde wall.  There we were going to do Cosmos (5.10a) into the second pitch of Trezlar (5.10a).  I had done this same route less than two years ago so I figures it would be easy.  I also had planned on us to rappel back down the route when we were finished.  I started off up Cosmos.  I forgot about the tricky section right before the anchors.  There I ended up grabbing the draw and figuring the moves out since it is frowned upon to take a lead fall with a client belaying.  Even after scoping the section out, I had to make a committing move on little knobs to reach the anchor.  I skipped the anchors of Cosmos and went to the base of the amazing, overhanging dihedral that is the second pitch of Trezlar.  I brought up Max and Keith.  From there I took off up the dihedral.  I had a great time climbing it.  Then at the top I set my anchor and extended myself so that I could see Keith and Max as they climbed.  When Max reached the top, Keith suggested that we do the fourth class decent which goes off to the left.  I wasn’t happy about this because I knew that the rappel would be the easiest way out.  From that, I start making my kiwi coils to short-rope them back to the ground.  As it turns out, the descent involved a sketchy traverse, a rappel off of a pigeon crap encrusted pillar, and then skirting left until we were able to reach a trail.  This was the most technical short-roping that we did the entire course.  I was glad to be back on the ground after that adventure.  From there we moved to Spiderman Buttress and Keith had us do a drill where we made bail anchors with as little as possible.  It was a good reminder that you can make a solid anchor with very little if you have to.  Once we did that we high tailed it over Astriks Pass and back to the parking lot.

This concluded out time on the rock.  The next day we didn’t meet until noon to do debriefs.  I was rather surprised at how I did on the course.  It went very well and I learned a ton.  As I am finishing writing this I am flying back to North Carolina and I am super excited to put all of these skills to use for guiding.