Thursday, December 6, 2012

Rock Instructor Exam Part 2

The day before the exam started, we had a meeting with the instructors to go over the logistics, risk management, and get to know each other.  We were given our route assignments and our partner for the first two days.  I was paired with Russel.  Our first day would be climbing at Hemingway Buttress with Silas. The next day we were to guide Angela on the Sentinel.  After the meeting, we hung out a bit, discussed our plan for the day then left to go get fueled up for the next day.  That night was the first night of not sleeping in a tent. I appreciated having a shower that night. Then I prepped some more that evening before falling asleep at 8:30.

The next morning I woke up at 5AM when I started to get a bit nervous. Apparently, I had started thinking about the exam while I was sleeping and then I couldn't get back to sleep once I had woken up. My route assignment that day was to lead White Lightning and something else after Russel led his route, Overseer.  We were the first ones to the crag that morning so we hopped right on White Lightning.  It is a 5.8 crack that goes all the way to the top.  About 3/4 of the way up there is a small nook in which you can set a belay if you want to break the route into two pitches.  I did just that and brought Silas and Russel up to me.  From there I did a short pitch to the top.  Getting off of Hemingway can be a bit of a challenge since there are only two rappel stations for the entire wall. Luckily, after topping out, I was close to the central rappel station and we quickly made it back down to the ground. Russel then took over and took us up Overseer.  It is a great route with a crux that will keep you on your toes.  From there we rappelled on the right side of the wall.  It was now my turn again.  I went up this exposed fin covered in patina plates.  The only downside to this route was the lack of adequate gear.  Still, I loved it. Once back on the ground, Russel took us up Feltonian Physics.  Another great route on Hemingway. After that route, we went to a pile of rocks near the base and refined some short roping techniques. That was our first day. By the end of the day, the nerves had finally settled.  Now time to get ready for day two.

On day two, Russel was assigned Fote Hog and I was assigned Western Saga both of which are on the Sentinel in Real Hidden Valley.  Fote Hog is a 5.6 that starts up a ramp, goes on to a face with a thin crack, then moves right to a juggy overhang.  From there it follows cracks and ledges to the top.  My route, Western Saga, is normally done as a single pitch but due to it having a huge ledge half way up the climb, I broke it up.  The first pitch is thin crack and stemming in a corner.  Above the ledge, you get a slightly overhung hand crack going up to a roof. The roof moves follow the crack and are a bit awkward.  After the roof, there is a flaring hand crack to a nice ledge.  After this, Russel chose to take us up Sail Away which is a beautiful 5.8 finger crack.  Over there I ran into some people I had met before from NC.  After Sail Away we went to Intersection Rock to climb Mike's Book. I only was able to do the first pitch due to time constraints.  It is a fun route with an awkward start leading to jugs in a corner.  We then came down and debriefed for the day.
Russel coming down off of Sail Away

Day three was the rescue drill and movement test day.  The rescue drill, is a 45 minutes exercise in which you must show your knowledge and application of certain rescue tools needed by a guide to safely get out of a situation if one were to arise.  It can be quite stressful having an examiner standing a few feet away watching your every move. In my rock instructor course, I had some issues that I needed to work on to get a good time on the drill.  Well I must have practiced enough because I was well within time.  After doing the rescue drill we did the knot pass. It is a 5 minute exercise in which we must lower a client past a knot in the rope. I had slight brain fart during the knot pass which I luckily caught before it hosed me.  This added time to the drill.  I still got through it in time. Next we did our movement test.  The first route was Pope's Crack. It is a 5.9+ thin hands crack that leads to a slightly downward traverse before going back up a fun lieback flake. The next route we did was Touch and Go 5.9.  It starts off in a corner with twin cracks. It them moves to a single dihedral crack with a juggy top out.
Looking up at the guys doing the rescue drill

Rodney and Russel hanging out during the rescue drill

Wes going down to Russel during the drill

Day four was the first day that I was able to do some of the longer routes in Joshua Tree. This day, Russel and I were with Tom Hargis.  The three of us went to Lost Horse Wall to do Dappled Mare and Bird on a Wire. Russel was up first on Dappled Mare. It has an interesting downward traverse which creates a somewhat unique guiding problem.  Russel negotiated it well and we were quickly through that part of the climb. He took us to the top then guided us down the walk off.  Next, I was up on Bird on a Wire.  It is a 5.10a that follows a sweeping crack line to the top. The second pitch is the money pitch.  It has a thin section that is protected by a bolt but you are able to get gear soon afterward in a finger crack.  The crack eventually opens up to a juggy crack that is a lot of fun.  You then cross Dappled Mare and continue on juggy cracks all the way to the top. We then did the descent back to the base.  We wrapped things up for the day.  Back at camp we had a good debrief in which Tom gave some great critiques on our day which helped me understand the use of certain tools better.
Tom on the second pitch of Bird on a Wire

Russel finishing up Bird on a Wire

The fifth and final day of being on the rock, Russel and I were once again with Silas. We were assigned to guide Walk on the Wild Side and Right On on Saddle Rock.  Walk on the Wild Side was the only route in the exam that I did not have to onsight since I had done it before the exam. We went up the three pitches then rappelled back to the base. This was one of the most straight forward assignments I had. We then hiked over to Right On. There was a party that was finishing what they thought was the first pitch.  So we had lunch and chilled.  Eventually, we were able to head up. We were continually having to wait at belays on this route due to the party ahead of us. At one point, we waited 30 minutes before Russel was able to begin leading the last pitch. Eventually, we made it to the top of Saddle Rock.  There we basked in the sun since we had been in the shade most of the day. We then did a double rope rappel to the ground and with a bit of rock hopping. After this day, we all went out for dinner at the Saloon. We were finally able to relax and just enjoy the evening.
Russel after taking us to the top of Right On

View from the top of Saddle Rock

The sixth day, we had our debrief as a group in the morning. Then individual debriefs went until about 2 in the afternoon. We were done. Wes and I just chilled out the rest of the day. He was leaving the next day and I was waiting for Jill to come into town. The next morning before Jill and I head to Utah, we did one last climb in Joshua Tree.  I chose Overhang Bypass since it is only 5.7 and is quickly accessed. I led up the first pitch to a cave like feature on Intersection Rock.  The route then goes to the right on a hand rail. It is quite exposed and then goes to a slabby face. When Jill got to the belay I could tell she was stressed by the exposure. We sat there for a little bit and then decided that we could do this.  Because she was stressed, I belayed her from the bottom of the slab so that she could see me as she did the exposed traverse. We eventually made it to the top.  There we relaxed in a water bowl feature soaking up the view and the sun.  We then rappelled down and started on our way to central Utah.

After a couple of restful days with my girlfriend, I made my way back to North Carolina.  It had been an amazing few weeks.  I had gotten the chance to climb at a new place that has amazing climbs, I learned a ton of stuff on my exam, I completed the exam, and I spent time with a beautiful woman. Now I was ready to get back home and begin working again. A week after getting back home, I received a manilla envelope in the mail. I opened it and found a certificate with my name saying that I am now a Certified Rock Instructor. I was psyched. I cannot take all of the credit though. I have had great mentors here at Fox Mountain Guides particularly from Ron. Also thank to Wes for joining me on this trip. It was nice to see the NC Mafia, a title we were given by another guy in the exam, crush the exam. And thank to Angela Hawse, Tom Hargis, and Silas Rossi for their great instruction and amazing work they do for the AMGA.

If you would like to see a Certified Rock Instructor at work you can find my contact information on my contact page on this blog. You can also find me and other great guides at Fox Mountain Guides.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Rock Instructor Exam Part I (Pre-Exam Days)

For anyone who follows what I write on this blog, you will probably know that last fall I took the American Mountain Guides Association's Rock Instructor Course.  By taking this course, I was able to guide in multipitch terrain for work.  It was a great learning experience that opened up some great opportunities for me.  After taking that course the next question was do I move on to the Rock Guide Course or take the Rock Instructor Exam?  I quickly decided to take the exam after some advice from my fellow coworkers.  Originally, I was hoping to take the exam next spring.  That would give me ample time to prepare and save up the money.  Instead, I was persuaded to take the exam this fall in Joshua Tree National Park.

I had never been to Joshua Tree before. Friends have told me that it is a magical place where your inner dirtbag is at peace. Joshua Tree lies about an hour to the east of Palm Springs in southern California. One thing that the park is known for and is its namesake are the multitude of Joshua Trees spread throughout the park.  You get forests of these huge Dr. Seuss looking plants that are not even trees at all.  They are actually a type of yucca plant.  Some of the Joshua Trees are thought to be 500 or more years old. Also dotting the landscape is the reason that I went there.  Throughout the park, there are these mounds of rock that seem to rise out of the ground.  From afar, they have been described as piles of rock droppings.  That is somewhat fitting.  On these piles of rock there are some amazing climbs.  The rock is a granite that has a very coarse crystal structure.  This can be bad for your skin but allows you to stick to just about anything. Most of the routes tend to follow crack systems.  I loved the amount of classic vertical cracks.
Intersection Rock viewed from site 28 in the Hidden Valley Campground.

My intention was to fly out to Palm Springs on the 8th of November, rent a car, drive to Joshua Tree, then climb for about 6 days before the exam.  Well I managed to miss my flight out on the 8th, so instead I flew out on the 9th.  The one good thing about missing my flight was that it gave me one more day to train with Ron and Wes at Looking Glass.  That day I also was able to redpoint the first pitch of Out to Lunch which has a crux that was tricky for me due to my height.
One last day of training at Looking Glass

On the 9th, I arrived in Palm Springs, got a car, purchased supplies, then headed to the park.  Once there I set out to find a campsite and possibly hook up with the other guys taking the exam.  I  was unable to meet up with the two guys that I knew were there already.  Now I had to find a campsite.  This proved to be tough since it was the friday before a holiday weekend.  After searching for a while, I finally snagged a site in the Jumbo Rocks campground.  The downside to camping there is that it is further from all of the good climbing.  So the first couple of days, I would drive 15 minutes just to meet up with everyone.  It was also cold and windy my first couple of days which made life less enjoyable.  Due to the conditions, I tended to crawl into my tent around 7 and fall asleep by 8.  This led to me waking up just before sunrise most mornings. Each morning I would get out of my tent and start breakfast while enjoying the sunrise on the horizon of the desert. Joshua Trees silhouetted against a blue, yellow and red morning sky is quite a beautiful sight.

This first day that I had a chance to climb, I went on a mission to meet up with Russel and Matt.  Both guys had emailed saying that they were in Joshua Tree and told me what sites they were occupying.  I first checked Matt's site.  No luck, they had already left.  I then wandered over to Russel's site where I met a guy that he was sharing the site with.  They guy said that Russel was in town.  While talking to this gentleman, a guy named David drove up also looking for Russel. It turns out that David was a friend of Matt's.  Finally, a lead.  I went with David to meet up with Matt.  After meeting Matt, we all decided to find a climb that would allow us to be out of the wind and in the sun.  We chose two routes on Chimney Rock in the campground.  David and I did a no star 5.7 called Howard's Horror.  Never do this climb. I managed to tear a large portion of skin off of the back of my left hand when one of my hand jams slipped.  After getting off of that route; Russel, Matt, David, Teresa and I headed over to the Echo Tee area to get on some more routes in the sun.  Over there, I onsighted a fun, jug filled crack called Bacon Flake.  We also did a few other routes on that wall, one of which was a bolted face climb that left me thinking a couple of times during the climb.  To finish the day, Russel and I separated from the group and went to Lost Horse wall which was one of the few walls with multipitch routes.  We climbed a route called Roan Way. It starts with the classic Dappled Mare then heads straight up off of the second pitch anchor avoiding a downward traverse.  It was super fun with cracks that had huge holds around it. It was a great first day in Joshua Tree.
Panorama of an early morning at Hidden Valley Campground

 The next day, I hooked up with David later in the morning and we did a few routes on The Old Woman. I led Double Cross, which is an amazing climb.  Once we were off of that, Matt and Teresa met us.  We then went up Dogleg in two separate groups.  Another great climb.  I finally felt as if I was getting the feel of the rock.  The next morning, I was only able to get one route in since I had to go pick up Wes from the airport.  I followed Matt up the Orphan since he was unable to get one of his cams out of it the evening before. After meeting Wes at the airport, we gathered more supplies then went to go find the crew.  They were all in the Echo Tee area chilling at a parking area with one new guy, Jon.  Jon was one of the other guys taking the exam.  Now we knew that every one taking the exam was in the park because Russel and I had run into Rodney on Lost Horse a few days before.  From this meeting, we split up.  Jon, Russel, Wes and I headed to Lost Horse to do some more multipitch routes.  I teamed up with John on the Swift.  It was a bit crowded with the Rock Instructor Course that was going on taking up most of the routes so Wes and Russel came up the Swift right behind us.  After topping out, Jon and Wes went down the standard descent while Russel and I scouted out a possible alternative descent that Adam Fox had hold me about.  It was quite an adventure traversing the top of Lost Horse back towards the parking area.  We eventually found a rappel down into the Rock Garden area.  From there we did a lot of boulder hopping back down to the parking area.
Jon following the second pitch of The Swift

The next day was the day before the exam. We had a meeting with the examiners/instructors at 4PM but wanted to do a bit of climbing and the rescue drill that day as well. Wes and I came across Tom Hargis one of the instructors in the camp ground and he told us of some possible routes that were going to be used for the movement test and where we would be doing the rescue drill.  With that beta in mind, Wes, Jon and I headed to the possible climbs which were on the Thin Wall.  There I led up No Calculators as did Wes and Jon.  We then top roped the 5.9 to the right.  Feeling good about our movement abilities, we headed over to the Peyote Cracks area to practice the drill. There we found Matt working on the rescue drill with Teresa. After figuring out the set up, we went to it.  Everyone did the drill at least once. I managed to have my best time on the drill ever with a time of 27 minutes. After this day, I was excited for the exam.  I finally felt ready.
Practicing the rescue drill.  Jon coming down to save me.

Later that afternoon, we met up with the instructors, Angela Hawse, Tom Hargis, and Silas Rossi.  We went over the schedule, expectations, and our route assignments for the first two days. From the start, the instructors set a great atmosphere for the exam. This had me psyched. I was ready to go out and crush this exam. That night, Wes and I moved into a hotel for the duration of the exam so that we could be well rested and clean for each day of the exam.

 Stay tuned for part 2 (The Exam)