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.

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