Courage cannot be approached with caution

Monday, October 17, 2011

Behind The Scenes

Working as a Mountain Guide, I get lots of questions regarding how to train for particular objectives or things people can add to their workout to prepare for a specific climb.  Much of this goes beyond just climbing, here are a few shots of what I do to mentally and physically prepare for an AMGA Alpine Guides Exam.

This is just a snapshot of what happens at Connie Sciolino's Boulder based facility, The Alpine Training Center. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Exam Time

Finally, back home in Boulder after 35 days on the road.  This trip was particularly long with added stress from an AMGA Alpine Guides Exam.  I left the Colorado Front Range on September 7 en route to Washington's North Cascades.  The drive from Colorado to Washington is long and felt even longer as I was driving solo.  Old punk and metal albums kept me company as I traveled through the vast American West and mentally prepared for the upcoming challenges.
The Alpine Exam was scheduled to begin on September 18, so I had some time to do some "training" routes in preparation.  The first route I chose to do was the Northwest Face of Forbidden Peak (IV 5.0 50 Degree Snow).  While the actual climbing on this route is trivial, the crux is getting to the start as the approach is long and routefinding difficult.  We opted for a car-to-car ascent as both me and my partner have a distaste for bivys and like to travel light with less equipment.  The day went great, good weather, good climbing and good times with a friend.  We were round trip in 14 hours.
AC on the West Ridge of Eldorado
The next reconnaissance mission for me was the West Ridge Eldorado Peak via The Triad (IV 5.7).  While on a previous trip in the North Cascades a few years ago, we tried this objective and failed miserably due to poor navigation.  We weren't able to get to the base of the peak which is unacceptable.  This time we had a better tour plan, a higher skill set and more confidence.  Due to the length and complexity of the approach and climb we opted to bivy at the base of the East Ridge of Eldorado.  The bivy sites were great and we made it in just before sunset.  After a delectable freeze dried dinner we set our alarms for 4am and let the light breeze on our tent lull us to sleep.
We awoke the next morning, choked down some nasty "bloatmeal" and left camp.  The approach to the start of the West Ridge required us to descend almost 2500ft and pass through a col that of which the rock quality was not dissimilar to kitty litter.  Pretty standard Cascadian affair.  Once on route, it was classic alpine ridge climbing: sometimes on the left, sometimes on the right, up and down Gendarmes, and a few rappels.  The rock was mostly good (for alpine climbing) and the position spectacular.  After 2000ft of rock climbing we were on the summit and awaited our 20 minute descent via the East Ridge back to camp.
The first week of weather in the Northwest was the best I have ever experienced.  Mostly clear skies, warm temps, and best of all, no precipitation.  The Exam was scheduled to begin in 3 days and I took this time to rest and prepare.
The AMGA Alpine Guides Exam is notorious for poor weather, difficult objectives, as well as mental and physical exhaustion.  The Alpine program is the longest in any of the AMGA certification tracks and arguably the most difficult.
Descent Beta
My first field assignment was the Torment-Forbidden Traverse (V 5.6) in a day from the Boston Basin High Camp.  This is a classic traverse that summits 2 peaks with a mile of ridge climbing in between.  I was eager for this objective and volunteered to do it when asked by one of the examiners.  The day went really well.  We were able to move quickly after summiting Torment which is regarded as the crux of the traverse.  Routefinding was difficult at times but never too bad.  We summited Forbidden around 4pm and descended the East Face back to camp after being on the move for 15 hours.  The next day our assignment was the North Face of Buckner via Sharkfin Col.  We made it through Sharkfin Col and traversed the Boston Glacier to the base of Buckner.  Dark clouds loomed overhead and we could see the other teams opting for objectives closer to camp.  We discussed our options in our team and on the radio to the other teams.  We chose to return back to camp as the weather seemed to be deteriorating.  We walked back up the Boston Glacier headed for the Boston-Sahale Col.  Of course the closer we got to the col, the better the weather became.  We headed up the col climbing on the so called "low grade ore" as description of the rock quality.  Once through the col we traversed to Sahale, summited then descended the Quien Sabe Glacier back to camp and out to the car, another 12 hour day.
Then the rain came....only for a day.  We met in Bellingham and got our assignments for Mt. Baker.  My team was assigned a sort of traverse that would summit 3 peaks if successfully completed with difficult glacier travel.  We hiked into camp the first day then headed to the glacier for low angle ice movement skills.  One of the skills involved traversing vertical ice/snow while using ice axe "bracing technique" only.  A task that was not as simple as it sounds.
A 330am wake up the next morning found us traveling through the ablation zone of the glacier and onto loose dirt climbing to get our intended route.  Once on the Coleman Glacier the sun came up and we were cruising for a while.  Then heavily crevassed zones slowed our progress.  We climbed through some complicated terrain and made it to the Baker-Colfax col and onto the summit of Colfax.
Shortly after, we heard on the radio from the other teams that a candidate was hit by spontaneous rockfall from above while on the Cockscomb Ridge.  All teams then descended back the Heliotrope Ridge Camp.
We packed up camp, hiked out to the cars, and met at the Mt. Baker Ranger Station for our next assignments.  Ultimately, the following day was cancelled and we debriefed a day early in Seattle.  After a long and stressful yet rewarding experience in Washington I was relieved by positive debrief comments from the examiners.

Dan on the Torment-Forbidden Traverse
Shortly after I was on I-5 south headed to Yosemite Valley, perhaps the best pure rock climbing venue on the planet.  I would not receive official word on my exam performance for another 18 days......