Spring is guide training and education time at Mooney Mountain Guides. While Art was off in Eldorado teaching a Rock Instructor Course, I got the Single Pitch Instructor season underway in Franconia Notch with Steve, Nadya, Paul and Matt. The SPI course is designed to serve as both a stand alone educational experience for those working in single pitch settings, and as a building block for higher level AMGA rock guiding courses.
Working from the top of the cliff or from a stance in middle of a cliff reached by leading is an essential part of the SPI curriculum. Effective stance management is crucial to provide the best possible guest experience in top managed settings. Above, Nadya has constructed a clean and organized lowering system using a munter hitch (out of the frame) backed up with an autoblock on her harness, positioned her rope stack neatly and out of the way on her side of the stance, and has great line of sight. Nice!
All climbing anchors need to be solid enough to withstand the highest foreseeable loads in a given situation. For professional guides and instructors, there is more to the equation. Professional anchors need to be clean and efficient in terms of the time and equipment used to build them. Above is a close up of a sound working anchor, constructed out of just 3 pieces of solid protection, the static rope, and a few carabiners. Note the crafty use of clove hitches to distribute the load between the 2 pieces on the left. As rigged above, about half of any load will be applied to the small cam on the right, which is perhaps less than ideal, but all of the placements, including the small yellow cam, are so good that it’s a non-issue here.
What goes up must come down, and so rappel instruction is a fundamental part of the SPI bag of tricks. Working from the same anchor shown above, Steve has assembled an ideal instructional work space. The line of descent he’s selected begins low angle and steepens only gradually to ease his guest’s nerves. He’s positioned himself with excellent line of sight all the way down the cliff and is securely clipped in to the anchor masterpoint. A separate belay is in the system as a backup. Finally, the rappel line itself is fixed in a releasable fashion to facilitate assistance techniques should anything become stuck in the rappel device.
Paul and Matt got in on the rappel instruction practice as well. Here Paul, in instructor mode, is providing clear and concise coaching to Matt, playing the role of student. Technical proficiency is of course essential for a climbing instructor, but a calm, professional demeanor and outstanding teaching skills are just as vital.
Thanks for a great course Paul, Nadya, Matt and Steve! I look forward to seeing you all at the crags this summer.
Derek Doucet, MMG
The Mountains are a common bond with climbers and guides. This is the place we all love to spend our days, climbing high on the rocks, ascending ice routes or traveling amongst the high peaks. For this years Mooney Mountain Guides training day I decided to hold the rock climbing training session on Cannon Mountain. Cannon is an amazing place. The cliff face soars high above the valley floor of Franconia Notch. The views of the Pemigewasset Valley to the south and Mt Lafayette to the east are spectacular.
The MMG Guides and myself have rock and ice climbed on this granite face hundreds of times. For me the Cannon experience is always exciting and full of amazement. This mountain is alive and each time I climb here I sharpen my senses, bring respect and focus to the area, and make decisions based on the time, place, and the current events around me. Maintaining this type of awareness is needed for Cannon, this higher end NH alpine rock climbing area.
View of the Whitney Gilman Ridge and Cannons big wall section.
Exposed climber on the Whitney Gilman Ridge.
Classic Rock Climb – Whitney Gilman Ridge – first climbed in 1929.
Mooney Mountain Guide team.
The Mentorship is a crucial part of the development and training of all climbing guides. Alain Comeau of New England Mountain Guides was my first instructor with the AMGA certification program. I feel Alain has mentored me over the past 20 years. To this day we are in touch, working together and bouncing new ideas and guiding issues off each other. Much thanks goes to Alain for all the mentoring and sharing of his mountain expertise.
“Mentoring is a process for the informal transmission of knowledge, and the psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career, or professional development; mentoring entails informal communication, usually face-to-face and during a sustained period of time, between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom, or experience (the mentor) and a person who is perceived to have less”.
Mentorship comes is many ways. I led the MMG training with assistance from MMG Guides Derek Doucet and Matt Ritter (AMGA Certified Rock Instructors). Our focus was on general discussions pertinent to guiding on the rocks this summer. In addition the above photos picture the MMG guides solving specific technical problems and brushing up and practicing rope techniques.
Guidance is what we do. To do this well a guide must have strong climbing movement skills. Part of our training day was to have fun on the rocks. Derek and Erik led and set up two of Cannons base area routes Slow and Easy and Sticky Fingers. The MMG team followed with multiple laps of rock climbing fun.
Mammut styled us with new Pokiok soft shell guide jackets. Being a very warm sunny day we did not need to use them today but this soft shell will be in our packs for the fickle weather on Cannon this summer. Thanks to Gribbin and Mammut for the ongoing support of MMG Guides and myself.
Julbo hooked us up with cool new shades for this event. Keeping the guides eyes sharp on Cannon is a must. Thanks to Julbo and Nick Yardley for the continued support of the MMG Guides.
Dave traveled over to Cannon to meet the MMG staff and present new Petzl products and valuable technical info on many products in use today. In Daves kit was the new Sirocco helmet, the Ange carabiner, Spirit Express Draws, and new this season Petzl ice screws.
The wall – Cannon Cliff!!!
Great day on the mountain – Cannon that is!!! Thanks to all the MMG guides for taking time on a sunny Saturday to join in on this training day.
The Man in the Mountain, or what remained of him, hung above me as I scraped my way up the climb. His absence reminded me of what many had said about the cliff: Cannon was an exfoliating onion periodically shedding its layers. I heard loose rocks in the near distance tumbling down, adding to the boulder field that stretched halfway to the bike path with rocks that previously comprised the cliff.
After pulling up to the ledge, completing the pitch, I rested my head against the rock and decided then and there that I was done. My climbing career was over. I quit.
Todd leading Pitch 1 Down east 2004
Unfortunately for me, I was only 150’ up a 1000’ climb. The physical retreat would not be so easy. There was no fixed anchor to use for a rappel. Ironically enough, the safest way off the cliff was up. My two partners stood below waiting for me to secure the rope and belay them up. I fiddled with some gear placements and clipped a fixed piton that I hoped was ok.
I quit several times more after that; I forget how many. The technical element of the climb was not the issue, for I had climbed “harder routes” with more challenging moves. The insecurity of grabbing a wobbling hold often rattled me, but today, the fear was especially strong. Though the fear dominated that day, I felt great satisfaction during sections of the climb when I had no choice but to push the fear aside and move from a secure position or off a ledge.
Todd on Pitch 2 – note the large rack of gear by his side!
We stood at the end of the final pitch and read the guidebook’s description: “Step left, face climb to a corner, then mantle to the top.” We had completed a mantle – pushing down with the palm of one’s hand like one would do when getting out of a pool – and looked up to see that we still had another few hundred feet of climbing above us. I cursed the author and wondered if this day would ever end.
Later, when we were safely hiking down, my friends teased me; in fact, they continue to tease me to this day. “When are we going back?” For years the question created uneasiness in my stomach, but it also reminded me of the physical and mental challenges I faced that day. Even though I wanted to retreat to the safety of the ground, I ventured upward until I reached the top. A few days later, we climbed at Crawford Notch on a route with the same technical grade; this time I took the crux pitch. Less affected by the difficulty of the moves and the sparseness of gear placements, I focused on the climbing, enjoyed the exposure, and savored the time with my friends.
Renowned climber and author John Long once wrote: An honest failure never haunts you because the body knows no shame. But if you let your mind defeat you, if you bail off because the “vibes” are weird and you let fear run away with itself, you have not truly failed, rather defaulted, and it will nag you like a tune till your dying day – or at least until you return and set things straight.
The passage struck a chord with me the moment I read it, and it has stayed with me to this day. It could be applied to so many climbing adventures, so many facets of life, in fact, but not “Down East.” This route was the exception: I would never want to climb it again. Then a few years back, I reflected upon my experience. I thought about the route and that day. I even wondered if I could lead the crux pitch. Though we did not “bail off,” and certainly not from a lack of wanting, I still hear that tune and want to “set things straight.”
In order to successfully climb the route, I will need more mileage on the rock so that I can regain the necessary strength and endurance. But unlike in previous years when the idea of climbing “Down East” scared me, I now look forward to the opportunity and the challenge…and to giving dear friends more fodder for laughter.
Sykes, Jon. Secrets of the Notch: A Guide to Rock and Ice Climbing on Cannon Cliff and the Crags of Franconia Notch. Huntington Graphics. 2001.
Long, John. Rock Jocks, Wall Rats, and Hang Dogs: Rock Climbing on the Edge of Reality. Fireside, 1994.
Todd Goodman MMG Guide
The American Mountain Guides Association – is the premier guide training and certification organization in the US The AMGA offers a variety of courses in rock climbing, alpine climbing and ski mountaineering tours. Throughout each years hundreds of climbers and guides enroll in these training and certification programs which teach new skills and refine their instructing and guiding skills.
In Joshua Tree KC and I met and worked with six new students in this years first Rock Instructor Course. The students were either at the beginning stages of instructing while others were already in the transition from climber to instructor – guide. The RIC course has an extensive curriculum which is covered over a ten day period. Starting with ground school we work to learn,refresh and refine techniques. When climbing we shift the mind set from oneself to thinking of overall risk management for the group. Then we apply efficient techniques to cruise up and down the granite domes.
Transitions are two fold – first is the transition from climber to instructor. The second part of transition is the technical area. Much of the course is focused on practice and refining transitions on multi pitch rock climbs. Examples are 3rd and 4th class movement to 5th class climbing, from climbing to descending, climbing to short rope travel, and single belayed climbing to simul belayed climbing. These are major areas we focus on to execute the right technique and minimize the time the rope is not moving.
After all the goal for the climber is to climb and reach the summit!!!
The desert landscape – Joshua Trees and granite domes.
Marcus – on the Dapple Mare – Lost Horse Wall.
Miranda on the wide and Chris liking the finger locks.
Greg giving us the beta in the guano chimney.
Joshua tree has varied climbing, cracks faces slabs and some wide chimneys. A well rounded climber will enjoy sampling any of these routes.
Jason, Marcus and Chris enjoying the J tree area.
Left hand perfect size for number three camalots – right hand the number two fits fine.
Techniques – Jason leading the short rope travel, Luke with an extended belay system, and KC demonstrating the 2 to 1 raise.
Practice of rescue skills for all.
Kiwi coil races – the guys rocked it coiled and tied off in under 1 minute!!!
Thanks to each of the students,KC, and the AMGA – it was a great course, with lots of learning and a fun time meeting and climbing with you all.
The American Mountain Guides held the Ice Instructor Course last week in Crawford Notch NH. This course is a 5 day ice guiding course designed to train alpine guides and ice guides who are in the guide program. The course focus is on the guides movements skills, and on the guidance and movement of clients on a wide variety of ice and snow climbs.
Marc Chauvin, Silas Rossi and I instructed 9 students during the week. Over half the students were visiting guides from Colorado and the remainder were locals from New England and New York. I always enjoy showing the western guides our fantastic climbing areas. New England is a hidden gem in the climbing world.
Silas at the AMC Highland center getting our program started.
Mike leading up the East Slabs of Mt Willard.
Outdoor writer Rob taking the team up Frankensteins Standard Route.
Petra Cliffs owner – Mammut ambassador Andrea on the Chia Pillar.
Sea of Ice.
The instructors Silas Rossi, Art Mooney, Marc Chauvin.
Thanks to all the students for their commitment to education as a guide.
I’ve climbed in Red Rocks for twenty years and have never seen rain come down so hard. It was like being in a tropical storm on the east coast. In just a few hours the creeks rose up and the water started flowing into town. My phone alerted me through out the day with flash flood warnings in the area.
This morning we went to work in Calico Basin and this is what we viewed. After a few photos we drove through the debris to Red Springs Area. No climbing today as the fragile sandstone needs time to dry out. To make the most of the situation we taught clinics on transitions to the group of AMGA guides.
The weather looks to be sunny and warmer for the next week.
The AMGA Rock Guide exam was held in the canyons of Red Rocks National Conservation Area. This is an amazing climbing venue with a large variety of varied multi pitch climbing routes. During this six day Rock Guide exam we focused on the long moderate climbs with technical face and spitter cracks pitches. Each of these climbs led our teams to seldom traveled summits high above the desert floor.
The photos below are all of one of the 50 Classic Climbs in North America – Epinephrine.
This 1200 foot climb requires a climber or guide to have mastery of a variety of climbing techniques.
Enjoy the photos of this spectacular climb!!!
The Black Velvet Wall. For perspective the Brown Wall in shade and sun is seven pitches in length.
Rainbow Wall deep in Juniper Canyon.
In the depths of Community Pillar.
Early approach to Epinephrine.
The morning sun lights up the wall in this orange glow.
Three solid chimney pitches ahead.
Climbers progress by using opposing pressure on both walls.
Brian climbing a crack and face – just outside the chimney pitch.
The upper wall has face, corners and crack for a few hundred feet. Awesome climbing with big exposure.
A light pack is need for these longer routes. The Mammut Neon Light is the choice climbing backpack. Extremely light and packs up small, while its short, slim body and integrated gear loops make it ideal for rock or ice climbing.
The AMGA Single Pitch Instructor course is an ideal training program for proficient recreational climbers wishing to transition in to the world of professional guiding and instruction. Despite some weather related challenges (Read: Thunder, downpours and hail!), I just wrapped up an excellent SPI course with three well prepared and motivated participants. Here are a few scenes from the course.
Solid anchors are essential components of effective guiding. SPIs should be able to build them quickly and with a minimum of equipment to maximize efficiency and climbing time for guests. The two solid pieces below are joined using a two-loop figure eight knot on a static cord, forming one of two legs which will comprise the final anchor.
Below we see the overall rigging used to create an actual anchor.This is a bombproof system constructed with just the placements themselves, four carabiners and the static rope. Efficient indeed! The extra strand on the right leg is an instructor tether, offering a secure clip-in should both ends of the climbing rope by otherwise used, as in a belayed rappel system.
This is the big picture. Peter is thoughtfully arranging his belay station as a tidy and efficient work space. Visualizing how to organize a given belay stance to maximize its utility for working is a key SPI skill, and surprisingly tricky for many folks at first.
Here, Peter practices running a belayed rappel. Note that he is connected to the tether mentioned above by his GriGri, which allows him to easily adjust his position and maintain good line of sight as Taylor descends. Just out of frame on the tether line is a catastrophe knot, a prudent measure to close the system and eliminate the possibility of going off the end of the tether should the GriGri not engage.
Peter, Taylor and Brian were a pleasure to work with. Thanks, guys. I look forward to seeing you out on the cliffs this summer!
-Derek Doucet, MMG