Advanced Alpine Course–Check*

Made it. Consider this a finish line within the race–I’ve completed all my coursework for gaining international certification through the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA). Three final exams left, though they seem like more work and stress than all the courses (seven of them) combined. We’ll find out soon enough.

I depart in a couple weeks for my final rock exam in Red Rock, outside Vegas. It feels a bit rushed, as I only got in a couple weeks back. I was wait-listed, but no matter–I’m in and it’s sink or swim. No water wings allowed.

drew sharkfin
The money pitch on Sharkfin Tower, Boston Basin, North Cascades National Park

I spent a great couple of weeks in the Cascades, doing my guide advanced alpine course September 4-14. We snuck in an exam day for rescue and movement skills on day one, then sat out two days due to rain, but then scored eight days of splitter weather and pushed the course into our “debrief day” at the end. We did back-to-back routes (the North Face and then up/down the South Face and out the Fisher Chimneys) on Shuksan, before heading to Mt. Baker’s Easton Glacier for crevasse rescue and some work on our French, or “flat-footed,” technique. From there we got up the SE face on Mix Up peak in the North Cascades National Park.

From there our aspirant exam began–a long walk into Boston Basin, to be followed by the West Ridge of Forbidden and then Sharkfin Tower and Sahale Peak the next. Mellower objectives than our two routes on Shuksan, but plenty of glacier/rock/scrambling to give examiners a chance to watch the candidates work.

My side of the course (there were six other candidates and two instructors also training in the Cascades at the same time) and exam spent the week with instructors/examiners Marc Chauvin and Silas Rossi. Chauvin has been a guide for 30 years and has spent endless days and weeks perfecting his technique, so it was a good opportunity to pick up some slick transitions and strategies for moving well in the mountains with clients. Rossi earned his pin (int’l cert) just a couple years ago, but is such a baller that he’s already well established in the instructor pool. He’s a low-key Maine guy, but keeps the standard high. Bottom line, I was stoked to be working with both of them.

good shuk sunset
Sunset on Shuksan

 

We had some stellar co-candidates, too. Burk is already a certified rock guide, so he was dialed with his technical systems, but looking to bump up his short-roping and glacier skills. We also had two Montana boys along for the ride. Dr. Alan Oram is the AMGA’s medical advisor and guides for Exum in the summer. He’s at the same spot I am–finished with courses and starting his exams in a few days. His travel partner was Kris Erickson, a professional photographer and athlete for The North Face. Great guy, totally competent in the mountains, having skied 8000m peaks and done numerous first ascents on ice with the likes of Alex Lowe and Conrad Anker. His challenge is to take all his alpine talent and recalibrate it for spending time in the hills with clients.

Rounding out our group was Drew Daly, one of the senior guides at Sawtooth Mountain Guides out of Stanley, Idaho. Great guy, total diesel engine–just goes and goes, whether he’s on skis or hoofing it. He’s pretty unflappable, too, hanging tough no matter the gig. Curtis Green, from Minturn, was our the oldest candidate at 56. He’s an ice guide and hadn’t done an AMGA course in a decade. He suffered, losing five toe nails over the week, but kept up with dudes half his age and smiled through it all. Bravo, Curtis.

camp winnie's
Our bivy at the base of “Winnie’s Slide,” on Mount Shuksan

All told, we were a bit unlucky losing a day to rain, but we rallied and got off easier than the following course and exam–they’re up there right now, climbing snow-covered rock and doing the approaches in the rain. Ouch. Leaving the course it’s clear I have plenty of work to do in glaciated terrain–moving on glaciers, transitioning from rock to snow and back, the gamut of alpine skills. I’m psyched, though, as this will give me an excuse to get back to the Cascades and perhaps over to Europe.

I had the chance to test a bunch of new gear while on the course, including some Salewa “Wildfire” shoes, a Big Agnes “Horse Thief” sleeping bag, a couple C.A.M.P. axes, and Lowa “Weisshorn” boots. Stay tuned for detailed write ups!

drew daly
Drew Daly, 27, of Ketchum, Idaho, in the North Cascades

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