Rock Guide Prep

Nothing like the fear of failure, humiliation, and public degradation to motivate a person—my training for a “Rock Guide Course” through the American Mountain Guides Association continues. Joking aside, I always try to show up as one of the “prepared” candidates on a course, so I’m trying to be ahead of the curve on my rescue drills, technical systems, and overall climbing. We’ll see!

I spent another day short-roping, this time with Joseph “The Matador” Thompson, the Colorado Mountain School’s star guide and all-around good guy. We parked at the west end of Eldo and unlike my last training session, we negotiated the northern portion of the Quartzite Ridge. The Ridge is the white-ish fin of rock just west of the “West Ridge”—it’s great short-roping terrain, with short sections of 5th-class and some interesting up-down passages.

Joey’s a blast, not just climbing, but training, too—he’s always got a cool way to improve my game. He and I did our ski-mountaineering courses together in Valdez, this spring, and we had a good time.


Sun’s out, guns out—The Matador showing me how it’s done.

I’ve had the good fortune to get out with friends, too, “mock guiding” as much as possible. Even pretty cruiser routes like Icarus (5.6) can be good practice, especially when paired with some short-roping down the East Slabs descent in Eldo…

All this training is a good excuse to get one’s gear list dialed, too. A few months back I bought a stack of Wild Country “Helium” ‘biners—wiregate, lightweight all-purpose jobs. They’re still made in England, boast 24-kN long-axis strength, impressive 10-kN open-gate strength, and 7-kN crossloaded strength.

Wild Country Helium, left–bigger, stronger, cleaner nose, and yes, more expensive.

What’s better, they handle perfectly, even with gloves, making them a truly year-round tool. They nest together just fine for a Garda hitch, hold a clove-hitch when doubled and opposed, and they’re still extremely light (33g).

I’ve been using the Trango “Superfly” (30g, 25mm opening, 24kN strength) for years now and have liked it. The Helium is like a modernized, upgraded version of it—it’s slightly stronger in the open-gate test, has a wider opening by 2mm, and boasts a unique “hood” closure, meaning the wire of the gate nests behind the nose of the ‘biner, ensuring it won’t rub along the rock and open, and making it less likely to snag bolts or gear when racking.

So far, so good: the hood cleans easily and I’ve yet to snag it on…anything. Sure, that’s a minor detail, but one that could be critical in the wrong situation—like a fall involving a pendulum or when sketching to make a clip (sadly, this happens to me more often than it should!).
Given that they’re English made, perform as well sport climbing as they do on ice or building trad anchors, I’ll call them my favorite ‘biner. The only application for which I haven’t used them is aid/big wall. Maybe somebody has opinion on the shape/performance? Do tell.

Notice how the Helium gate (left) nests securely in the nose of the ‘biner.

If I could snap my fingers and transform 98 percent of my rack to Heliums, I would. Their only downside is price—at $12.50 a pop, they ain’t cheap. Then again, they’re safe, made by people who earn a living wage, who receive healthcare, and in a country with some enviro regulations, so I say the cost is at least appropriate, if not worth it.

They also make colored versions for racking cams, in addition to the “plain” silver model. There’s a slightly less expensive version ($7.50), the “Nitro,” but it doesn’t have quite the same level of craftsmanship on the nose. The shape, though, is the same, making it a great do-it-all companion.

The Helium is truly “full-sized,” making it handle well, even while wearing gloves. The SuperFly is a great ‘biner, too, but doesn’t quite offer the peerless design and craftsmanship of the Helium.

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