Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Red River Road Trip

On Sunday my partner Dolci and I returned from a southeastern road trip. Our destination on this particular spring break trip was Red River Gorge in eastern Kentucky. "The Red", as it's known to nearly all climbers, might have the best sport climbing in the entire United States. There are nearly 2000 rock climbs within a 20-mile radius of Slade, Kentucky, the nearest small town to the gorge. Spectacular overhanging pocketed faces broken only by amazing splitter crack and corner systems are commonplace at nearly every cliff there. The rock on some of these overhanging faces is so featured you'd swear someone built them just for climbing. Here are a few images from the trip.

2 6' black snakes

On the way in to Long Wall

Pondering the sanity of crossing a suspension

Post Work Climbing Sessions

One of the nice things about working with other motivated climbing guides is that you can go out climbing together after work on really nice days. Spring seems to be the best time for climbing too - cool, dry weather, and no critters make for fun, safe climbs. I managed to work in a short afternoon session today with a few of the other Mountain Skills Climbing Guides (I work as a guide/instructor for Mountain Skills in the Gunks and the Catskills). Here's a shot of Dustin Portzline leading Writer's Block, an amazing and reasonably protected 5.12 at the smaller cliffs of Peterskill, the red-headed step child to the larger cliffs on the Mohonk Preserve.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

AMGA SPI Course, April 6-8, Shawangunks

I just wrapped up an AMGA Single Pitch Instructor Course in the Shawangunks. Doug Ferguson of Mountain Skills Climbing Guide helped out with the instruction, and we had a great group of climbers and instructors from Brooklyn Boulders and Discover Outdoors. We spent two days at Peterskill and a day at the Mohonk Preserve. Good weather and a fun group made the three day course fly by.

Courses like the SPI Course are a good reminder that gaining skills is so much easier when you can learn from experienced instructors and guides. The school of hard knocks will get you there eventually, but learning to do things correctly from the start is the best way to build safe and efficient climbing habits.

If you're interested in taking an SPI Course or Assessment, shoot us a message or check our calendar for upcoming course dates.

A summer house above Giant's Workshop during a
post-work run at the Mohonk Preserve

Even Guides Need a Guide Sometimes

As a newer climber, while working with a guide, it can feel like the guide knows everything there is to know about climbing. Generally speaking, many guides do become experts on their home areas and do have significant technical knowledge. However, even really good guides don't know everything. Professional development doesn't ever stop, and sometimes guides even need the assistance of other guides.

Some guides are a "jack of all trades" and are good at all things climbing, but most are experts in one discipline or another (rock, alpine, technical systems, ski, etc). Personally, I'm a bit top heavy in the rock and ice department, and feel like I lack good skiing skills. I haven't skied that much, and I don't really have much experience assessing snow conditions.

I like being an expert at climbing. It's hard to ski more when there's perfectly good rock or ice to climb. Getting better at skiing is a goal of mine though. I approached IFMGA Certified guide Silas Rossi, a friend and fellow guide, a few weeks ago and told him I'd like to ski and assess snow stability with him for a day or two this spring. The following week we met in the Adirondacks for some fun.

After a casual start we were on our way into Johns Brook Lodge and the Orebed Trail. Before long we were sweating our way up the creek bed below Gothics North Face.

Near the base of the face we dug a snow pit in order to document a complete snow profile. Snow stability wasn't an issue, but I was here as much to refresh my stability assessment skills as I was to ski. Silas teaches the AIARE Level 1 and 2 courses throughout the northeast, so his knowledge and feedback were immensely useful.

Shovel tap tests help identify weak layers and how they
behave under stress
After a few hours of digging, observing, recording, and chatting about our lives we decided to do a little skiing. We skied down from the face and into the creek bed. Silas skied with very gracefully. I thrutched and wobbled my way down, managing to stay on my feet the whole time. Success!

The shaded side of the pit becomes a "reference wall"

Watching Silas ski so aggressively over and off the pillows of snow in the drainage gave me the confidence to ski things I would otherwise have circumnavigated. This is how we learn and gain confidence. By shelving our irrational fears we're able to perform better. This is the beauty of working with a guide. They help you become comfortable in what feels like a foreign, and potentially dangerous environment.

Silas Rossi traversing below the North Face of Gothics

At the end of the day we chatted more over beer and nachos at the Ausable Inn before parting ways. We discussed the state of our young US guiding industry, future climbing plans, and our amazing partners (wives and girlfriends) who stoically spend days, weeks, and sometimes months away from us as we travel to guide and to climb away from home.

Looking back on the day, I see now that the day helped me solidify my snow stability assessment skills as much as any avalanche course has, and that skiing with people that are better than me is the way to improve.

If you are looking to improve your skills and gain confidence as a climber or skier consider hiring a trained and certified AMGA guide to help you with your skills.