Many people talk about how their lives are so different from what they envisioned for themselves as a child- usually as part of some liquor-sodden diatribe which traces a downward spiral that started with a poor career choice out of college punctuated by ill advised relationships which crescendo into years of regret.
When I was but a young lad I tried to see into my own future and saw little more than a haze. Oh. I did anticipate growing a beard, but once I was old enough to understand careers I felt no real inclination towards any job. College left me with a strong desire to be a vagabond; at one point I seriously considered being a street therapist; dispensing advice in exchange for canned food. Once I began climbing, all these derelict tendencies began to make sense and I had found the career that I never knew I wanted.
Fast forward through several years of entry level jobs which were not unpleasant but always seemed the equivalent of rubbing sticks together while everyone else was getting on well using Zippos. Add a healthy smattering of travel and wandering plus one marriage. Now the career-sauce thickens.
Enter the idea of becoming a climbing guide. Ok, clear as mud. A little research in this direction reveals a morass of ambiguity cleft by one clear-cut path of classes and certifications that cost as much as a law degree and preparation you for a career which usually pays little more than fast food service.
Nevertheless, with inspiration from Frank and from my wife who invariably helps me find ways to inject enough reality into my dreams so as to make them carry over into waking life, I decided to try a side road, a different approach to certification.
PCGI, Professional Climbing Guides Institute is an up and coming certifying body; a company whose relative youth is proving a selling point. When I began making contact with my course mentor, I expected our interaction to revolve around lists of gear, prerequisites, fees and standards. While these issues were dealt with, they were not placed on a pedestal; rather my own vision and development through the process were in the foreground.
So with all these existential thoughts coursing through the vacancies in my brain I set out for Bishop to meet with my mentor, Zeke and the other people taking the course. For four days we would brave the elements and demystify the development of a good climbing guide.
Zeke and Dan, my fellow participant setting up anchors for rescue skills, day one. This was all ground school, and the weather was mercifully balmy.
Zeke explaining the finer points of anchoring
Four days and nights were spent camping in Buttermilk country just outside Bishop. The commute to “class” was a five minute jolt over dirt roads whose underlying rocks jutted out like the sickly concavities of an emaciated body. Nights were cold- sleeping in my car I awoke to frozen water, frozen self and frost on the windows…
The weather after day one was COLD and really the only downer of the course. Day two, which started like this…
Was rescue drills and scenarios and was so frigid that picture taking was the last thing on my mind. Jamie (the other participant, not pictured) had a rough time being my victim, as I raised, lowered and rigged his rescue as he hung in the bone chilling temperatures. Every now and then the wind would stop and it was nice.
We finished up in the afternoon at Zeke’s house, working on anchors he had set up off beams in his house-again, no pictures because I figured Zeke might not want his house plastered on my blog…
The following two days were devoted to guiding. We hiked out to the Windy Wall and Zeke demo-ed a myriad of techniques which accentuated efficient safety. The rock was cold…but this little 5.8 number was really fun!
Dan on route, Zeke belaying
Most people know the Buttermilk country for its bouldering- of which there is a LOT, but the crags are pretty sweet and sport some amazing views of the Sierras.
After Zeke led us up a route, Dan and I each got several opportunities to act as guides and use some of the techniques we were learning.
When my turn came to mock guide my first route, I took the opportunity to make a typically colossal blunder. Let me preface this confession by saying that in three years of climbing I have never dropped anything while climbing. That said…in one day I managed to brain my “client” Dan with a granola bar and my mentor with my brand new belay device. The funny thing is that the granola bar made much more noise on impact than the metal belay device. When the granola bar went airborne I hesitated for a second to deliberate over whether to yell “rock” (the standard ‘heads up’ command) or to specify that it was in fact a bran-missile.
The belay device came away like it was slow motion, dropping silently from my belay stance and whistling gently down till it ricocheted off the base of the cliff, missing Zeke’s head by less than a yard. Maybe even less than that. When it rains, it pours.
Zeke gives an attentive belay
Dan and I just before we head back to our respective dwellings…tired but excited…
I have been back in San Diego for less than 24 hours, and my brain is still full. I have a great deal of practicing to do before being able to take the assessment and obtain certification. I won’t attempt to go into the specifics of all we learned but I can say that if I never guide a day in my life and only retain half of what I learned, this course will still have been a very worthwhile investment.
It is heartening to have my work cut out for me and to see the next steps necessary to take in the process of becoming a guide. What once seemed like obscure tricks have been illuminated and the best part is that we got T-Shirts and Bumper stickers!
I had a little free time at night so I took some pictures to pass the time…
Sunset over the Sierras
Once in a blue moon a picture this good comes along…
A portrait of the artist…10 sec timer and then run like hell- after which, holding your breath for the 15 second exposure proved to be pretty tough work…