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Reflections on a an AMGA Rock Guide Course & Exam

A climber in Red Rocks leading up a crack on a white wall

American Mountain Guide Association (AMGA) Rock Guide course and Aspirant exam

I really enjoy taking AMGA and other professional development courses, learning new things, practicing existing skills, refining techniques, sharing ideas in a melting pot of guiding experience. At the end of the course, I feel like a better guide because of it and excited for the next step. This course was no exception.
Norie Kizaki on Solar Slab (5.6).
I arrived at Red Rocks with my family (wife Mindy, daughters Vivienne 2.5 and Viola 8 weeks) a week before the AMGA Rock Guide Course and Aspirant Exam with the goal of getting out climbing and practicing some guiding with other course participants. Great in theory, but with little ones it’s difficult to pull off. I managed a couple of climbs and had fun with my family. We did experience everything the strip has to offer a 2.5 year old. It is amazing to see Vegas through the eyes of someone who doesn’t realize that the pirates are actually actors and thinks all those bright lights are cool. Probably my highlight of my “training time” was taking Vivienne “climbing” while Viola slept under a tree and Mindy had the rare chance to climb with a friend.
A good example of Red Rocks varnish on Frigid Air Butress (5.9).
The forecast for the week was unbroken sunshine and highs in the 80s. Far more pleasant than the highs of 109 when I was there last year. I was excited to get rolling with the course and some of the highlights were:

  • The rescue drill involving various lowers, raises and systems that could be used in a real climber rescue. On the first day we completed the drill and I felt really strong with this. It was great to feel all my practice paid off! It definitely helped me having the best client, thanks Norie for skipping breakfast!
  • On day 3 we climbed the 3rd, 4th and lower 5th class Cactus Flower Tower, practicing short roping/pitching. Guiding can be such an isolated industry and it is so useful to practice skills while other guides look on with a critical eye. During this day we had lots of good discussions of how we would all guide certain stretches of terrain. This was continued throughout the course but this day was certainly a great catalyst for the following days.
  • Day 5 through 7 were excellent days of mock guiding other course participants. These days were spent on Ginger Cracks(5.9), Lotta Balls Wall (5.8-5.9) and Group Therapy (5.7) on the Angel Food Wall. I would have happily done 1 or 2 more days of this and found this the most beneficial part of the course.
Black Velvet Canyon at dawn. Sour Mash starts by the right edge of the arch (bottom left side of the picture).
  • Day 8 and 9 were spent completing the Aspirant Exam (AE). I felt pretty lucky to be paired with Norie Kizaki, a fellow Colorado Mountain School (CMS) guide for this portion of the course. We had trained together and were able to help each other out for the exam portion. Our first Aspirant day we were on Sour Mash (5.10) on the Black Velvet Wall. This is my favorite climbing area in Red Rocks and the climbing was characterised by great in-cut holds with the great red rocks varnish. It was an AMGA party in Black Velvet that day with teams on Epinephrine (5.9, 13 pitches), dream of wild turkeys (5.10), Triassic Sands and Wholesome Fullback (5.10).
  • Day 9 (day 2 AE) was on the Mescalito, climbing Cat in the Hat (5.7) to the top. When we arrived there was a group on Cat in the Hat so we climbed a route to the right called Cookie Monster. Norie did an excellent job of on-sighting this route. With almost no beta, she took us past all the parties on Cat in the Hat; and then a hand off to Jon for some interesting 4th class stuff to the top. The section I guided was the descent. I had never been there but once I got onto it, all the information I gathered made good sense. I did not feel the need to rush, as I knew we had plenty of day light. I wanted to lower the stress for everyone, including myself. It can be hard switching to being the guide after a day of being a client.
  • We finished up with a course and individual review. Then I hit the road to race back to Colorado to see my girls who I had missed so much after they flew home at the start of the course.
The amazing rock of Calico Hills with Vegas in the Back Ground.
I need to thank John and Patty Bicknell, without whose generous support I would not have been able to take the course. Thanks also to any clients who gave me gratuity this year. Those tips went directly to pay for this course. Thanks also to other guides at Colorado Mountain School who assisted me with advice and training for the course.
Back home with my girls.
Finally the biggest thank you has to go to my wife, Mindy for allowing me to train and complete this course, despite being new parents with an 8 week old child and a 2.5 yr old. I love you girls.
Ian Fowler
Colorado Mountain School Guide
800-836-4008 x3

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