AMGA SPI Course weekend

I spent Thursday to Sunday at The Gunks, NY taking the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) Single-Pitch Instructor (SPI) course. The course is a 27 hour long program spread over three days, with the aim of preparing an individual to be certified to guide clients in a single-pitch setting. The SPI exam is a separate 16-hour affair. Even though this kind of climbing does not interest me terribly, I had wanted to take this course because it is the prerequisite for any other kind of guiding certification (e.g. the Rock Guide program and certification). As I have mentioned in earlier posts, climbing 5.hard can be fun (feeling strong certainly is), but I think I derive much more satisfaction in acquiring the full body of skills/knowledge that, to me, make one a competent and safe climber. I had familiarity with a lot of the material covered in the course, but I learned a lot as well. I contacted the instructor ahead of time to make sure he was fully aware of my disability and talk to him about whether I would be holding the group back at all – something I always try to avoid. We discussed my climbing experience, what level I climb at now, how heavy a pack I can carry and on what kind of terrain. The scope of the SPI course covers pretty benign terrain, with approaches and descents not requiring advanced route-finding skills or even long approaches. I had some anxieties about carrying a fully loaded pack (double rack, usual pro and softgoods), 60m rope, 30m static line on my own; it was tiring but I think I managed all right. I think I can definitely slim down my rack since the kind of terrain I would be leading in is easy; and, a lot of the times, I will be dropping down a rope for the client to top-rope and/or rappel on. To my surprise, I found myself to be the most experienced/competent participant of the course, and really did not hold anyone in the group back. One thing that was both a challenge and illuminating thing about the whole experience is making the switch back and forth between being a “recreational” climber (i.e. climbing with buddies) versus being a guide and instructing and being responsible for clients. While I always feel a degree of responsibility for my climbing partner(s), being a guide takes things to another level. The single-pitch setting is also different for me. For example, I would not be carrying around a 30m static line to build anchors with if I am just climbing with a buddy, and certainly not on a multi-pitch climb. I am much faster at my bowlines and munter-mules now too :) Another thing that was new to me was the frequent and encouraged use of the Gri-gri (or any other auto-locking device). Before this past weekend, I think I leaned towards the Oh, using a gri-gri is a sport-climber thing, encourages complacency, blah blah blah attitude. I have since changed by mind. In a rock setting (as opposed to ice), it is a great tool for backing myself up when I am setting up an anchor over an edge and for belaying a climber who might need to be lowered; again, a more likely scenario as a guide instructing less experienced climbers than my climbing buddies. But, I still think I will incorporate using a Gri-gri more even in my own multi-pitch climbing. The end of the course had us doing a group and individual de-briefs. My instructors offered kind words, saying that I may have some of my own perceptions of my disability, but it really did not show at all in the course, and that my participation in the course really added to the experience of the other participants. One of the instructors said he would have no problem offering me a job, which was nice to hear. I know enough people who guide to not have an overly-romantic view of the profession. The instructors were also very candid in sharing the realities of guiding. There are all the injuries, the lack of health insurance, the risks, the limited income; I mean, there are only so many days in the climbing season, most of your clients will be on weekends…that isn’t very many days of actual work a year. One of the instructors is actually starting nursing school this summer for the aforementioned reasons, and also because he wants to interact with more people than just the 1%. There are also the very real physical limitations and realities that I face, and the fact that I probably will never be able to make guiding a full or even part-time career; the lack of good health insurance is particularly problematic as getting private health insurance with a pre-existing condition(s) such as mine, would be painfully expensive. This left me feeling quite depressed on Monday, as having options removed from me always does. It was nice to hear from my SPI instructors that they felt like I was pretty ready to take the SPI exam. One guy did say, yeah, the Rock Guide exam could be tough for you physically, but I think you can do it. I was a bit surprised by how little is required to be a Single-Pitch climbing guide. But it also makes me realize how much more there is to learn and how eager I am to take the full Rock Guide course (that is a 10 day course, followed by a 6 day Advanced Rock Guide Course). The Rock Guide exam is 6 days long. I am facing a bit of a dilemma in deciding whether I care about being certified and taking all the AMGA exams, or am I just happy to be exposed to and practice the content of these courses. The courses and the exams are expensive; and, I would need to invest a fair chunk of change and time into a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course as well, if I am to be a certified Rock Guide. I’m trying not to fixate on all these somewhat amorphous, longer-term options. My next steps for the next few months are to focus on winning the 2015 Paraclimbing Nationals, train for NIAD in the Fall, and perhaps look into WFR courses if I am to keep the Rock Guide course an option. I am totally pulling this out of my ass, but I suspect there are not many SCI’s who are certified as full AMGA Rock Guides (there are quite a few who are AMGA Climbing Wall Instructors); it would be pretty neat to be the first.

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