2017 is a special year for us – not only is it our fifth consecutive year in the Valley, we got a third Singaporean up El Cap via The Nose! Although I’m not with the team on the climb, I feel just as excited and proud to witness their ascent. It may not be the most ideal temperatures, humidity, nitrogen level etc. to be up on the wall this time of the year, people probably think we’re crazy climbing in the Valley in summer fighting with the heat and tourist crowds. Well we figured we would rather deal with tourist crowds than climber crowds, and it seemed to work pretty well for us since there had been no traffic at all on almost every climb we were on. After all, we are tropical animals staying right on the Equator, we have to make use of our super capability of withstanding extreme heat. Having said that, congratulations and good job once again to Lien and Qx! Super proud of you guys!
2017 is an important year for me too. 17 years since I started climbing in school, I took my first ever rock climbing instructor course, the Single-Pitch Instructor (SPI) course with the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA). The SPI is a three full-day course that equips climbing instructors to facilitate rock climbing in single-pitch settings proficiently. At the end of the course, there is a group evaluation and a one-to-one evaluation with the course instructor who will advise how each student should prepare themselves before they proceed to take the SPI Assessment. Although taking the assessment right after the course is usually not recommended, I wanted to make the best out of my time in Colorado, and had signed myself up for the assessment two days after the course.
The first day of the course felt like the first day in school. Everyone was seated around the table looking a little nervous. The two instructors were sitting right at the front facing the rest of us. We took turns to introduce ourselves to break the ice. Most of the 11 students were from Colorado, two were from California and one from Maine. Everyone looks pleasantly surprised to know I came to Boulder from exotic Asia to take the course. Other than myself, there was only one other lady in the group.
The course started with the instructors demonstrating different basic technical know-hows like knots/hitches, belaying, gear placements techniques etc. In SPI, it’s assumed that everyone already knows all this knowledge, what the instructors were looking for was how do we deliver the information to beginner climbers. Anchor-building and contingency-management are a huge part of the course. Being able to set up an anchor safely and efficiently is fundamental. What are the considerations we should have before we even decide to set up our anchor at a particular spot? How do we prioritize these considerations, and what are the implications?
There are two things I really like about the course, and it seems to apply to all other AMGA courses. First, there is no one standard way of doing things. It is how one decides to use the most appropriate method in any given setting that matters. Second, regardless which AMGA programme you’re taking, these nine categories apply as an evaluation protocol:
- Risk Management
- Client Care
- Technical Systems
- Terrain Assessment
- Movement Skills
- Mountain Sense
- Instructional Technique
Over the three days of learning new ideas, skills, contingencies and unlearning others; picking up new climbing lingo; and getting used to new terrains and erratic weather conditions, I completed the course feeling as settled as much as I was feeling unsettled. The instructors knew I had an assessment coming right after and thought that everything was fine for me. During evaluation, they gave me some pointers on areas of improvement, some tips and tricks to prepare for the assessment and advised me to keep practicing. The assessment was in two days and I was still fumbling with dealing with whatever step to assist the client up the climb? Just as I was freaking myself out, I was informed that the assessment was cancelled due to a snow forecast over the weekend, and the assessment would be postponed to the following weekend. Slightly disappointed that I had to prolong my exam anxiety for another week, I was feeling more relieved than ever. What a blessing in disguise!
A big thanks to Qx for offering to head out together to help out with my exam preparation right after ten intense days of Rock Guide Course (so sweet!). We went to the crags, threw ourselves into various settings and scenarios, he gave me some really honest feedback and we just kept practicing the drills over and over again.
The assessment spans over two days. Right on the first day of assessment, I almost received an immediate failure for an inappropriate system that I set up. I kind of knew something was not right when it happened but the mistake was irreversible and I could only make the best out of the situation and keep going in the safest possible way. The second day was the “real” thing. The assessor had arranged for volunteer participants to be our clients and we had to split roles and carry out respective tasks for a day out at the crag.
I ended my trip in Boulder on a happy note passing my assessment and doing an epic climb with Qx on The Naked Edge in Eldorado Canyon as a celebration. That aside, this trip to Boulder has been a very enriching experience for me – seeing how the entire course and assessment were held; meeting other outdoor/climbing enthusiasts from various backgrounds and experience; learning from experienced instructors who are active climbers and guides themselves; and listening to them share their experience about working as a guide, the woes and the motivation that keeps them going. The climbing industry is so robust, things are always changing and there are always different and better ways to do things. We think we know everything? Well, we don’t know what we don’t know. So never stop learning.
Our stay in Boulder would not have been so smooth and hassle-free without the help and support of the lovely couple, Jater and Buofu. Thank you for having us at your place, the climbs and laughters we shared and of course, the awesome dinners we made together. 謝謝你們！
Qx will be heading back to Boulder to take his AMGA Rock Guide Assessment at the end of September. Here’s wishing him all the best, venga, vamos! #FHAG
Live life love life,