EMS Schools Guide Training

Occasionally guests ask me what type of training climbing guides go through to become guides. While the answer can vary dramatically from guide to guide, and company to company, I wanted to share some info about a training day last Friday at Whitehorse Ledge with EMS Climbing School Manager and AMGA Certified Rock Instructor Keith Moon and fellow EMS Guide Anne Parameter (also AMGA CRI) brushing up on guiding skills as part of EMS Schools commitment to professional development. The day was jam packed with information as we worked on techniques to give our guests the best possible days out climbing with us. Some of the skills I personally improved upon:

Quick Belay Transitions to Lowers; In order to give our guests more value in their climbing days it is often beneficial to lower a climber after they have topped out rather than convert everyone to a rappel. With some handy pre-rigging skills a guide can quickly lower a guest back to the deck and be rappelling seconds after the guest is back on the ground ready to move on to the next climb. I especially liked learning a better way of “tricking” my ATC Guide into a re-directed lower that did not involve opening the rope or anchor carabiners.

45 Minute Rescue Drill; This exercise in problem solving and conceptualization requires a solid understanding of belay escapes, tension release-able systems, 3:1, 5:1, 6:1 hauling systems, counter balance rappels, and improvised work-arounds. Being able to work through this scenario in 45 minutes (which seems like a lot of time… it isn’t) is a good test of how well one understands these concepts and can use them to fix any number of problems one can run into in the vertical world.

Quick Transitions from 5th Class Belaying to 4th Class Scrambling; Most multi-pitch guiding occurs in a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio, and being able to put a rope (or two) away and still provide top-belayed security for guests while scrambling up the last 400 feet of easy 5th class terrain can save an hour or more in a guiding day, allowing for more climbing for everyone involved. While practicing this I also got to climb a Whitehorse Slab route I have never finished, the aptly named “Beginner’s Route”, so it was nice to do something different.

The summit slabs of Whitehorse Ledge, Cathedral Ledge and Humphrey's in the background

The summit slabs of Whitehorse Ledge, Cathedral Ledge and Humphrey’s in the background

Short-roping transitions; There are some circuits on the backside of Whitehorse that provide some excellent 3rd & 4th class terrain to practice this skill. Short-roping, to short lowers, to belayed down climbing, and back up again. While these skills are a must for aspiring Alpine Guides they come in handy in quite a few spots around here, and with practice a party can move as fast as an un-roped party but with markedly better protection.

Anne lowers Keith while short-roping in 4th class terrain

Anne lowers Keith while short-roping in 4th class terrain

This 2:1 training event was a bit new considering we usually schedule some larger group training events but the benefits were clear. If Anne or I had a question or wanted to practice a skill over again there was no hesitation to “go over it again”, something group training exercises might impede.

If these kind of skills interest you a great first step is to take an AMGA Single Pitch Instructor Course or AMGA Rock Instructor Course.

I hope this brief recap sheds a little light on that question “What type of training do guides do to become guides?” After 10 years of guiding for EMS Schools it really is clear the learning never stops!

See you in the mountains,


About David Lottmann

David grew up skiing in the Whites and started climbing at a summer camp just north of Mt. Washington when he was 16. Those first couple of years solidified climbing as a lifetime passion. From 1996-2000 he served in the USMC, and spent the better part of those years traveling the globe (18 countries). After returning to civilian life he moved to North Conway to focus on climbing and was hired in 2004 as a Rock and Ice Instructor. Since then Dave has taken numerous AMGA courses, most recently attaining a Single Pitch Instructor. He has completed a Level 3 AIARE avalanche course, is a Level 2 Course Leader, holds a valid Wilderness First Responder and is a member of Mountain Rescue Service. When David isn't out guiding he enjoys mountain biking, kayaking, hiking, backcountry skiing, trying to cook something new once a week and sampling new micro-brews. He lives in Conway, NH with his wife Michelle, son Alex, and daughter Madalena.
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