Yesterday concluded our first AIARE 2 Avalanche Course of the season. Despite less than optimal field conditions the course was super productive in large part to the considerable amount of experience brought to the classroom discussions by the varied participants. We were fortunate to have 8000m veteran expeditionary leader Phil Crampton, owner and operator of Altitude Junkies, in attendance.
Phil’s resume of high altitude peaks is amazing and his personal experiences with massive Himalayan avalanches and vibrant story telling ability led to more than one topic derailment. These vivid first hand accounts were more than welcome however for both their educational real-life value and entertainment.
We also had Jerry Isaak, Chair Associate Professor of Expeditionary Studies at the University of Plattsburgh. He has worked as an expedition leader and guide in Canada, the USA, Morocco, Scotland, Austria and the Arctic. Personal climbing and skiing expeditions include journeys in Kenya, Nepal and throughout North America. He was here to observe the course as part of the requirements of becoming an AIARE Course Leader, but he did much more than observe. Throughout both classroom and field session Jerry took advantage of opportunities to share his extensive knowledge and experience and all of his contributions were greatly valued.
A graduate of Jerry’s program, a local professional sailboat racer turned back-country skier/mountaineer, and an EMS Climbing Guide/Electrician/EMT rounded out our class by staying fully engaged and generating thoughtful questions throughout.
There is a lot of information to cover in an AIARE 2 Course. Anyone that thinks an AIARE 1 is information overload will be amazed when they attend an AIARE 2. We managed it fairly well and for the most part stayed out of the weeds. Feedback at the end of the day yesterday seemed consistent that everyone had acquired the skills needed to become an quality avalanche, snow, and weather observer. All that was needed now was practice.
My head is still spinning from some of the info I’ve been able to pick up this past weekend. It all started Saturday morning with Marc Chauvin’s, of Chauvin Guides, informative presentation on creating geo-spatial PDF’s that can be uploaded into a smartphone GPS app to supplement your outdoor navigation capabilities. This somewhat esoteric topic is right up my alley and while the content could seem a bit heavy at times Marc’s energetic & well timed presentation made it easy to stay fully engaged from one concept to the next.
I won’t go though the step by step process here but if you are interested I’ll make some suggestions. First, get to know http://www.caltopo.com. A colleague pointed me to this website a year ago and it took me awhile to give it a solid look. This seminar gave me the kick in the pants I needed to start playing around with it and I am simply amazed at what the free version of this website offers. It is hands down the best online mapping resource for outdoor recreationalists. The potential use & application of this program is so large I can only scratch the surface here, but to wet your appetite the first thing I did was create some routes down the popular ski routes in Tuckerman Ravine using satellite imagery, which, with the click of one button, could easily be imposed over USGS Topographic info:
This a more accurate way of measuring important drainage scale info than estimating off a topographic map, and the website easily displays information about each run, for example, Hillman’s Highway is .42 miles long and drops from 5179′ to 3923′, and total vert. of 1256′. You can also get “Terrain Statistics” for each route you created, for example, Right Gully:
What really got me excited was seeing the layering potential of the website. Being able to layer crowd based info (like unofficial mountain bike trails) on top of verified info (like USGS maps) is amazing, especially when you can make these maps GPS enabled on your Smartphone! To top it all off though you can have the software shade specific slopes based on info you specify.
For example, if your local avalanche bulletin suggests to avoid slopes NE-NW aspect above 7000 feet that are steeper than 35 degrees due to a Persistent Slab problem? You can actually enter this slope criteria and these areas will be shaded! It really is impressive. A short video of the developer that references this ability right at the end:
Marc has made an excellent video highlighting this feature. Check it out here:
Once you have a decent understanding of CalTopo you can use the website to print or export custom PDF maps. The fun doesn’t stop here though! The next step is to download the Avenza PDF Maps app. This free app lets you import your newly created PDF maps and make them “geo-spatial”? What does that mean? It means you can use these maps with the GPS chip of your smart phone to show your location. Marc has been getting into the mountain bike scene lately and there are many mountain bike trails that you won’t find on regular USGS or even hiking maps. With this two-shot combo you can upload any map, “sync” it with a base map, and voila, you can navigate and see your location on the hybrid creation!
For practice in the class we imported a Green Hills Preserve map that showed some popular mountain bike trails over your standard USPS map. After “geo-marking” two reference points on the map it scaled and aligned perfectly.
If I was still at the Grand Summit Hotel when I took this screenshot my location would have been pinpointed on this map with a little blue dot.
Finally this technology is easily shareable. The CalTopo website will create unique URLs of your creations that you can easily share with climbing & hiking partners. I’m planning on having a master map for our back-country skiing trips on Washington that guides can edit as they get more accurate GPS positions on first aid caches, drop points, bailout options, etc.
I planned to talk about our pre-winter EMS Schools training but I’ve run out of time so that will come later. Also, there’s been some healthy debate about whether one should trust their phone GPS over a dedicated unit. I’m writing a detailed post looking at some recent research and arguments for and against using your phone GPS for wilderness navigation. Please stay tuned for that!
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.
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.
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.
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!
Recently we have responded to rescue requests from Fish & Game of injured hikers in less than 5th class terrain where proper belaying of a litter may be necessary. Last Thursday about 20 members of North Conway based Mountain Rescue Service met atop Cathedral Ledge to practice some twin-rope technique lowering on lower angle terrain, including passing knots through a re-direct.
To learn more about Mountain Rescue Service go to http://www.nhmrs.org/ or and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/NHMR
If you don’t work for EMS you probably don’t know what the Climbing Convergence is. Technically, it’s staff training, but “staff training” does not begin to describe 160 employees from 60+ stores getting together in the heart of the White Mountains for 2 full days of climbing, clinics, training, hiking, cook-outs, camping, bonfires, slacking, and stuffing pockets with swag while perusing a vendor village.
My part in the event was limited to one day at Cathedral Ledge, but it was enough to sense the kind of camaraderie folks who work for EMS share.
It is very cool to work with a company that takes authentic training like this so seriously. Sometimes I don’t think my own family understands. We LOVE what we do. It’s not just “retail”. It’s sharing a lifestyle, a healthy lifestyle, with our customers. Climbing, hiking, kayaking, biking, ice climbing, backcountry skiing… these are the sports we represent, and these are our own personal passions. And our company puts events like this together to help us outfit our customers so they can enjoy these pursuits as much as we do… It just doesn’t get any better!
Yesterday I observed and assisted with a Level 1 Instructor Refresher course at the AMC Highland Center. AIARE requires current instructors partake in an IRC every three years to stay current with changes to the curriculum of AIARE courses and to improve their teaching skills through a facilitated open group discussion on a variety of topics. Tim Brown, an IFMGA guide and contributor to some of the recent changes in the curriculum facilitated the day.
This particular IRC was open to anyone interested in AIARE’s curriculum and mission. With 9 people in attendance we covered a lot of the new updates to the student manual, presentation ideas, new tools empower students with, and ideas about how to take ownership of your course in a professional way. This was a good warmup for me before I head to Silverton, CO in less than a month to observe a full Level 1 Instructor Training course along with a Level 2 IRC. For more information about AIARE please visit http://www.avtraining.org.
This past Saturday 80+ people attended the first annual Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop (ESAW). Members from organizations involved in avalanche education, snow science, and search and rescue from all over the greater New England area were in attendance.
Chris Joosen, Lead Snow Ranger for USFS on Mt. Washington gave a talk on Spatial Variability in the White Mountains. Later in the afternoon he discussed avalanche accidents on Mount Washington, the eastern dilemma, and the role of social media and innovation, past, present and future.
Jim Giglinto, a New York State Forest Ranger gave a presentation on Avalanches in the Adirondacks. Of particular interest to the group were the pictures presented depicting how existing slide paths have grown, some by more than 50%, in the wake of Hurricane Irene. Looks like there might be some potential first descents available this season!
Kyle Tyler, the Eastern Representative of the American Avalanche Association gave a high speed informative talk on Propagation propensity of persistent weak layers.
Rebecca Scholand from the Mount Washington Observatory gave an graphically beautiful and informative talk on Upslope Snow and it’s development and effects upon the White Mountains of NH. I’ll be begging her for some of her slides to use in future avalanche courses.
After breaking for lunch Sam Colbeck, the former Senior Research Scientist at the Army’s Cold Region Research and Engineering Laboratory, gave a fascinating talk on Snow Physics, most notably how recent advances in technology have allowed us to get a better understanding of snow in relation to avalanches. His slides depicting different stages of metamorphism were very impressive.
Eric Siefer, the Northeast rep for Mammut gave a presentation on the technology of air bags and their effect on avalanche safety. The cumulation of which was the demonstration of the technology by one young audience member.
The last talk was given by Jonathan Shefftz, a member of the National Ski Patrol and passionate avalanche educator, who spoke about the benefits of giving Level 1 Avalanche Students pre-course homework. You can imagine that generated some entertaining discussion.
To wrap up the event most people retired to a social hour upstairs the nearby International Mountain Equipment store where there were vendor booths, raffles, and some graciously donated beer from Smuttynose.
Many folks headed over to Flatbread Co. to continue the snow talk over dinner. All in all it was a great 1st event and something the east coast community will undoubtedly benefit from. The proceeds from the event are going to the White Mountain Avalanche Education Fund. The fund is set up primarily to educate kids about avalanches across the Northeast. For more information on this fund check out: http://www.mountwashingtonavalanchecenter.org/about/white-mountain-avalanche-education-fund. Special thanks to Chris Joosen and Kyle Tyler for putting it all together!