Certified! Part 2: Petzl athlete Caroline George on Becoming an IFMGA Guide

Note: This is a continuation of an earlier blog. To read Part 1 of Caroline George's blog post, click here.

Getting IFMGA-certified isn’t all fun and games. For one thing, the process involves someone constantly assessing you, and that can be destabilizing. It’s hard to have someone look over your shoulder all the time. Most examiners do a great job of pretending that it’s just a regular day out and you're just doing your job guiding. Yet, when you’re in the lead, a million thoughts go through your mind and you constantly second guess yourself, wondering if you're doing what the examiner wants you to do. Throughout the training, all candidates take turns being in the lead and role playing clients. I found it hard to treat my peers as clients, telling them what to do and how to climb or ski, all the while knowing that they didn’t really need my guidance. Some of the courses last up to 12 days and you have to be on your game the whole time. You wake up and meet early, go for big days in the alpine, on rock or skiing, get fried by the sun or worked by the wind and cold, get back to an hour long debrief with the candidates and that day’s examiner, plan for the next day, pack your bag, cook a meal and repeat. I find dealing with stress is harder to manage when I’m tired.

Groups following each other in a total white out on the Eagle Glacier . Photo: Mark Falender

I am often asked if the process of getting certified is harder for women. There aren’t many women with this certification throughout the world – just over 50, actually. During my last exam, Angela Hawse and I became the sixth and seventh women to achieve this status in the United States. Still, I never felt like being a woman made the process any harder, or that my examiners judged me on my sex. Since I am smaller, they would sometimes point out practical matters, like how with two clients on my rope I’d need to add more security due to the weight difference. Rightfully so; I think it’s important to acknowledge the differences between men and women and guide accordingly.

Can we ski this couloir? Sarah Carpenter in action. Photo: Caroline George

This April, I flew to Alaska to take my Ski Guide Exam, my final one. Snow conditions were pretty bad since it rained very high up and Hatcher Pass -- one of our destinations -- only had half its normal snowpack. We encountered difficult skiing conditions (thick breakable crust), white-out navigation, rain, etc. Still, overall I felt pretty good about my exam, but you never know for sure. (It’s scary to get so close to your dreams.) As a new rule, the AMGA no longer gives out results on the last day of the course or exam, so candidates have to wait two weeks to get their results online. Each day, I checked to see if my status had been updated. It always read, "Not Submitted Yet." Every time I clicked, my heart would start pounding, only to slow back down. After two weeks had passed, I revisited the site again and again, getting the same message each time. At 6 p.m., I clicked again, and there it was: “Passed.” Six letters and my lifelong dream had come true.

It's hard to stand up in gale force winds. Getting ready to climb down a chossy ridge. Photo: Mark Falender

The certification process has been the most rewarding achievement of my life. Yet, though this is an end in itself, it really is only the beginning to my career. And now, more than ever, I should remind myself of this adage: “Guide, the mountain doesn’t know that you are a guide!"

To read Part 1 of Caroline George's blog post, click here.

Cornices on Corn Biscuit. Photo: Caroline George


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