Becoming a full International Federation of Mountain Guides Association-certified guide has long been a dream of mine. A few years back, I took a friend up the beautiful Forbes Arête on the Aiguille du Chardonnet in Chamonix. This friend had never climbed any mountain and I was in charge of the whole outing. I loved how taking someone up and down a mountain required so much problem solving: What time do we need to start? How do we get to the base? What are the hazards and how do I manage them? How much rope should be out on the glacier, on a steep snow section, or on a rocky ridge? What should I use for protection? Where does the route go? What is the most efficient, yet safe, way to do this section? How do I care for my friend? Etc. Each climb is a different puzzle with different solutions. I love that about the mountains. Sitting on the summit, basking in the sunshine and the joy of accomplishment, I thought, “Guides get paid to do this; this is what I want to do with my life.”
Dana Drummond, setting the track. Photo: Caroline George.
Summit of Centerridge… AK style first tracks. Photo: Caroline George.
A little background for those who aren’t already familiar with the IFMGA: I recently received my certification via the American Mountain Guides Association, a member of the IFMGA, which is the international governing body responsible for guiding standards and education around the world. Each year, the AMGA provides training in alpine, rock and ski disciplines -- being IFMGA certified means that you have taken and passed a series of courses and exams pertaining to all three. In most countries, this certification is required to guide legally.
Caroline George and fellow IFMGA hopefuls alpine touring in the Goat Mountain area. Photo: Mark Falender.
The author waiting for the heli to fly onto the Upper Eagle glacier with exam partners Steve Reynaud and Forrest mcBrian (and Tyler Jones). Photo: Mark Falender.
One of the perks of the AMGA/IFMGA certification process is how much you get to travel to train and to take courses and exams. I love being on the road, so this suited my lifestyle perfectly. Over the past two years I have learned, refined, and applied many skills: terrain assessment, hazard recognition and risk management, navigation, proper use of terrain and gear for protection, route finding, client care, rope tricks and management, snowpack assessment, weather-pattern identification, guiding ethics, waste disposal, and many more tricks of the trade. I have climbed more routes in Red Rock, where the rock climbing portion of the certification was held, than I could ever have hoped to climb there, in the process growing very fond of the contrast between the wilderness in Red Rock and the craziness in close-by Vegas. Through the Alpine process, in the Cascades, I discovered what it means to really be self-sufficient in the mountains. Carrying my “home” on my back and learning how to build rescue shelters have been some of the most constructive tools I’ve taken from the process, because, truth be told, if something happens in the mountains, you need to be able to figure it out on your own. The ski portion of the certification process provided me with great insight into assessing different snowpacks. We skied in the Chugach and the Talkeetna mountains, covering terrain from Valdez to Girdwood/Turnagain Pass to Hatcher Pass -- ski mountaineering, heli skiing and doing multi-day overnight trips on massive glaciers.
But, as I found out, Getting IFMGA-certified isn’t all fun and games. ...
To read Part 2 of Caroline George's blog post, click here.