Advanced Alpine Guide Course in Washington’s North Cascades National Park.

The American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) recently developed an "Advanced Alpine Guide Course" and a test for those aspiring to become guides in the National Park of the North Cascades of Washington. Andrew Councell tells us.

"On the heels of an atrociously hot and humid winter, this year's hot and dry summer did not spare the State of Washington's glaciers. On summits such as Mt. Shuksan and Mt. Baker, for example, the glaciers' condition is typical for late September while actually we're only in mid-August. But it's very likely that the only people that are concerned are climbers and mountaineers; the retreat of the glaciers is nothing new in the public's eyes. However, the desperate consequences of the current climate situation are on all of the country's television stations: the forest fires are out of control and are taking houses and lives with them into the flames. So it was in these conditions that the course took place."




"Despite the power outages, road closures, the smoky air, the piles of fallen rock and ice and these long hot days under the relentless sun, a few instructors and I were able to put together this great course and test. The alpine environment is fraught with dangers, like the rock and ice previously cited. But there are also many subjective threats: Rope mitigates some risk of course by keeping us tied together - or to the mountain - to prevent the fall of a climber, but it also creates a danger by striking rocks which could fall on the climbers in close below. Many of the guides that enter the AMGA's examination process in the alpine discipline are trained on climbing routes where the rock is more solid. Therefore, certain habits must be broken since they must also learn to guide in complete safety by using the rope on summits where rocks are crumbling. And, in the North Cascades, this kind of rock is everywhere."




"The most fragile rock which we had to deal with was without doubt at the beginning of the course, on the 'NW Rib' and the 'NE Ridge' trails of Mount Shuksan. Some rock fragments had already fallen down and were lying on the edges of the cliff and the ravines. But sometimes footings which appeared to be solid broke when a foot was put on them. One piece of rock, which had been detached under the foot of one of my comrades, landed on my fingers. The other problem with rock which is breaking up, which the students understood well, is that it makes it difficult to install solid anchors. But, most fortunately, most of the time during the alpine climbs, our movements were made sufficiently simple that we didn't need to test the strength of our anchorages ... "




"I think everyone breathed a sigh of relief when the course was relocated to the Washington Pass region where the Liberty Spires offer a much better quality of rock and climbing. These towers of granite seem incredibly daunting from the east, but offer a level of scaling surprisingly easy/moderate on their west and south faces. As the purpose of this course was 'alpine climbing' as distinct from classic 'sport climbing', we sought trails that were technically easier for climbing in our mountain shoes. After two days of 'relaxed' climbing, we headed once more to the west, this time to the Cascade Pass." The team took a look at the passage through the 'danger zone', en route to the W. Ridge trail of Forbidden Summits The most well-known area is without doubt the Basin of Boston, where the Forbidden Summits and the 'W. Ridge' trail, one of the 'Fifty Classic Climbs,' are found. This was the exam part of the course, and once again we benefited from perfect weather... We then faced the real challenge of glaciers in ruin where we witnessed the detachment of many sections which crashed right down to the base of the mountain. So we spent very little time in this area, and instead remained on the rocky ridges. The vast extent of the N. Cascades wilderness offered us 360-degree visibility despite forest fires to the east. You never tire of sights like these and the beauty of these places makes the risks of mountaineering all the more rewarding.