The RIE I signed up for was in Boulder with most of the climbing to be done at EldoradoCanyon. I hadn’t climbed there before so I knew I had to get out there before the exam started to familiarize myself with the area. I drove out (27 hours) two weeks early and got to team up with CO resident and former PMC member Lee Jenkins for a week of climbing. Over the course of that first week Lee and I managed to knock out the following routes:
Rewritten – subbed the first pitch ofThe Great Zot (5.8 instead of Rewritten’s P1 but better pro) and did the Rebuffat’s Arete finish (stellar), 5.8. Lee’s friend Robbie Cribbs from Boulder joined us for this one.
Ruper 5.8+ We just did the first 3 official pitches. Just to get to the base of the climb we did a long 5.7ish approach pitch . There are probably easier ways to get to the base. Very cool route. The first 20’ off the deck was a tough 8+.
One day we went to Lumpy Ridge to try to do Kor’s Flake but after a long approach the weather turned out to be a bit threatening, and we mistakenly only brought one rope, so we decided to do something closer to the ground, the first two pitches of Magical Chrome-Plated Semi Automatic Enema Syringe 5.7 Nice frictiony granite.
Direct East Face First Flatiron 5.6 – just a fun fun day. 8-10 pitches of beautiful slab and ridge climbing with great views.
Gambit 5.8 According to the guidebook, “one of the best adventure routes in Eldorado”. We thought the loose rock at the top kept it from classic status.
The next week before the exam I hired guides from the ColoradoMountainSchool for three days. The exam covers short roping and short pitching, something we don’t get to do too much of here in the east so that was one of my priorities. The first day was with John Bicknell and we started out doing P1 of Calypso 5.6 to Reggae 5.8 and then some short pitching to get off. Then we did some more short roping/pitching as we checked out the descent from the Bastille tower. Then we did Long John Wall 5.8+ on the West Ridge and checked out the descent options from there to finish up the day. The descents from many Eldo climbs can be tricky so I wanted to scope out as many as possible before the exam started.
Later in the week I had two days with Eric Whewell from CMS. The first day I just had him lead me up as many of the probable 5.9 one pitch exam routes he could. We knocked out the first pitch of Tagger, Hair City, C’est La Vie, XM, West Buttress, Werk Supp 5.8, and Northcutt Start (to the Bastille Crack) 5.10d – had to pull on gear to get through the crux on this one. Knocking out that many 9’s definitely helped my confidence. The next day we prioritized more short roping/pitching practice, doing the east slabs descent route off Redgarden Wall, and some other descents off the Redgarden Wall as well. The day was about evaluating where to rope up, when to short pitch and when to short rope in the constantly changing terrain.
I took the weekend off and then we had a pre-exam meeting Sunday night at a café to meet our examiners; Alain Comeau and Art Mooney from New England and Angela Hawse from CO, and to discuss the upcoming exam. The weather for the next day, especially the morning, looked like the worst of the week so we decided to do the rescue drill right off the bat. I came in with a time of 48:49 for the 45 minute maximum drill.
Three things did me in on the time. The first was just bad luck with the weather and having to do it inside at the Boulder Rock Club. When I saw them setting up the stations I knew I was in trouble as the wall we were working on was vertical to slightly overhanging - no ledges, virtually no feet - a full on hanging scenario which I hadn't practiced. I also got paired with the heaviest candidate at 180 lbs. We had 6 candidates in the exam and the lightest two paired up, then the medium two, and then....damn! at 162 lb I'd never considered myself a heavyweight but there I was!
The second thing was a tactical error. A lot of this scenario is based on friction knots so I picked a nice old supple fuzzy rope. Unfortunately the full on hanging aspect along with the supple rope along with the heavyweight division combined to make all my hard knots cinch down REALLY hard. Every hard knot I had to untie took way too long, this is literally where I think I lost a lot of my time, just tediously untying crushed knots. I think if I'd have used my new stiffer rope I'd have passed.
The last was a technical error. I had unknowingly been tying my munter mules in the unloaded position. Since I hadn't practiced in a full on hanging scenario this hadn't bitten me before but it sure did this time as it was a major effort to get the mules to "pop". Probably the best thing to come out of doing this "acid test" was figuring this out and how to tie my munter mules in the loaded position.
The 5 min knot pass drill was no problem, did that in .
Then the weather cleared up a bit and they decided to do the “Movement Skills” part of the exam. This is supposed to be where they watch us all on the same route, leading something at the exam standard. For whatever reason they took it easy on us and we ended up doing P1 of Werk Supp 5.8, which I’d climbed just a couple days before. No problem leading this although I lucked out b/c it started to hail just as I was finishing. Each candidate would rap down and clean their own gear so the next person could start up. That took the rest of the afternoon. At the end they gave us our exam assignments for the next day. There were 6 students to 3 examiners so each day we’d be working with two “clients”.
Tuesday my examiner was Alain and my assignment was the first two pitches of Calypso 5.6 and then short roping/pitching off the exposed ledge and back down. It went pretty smoothly as it was almost identical to what John Bicknell and I had done the week before. The second half of the day I just got to play client. During the debrief at the end of the day I got some good tips but was happy to get a pretty good review.
Wednesday my examiner was Art and our assignment was The Green Spur 5.9. The other candidate led up the first three pitches and then I took over for the last three, doing a roof pitch through some loose rock and then crossing over to finish up on Rebuffat’s Arete. Not a great day for me but it was solid enough. I was mad at myself b/c I hadn’t anchored my belayer to the ground before I did the roof pitch, something that Alain had hit me with the day before.
Thursday my examiner was Angela and our assignment was Fandango 5.5 on the First Flatiron outside of Boulder. The other candidate and I talked with Angela at the beginning of the day and he talked me intotaking just one rope since it was an easy route. I led pretty uneventfully up halfway to the ridge and then turned it over to the other candidate. It was the first time I’d been led up a pitch two on a rope and as the back climber I definitely found myself constantly thinking – oops, rope’s too tight; oops, rope’s too slack…we’d hear more about this later. Once on the ridge we split the time up the ridge to the summit and then rapped down with a prerig. Everyone had been given fairly easy climbs and all 6 candidates ended up using just one rope and Art really lit into us at the end of the day. We had all put efficiency ahead of client enjoyment and got an earful for it. Good stuff I’ll remember. I got my assignment for Friday; The Bomb on WindTower.
It was a rough week at Eldo. There were three accidents. I believe one involved a fatality. A leader fell on his belayer injuring her shoulder, there was a second accident I can’t remember and then on Thursday evening a leader pulled a 1000 lb block off The Bomb, (yeah the route I was going to do the next morning, kinda spooky). The block swept a climber off the ledge below.
Friday morning the whole WindTower was closed as they investigated the accident scene so we switched gears and headed to the West Ridge. The other candidate was given a new two pitch assignment on the spot (very rough for him as he had no time to research the route) and he had a very rough time, ending up taking so much time that I didn’t have time to do my two pitch route. The only thing I got to do was to do the short pitching back down. This worried me a bit that I wasn’t going to be able to get one more shot to show my stuff after the previous day’s lecture but the exam director told me not to worry about it so I got good vibes from that. We went through our final debrief and then the six candidates took off to down some brews at the Southern Sun Brewpub, next to Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder.
Saturday morning we all met together as a group to discuss the exam and provide input on the process. Then each candidate met with the examiners. I learned that I had passed the exam but would have to redo the rescue drill since I was over the time limit. It’s a $1600 pass/fail exam so I was lucky that the rescue drill is treated as a separate component. 5 of the 6 candidates passed.
So…I practiced a bunch more and a month later
Drove 10 hours north to Conway (there aren’t any AMGA examiners close to MD)
Redid the drill with Alain, this time knocked it out in 28 minutes and
Drove back (for a work assignment with REI that got cancelled anyway due to the heat)
20 hours of driving, motel, gas, additional $150 fee for the retest, moral of the story – have the rescue and knot drills dialed. Practice the rescue drill in a gym if you can, if not use a tree, something you can’t use your feet on so you get the acid test. Practice with a heavy climber, if they aren’t heavy put a backpack full of rocks on em!
Wrapup – Risk management was the main thing the examiners were looking for. How safe they felt while you were guiding them were the first, second, and third most important things. Then came client enjoyment, client comfort, your climbing ability, speed, efficiency, and cool guide tricks. Notice how low climbing ability was; of my 4 guiding assignments one was a 5.4, one a 5.5, and one a 5.6. I led one 5.9 pitch during the exam. Analysis of short roping/pitching terrain and methods of keeping clients safe during these times was also important, given the lack of appropriate terrain around here (MD) I would definitely recommend hiring a local (to Eldo or wherever you’re doing the exam) AMGA guide to help you with this. I thought the Eldo grades were a bit tougher than J-Tree or Red Rocks but I’m sure part of that was just getting used to a new place. All in all though, with the complex descents, it’s a tough place to take the exam and there’s no camping around Boulder either which drives up the cost as you might end up at a motel. Being in a motel had its advantages though. I brought my laptop and ended up buying a cheap printer/scanner at a Wal-Mart in Boulder. I was then able to go online and print pictures and route descriptions and scan pics from the guidebook to help prepare for my assignments. The exam is pretty stressful, we’d usually meet at , finish by 4 PM. But after we got our route assignments we would often head back out and practice the approach and descent in the evening. Then head home and hit the internet to glean whatever info we could from various climbing websites about our assignment. Long days. Glad it’s over!
If you want to give the RIE a shot feel free to give me a call and I’d be glad to help anyway I can,