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Entries from Guide News

RMI Guide Alex Barber Feeling Better After Bout with Illness

It’s been a few days since I’ve posted an update. Mostly - ok entirely - because I’ve been ill. The most likely culprit, in my mind, for this bout of illness was the suspiciously under cooked mutton I had a few nights ago. Today, though, I’m feeling better and my focus is returning to Annapurna.

Mountain news: While I’ve been tent-ridden not too much has happened. Camp 1 was hit by a massive wind gust produced by a large avalanche originating from high up the mountain near Camp 3. It ripped a few tents from their guy lines and the group that was there when it happened lost some gear. All my on-mountain gear is cached at C2, though, so this hasn’t affected me. Progress has been made toward Camp 3 by one team, but nobody has yet reached it. Deep snow on the approach to the crosshairs couloir is the main issue. The team using bottled oxygen are planning their first summit attempt for the 15th or 16th.

My plan is to climb directly to Camp 2 on the 12th and Camp 3 on the 13th. The section between Camp 2 and 3 is the most technically difficult and dangerous area. But time spent above 20,000’ is a most important aspect of acclimatization for a no O’s attempt. Until then I’m working on kicking this illness and recuperating my strength for this next push up the mountain.

RMI Guide Alex Barber

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RMI Guide Alex Barber Back to Annapurna Base Camp

Yesterday, April 4th, I descended back to Annapurna Base Camp from Camp 2. In total I spent one night at C1 and two nights at C2. The route into C2 was, at times, waist deep powder snow and it’s even deeper above. So for now Camp 3 is inaccessible. Less afternoon snow storms and more sunny days to consolidate the sugar snow will be required before I can push higher. Unfortunately, the forecast for the next couple of days is for heavy falls (20-30”) of snow above 18,000 ft. After that, it looks like we might have a clearing trend.

I’ve attached four pictures. The first shows the route from BC to Camp 1 (note the two climbers at the base of the route). The second photo shows the route from C1 to C2 and then the route continuing from C2 to C3, the third is my tent and equipment at C2, and the fourth is a view up the mountain from C2. This is a awe inspiring and beautiful mountain!

Today in Base camp a herd of wild sheep stopped by and there are rumors of some type of bobcat roaming around as well. For now I’m sitting out stormy weather and looking for my next window to get back onto the mountain.

RMI Guide Alex Barber

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Hope the weather is favorable for the rest of the climb.

Posted by: Gerri Seaton on 4/6/2015 at 3:36 pm

Larry Seaton - we are praying for your safety and the safety of your team mates. 
What an adventure you are having and I’m sure you will have many exciting stories to tell us.
Love, Mom

Posted by: Gerri Seaton on 4/6/2015 at 3:24 pm

RMI Guide Alex Barber Climbs to Camp 2 on Annapurna

Made Camp 2 today, it’s quite the distance from BC…and I’m still not even above 19,000’!

The route to Camp 2 starts with a stretch of glacier travel. After which you gain a large cleaver that takes you to Camp 2. I had a leisurely morning in Camp 1, drinking insta - coffee and watching the weather before deciding to try for Camp 2. The weather today was all over the place.

Annapurna’s weather still feels very random and forecasts have been inaccurate. And as usual, what I’ll do tomorrow will be dictated by the weather gods…

RMI Guide Alex Barber

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RMI Guide Alex Barber Reaches Camp 1 on Annapurna

Today (April 1st) I moved up to Camp 1 at about 17,000’ from 13,800’ Base Camp. Enjoyed good weather in the morning which turned to light snow in the afternoon. The route to C1 is quite a distance from BC and has some enjoyable climbing. Low angle water ice and low grade mixed climbing, also a precarious arm wrap rappel of some 200’ on the most insane choss… The recent snowfall - plowing through knee deep snow - made some sections of the route very tiring.  I’m hoping the weather holds and I am able to make Camp 2 tomorrow. I’ve got three days worth of supplies including today, so I’d like to spend the next two at Camp 2.

Hopefully the weather plays along…

When I return to BC I’ll post up a few photos for a visual of the route so far.

RMI Guide Alex Barber

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How long do you plan for this trip to take?

Posted by: Mary on 4/2/2015 at 1:52 pm

RMI Guide Alex Barber Checks in from Annapurna Base Camp

Yesterday I flew into Annapurna Base Camp. As the pilot and I made our way through the deep valleys from Tatopani, Annapurna I appeared, rising some 12,800ft above. Yikes! A beautiful jumble of rock and ice. I leaned over to the pilot and nervously asked him if he could return me to Kathmandu. He just laughed, assuming sarcasm…

After arriving in base camp and setting up my camp, I went for a slow jog in the evening toward the glacier (see picture) and got my first glimpse of the way to Camp 1. The route looks to follow an ascending traverse across a cliff face of rock and snow which has the advantage of bypassing a 2,500’ glacial ice fall. It does seem like the slightly better of two bad options - although the cliff still holds many things above you that could become hazards.

Tomorrow I’ll attend a Puja (a ceremony in which meditational prayers are offered to the Buddhas and holy beings to request their blessings or help), after which I’ll start pushing uphill. Currently it’s snowing here in base camp with consistent thunder. The weather forecast is predicting unstable conditions until April 4th. However, there seems to be an afternoon trend to the wet weather, which if it holds shouldn’t affect my acclimatization climbs to C1/C2.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for now!

RMI Guide Alex Barber

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How long is your acclimatize period between C1/C2?

Posted by: Mary on 3/30/2015 at 6:34 am

RMI Guide Alex Barber Annapurna Update

Annapurna Expedition
March 27 - Update

Enjoying the hotsprings of Tatopani while the helicopter does all the heavy lifting… sort of a ridiculous way to start an expedition.

March 26 - Update

In Tatopani tonight, we made several attempts to fly into Annapurna Base Camp today through low visibility and heavy rain. The low visibility prevented us from touching down though. Flying with less than 1,000 m visibility is quite hazardous with cliffs rising high above all around you. Hopefully with the more stable weather in the morning we will be able to fly into Base Camp tomorrow. For now our Helicopter is parked in a rudimentary soccer field in the small village of Tatopani. Pretty comical and has created quite the stir among the local population.

RMI Guide Alex Barber

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Q&A Session with RMI Guide Katie Bono

Date: Thursday, February 19th
Time: 6:30 PM to 9:30 PM (CST)
Location: Arc’teryx Minneapolis

Small Q&A with Arc’teryx pro athlete and RMI Guide Katie Bono where she will be answering questions for attendees about their own upcoming trips to Rainier, Denali, Shasta or Whitney. With Katie’s vast experience, she will be happy to provide insight and advise. Arc’teryx Minneapolis will be providing appetizers and a micro brew for this intimate discussion.  Click here to reserve free tickets and more details.

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Steve Gately discusses descending on the AMGA Rock Guide Course

I remember when I first stepped into the mountains. I was 11 years old and I had never seen a mountain before, let alone thought of climbing one. My father, older brother, and I traveled to the White Mountains of New Hampshire to climb Mt. Washington (6,288’). I remember finally standing on top of the boulder pile that comprises the summit and feeling the accomplishment. “I did it, I’m on top!” It was windy—a wet cold cloud had moved in during the final hour of tedious boulder hoping to the top—and even at that age I remember quickly coming to the realization that I needed to turn around and walk back down! Mt. Washington is unique in that it has a paved road to the summit along with the world’s first mountain-climbing cog railway train. My brother insisted that we descend via the train. Luckily for me, my father obliged and shortly after the train started it’s descent it began pouring. Although I was cozy in a train cabin watching the rain patter off the windows, I didn’t soon forget my realization: the summit is only halfway.

You hear this quite often in the climbing world. The ability to efficiently descend is a crucial skill in regards to staying safe in the vertical world. Just as with standing on top of Mt. Rainier, Denali, or Mt. Everest, getting down off of a rock climb requires the same amount of focus and effort as climbing it, and in a lot of ways requires much more.

Days 5 and 6 of our Rock Guide Course were focused on becoming proficient in our technical descent systems. I was paired up with RMI guide Pete Van Deventer and former RMI guide and current AMGA instructor Jeff Ward, and we traveled over to the Bunny Face Wall of Smith Rocks. On the easy and moderate multi-pitch sport climbs this area had to offer we discussed and practiced rappelling and lowering our climbers: the pro’s and con’s of each, when and why to use one over the other and a myriad of ways to be more efficient and provide the best experience possible for our climbers. Over the course of the next few days, we climbed a number of different routes and really got the opportunity to apply these techniques in mock guiding scenarios. 

When you practice these skills for the first time—or any skill for that matter—it’s usually done so in the “best-case scenario.” You start out easy so you can concentrate on the learning. In rock climbing the “best-case scenario” is pretty straightforward and easy to mitigate. Over the next several days of climbing, we learned that the best scenario rarely occurs. As guides, we need to always be prepared for the difficult scenario, and we had the benefit of climbing into some terrain that posed plenty of guiding challenges. This allowed for lots of hands on learning and problem solving. As guides, it’s important that we keep our skills sharp and this course was a great reminder that that process truly never ends. 16 years ago I learned that getting to the top is only half way and 16 years later I’m still being reminded of that fact!
Steve Gately grew up in Boston, MA, and found his love for the mountains in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. In 2012, Steve combined his passion for teaching, climbing, and the mountains when he started guiding for RMI.  Steve now guides year round for RMI, from Argentina to Alaska. Steve will be guiding not one, not two, but three trips to Aconcagua this winter!

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RMI Guide Caleb Ladue sums up the third and fourth days of the recent AMGA Rock Guide Course

Day three of the AMGA Rock Guide Course started a little less comfortably than we had hoped. Our course’s venue was located in the heart of central Oregon and early November often offers a mixed bag of weather. For the four of us who were camping near the park, this meant we awoke to find ourselves shivering and scraping a light layer of frost off of the inside of our tents.

As mountain guides, we often deal with inclement weather, but even our familiarity with discomfort didn’t stop all the grumbling that morning as we made coffee. Luckily for us, our instructor team was equally apprehensive about climbing in freezing temperatures and had called a quick audible. The day’s goals shifted to learning rescue techniques and skills in the ‘comfort’ of a covered cooking space.

After just finishing my first year with RMI, I was excited to see how our in-house rescue training would compare to the official AMGA equivalent. As the morning progressed, the instructor team grew equally excited as it became clear that much of the rescue curriculum was review, albeit, made a bit more difficult by the vertical orientation and the small working zones that the rock environment demands. Despite the cold temps and biting wind, we were able to fly through hauling techniques and knot passes. That morning’s training concretely highlighted for me how well RMI trains their guides. Because of our familiarity with many of the techniques, we were able to open the book and learn a couple new tricks and subtleties that may have otherwise been lost on a less experienced crew.

Once we had mastered new slack management tricks and practiced the variety of haul systems, we changed venues and tried to warm ourselves up with some rope ascending. Ascending is one of those skills that any basic crevasse rescue course will teach you, yet even our most experienced guides were able to walk away with a new trick or two. This again speaks to the level of experience and expertise that our instructors brought to the course.

The day’s training finished with a variety of skills that we will be tested on in our next course. A large part of the AMGA course curriculum is a series of examinations that aspiring guides go through to prove their proficiency. For many, these examinations can be stressful and difficult. However, this course has shown me that as long as I continue to work with the incredible fellow guides and instructors that make up the AMGA and RMI, this will be a process I am excited to continue on.

With my first year at RMI finished and my first AMGA course completed, I am more enthused than ever at the prospect of continuing my education. Without a doubt, my most profound take away from this course has been how much of a pleasure it is to work with professional mountain guides. In all my time in the mountains, I’ve never found a group who equals the enthusiasm and commitment to perfecting their craft that RMI guides have.

Finally, I want to echo Seth’s thanks to RMI for investing in their guides and allowing these courses to happen. I’m already looking forward to my next AMGA course and my next season with RMI!
Caleb Ladue just finished his first season guiding with RMI.  He grew up in Vermont, where he learned to love the mountains for all that they offered, and that passion has taken him throughout the US and to the Peruvian Andes.  He’ll be hanging his hat in Jackson Hole this winter, and will return to Mt. Rainier in the Spring, excited to share his passion with many more climbers!

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RMI Guide Seth Waterfall Recounts The First Two Days Of His AMGA Rock Guide Course

In late October, RMI guides Pete Van Deventer, Caleb Ladue, Billy Haas, Steve Gately and myself took part in a Rock Guide Course conducted by the American Mountain Guides Association. The course was contracted and sponsored by the RMI Expeditions/First Ascent Guide Grant, and the instructors included former RMI Guide Jeff Ward, RMI and Colorado Mountain School Guide Mike Soucy and CMS Guide Mark Hammond.

As a guide staff, we felt very fortunate that both RMI and the AMGA instructors were able to plan the course during a timeframe that allowed us to work a full summer schedule on Rainier and still have a few weeks to prepare and train in the rock realm after a long season of alpine climbing in the Cascades. After completing my Ski Exam and becoming a Certified Ski Mountaineering Guide in April of this last year, I am personally very grateful to RMI for sponsoring the course, which allowed me to complete a second financially committing segment of my
continuing education and progression toward full IFMGA certification.

The 10-day course took place at Smith Rock State Park near Bend, OR. Over the years I have spent a fair bit of time climbing at Smith and I knew the venue would provide some unique challenges from both a climbing and guiding perspective. While Smith is known for it’s high quality sport climbing, on this course we would be dialing our focus more towards traditional climbing.  Lucky for us, many of the ‘trad’ routes at Smith are notorious for having less than stellar rock quality, adding another complex element to the guiding objective.

The course kicked off on the last week of October. The weather looked to be good for the first couple of days, so we postponed the ground-work until a later date, and got right into the climbing. For me, the learning process brought me right back to my apprenticeship days at RMI, when I had to change the filter on my perspective.  I quickly learned to transition my thinking from that of an advanced recreational climber to approaching a climbing objective from the viewpoint of a guide. It’s a subtle change, but it makes a huge difference in your mindset, risk management, and the decision making process.

The instructor team did a great job of leading by example. They started right off with a very professional and competent course opening discussion and several demonstrations on belaying and anchoring techniques, as well as various ways to increase both guide and client security. As outdoor professionals, we don’t sit still well or for very long, and so were very thankful when we even got to climb a few pitches at the end of the first day!

The fair weather held on into our second day, but as the forecast looked to be deteriorating later in the week, the instructors opted to keep us in the field climbing in the event that we got shut down by rain and wind over the following days. This strategy worked quite well, as we were able to practice more of the techniques and rope trickery we learned the previous day while spending time off the ground in the vertical orientation.

By nature, guides tend to be kinesthetic learners, and as a group we all commented on the fact that we were able to process and retain the information with higher success if we could get our hands on the rope.

After the first few days, the course continued to ramped up both physically and mentally. For me it just got better as it went on, and the final day was by far the best, culminating in a lead of the aesthetic final pitch of Zebra Zion.

I can’t say enough about the both the quality and caliber of the AMGA instructors, and I’d like to especially thank my co-workers for a great time and creating an environment that was positive and fun, all while staying engaged and eager to learn every day.

Finally, a big thank you RMI, for investing in your guides and organizing this opportunity to allow us to further our professional education!
Seth Waterfall has been guiding trips for RMI for over a decade, and leads trips to destinations the world round. He lives in Enumclaw, WA, were he spends his spare time skiing, road biking, and climbing throughout the Cascades. 

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