AMGA Exam-Unleashing the Beast!

That was the battle cry for RMI guide Geoff Schellens and I (Kel Rossiter) as we explored Red Rocks Canyon (Nevada) in preparation for the AMGA Rock Guide Exam in April.  It seems that a few years back a friend of Geoff’s was climbing way above his last piece of rock protection and his belayer called up to him “Place a piece!”  The fellow climbing heard the command as “Unleash the beast!” let out a yell, placed a piece, and successfully powered for the top.  Throughout the course of our two weeks of training and the six-day exam in Red Rocks, Nevada, Geoff and I both placed lots of rock protection pieces and certainly unleashed the beast!

Familiarity with terrain is a useful advantage when guiding, so Geoff & I met up in late March to get oriented to the amazing range of climbing options and areas that Red Rocks offers and to hone our rock guiding skills in that terrain.  It was a lot of hard work and it was a great experience.  We’d done the same thing last year, prepping for the Rock Guide Course (the second level of the AMGA Rock program) and that was a great opportunity for me to work with another talented RMI guide toward a shared climbing objective.  This year was similar, but different—we definitely enjoyed the climbing and good times together, but we were also definitely focused on the rigorous exam ahead.

Often, when people are a bit anxious about something they get a “tunnel vision” that causes them to overlook the big picture; fortunately, throughout the course of the prep and exam process the beauty of Red Rocks provided Geoff and I with many moments that prompted us to keep perspective and remember the big picture.  On our first day of climbing, we headed out toward the Oak Creek area.  Along the way we came across a boulder upon which someone had placed the majestic skull of a sun-bleached, full-curl desert bighorn sheep.  Nothing like majesty and mortality to remind one to enjoy each moment!  A few days later in White Rock Springs we encountered an entire herd of full-curl bighorns; their agility on the rock seemed to mock our efforts.  On the exam, with a winter weather front coming in on high winds, I was topping out on the final pitch of a climb up the “Mescalito” and found a butterfly gently moving its wings in the shelter of the wide crack I was climbing.  On another day, descending from the summit of Rainbow Mountain we entered into an astounding sinewy canyon of perfect sandstone baths and gigantic ponderosa trees rooted in the moist vein of desert soil.  Moving through the anxieties and unknowns of the exam process, these moments helped to frame things in perspective indeed.

By the time the exam arrived, I felt ready.  In six short days the exam was over—and last Friday I received word that I’d passed.  I’m now an AMGA Certified Rock Guide and it feels good!  Of course, certification is only a step in the continuing process of being a professional and progressing guide.  I’m thankful for the learning the course offered, the good times shared during the course, the wonderful nature of Red Rocks that I enjoyed, and the support of the RMI/Eddie Bauer Guide Grant and an AMGA Mammut Scholarship  in a making all of possible—and I look forward to sharing the skills I honed there with Adventure Spirit partners on many a future cliff and summit, “unleashing the beast!”