Route Profile: Maiden Voyage, Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Grade III, 5.9, 6 pitches

Route Profile: Maiden Voyage – Grade III 5.9, six pitches.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison has a reputation of being for the extreme climber. With its remote circumstances, tick and poison ivy infested approaches, loose and unpredictable rock, challenging route finding, difficult and unprotected pegmatite bands, and long committed routes of up to Grade VI, climbing in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is not for novices or for climbers who are not fully competent in free climbing on big, remote walls.

In fact, climbing at the Black Canyon – often looked at as Colorado’s version of Yosemite – is as much a form of alpine climbing as it is pure rock climbing. The limited view of incoming weather or unforeseen problems on an otherwise “moderate” route can turn a pleasant day’s outing into a nightmarish epic. Remember that every climber needs to be thinking “self rescue” in Black Canyon. No helicopter will pluck you to safety. Still, for experienced, competent and committed climbers, the fearsome “Black” offers some of the North America’s greatest rock climbing challenges in a wild and rugged setting.  KMG tends to avoid the gnarly and go for the more fun moderate routes.  Hence, Maiden Voyage AKA The Red Dihedral.

The climb Maiden Voyage is about as far from gnarly as can be and by far the route we guide the most. This climb consists of great rock, relatively easy route finding, an easy approach with minimal poison ivy, and 6 moderate pitches of climbing. This is the most popular climb in the Black Canyon and maybe one of the best 5.9’s in the country.

In addition to the reasons listed above, the canyon gets a harsh reputation due its committing nature. Unlike a traditional climb of a UT desert tower or Red Rock Canyon wall, at the Black you start on top and work your way down with hikes and rappels. There are only a few gullies that allow access the inner canyon. Maiden Voyage is on the CheckerBoard wall on the North Rim of the Black. The climb is reached by descending the Cruise Gully, named after the Scenic Cruise climb (one of the best 5.10’s in the country). This gully involves two mandatory rappels on fixed lines that the park service installed. The Robbie Williams guide book talks about down climbing some exposed sections. All but the most confident climbers would prefer to use the fixed lines and rappel, a much better way to mitigate the risk of getting hurt before even reaching the climb.

After the rappels it’s a short hike on a descent trail (great for the Black Canyon) leads to the base of the climb. There is minimal poison ivy on the approach. I (nock on wood) have never had any issues with me or my clients getting any of “the green itch.”

The first pitch consists of roughly 100 ft of wandering 5.6. While the climbing is fun, the gear is minimal. Some climbers choose to link the first two pitches. However, the crux of the climb is at the start of the second. We choose to shorten the first pitch, which allows for an easy transition to the second. This also allows for the climb to get the crux of the route over right after their break.

The third pitch climbs fun cracks and corners to a 5.8 roof. This is the routes second crux. The moves are all there with great holds, but not obvious at first. After the roof, relatively mellow climbing takes you to the belay.

Pitch four continues up fun cracks and corners, involves some stemming, and leads to a great belay ledge. Pitch five is all less than vertical 5.7 climbing to the final belay ledge. Some parties choose to stop at the top of pitch five. Typically though, KMG chooses to go one more pitch to the summit of the wall. The last and sixth pitch ascends 5.6 climbing up fun ledges and edges to reach the summit block. From the summit block, we have a spectacular view of both the north and south chasm view points. If you squint, you typically can see folks grasping the guard rails and peering into the abyss. Awesome! A quick rappel gets us back down to the top of pitch five. From there it’s a 20 minute hike back to the rim and the North Rim Ranger station. Congratulations! You just climbed a six pitch classic in one of the deepest canyons in the US

Skylar and Dan racking up at the base of Maiden Voyage.

Skylar and Dan racking up at the base of Maiden Voyage.


Skylar topping out pitch 3, Maiden Voyage

Skylar and Dan enjoying lunch on one of the huge belay ledges that Maiden Voyage has to offer.

Skylar and Dan enjoying lunch on one of the huge belay ledges that Maiden Voyage has to offer.


John topping out Maiden Voyage

John on Maiden Voyage

John is peering into the abyss of the Black Cnayon of the Gunnison after climbing Maiden Voyage.

John is peering into the abyss of the Black Cnayon of the Gunnison after climbing Maiden Voyage.

John and Carson enjoying some post climbing libations as their hang on the North Rim guard rail, Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

John and Carson enjoying some post climbing libations as their hang on the North Rim guard rail, Black Canyon of the Gunnison.


Josh Kling, 
AMGA Certified Rock Guide
AMGA Assistant Ski and Alpine Guide
AMGA Aspirant Mountain Guide 
AIARE Level 1 & 2 Course Leader


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Camp Speed Helemt

I see helmets as an essential piece of climbing equipment. However finding a good helmet has been difficult and the less I’ve liked my helmet the easier it is to convince myself I might not need it. Enter the Camp Speed helmet. It has been a great addition to my go to climbing equipment selection. Weighing in at a feather weight of 231g, the Speed is relatively unnoticeable while being worn. Its innocuous presence is a combination of impressive weight and a close to the head fit. This helps to avoid the constant upward movement helmet bumps that can come with a more bulbous fit. Although light and sleek are qualities which come with diminished durability, I have found that it holds up exceptionally well to the rigors of rough lifestyle and general abuse. I am not the most gentle person and have been known to store and pack my gear in less than careful fashion. However I have yet to see development of dents, cracks or other less serious damage to my own helmet. The days of the light and fast helmet that gets dented from sitting up against your Nalgine for too long in a tightly packed pack are over. In addition to durability in the more benign of situations the Speed is a UIAA certified dome piece, made of EPS foam that is capable of protecting you from more consequential hits. Many other light weight helmets on the market are purely CE rated.  What’s the difference between UIAA and CE certifications? A UIAA-certified helmet meets a more stringent standard. Their EN 12492 standard requires that 20% less impact force get transmitted to the headform during lab testing than does CE certification using the same test method, so keep this in mind when comparing models.

Since it is a foam helmet it will need to be replaced if it receives a serious impact but the one time use is the standard trade off for light compact helmets.  In addition to its durable and versatile construction it has ample ventilation for hot days or expeditions that call for heavy exertion. All helmets are going to be a bit warmer than an open breeze but with twenty-two ventilation holes I’ve been able to keep plenty comfortable. My one dissatisfaction has been from the headlamp clips. It has two in the front and one in the back at the center.  I would prefer a four clip system or a larger center back clip. I have not found my head lamp as easy to set up as with some other helmets. Having said that its by no means a laborious task. Over all I’ve been very pleased by finding something to help sooth my aversion to having a block of foam strapped to my head and look forward to many safe and comfortable days in the mountains.

Alec on top of Storm King peak in the heart of the San Juans sporting his Camp Speed Helemt

Alec Johnson

AMGA Certified Single Pitch Instructor

AMGA Apprentice Rock Guide

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Babcock Peak Training w/ TriState CareFlight, La Plata County SAR, and Durango Fire and Rescue

Being a climbing guide involves more than just guiding.  As Uncle Ben said to Spider man, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  So, last week I got the opportunity to participate in a joint technical training with; TriState Care Flight, a medical helicopter service, La Plata County Search and Rescue (LPCSAR), and Durango Fire and Rescue Authority (DFRA).   I have been a member of the LPCSAR for 14 years.  Trainings like this one; small team and real time, are the most beneficial.

The training took place on Babcock Peak in La Plata Canyon, just west of Durango.  The main premises of the training was to work on logistical issues of a multi agency technical rescue utilizing a medical helicopter for rescuer transport.  None of any of the agencies had ever done a training or rescue at this specific location.  This meant we were all on sighting it, so to speak.  We began the training at 7:15 at the Hesperus Ski Area.  After a brief helicopter safety briefing from the flight crew and putting together the minimum needed gear, TriState began to shuttle us up to the landing zone.  We utilized a variation of the gear list shown.  This list was put together by Leo Llyod.  Leo is a shift supervisor for Durango Fire and Rescue, 20 year + veteran of La Plata County Search and Rescue, and a lead instructor for Rigging for Rescue.  Leo eats and breathes technical rescue.  If there is anybody out there that can explain the “why behind the what” of technical rescue, Leo can.  He has instructed Rigging for Rescue courses throughout North America.  Some of his “students” have been YOSAR, Denali SAR, and Teton SAR to name a few.  He has also worked as a volunteer ranger on Denali.


Rope / Cordage / Webbing:

  • (2) 90m 9.8mm Static Ropes
  • (2) 60m 9.8mm Static Ropes (if a long lowering  operation is anticipated)
  • (1-2) 60m climbing ropes for technical patient access (as indicated)
  • (1-2) 10m 8mm cords
  • (2) 20’ webbing lengths
  • (3) 15 webbing lengths
  • (2) sets of supple 7mm Tandem Prusiks


  • (6) Lightweight locking Carabiners
  • (2) Titanium Scarabs DCDs
  • (1) Lightweight Break-Apart Litter with 4-point bridal (preferable) or MEDSLED
  • (1) 2-track (narrow) ice cube trays for edge protection
  • (1) sleeve style (Velcro) mobile edge protection (with 30m 3mm cord)
  • Small Rock Protection Rack (as indicated)  – 1 ea. Small-Med. Cams, assorted nuts) / assorted pitons / (5) 60cm Spectra Slings with (2) non-locking carabiners per sling
  • (1) Alpine hammer
  • (1) Range Finder w/battery
  • Radios with extra batteries

If snow and/or ice conditions are probable:

  • 1-2 pr lightweight skis / (4) Pickets for snow anchors
  • Assortment of Ice Screws (17-22cm) / V-Thread capability

Medical / Stabilization:

  • (1) Compact BLS focused Medical Kit  (may need to ramp up based on projected injuries, etc)
  • (1) LifeBlanket
  • (1) Tarp
  • (1) Insulite Pad
  • (1) Vacuum Mattress (essential if using MedSled)
  • (1) Lightweight Sleeping Bag (as indicated for additional insulation)

Helicopter Shuttle Sequence (Based On 2-Rescuers per shuttle)

1st Shuttle                                                      (Rescuers 1 and 2)

2nd Shuttle                                                     (Rescuers 3 and 4)

3rd Shuttle                                                     (Rescuers 5 and 6)

Other Equipment Considerations:

  • Additional medical equipment / personnel (as indicated)
  • Hammer drill w/ bits and extra battery
  • MedSled (if indicated )
  • Lightweight wheel (as indicated)
  • More rope, pulleys, etc (Guiding line option, etc)

IMPORTANT: The above team equipment recommendations assume each TRT Rescuer has their own personal rigging gear (including harness, 1-2 micro pulleys, 10m 8mm cord, 3-4 locking carabiners, 3 non-locking carabiners, and PPE). This also includes storm gear and fluid/calories. It may also include transceiver, probe, shovel, crampons, ice ax, ice tools, etc.

The TriState pilot chose an landing zone at 12,300 ft in Tomahawk basin, just north east of Babcock peak.   This was a little further from the scenario site than we would have preferred but ended up working perfectly.  A short hike got everybody into position at the base of the couloir on Babcock Peak.  TriState Careflight chooses a Eurocopter Astar for these types of missions.  The Astar is easily stripped down to become a light weight transport machine.  This makes tight maneuvers (such as hovering, dropping off, and picking up rescuers) in mountainous terrain easier.   We shuttled 2-3 rescuers plus gear per flight in accordance with the above sequence.

Once on location two teams ascended the north facing couloir towards the “victim.”  The victim was played by one of TriStates RNs to simplify and lesson the number of people needing to be flown in.  Despite warm temps, the north facing couloir which measured just over 50 degrees at the steepest point, provided plenty of firm snow.

Two teams of three rescuers ascended the couloir to our fallen “victim.”  The scenario was: a climber fell while climbing one of Babcock’s technical spires.  A technical lower via a litter to a landing zone where they would be flown out was the only option for extrication.  The snow was in perfect conditions for crampons and kicking steps.  The upper team climbed to an elevation of just under 12,900 ft with the second team (my team) ascending to roughly 12,650.  By utilizing two 90 M 9.8 mm ropes as well as special techniques, we were able to space the teams further apart and minimize the number of stations required.  For this training we chose to incorporate at two rope technique of separate main and belay lines.  This provides extra security in the event of a system failure and keeps the entire exercise to a 10:1 static system safety factor.

The upper station was able to use both SLCDs and pitons for their two anchor systems.  The belay utilized two 7mm prusiks while the main line used a titanium Scarab for their decent control device (DCD).  The Scarab is a lightweight DCD that allows for ample friction in a low friction environment such as on snow.  An other option for a DCD in an alpine scenario is the Parallel Plaquettes technique made popular by Rigging for Rescue.  After efficiently constructing an anchor suitable for a rescue load, it was just a few minutes for the team to get the litter and attendant down to my station.  My team used a variety of SLCDs, nuts, and a single mid clip picket for our two anchors.  To do a station load transfer in a two rope system, we just “switch” the ropes.  The line that was the belay from station one down, now becomes the main, and the main now becomes the belay.  An efficient team can make this switch with out ever stopping the litter.

Once the station transfer had been made, my station continued with the lower.  Near the bottom of the couloir, as the angle lessoned we jettisoned the belay line and attached it to the main line effectively doubling our rope length to 180 M.  A quick knot pass gave us an additional 90 m of lowering capability down to benign terrain.

The entire exercise from start to finish took just over 3 hours from first take off to last landing.  Overall the training was a great success.

you never walk alone when you walk with safety. The helicopter safety briefing with the TriState Care Flight crew.

The couloir measured at just over 50 degrees at the steepest part. I couldn't help but be distracted by wanting to ski it….


-Josh Kling,

AMGA Certified Rock Guide
AMGA Assistant Ski and Alpine Guide
AMGA Aspirant Mountain Guide
AIARE Level 1 & 2 Course Leader

Posted in Alpine Climbing, American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) Training, Mountaineering, Uncategorized | Comments Off on Babcock Peak Training w/ TriState CareFlight, La Plata County SAR, and Durango Fire and Rescue

Speedy AMGA Exam Prep Trip

This fall I am registered for the American Mountain Guides Association Alpine Guide Exam.  This exam will take place in September in the North Cascades of WA. The exam is the final step in the Alpine Guide discipline track with the AMGA.  It is arguably the most difficult track with the most amount of course work required. This will be my second of three exams in the AMGA/ IFMGA Mountain Guide program.

In an effort to get some training in before the summer season gets super busy, I headed to WA for a few training climbs and a few weeks of work with the American Alpine Institute. It was a busy three weeks!  By the time I left on  I completed three programs on Mt. Baker including two ski descents of the peak, a day of rock rescue training, and a Mt. Shuksan climb.

An AAI crack rescue student doing some SERIOUS hauling to get the victim out of the crevasse.

The trip began with an AAI Glacier Skills and Crevasse Rescue course on the flanks of Mt. Baker.  This was a basic intro to glacier travel skills and crack rescue for newbie glacier travelers.  A great three day program with some great folks.

The guides that want to succeed in this business train.  So after getting off Mt. Baker, I spent a day with John Minier (KMG guide once removed) of Mt. Baker Mountain Guides on the AMGA Rock Rescue drill.  John is enrolled in his Advanced Alpine Guide Course/ Aspirant Exam this September.  There are details on my Advanced Alpine Course, including details on the AMGA Rock Rescue Drill, from several years back in a previous blog post.  He will have to perform the Rock Rescue Drill as part of his exam, so we worked through it a few times.  I have completed the drill in two aspirant exams, the Rock Aspirant and the Alpine Aspirant, but the best always train and refresh so it was great to work through it again.

I can’t do to many days in flip flops, so back to the glacier it was.  This time it was an AAI Summit and Ski program.  I had the chance to work with a Kun ( a skier) and Bing (a split boarder).  It was a great trip!  Both Bing and Kun had done a custom two day backcountry ski course earlier in the winter with AAI Guide Ben Gardner.  Ben is an other KMG Guide once removed.  We absolutely scored on weather!  For three days we enjoy wonderfully mild temps, clear skies, and perfect skiing conditions.  The trip culminated with skiing off the summit of Mt. Baker in absolutely perfect conditions.

Our camp on Mt. Baker under the stars.


A day in flip flops allowed the boots to dry out and then it was back to the hill.  This time I headed to the North Side and significantly less crowded side of Mt. Baker with AMGA Certified Ski Mountaineering Guide and Certified Rock Guide Jayson Simons-Jones for a training climb of the North Ridge of Mt. Baker.  While conditions in September are typically significantly different ( read – harder) than the conditions we found, it was still a great training day in the alpine.

SO excited about the awesome ski!

One more trip up Mt. Shuksan with the American Alpine Institute and my time in the North West ends, at least for now.  The rest of the summer’s training will be taking place on the jagged and loose peaks of CO.

It's all selfie smiles when you are skiing in June.

Josh Kling

AMGA Certified Rock Guide

AMGA Assistant Ski and Alpine Guide

AMGA Aspirant Mountain Guide

AIARE Level 1 and 2 Course Leader

Posted in Alpine Climbing, American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) Training, Mountaineering, Skiing | Comments Off on Speedy AMGA Exam Prep Trip

Camp USA Winter Gear Review

I’ve found ice, and it was right there in front of me.

Last winter, I fled the mountains of southwest Colorado during the winter in search of warm rock. I had never been very drawn to alpine and ice climbing. I would do a few routes early season and be done with it – in search of warm weather. Winter 2013-2014, I now live in Telluride, Colorado and have decided to give winter climbing another shot. This place is absolutely stunning and I must explore. But first – I must GET THE GEAR!

Ok, I’ve got some new gear to help take my alpine climbing to a new level. I’ve been putting it to the test around southwest Colorado and have been very pleased with the results. And with ice season winding down, I’ll be out there as often as possible making the best of it! I’ll be doing short reviews of each piece of gear, focusing on the versatility of each piece. Here’s what’s new:

CAMP Speed Helmet, Orange

Mountain Hardwear Principia Softshell Jacket, Meduim in Shiraz

CAMP Geko Hot Gloves, Extra Large in Gray/Green

CAMP X-Dream Technical Ice Tool

CAMP Blade Runner Crampons

CAMP Speed Helmet:

Holy cow this thing is light! It weighs only 7.4 ounces. A few years ago, I bought the lightest helmet on the market at the time. It did not last me very long and I ended up not liking it much. This is not the case for the Speed helmet. I’ve been using it for ice and skiing. I’ve got great coverage with adequate airflow – 22 vents. If it’s a cold day, I’ll wear the helmet with a beanie underneath. On warmer days, I’ll switch to a Buff or nothing. This helmet feels great and adjusts to fit my head very securely. I’ve been taking lots of enemy fire to the dome ice climbing. This helmet does a fine job deflecting debris and reducing impact. I have only noticed one drawback so far: I don’t particularly care for the headlamp attachment clips. I prefer the Black Diamond Vector Helmet when I know I’ll be using a headlamp. Bottom line – This helmet will be in my pack 90% of the time. The other 10% is for when I know I’ll be wearing a headlamp for an extended amount of time.

Gary looking sharp in his Mountain Hardwear Principia soft-shell, Camp Speed helmet.

Mountain Hardwear Principia Softshell Jacket:

My new favorite middle layer and light outer layer. I first put this jacket to the test in Red Rock, NV. I was there for an AMGA Rock Instructor Course in the fall. Cooler temps meant I needed a warm layer but I didn’t want to sweat when I needed to climb or do a long descent. I used the Principia as an outer layer and was as happy as could be. I only brought this layer so was able to save weight and have a versatile jacket. This jacket is incredibly warm and breathes well. Now, it is my go-to mid-layer for ice climbing and skiing. I’ll wear this with a thin vest like the MHW Nitrous vest for a little extra warmth. Or I’ll put another softshell jacket or thin hardshell for ultimate warmth and protection. This is also my jacket of choice when I’m around downtown Telluride. It looks super sharp in addition to being functional. There’s a great chest pocket and cozy hood which fits over my new helmet incredibly well. I’ve gotten many compliments from both climbers and random tourists. A problem I have with this jacket and most jackets is having it ride up when I really stretch my arms reaching for that next hold. I have a fairly long torso and reach. Bottom line – Because of the versatility of this jacket, it’ll be with me 3 out of 4 seasons a year. So far, it seems nice and durable. Excited about this piece.

The best guides are always practicing. Here Gary is working on his AMGA Rock Rescue Drill in Red Rocks, NV. The full AMGA Rock Rescue Drill is outlined here in a previous blog post.

CAMP Geko Hot Gloves:

My next addition to my alpine arsenal is CAMP’s Geko Hot gloves. I’m usually a multi-purpose kind of guy. As you read above, I love having versatile items in my inventory. If I can make gear work for other applications to save on cash, weight, etc., I will. I’ve been using these gloves for skiing and ice climbing and they seem to do well in both these sports. For how thin and dexterous these are, they sure are warm. The gloves are insulated with Primaloft all around. The glove is tight to put on but the Durastretch material is so stretchy and cozy that I get a nice comfortable fit. Also of value are the keeper straps for when I really need to work out knots or to take a quick pic on the iPhone. Rope and gear management are made easy with the goatskin leather on the palm and fingers, it’s super grippy. There is a generous snot-wipe that feels great on the skin. As the weather gets warmer, these gloves will be too hot! CAMP has a Geko Light glove, which will work nice for these warmer spring temps. Bottom line – The Geko Hot glove is one of my all time favs and I’m sure the Geko Light will be an excellent choice for warmer weather.

CAMP X-Dream Ice Tools:

As I look to further my ice and mixed climbing abilities, I realized I needed a more technical tool. I got my hands on a set of CAMP X-Dream tools and have been using them exclusively. These things are advanced. The handle is adjustable between two modes: ice and dry. Depending on which setting you choose, you can adjust the angle of the handle in relation to the angle of the pick. The tools also come with two picks: ice and mixed. The picks seem thinner than my last set of tools. They stick in ice easily and penetrate hard ice nicely. I can be delicate and make precise placements with these tools. Lastly, you can adjust the trigger to get the most comfortable and secure fit. Having a tool this versatile could mean it’s the only technical tool I’ll need to have in the gear closet. I’ve climbed ice slabs, steep ice, overhanging bulges, and hooked my way up some mixed routes all with one tool. Bottom line – I have nothing bad to say about these tools. They allow me to climb anything I’m looking to do.

CAMP Blade Runner Crampons:

For the past several years, I’ve been using a non-ice specific crampon and this had hindered my progression. I was using crampons suited for glacier travel and low-angled ice on a semi-automatic boot. A few months ago, I saw an ad in a climbing magazine for CAMP’s Blade Runner crampons. They looked out of this world cool! I had to try these out. I finally acquired a pair and they are just as advanced as the X-Dreams. This is another do-all tool. I’m able to switch between mono and dual points in a variety of positions. I’m also able to switch between semi-automatic and automatic binding systems. The front points can be entirely switched out for snow points to be used on hard and steep snow. So I finally took them out and I can’t believe the difference I can feel with these crampons! I find that I’m using my feet way more now. These offer a solid stance for me to keep weight on my feet and off my arms. It just goes to show that the right gear does in fact make a difference. Bottom line – Just like the X-Dreams, the Blade Runner crampons are extremely versatile. This may be my favorite piece of gear for the season.

The Camp X Dream tools and Blade Runner crampons are just that, an absolute dream. The Blade Runner crampons are by far the most versatile spikes on the marker. They are solid on every type of terrain from overhanging ice to general glacier travel.


Super excited for all the new gear this season. All of it is essential gear that is a part of my complete ice and alpine kit, as well as a few items that can be used in other seasons. See the respective links for more information, stop by Backcountry Experience (800-648-8519) or Kling Mountain Guides (888-981-SNOW) in Durango for more information or a demo, or give us a shout!

Here Gary demonstrates a top managed ice climb. Many principles found in the AMGA Single Pitch Instructor program are seen throughout all types of guiding. Here, Gary is demonstrating an extending master point in order to maintain great visual contact with his client. Learn more about the AMGA SPI program here.

Climb on,


American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) Certified Single Pitch Instructor

AMGA Apprentice Rock Guide

AMGA Apprentice Alpine Guide


CAMP Helmet –

MHW Jacket –

CAMP Gloves –

X-Dream –

Blade Runner –

Posted in Alpine Climbing, CAMP USA climbing, Mountain Hardwear Uniforms, Mountaineering, Rock Climbing, Uncategorized | Comments Off on Camp USA Winter Gear Review

How to Become a Mountain or Ski Guide

With cooler temps and fall coming in quick, people are starting to have skiing on the brain.  And with that, comes people interested in working as ski guides.  We have had at least one person a day for the last week come in inquiring about working as a ski guide.  So it seemed only appropriate for a blog post on how to become a mountain or ski guide.

American Mountain Guides Association

KMG Owner and Lead Guide Josh Kling is an AMGA Certified Rock Guide

At KMG we require all of our guides to be certified by the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) at the Single Pitch Instructor level at a minimum.  Many have significantly higher levels of training.  Years ago AMGA training and/or certification was looked at as a bonus. Today, AMGA training and certification is considered the standard.  The AMGA is our nation’s sole representative to the 21-member International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA), the international governing body responsible for guiding standards and education around the world.


These professionals could work in any part of the industry from instructors who teach on climbing walls and single pitch cliffs to guides guiding long rock routes, alpine climbs, and ski mountaineering trips. As a collective group, the AMGA is closely connected to almost every issue that faces the industry and our treasured crags, peaks, powder covered slopes, and frozen waterfalls.

There is a minimum total of 93 days of course work and examination to achieve IFMGA/UIAMG status

The Guide Program consists of three (3) certification streams, Alpine, Rock and Ski Mountaineering. By completing all three disciplines a guide achieves international recognition as an International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA/UIAGM) Guide. Completing all three disciples typically takes a guide between four and seven years and consists of close to 100 days of course work and exams.  This achievement is the highest level of credential attainable by a professional mountain guide anywhere in the world.  IFMGA Mountain Guides can guide on any climbing or skiing terrain without limitation.
However, many guides choose to only partake in training from a single discipline such as rock or ski.


The American Institue for Avalanche Research and Equation

In addition to AMGA training and certifications all KMG lead guides that work in the winter environments (ski guiding and ice climbing guiding) must have taken and passed an AIARE Level 3 avalanche course.  The AIARE 3 course is an advanced certification course for experienced and professional avalanche practitioners, professional guides, patrollers and advanced recreational backcountry travelers. The Level 3 is a seven day long program and completes the avalanche course stream of the AIARE 2 and 3. (11 days together).  Individuals who receive a passing grade and successfully complete the course receive a certificate provided by the AIARE administration.  This course is offered roughly two times each winter and is directly through AIARE.  IE KMG offers Level 1 and 2 courses each winter, but AIARE is the only program nationwide that offers Level 3 courses.

Unlike a Level 1 or 2 avalanche course, students must submit an application and be excepted into the Level 3 which details they have met the prerequisites:

  • AIARE 2 course
  • Experience applying the AIARE 2 skills and knowledge in a professional or personal program is required.
  • Personal resume:
    • Twenty day-trips in avalanche terrain requiring decision-making and travel procedures
    • Twenty day trips with documented field weather and snowpack observations (to AAA SWAG or OGRES Observation Guidelines standards)
    • Ten recent snow profiles (documented in field book to same standards)
  • Rescue:
  • Must be able to find (by probe) two transceivers buried in a 30m by 30m area in six minutes. (One transceiver is buried 30cm below the surface; the second is buried 40-60 cm below the surface 3 to 4m apart.).
  • Led a rescue team in a mock avalanche rescue scenario OR have training and experience in a professional search and rescue group (e.g. ski patrol, etc.)
  • Prior to the start of the AIARE 3 course, it is required that the student complete the Pre- Course Quiz which is handed in to the course leader at the start of the course.

The AIARE 3 is a pass/fail course.  AIARE 3 participants are eligible for certification after be assed on the following:

  • Completing the pre-course reading and questionnaire.
  • Attending the classroom sessions, completing the homework assignments to a professional level and participating in the group learning sessions.
  • Attending the field sessions and participating in the group discussions and exercises.

AIARE 3 Participants are eligible for certification after attaining the minimum passing grade of 70% in the marking categories:

  • Avalanche hazard recognition and management skills 15%
  • Avalanche hazard analysis 15%
  • Avalanche hazard response 15%
  • Field weather observations and recording 5 %
  • Snowpack observations and tests 20 %
  • Operational forecast and analysis forms 10 %
  • Professional notebook 5 %
  • Final Written Exam 15%

Wilderness Medical Training

Lastly, all KMG guides must successfully complete a 80 hour Wilderness First Responder (WFR) medical and rescue training course.  To keep with the highest standards we only accept WFRs from the following companies: Wilderness Medical Associates (WMA), Wilderness Medical Institute (WMI) and SOLO.  These are considered the BIG THREE of wilderness and rescue medicine in the US.

Here is a breakdown of Kling Mountain Guides Lead Ski Guide required qualifications:

  • AIARE Level 3 Certificate
  • AMGA Ski Mountaineering training course or equivalent experience.
  • Minimum of four winters professional leadership experience in backcountry terrain.
  • Involvement in winter backcountry industry outside of KMG. IE the guide works as a ski patroller, avalanche forecaster, AIARE advisory board member, works for an other guide service in terrain other than the San Juans, etc.
  • AAA Professional Level Membership.
  • Minimum 5 years personal experience with leadership and decision making in backcountry avalanche terrain.

Many of KMG guides go above and beyond the requirements by having some or all of the following:

  • AAA certified instructor (will be required within the next few years).
  • AMGA Certified Ski Mountaineering Guide or Alpine Guide
  • AAA AvPro course or CAA courses
  • Ski Patrol experience

If you have further questions about working as a mountain or ski guide with us or just in general, please do not hesitate to get in touch.  However, please look over the above and see if you meet our prerequisites.

Posted in Alpine Climbing, American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) Training, Avalanche Courses, Rock Climbing, San Juan College, Skiing | Comments Off on How to Become a Mountain or Ski Guide

Where should I take an avalanche education course?

Backcountry skiing has increased dramatically over the past decade.  This is due to variety of factors. In response, the number of avalanche course providers has significantly gone up as well.  For example, in 1990 there were two avalanche courses providers in the San Juan’s (one in Telluride and one in Silverton), neither of which were AIARE providers.  In 2013, there were over 10 AIARE course providers in the same territory, and close to 30 in Colorado alone!  This is great for the public in regards to options. However it can also be overwhelming when choosing which course to enroll in.

So, how do you choose where to take an avalanche course?  Here are a few questions to ponder and ask;

  • AIARE VS Non-AIARE courses – What’s the difference?

AIARE stands for the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education.

AIARE, a non-profit based out of Crested Butte CO, gathers the latest knowledge, research and ideas in avalanche safety from; mountain and ski guides, transportation and public forecasting offices, ski area and snow safety operations, public awareness centers, academia, and more.  AIARE develops and disseminates avalanche course materials to avalanche educators in the United States, South America and Europe. There are over 80 course providers and 250 instructors representing AIARE internationally.

Each Course Provider and Instructor is heavily encouraged to personalize their course with local anecdotal and case study information, however the learning outcomes for each topic must be met.  If you decide to take an AIARE 2 in Washington after taking your AIARE 1 in Colorado, you enter that course with the pre-requisite knowledge as the AIARE courses build on each other, from AIARE 1 through AIARE 3.

AIARE supports it’s course providers and instructors with curriculum, material, PowerPoint’s, etc.  There is virtually no way that a non-AIARE provider could have the same level of instruction and material as an AIARE provider.  We highly recommend an AIARE provider over a non-AIARE provider.

  • What about the American Avalanche Association?

The American Avalanche Association (AAA) is our national organization for snow and avalanche studies.  Their mission is:

  1. To provide information about snow and avalanches.
  2. To represent the professional interests of the United States avalanche community.
  3. To contribute toward high standards of professional competence and ethics for persons engaged in avalanche related activities.
  4. To exchange technical information and maintain communications among persons engaged in avalanche activities.
  5. To provide direction for, promote, and support avalanche education in the United States.
  6. To promote research and development in avalanche safety.

Unlike AIARE, the AAA does not provide curriculum or material for avalanche course providers.  The AAA purely provides guidelines.  The purpose of the AAA Guidelines is to provide a general benchmark for skill progressions between different levels of avalanche education, for the public’s benefit. AAA believes that avalanche education can be more thoughtfully, consistently, and responsibly conducted and can achieve more constructive outcomes for students when course providers and avalanche instructors in the United States strive to embrace common guidelines and practices.

Bottom line, by default, all AIARE course meet or exceed AAA guidelines.  However, not all AAA course are AIARE courses.  Make sense…?

  • Who are you instructors and where are they from?

Just like any college course, a tremendous amount of how excellent a course is, is dependent on who the instructors are.  A wonderful instructor can make a crummy course great and a horrible instructor can butcher a great course into junk.  Look into your instructor.  Ask the course provider specifically who will be teaching your course. Ask the course provider the following questions:

  • Where else do the instructs teach? Or do they only instruct for that single company?
  • What do they do the rest of the year? Does your instructor only teach two avalanche courses a year and then work at a computer the rest of the year?  OR do they work year round as an outdoor educator and mountain guide?
  • What types of snow packs do they work in each year? Do they only work in a single area every year such as only in the Cascades or only in Colorado?
  • Are the instructors local? OR does the company have to bring them in?
  • Are they certified by the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA)? Guides and Instructors that are certified by the AMGA have undergone extensive training, and commitment to their profession as a mountain guide. The AMGA is our nation’s sole representative to the 21-member International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA), the international governing body responsible for guiding standards and education around the world. AMGA certified guides and instructors could work in any part of the industry from teaching on climbing walls and single pitch cliffs to guides guiding long rock routes, alpine climbs, and ski mountaineering trips.  Ask that your guide or instructor is AMGA trained and/or certified.
  • Or do they just have “years of experience?” Just like any profession, a true “professional” goes through Continuing Professional Development (CPD).  Any instructor that tells you he/she is good enough to teach, but has nothing to learn should be questioned.  Lawyers have to pass the Bar.  Doctors have to become Board Certified.  Make sure your instructor is Certified as well.

At KMG, our instructors work in a variety of snow packs from maritime (Washington/CA) to Intercontinental (Colorado).  This gives them a wider breath of knowledge about snow.  All of KMG instructor work for a variety of institutions as well.  KMG’s owner and lead guide, Josh Kling, teaches more avalanche courses for more college programs every year than any other instructor in Colorado.  Over the past decade Josh has taught programs for (listed in alphabetical order); Alpine World Ascents, Apex Mountain School, Colorado Mountain College, Fort Lewis College, La Plata County Search and Rescue, San Juan College, Silverton Avalanche School, Silverton Mountain, Telluride Avalanche School/Telluride Alpinism, and more.  These are all in addition to Kling Mountain Guides courses.  There is a reason why so many other programs in Colorado and elsewhere hire Josh to teach programs for them.  Many of KMG’s other instructors have degrees in Adventure Education from national recognized institutions such as Prescott College and Fort Lewis College.

Many other programs do not have any local instructors.  This means that they have to bring in other instructors (such as Josh) to teach for them.  While having some non-local instructors is a great attribute, we do not believe that a program should have an entire staff of non-local instructors (like some do).  When an entire program relies completely on non-local instructors, the courses end up being a hodgepodge of different instructors ideas and tends to make for a poor course.  Picture a college program where every professor was visiting.  Not horrible, but less than ideal…

All of KMG instructors are going through training and certification from the AMGA.    Many companies out there say their avalanche course instructors are IFMGA Licensed guides or AMGA Certified Guides.  This is often smoke and mirrors.  With a little inspection, you’ll find that the instructors listed on the website and that teach their courses end up being neither AMGA certified or IFMGA licensed! Look into who the actual instructor for your course is.

  • Where is the course? Classroom time?  Field Time?

Where the classroom and field time is, can almost be as critical as who the instructor is.  At KMG we divide our courses a little different than other courses. Both our Level 1 and Level 2 courses utilize the terrain around Silverton, Molas Pass, and Red Mountain Pass.  This terrain, for an avalanche course venue, is virtually unmatched in the lower 48.  There is a reason that people have been coming to the San Juans, Red Mountain Pass, and Silverton for decades to study the avalanche phenomenon.  On KMG avalanche courses you will be put into actual, manageable avalanche terrain. Believe it or not, many avalanche courses never enter avalanche terrain.  It’s a course of “pretend this is avalanche terrain, how would you proceed?”  Other courses only have access to the most extreme.  Check with your avalanche course provider on where the field time is held.

  • Level 1: We have the entire first day of our Level 1 inside, in a classroom. This makes for a long first day.  However, there are no transitions.  You can come in your street clothes, bring your lunch, and relax and learn all day.  By having the entire day in a classroom, we have two full days in the field actually on the snow.  This eliminates the transition time from classroom to field each day, which typically eats into the days productive time.  Many programs will have classroom all morning, field in the afternoon, and then more classroom.  These added transition times cut into the learning time. The end result is that class either goes late each night, or your on snow time is compromised and cut short.  After having taught 10-14 avalanche courses a season for the past nine winters throughout Colorado, I have found that the our schedule (full classroom day, two full field days) works best.

  • Level 2 The Level 2 is a much more intensive course than the Level 1.  This has to do with significantly material being covered.  This year, in an effort to eliminate transition time, KMG will be hosting all of our Level 2 programs at ski huts on Red Mountain Pass.  By staying at the huts, we virtually eliminate any transition time.  We can get up in the morning, have breakfast while watching a snow science and avalanche lecture and then just stroll out the door.
  • best ski run of my life!

The Level two is often looked at as an entry-level professional course. Typical course participants may be future ski patrollers, ski & mountain guides, and frequent backcountry travelers that are interested in improving their decision making skills and avalanche knowledge.  This course also includes the introductory and prerequisite components for progression to AIARE level 3 programs.

In the end, it all comes down to communication.  So:

  • Talk to your course provider.  Ask them lots of questions, like the ones above.  There is never to much communication.
  • Check out some of the forums and blogs out there and see what people are saying.
  • Talk to local gear shops. We recommend chatting with gear shops that are not associated with a guide service.  IE KMG is connected to Backcountry Experience in Durango, so of course Backcountry is going to say take a KMG course.  Talk to the random shops that are not affiliated with a guide service.  They often can give the most straightforward and honest answers.
  • Talk to your buddies and see where they have taken a course.
  • Call the local ski area and talk to folks there, specifically the patrollers.
  • Call the local college outdoor program and see who they like.
Posted in Avalanche Courses, Skiing, Uncategorized | Comments Off on Where should I take an avalanche education course?

Leave No Trace for Rock Climbers

Lets talk about rock climbing specific Leave No Trace ethics! This one is for all you casual craggars, hardcore crushers, and pebble wrastlers out there. We have all been to “that crag” that is riddled with litter in the bushes, names and profanity carved in the rocks and trees, and dog poop around the belay stations; and hopefully we can agree this is not a good sight to see at our beloved climbing areas.

Chalk drawings at a local climbing area

I know, your so excited to read about LNT your jumping for joy right about now, but it is important to understand why LNT is such an issue.

Heavily used crags and bouldering areas attract a wide array of users ranging from complete novices to experienced and educated climbers. At popular rock climbing areas trash can build up, waste can become a problem, and in extreme cases areas may become unenjoyable and even off limits to climbers due to the damage done. Because of this it is important to set a good example for others and promote environmental stewardship so future users have the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors too.

What are the 7 Leave No Trace Principles?
Plan Ahead and Prepare
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Dispose of Waste Properly
Leave What You Find
Minimize Campfire Impacts
Respect Wildlife
Be Considerate of Other Visitors

LNT ethics are all important but, not all of them are completely applicable for rock climbing and bouldering so let’s narrow them down to a few key points-

Plan Ahead and Prepare
-know where your going and what your climbing
-have the proper equipment and know how to use it
-research any closures or special considerations for your crag
-avoid climbing when areas are likely to be jam packed with people

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
-stay on preexisting approach trails, and impacted belay stations
-avoid creating new paths and using plant life for protection on climbs (like slinging trees)
– flake ropes and sort gear on durable surfaces
– aviod crushing plants with your crash pad if you’re bouldering

Dispose of Waste Properly
-bring wag bags, and use them! or use an approved method to dispose of waste if a wag bag is not an option (like a cathole 6-8inches deep 200 ft from water)

Leave what you find
-places like southern Utah may have petroglyphs and artifacts near climbing areas, refrain from taking artifacts and pottery shards if you find a petroglyph DO NOT TOUCH IT, oils from your hands will deteriorate them faster.

Respect Wildlife
-some climbing areas have seasonal closures for wildlife migrations and bird nesting, check the area information before your trip
-don’t harass wildlife, even if your furry nature friend “started it”

Be Considerate of Other Visitors
-respect nearby groups
-keep noise down so not to bother other climbers
-if you are in a large group try to spread the group out and avoid completely taking over the climbing area

Try using the saying “Pass The Drum Left My Rastafarian Brother.”  The first letter of each word stands for one of the seven LNT principles and helps folks remember each of them.

For LNT bonus points you can also paint your bolts to match the rock, use minimal amounts of chalk, wear earth tone clothing, use earth tone color ropes, slings, etc. The idea is to preserve climbing areas as much as possible so they can continue to be enjoyed by future generations. As humans it is inevitable we will leave some evidence of our presence at climbing areas, but we can minimize these impacts and keep climbing areas as natural as possible for the enjoyment of all.

Chris Panawa
AMGA Single Pitch Instrictor
Leave No Trace Trainer

Useful Links:

The member-driven Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics teaches people how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly. This copyrighted information has been reprinted with permission from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: –

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Are You Prepared for Your Adventure?

We have all heard the Boy Scouts of America motto “Be Prepared”, but what makes you prepared for your day’s adventure? Do you have the necessary skills? Have you planned in advance by researching your route or crag your climbing at or the hike you are going on? Do you have the proper equipment or tools? Maps? Guidebooks? What about extra items incase you are benighted or get “misplaced” in the backcountry or climbing mid-pitch? All these things should be taken into account before you embark on your adventure.
Lets talk about the basics, the 10 essentials. These are more geared toward hiking and other outdoor activities but many of these items can always be in you pack whether you’re climbing, biking, backpacking, or skiing the backcountry.

*This is a basic and general list, more specialized activities require more preparation and specialized equipment and skills. Pictures of gear are only intended as visual aids*

• Navigation- guidebook of the crag or route, Map of the area, etc.

• Compass and GPS to supplement your maps if needed (should not replace an actual map and compass, and the skills to use them).
• Sun protection-Sunglasses and sunscreen, long sleeved clothing or a hat.

• Extra food- incase your day is longer than expected or you encounter someone who is having problems. Don’t forget about your pet! They may need extra food too.

• Extra water- incase your day is longer than expected, or there’s no places to fill up, have a water container and water for your pet also. (You may consider bringing water treatment options like chemical treatments, iodine, UV filters, or a pump filter if there is access to potable water).

Filters, chemical treatments, and containers

• Extra clothes- layers and rain gear. Be ready for changes in the weather, temperature, rain or snow, etc.

• Headlamp- you may be out later than expected and will want a light to make it back to the trailhead or your car.
• First aid kit- and the knowledge to use it. (consider taking a wilderness medicine course, having a great first aid kit is no supplement for the knowledge and skills to use it).
• Fire starter- lighter, flint and steel, chemical fire starters, waterproof, matches, etc.
• Knife- it may come in handy in a pinch.

Prior preparation is key- research your route, trail, canyon, or climb. You should know where you are going and have an idea of the surrounding areas, and consider TELLING SOMEONE what your doing, where your going, and when you’ll be back, along with a “panic” time so if you don’t come home they can alert the proper authorities (IMPORTANT: tell this person when you are back so they don’t initiate a false search while you are at you favorite eating establishment or watering hole celebrating a successful adventure).

• Check the weather, if may be sunny and warm when you leave and raining or snowing midafternoon that same day.
• Have a backup plan if the weather changes or some unforeseen event changes your day’s itinerary.
• Know your way out or off the climb if you must bail out.
• Communicate with you adventuring partners and be on the same page with them.
• Have extra food and water for your furry hiking companions.

This list is a baseline for general outdoor activities; backcountry skiing, rock climbing, alpine climbing, Canyoneering, ice climbing, and other specialized activities require specific gear, skillsets, knowledge and experience to be done in a manner that lessens the risk to you and your companions.
Do you have the necessary skills; knowledge, equipment, and ability to do you’re attempting to do? This is applicable to any activity and goes back to prior preparation and planning.

If you do not have the skills and equipment necessary to accomplish your goals safely, consider a different adventure, take a skills course, or hire a certified guide from a reputable company to assist you in achieving your goals.

Chris Panawa
AMGA Single Pitch Instructor

Helpful links:

Wilderness Medicine:

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ERNEST and SERENE Rock Climbing Anchors

If you’ve ever attended an outdoor climbing class that covers anchor building, had a quality climbing mentor,  or have read books covering this topic you may have heard or read about ERNEST or SERENE (or its shortened version RENE) used to describe rock climbing anchors, or what to consider when building them.  These acronyms are used because they cover the key points that need to be addressed when constructing a climbing anchor that is intended to mitigate risk.  I use “mitigation of risk/ hazards” instead of the more cuddly term “safe” because in climbing activities you are rarely 100% safe.  This is not intended to spook climbers; statistically speaking it’s more dangerous driving to the crag than actually climbing if everything is done appropriately. But accidents can happen; because of this you should always try to mitigate your level of risk by building quality anchors, belaying properly, using proper equipment, equipment in good working condition, etc.   Building ERNEST and SERENE anchors is just another way to mitigate your risk while at the crag.

What is the purpose of an ERNEST or SERENE Anchor?  ERNEST and SERENE are acronyms to assist in remembering key points for solid anchor building (see below).  By following these acronyms the end product of your anchor build should be a clean, strong, and redundant climbing anchor.


E – Equalized – Anchors should be constructed so that each component of the anchor carries an equal amount of the load.

R – Redundant – Anchors should consist of multiple components in case one or more components were to fail.

NE – No Extension – Anchors should be built so that if one or more of the components fail the remaining components won’t be shock loaded.

S – Strong (or Solid) – The stronger the better.

T – Timely – Anchors should be as simple and timely as possible without giving up any of the other ERNEST qualities.


S – Strong (or Solid) – The stronger the better.

E – Equalized – Anchors should be constructed so that each component of the anchor carries an equal amount of the load.

R – Redundant – Anchors should consist of multiple components in case one or more components were to fail.

E – Efficient – Anchors should be as simple and timely as possible without giving up any of the other SERENE qualities.

NE – No Extension – Anchors should be built so that if one or more of the components fail the remaining components won’t be shock loaded.

Equalizing an anchor puts equal weight on each part or piece of the anchor whether its natural features like boulders and trees, traditional gear like cams and nuts/hexes or bolts; the idea is to distribute the load equally.  Redundancy adds backups to the system, if one part of the anchor was to fail there would be another part of the anchor to back it up.  No Extension is also important, by equalizing an anchor and minimizing its potential for extension we can prevent shock loading or the transfer of an immense force to one part of the anchor (self equalizing systems like the “magic X”, or sliding X without knots above the clip in or master point of the climbing rope fail to remove extension from the system, if one part of the anchor was to fail the other piece would be shock loaded). Strong- each piece of your system should be solid, strong or “bomber”; this could be using good bolts that are not rusty or loose, placing solid gear, and using good judgment when choosing what to clip to; always check what your using for anchor points to ensure they aren’t loose or damaged and gear is placed properly.  Timely is exactly what it sounds like, your there to climb so anchor building shouldn’t take half the day but you should not rush when constructing anchors.  Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

If you are new to climbing or want to know more about how to construct anchors consider enrolling in a climbing class or hire an AMGA certified climbing instructor or guide.

Chris Panawa
AMGA Single Pitch Instructor

Helpful Links:

Posted in American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) Training, Rock Climbing | Comments Off on ERNEST and SERENE Rock Climbing Anchors