AMGA Advanced Alpine Guides Course & Aspirant Exam

plus GORE-TEX Scholarship Testimonial

In August 2018, I attended the American Mountain Guide Association’s Advanced Alpine Guide Course and Aspirant Exam held in British Columbia. This brief report aims to recap the course, discuss the strengths of this course and venue, share some photos from the trip, along with a video edit I put together at the bottom of the page.

Will Gordon on the South Buttress of Joffre Peak_Photo by Dustin Portzline.JPG

Our group, A12 AACG 18, met early in Squamish on the first day and quickly briefed before gearing up and driving into the mountains. A few hours to the northeast is the inspiring group of mountains surrounding Joffre Peak, and we spent the first afternoon approaching a comfortable bivouac at the Joffre / Matier col. An early wake up call saw us climbing together for the first time on the course; four teams spread out on two mountains. From the summit of Joffre we looked out over the smoky haze stuck in the steep-sided valleys, as far as we could see; BC was in a state of emergency because of hundreds of wildfires. A tricky descent down the Joffre Lakes basin capped our mission. The following day was spent in Squamish’s Smoke Bluffs, where an exam portion of our course called on students to perform a number of technical rescue maneuvers in a limited amount of time.

The following day we met at Black Tusk Helicopters to ride up to the Haberl Hut, located at the col between the Tantalus-Dione massif and Serratus. This six-minute ride saved us at least a full day of approaching, and allowed us to bring excellent nutrition along. Despite poor weather forecasted, our group was able to go out in the wind and rain to perform crevasse-fall rescue practice on the glacier just outside the hut (literally all participants were wearing GORE-TEX Whiteout conditions made navigating steep rock towers and broad blocky ridges even more mysterious. Finally the weather cleared, and we spent two days on long adventure-full routes up the Northwest Buttress of Alpha Mountain and the SW Buttress of Dione. Our final day was spent thoughtfully debriefing the many lessons learned during our time in the field.

Teams passing on the SE Face of Dione_Photo by Dustin Portzline.JPG
The Haberl Hut with the A12 AAGC 18 Team Inside_Photo by Dustin Portzline.JPG

In retrospect, this was perhaps the most rewarding program I’ve yet participated in with the AMGA. The caliber of the instructors and students alike combined with the access and virtues of the BC Coast Range to create a dynamic and effective learning environment. The hut-based portion of the course was an experience not available in the lower forty-eight states, and introduced a deeper cultural layer to our program. In addition it was extremely convenient when compared with camping; we were able to cook and sleep comfortably in a warm, sheltered environment and keep our groups’ impact in the mountains to a minimum. The opportunity to wait out inclement weather in the hut with such an experienced group was incredibly conducive to learning - and it was fun!

Overall I was very impressed with this course. One strength of this program in particular was the relatively low student-to-instructor ratio of 2-to-1. This allowed students more time in the “driver’s seat” as lead guides making decisions in complicated terrain. When combined with a helicopter-assisted approach/descent (a huge time and energy saver), this program delivered more hours in technical terrain than any other AMGA program I’d taken before. This meant more instructor feedback in the field, more time observing the blocks led by instructors or other students, along with an action-packed Aspirant Exam portion of the course complete with a run back across the glacier to catch the last helicopter down. The instructors (Patrick Ormond, Vince Anderson, Evan Stevens and Andrew Councill) demonstrated professionalism alongside personality while representing the AMGA and the profession of mountain guiding.

The scholarship I received from the AMGA and Gore-Tex made attending this course a reality for me. It relieved me of significant financial burden and a degree of stress in the lead-up to the course. I’m proud to have participated in the course in good form, and the opportunity to receive financial support motivated me to perform the best I was able. The streamlined scholarship application process and substantial number of scholarships available supports me as a student and I am incredibly grateful to those who have put such a generous and thoughtful system in place. With every year I learn more, and my education is supported by many people in the outdoors community including the folks at Gore-Tex and the AMGA offices. Hats off to you all!

By Dustin Portzline

AMGA Certified Rock Guide & Assistant Alpine Guide

September 2018