It was dark, cold, and above else, miserable. The wind violently shook the car. With clumsy fingers, I finished lacing up my boots and stepped out into the howling black of the night. My hands were already freezing and my toes felt numb. The sound of crunching snow underfoot reminded me of the 'squeak' styrofoam makes when touched. I knew the approach. I had hiked this way hundreds of times, although, something about today felt different. The cold! That had to be it!
The normal quick jaunt to Mills Lake seemed to take forever in the overcast, grey sky. No spectacular sunrise today. It was so cold I had started to believe the sun didn't even exist. What were we doing up here?
I had heard many horror stories of the the approach to the Rocky Mountain National Park classic, All Mixed Up. As normal, I was convinced it would not be as bad as everyone said. I was very wrong! The words post holing, flailing, groaning, and suffering didn't even come close to describing the misery of wallowing through waist deep sugar snow for 1,700 vertical feet. For every step we took upwards, the snow put us back two. The path we excavated was quickly back filled behind us as the 60 mph gusts concealed all traces of human activity.
Two and a half hours after beginning up the slope of misery, we stood at the base of our objective. The ice looked much thinner than expected. Today, it was more mixed up than normal. A quick snack, some water, and the chill of the wind brought us back to reality; we were here to climb! After trying to take pictures with numb hands, I realized that my camera was frozen. How was I supposed to update my Facebook from a belay ledge?
I stepped up onto the slabby gneiss with delicate tool placements. The scrape of crampons on rock was dulled out by the ever loudening growl of the wind. The few patches of climbable ice were delaminated from the rock behind it. 10cm stubby screws bit firmly, then poked through the backside of the ice. The reverberation of tool placements was sickening. There was nothing holding the ice up! There were no cracks for hexes or stoppers. Thank god we had a few pins for the hairline fractures in the rock!
Even though we climbed with efficiency, we were still chilled to the bone. Looking into the wind was miserable. Our breath froze on our faces. We had icicles growing from our eyelashes. After climbing quickly above poor protection, I was at the top. My partner climbed efficiently and met me at the belay. We set up the rappels and descended with lightening speed. Everything was covered with an ever growing coat of rhime.
We faced the same post holing nightmare on the descent. Our tracks had been covered up, and we again had to excavate a path down the slope to Mills Lake. The thought of warm food and cold beer at Ed's Cantina kept us moving with a purpose. Less than an hour later, we were back at the car. I half expected it to be flipped over on its side courtesy of the wind. As I unlaced my boots and peeled layers of frozen clothes off, I couldn't help but smile. Despite all the suffering, the freezing cold, the bone-chilling wind, I still had fun. Perhaps the suffering made our ascent more fun? Yeah right!
When learning any new skill or exploring a new area, be it hiking, running, skiing, snowshoeing, or climbing, hiring a guide is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Climbing is a pretty technical sport and we highly recommend hiring a guide to learn the "ropes" (see what we did there?).
We know what you just said in your head: “But my friend knows how to do that. They’ll teach me.”
Your friends may be pretty awesome climbers, and it seems like total sense to ask them to teach you their skills, but here are some real benefits to hiring a guide:
1. You’ll Have Your Guide’s Undivided Attention
When starting to climb, it is super tempting to tag along with a group of experienced people. Normally what happens is they teach you a few things, you wait around at the bottom while they get some climbs in and then when you’re finally on the rock, you’re left dangling from a rope on the wall, straining to hear your buddies at the base.... and they even drank all your beer! Believe me, we’ve all been there. With a guide, it’s just you and them and you have their undivided attention. They are there to teach you, not for their personal outdoor experience.
2. ALL THE SKILLS!
Your friends may be very smart, legends even, but chances are they are not certified. With a guide, you get the collective knowledge of hundreds of people who spend 200 plus days a year in the mountains teaching. They’ve taken many classes, passed many exams, read many books, and know the five most efficient ways to do just one thing. Your friends have their way, but that one way may not work for you. Having five options to learn a new task is more beneficial, especially for different types of learners.
3. Safety First
You like your friends, but when hanging out with a group, sometimes it’s not as cool to wear a helmet. Your guide is going to make protect your brain as they constantly assess the terrain and the risks associated with climbing. Plus, helmets make you look like an “alpinist.”
4. …which means you’ll feel more confident
Your guide has the knowledge, skills, and medical training to handle any situation that may occur (but wont because prevention is key). That means you are free to feel more comfortable and able to tackle those difficult tasks.
5. Patience, my friend
Your guide has plenty of it. This is what they love doing!
All guide led services are probably similar, but with Golden Mountain Guides, all guided trips are custom tailored to what you want to learn. Maybe you already know how to sport climb but want to break into trad climbing. Just tell your guide and that’s what you’ll work on. There’s no set teaching plan or “one trip fits all” mentality.
7. No question is stupid
Your guide is there to answer any and all questions you may have!
8. Good for a laugh
Oh, you bet there are jokes. Maybe even a few about climbers! (What type of music do climbers listen to? HARD ROCK!)
9. Local knowledge
A guide can help find the perfect places suited just for you to practice as well as local flora and fauna to check out (or avoid).
10. Try it before you buy it
With Golden Mountain Guides, all gear is included. That way you get a chance to find the perfect fit and test your skills before you spend the money on your own gear.
So next time your want to try out a new activity, look up a local guide to try it before before you get stuck dangling from a rock!
Written by: Whitney Vestal
Whitney is one of the owners of Golden Mountain Guides who love teaching people how to climb and reach goals they never thought possible. All trips are custom-tailored to your skill level. Even if you've never climbed, or have been climbing for many years, we can help take you to the next level. Whitney also writes at Racing The States blog.