Archive for April, 2015

Basic Rock School kicks off the 2015 climbing season

April 20, 2015

The Basic Rock School (BRS, for short) is among the Boulder group’s most attended schools, and it could not happen without its instructors. This group of volunteers, of varying levels of climbing experience, are what make it possible to teach this fundamental course. How do they prepare for this, you might wonder? Glad you asked…

Of the skills involved, the self-rescue techniques are the ones which (hopefully!) seldom get used for real. Providing an annual opportunity to do so for current and past BRS instructors is the purpose of the Instructor Practice Session and the RMR Review Session.  When this custom exactly began is lost in CMC history, but it has been the custom ever since I began assisting with BRS in 2005. The fact that there has always been at least a minimum group of instructors wanting to hold it does seem to justify making the effort. I know it certainly took me several seasons of practicing “Passing the Knot” on rappel before it seemed to sink in!

Another tradition that was established sometime back was practicing these drills not just among BRS instructors, but to ask the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group (or RMR, for short) to offer instruction in advanced self-rescue techniques. Being able to see the various ways in which an injured climber can be rescued by another climber deepens the insight and creativity needed to solve such problems. In a real life rescue situation, conditions will seldom fit neatly into a classroom scenario, so developing a toolbox of skills is the best way to prepare.

But it helps to prepare to participate in the RMR drills, where it is expected that the participants already know how to “Pass the Knot” on rappel; that’s just for starters! Thus the pattern became to have an Instructors Review Session prior to the RMR Rescue Practice, and have the instructors “warmed up” to get the most out of the RMR Practice.

Preparations for this spring’s sessions began back in February, when I contacted RMR volunteer Darin Carlsen about this year’s date to hold it. We agreed on April 18, which was as late as possible without interfering with the beginning of BRS on April 14. Then it became evident that the Instructors’ Review Session should be the week before, on April 11. We are fortunate to have the Boulder Open Space available to us to conduct these sessions, and over time some known spots have become the preferred places to conduct them.

An added aspect this year was the inclusion of BRS Test Out applicants in the Instructor Review Session; this is an example of how CMC courses continue to evolve, and improve as a service to the community. I helped develop the BRS Test Out procedure (which you can read about in more detail on our website: BRS Test Out Procedure), which is intended to attract experienced climbers into the CMC. Most climbers already know what is taught in Basic Rock School, except for the self-rescue techniques. The majority of climbing community, in my observation, are not aware of how to perform self-rescue until they progress to the point of seriously advanced alpinism, where your team needs to be completely self-reliant in case of an accident; the most commonly used self-rescue technique these days is having a cell phone and dialing 911, as the RMR is all too aware!

So the BRS Test Out procedure only requires that the applicants demonstrate their knowledge of what all BRS students learn, which still does require testing them in person. Previously, I had done this the past few years as a separate field outing, and it was not a burden, since only one person at a time had applied; but this spring we had three such applicants. Taking a suggestion from Gretchen Gaugler, the BRS assistant director, we decided to allow the Test Out applicants to participate in the Instructor Review session, where practicing the self-rescue drills is emphasized. This would accomplish not only observing that the applicants could perform the procedure, but allow them to get to know the other BRS instructors.

Thus this year’s Instructor Review included two such applicants, Jake Mashburn and Jordan Holquist, who performed well. Here’s a photo of the group observing Jordon practice Escaping the Belay, near the Crown Rock area on Flagstaff Mountain:


For more of my pictures of the Instructor Review, see here.

The following week was the RMR Practice session, which I was somewhat apprehensive about due to weather forecast: cold, wet and chance of snow! But the show had to go on, so I emailed the group of six BRS instructors who were coming to be prepared for the worst. The three RMR volunteers, Tim, Dale and Kevin, met us in Boulder Canyon, at the rock formation “The Dome”, at 8am where despite the cool and cloudy conditions, we hiked up the short trail to the favored spot for this exercise.


Here you can see the instructors waiting to get started, while the RMR volunteers are atop the rock, setting the anchors for the drills. As you can tell from the green poncho that Clare Reda has on, conditions were a bit moist! We would even see a few snowflakes this morning…

But we got started nonetheless; here is Tim giving the initial talk about what we would be covering that day. This would br three separate exercises showing how to lower an injured or stranded climber by rappeling down to them, and getting them to safety.


Eventually, all six BRS instructors would play both victim and rescuer, sometimes repeating the exercises more than once — and having a lot of fun in the process!


And then the sun came out! This was most welcome, helping to warm up and dry things out. We were continually putting on and taking off clothing as conditions changed. The RMR volunteers were all quite attentive, closely observing, commenting and demonstrating the skills and giving tips to the instructors. A few stories from RMR missions, some amusing, all informative, helped to pass the time time.

More photographs of the session are available here.

We were all done by around 2 pm, and everyone agreed it had been a very worthwhile and productive session. I hope to express our thanks to Rocky Mountain Rescue in the future in some way, and there was talk of a possible CMC-sponsored Happy Hour somewhere in the vicinity of the RMR headquarters on east Walnut Street — we shall see!