I’ve been teaching climbing for 20 years. My first attempt came on an Outward Bound course in the 3 Sisters Wilderness OR, in July of 1997… After 4 days hiking in, we came to a 20′ bluff made of loose detachable blocks of various sizes. It was tricky to find a crack that looked solid enough to anchor to, and it took my co-instructor and I an eternity to set up 2 climbs on just about the loosest, junkiest rock I had ever tried to climb on. It was a stressful introduction to guiding, and fortunately nobody got hurt on that day.
It got a lot more fun that fall when I worked my first NOLS course–a 15 day rock camp at Leavenworth, WA, on perfect Yosemite quality granite. I don’t remember a single rock falling that whole course. The students were psyched, my co-instructors were amazing, and we camped under big leaf maples turning colors as we sang songs under early October starry nights. A highlight of the course was taking a couple students up Sabre, a classic 2 pitch climb on Castle Rock. I remember standing on the summit, 600 feet above the Wenatchee River, and looking at enormous steelhead salmon filling the river from bank to bank. We kept giving each other high fives and taking photos, and spent about an hour taking it all in before heading down.
I think that might have been the moment I got hooked on taking people rock climbing. It’s hard to say. I worked two of those Leavenworth courses back-to-back and it was a done deal.
We taught anchors, lead climbing, rescue, first aid, leadership, and natural history. At the end of the course, we exchanged feedback with the students and our co-instructors and I felt like I could see a path forward to becoming a solid climbing instructor.
And now, 20 years later, I’m still at it. Still looking for ways to connect with students and teach them not just climbing but a sense of stewardship for the public lands we all share on this increasingly overcrowded planet. And magic moments like what happened to us at Leavenworth just keep on coming, with a stunningly unpredictable regularity. I’m in.