Photo: Duncan Fort
This past weekend I had the opportunity to help co-guide the guide training program’s introductory winter camping trip. The class of 16 bright-eyed and bushy tailed students arrived to the Outdoor Program office at noon last Friday to a flurry of activity. Organizing gear for 16 students and four guides is no small feat. Three outdoor program vehicles were crammed full of snow shoes, stoves, skis, poles, crampons, ice axes, climbing ropes, shovels, avalanche beacons, tents, tarps, boots, sleeping bags and pads, a small mountain of personal gear, and food to feed 20 very hungry cold campers for the weekend. It was organized chaos, but sooner rather than later we were all pulling out of Stewies with full gas tanks and excitement for the winter weekend. The two-hour drive passed by in the blink of an eye as North Country farmland blurred by and the Adirondack Mountains rose up in front of us. Soon, we took the turn onto Mountain Road and arrived at the humble yet highly functional OP hut nestled between Lake Placid and Keene. Darkness was creeping in, and although the hut was there, our brave crew of trainees had to forgo that simple shelter for two quinzees. These rudimentary snow shelters are made by piling snow about seven feet high and then hollowing out a tight but surprisingly warm cave within. My fellow guides and I were not so brave and chose to stay within the safety of the hut, but the trainees faced this unique right of passage without complaint. We busied ourselves with dinner while the two impressive structures were quickly being built outside.
After burritos, several mouthfuls of whipped cream, and a quick backcountry skiing and ice climbing gear brief, four of us hit the hay and the rest hit the snow outside. The temperature dipped well below 10 degrees, but everyone seemed to defrost well with coffee and a wood fired stove in the morning!
I noticed that our motley crew had bonded slightly in those dripping shelters, and before you could say “let’s get sendy,” we had divided into our respective specialties and were on our way to a full day of vertical pursuits. I was on ice climbing, and although I have a historically tentative relationship with the sport, I did manage to have a fun day bundled up with knives attached to my feet and axes swinging in my hands. Fairly soon, the entire group had gotten the rhythm of “swing step step swing step step,” and our flailing gradually turned into precise and efficient movements up great blue slabs of ice. The skiers’ report went something along the lines of, “Sick turns and wicked pow pow such sent much wow.” We capped off a day of learning and shivering with some well earned pizza and returned to our base camp on Mountain Road. The guide fledglings reluctantly crawled back into their snow caves, and I allowed sleep to wash over me. The next day, we returned home exhausted after a quick pit stop near Azure Mountain. The first test of guide training was complete, and we were ready for a semester of challenge and adventure to come!
You may have noticed us sporting the St. Lawrence Outdoor Program logo on rust-colored Melenzanas, technical Patagonia puffies, or rugged vests. You may have seen the stickers, the extreme Instagram posts, or the overburdened and gear laden Suburbans. We are the esteemed SLU OP guides, and we are your best ticket to all that the Adirondacks have to offer for outdoor recreation. Ice and rock climbing, cross and backcountry skiing, white water kayaking and canoeing, snowshoeing, backpacking… We do all these things, and we can help you do them, too! These new guides are well on their way to being dialed outdoor professionals, but if any activity in this article tickled your fancy, please come and sign up for any number of activities the OP is offering this semester. Iff you see a member of guide training 2017, give them a thumbs up and a pat on the back for crushing their first real challenge.