AMGA Rock Guide Exam

The AMGA rock exam will weed you out. For twelve hours a day, five days in a row, we guided the best rock guides in the US up convoluted multi-pitch routes at Red Rocks.

Passing the AMGA rock exam is one certificate required to become licensed by the International Federation of Mountain Guides Association (IFMGA). The American Mountain Guide Association (AMGA) is a member of the IFMGA. AMGA state candidates must take the rock exam before the alpine or ski exams since rock guiding skills form the basis of the other disciplines. I evaded this rule by I taking my alpine exam in 2003 and ski exam in 2008, before the rule was established. 

To hone my climbing and rock guiding skills, I spent two summers working for the Colorado Mountain School. Thanks CMS! When I met the other exam candidates in Vegas, I realized many were in the same boat–alpine climbers and skiers shaped like Trianasaurux Rex with toothpick arms and legs for climbing mountains. But the interesting thing about my fellow candidates is they are solid. Not 5.12 solid, but they are smooth on 5.10+ while pulling two fatty ropes, carrying a pack and placing trucker gear. They are equally versed in the alpine and ski mountaineering arenas. Perhaps most interesting is their unique combination of hyper-obsessivness and laid-back, chatty character. Guiding is about taking care of people in the mountains by showing them a safe and fun time.

The exam consisted of twelve candidates and six examiners

  • Tom Hargis (examiner) - owner of Exum Mountain Guides

  • John Kear (examiner) - owner of Suntoucher Mountain Guides

  • Mark Chauvin (examiner)

  • SP Parker (examiner)

  • Dale Remsberg (examiner) - head guide of Colorado Mountain School

  • Art Mooney (examiner)

  • Liz Smart - Smart Mountain Guides

  • Mark Allen - North Cascades Alpine Guides, International Mountain Guides

  • Chris Werner -

  • Chris Wright - Timberline Mountain Guides

  • Caroline George – Into the Mountains

  • Jonathan Spitzer – Alpine Ascents International, Ruby Mountain Heli Ski

  • Seth Hobby - Northern Alpine Guides

  • Mark Smiley - Salt Mountaineering

  • Josh Beckner - Exum Mountain Guides, National Outdoor Leadership School

  • Dustin - US Army

I was teamed up with Liz Smart from Chamonix and Mark Allen from Mazama, Washington. Our examiners were Tom Hargis and John Kear.

Here's what I did 

Sept 30: 6pm exam briefing at the Red Rocks Campground.

Oct 1: Movement test to see if our climbing is up to exam standards. We went to the first pullout to sport climb.

  • 757 4x4 5.7

  • Thermal Breakdown 5.9+

  • Need to Rest 5.10b/c

  • Nightmare on Crude Street 5.10d

  • Heavy Hitter 5.10d

  • Burros Don't Gamble 5.10c

  • Sister of Pain (tr) 5.11b

  • Glitter Gulch 5.11a

Oct 2: Ginger Cracks (5.9, 7 pitches) and Power Failure (5.10b, 3 pitches) with John Kear and Liz Smart.

Oct 3: Triassic Sands (5.10c, 6 pitches) to the summit with walk-off, then Wholesome Fullback (hard 5.10a, 2 pitches) with Tom Hargis and Mark Allen.

Oct 4: Weather day. 80+mph winds at the campground demoed the examiners tents.

Oct 5: Eagle Wall linkup of Ringtail (5.10d, 4 pitches) to Rainbow Buttress (5.9, 5 pitches) then rappelled the Original Route (1,400') on the Rainbow Wall. With John Kear and Mark Allen.

Oct 6:Linkup of Dark Shadows (5.8) to Chasing Shadows (5.8) to Edge Dressing (5.10b) then over to the first pitch of Y2K (5.10b easy). 1:1 with Tom Hargis.

Oct 6PM: Debriefs. The new rule is the AMGA doesn't give pass/fail results for two weeks. The idea is you have more time to soak in the debrief. At 10pm John Kear and Mark Chauvin came over to the Casa de Guia and gave Jonathan Spitzer and I our pins. We then went to Freemont Street.

We didn't take many photos on the exam.

hargus 2.jpg

Joe sorting ropes while Tom Hargis snoozes, near the summit of Triassic Sands.

Mark Allen lowering Tom down the top pitch of Our Father for a top rope run. Mark is lowering through an ATC guide that is redirected through a locker on the shelf. The backup is a prussik from his belay loop to the break strand. Mark has two ATCs pre-rigged on the rappel lines so we can rap as soon as Tom returns to the belay station.

Tom Hargis on the 5.10d layback crux of Our Father. Saltiest of the salty old dogs, Tom is part owner of Exum Mountain Guides and made the first ascent of the NW ridge on Gasherbrum IV with Greg Child and Tim Macartney Snape in 1986.

Jonathan and Joe.jpg

Jonathan Spitzer and Joe lugging pins and four-foot Vegas daiquiris. The neck sling is to prevent a beverage pump.