On the first day of the sports season, some students put on a harness for the very first time while, for others, the harness is as familiar as a favorite pair of pants.
by Jaime Pollitte, Director of the Outdoor Education Program
The climbing program at The White Mountain School has a long, proud tradition. We were the first high school climbing program accredited by the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA). Many notable athletes in the climbing world started climbing right here at The White Mountain School. The goal of our program was, and continues to be, to provide excellent instruction for students of all levels. Whether a student athlete simply wants to try out the sport or to eventually climb the biggest rock faces in the world, WMS climbing is the answer.
Twenty-seven students participated in our fall 2011 climbing sports program. On the first day of the sports season some students put on a harness for the very first time while, for others, the harness is as familiar as a favorite pair of pants. Each year the students are divided into three groups: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Beginners focus on basic skills and an introduction to the sport. The focus of the intermediate group shifts to a more technical model where they learn how to set-up anchors, lead climb and perform basic rescue techniques. The advanced group works on multi-pitch climbing and is introduced to the curriculum and standards of the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA). As an AMGA accredited climbing school, we offer our students the opportunity to learn the specific techniques used to train professional climbers. Many of the advanced climbers can become climbing instructors in one capacity or another after WMS.
Students can move to different climbing levels during the season or in a future climbing season. We have a number of athletes who enter our program as beginners, but who leave as members of the advanced group. Some WMS students come to us with significant climbing experience already. Our advanced group is able to accommodate these students as well. Our program and skills progression are designed to fit individual athletes’ needs, goals and passions.
A Focus on the 2011 Advanced Group
The fall 2011 advanced climbers are Tanner Joyce ’12 (student leader), Sawyer Callahan ‘12, Ze’ev Horowitiz ’12, Katie Wolfe ‘13, JJ Berkun ‘13 and Naji Pride ‘13. This year’s group boasts two major achievements: teaching and mentoring beginning climbers and completing (as a group) a particularly challenging climbing route.
Each advanced climber successfully led a beginner student up a moderate multi-pitch climb. Advanced climbers were assigned a student from the beginner group and were responsible (under the direct monitoring of a climbing instructor) for providing instruction to their beginner student. Each advanced student needed to build one intermediate station in the middle of the cliff and then continue guiding their beginner student to the top of the route. The route we used for this exercise is called Clip a Dee Doo Dah, a moderate-grade (5.3) climb in Rumney, NH. The beginner and advanced climbers accomplished the task flawlessly. This task allowed the advanced climbers to see themselves in a different role — as guides and teachers to their fellow students.
The second major accomplishment for the advanced climbers this season was an all-group ascent of the Whitney Gilman Ridge on Cannon Mountain in Franconia Notch, NH. The Whitney Gilman is an all-time classic long route in our area. It consists of 5 pitches at a difficulty rating of 5.7. Our ascent was a student-led event with climbing instructor support. Tanner led the climb, trailing up two ropes with Katie and Ze’ev attached. Katie then belayed an instructor on another rope who waited for Sawyer who was leading Naji and JJ. The group performed this routine efficiently enough to complete the 600ft climb in 6 hours including approach and descent. We were even able to get Ze’ev to his Yom Kippur ceremonies that evening! The rest of the group relished in the accomplishment with pizza.
The advanced climbing group is different each year. I was proud to be working this season with a group of students that achieved the technical skills and personal maturity necessary to push themselves on challenging climbs and to teach others who are just learning the sport.