RIDGWAY – Yesterday, guide Angela Hawse was in Telluride training for Helitrax’ upcoming helicopter-skiing season. This morning she toured with friends from Red Mountain Pass to the top of Telluride Peak (13,478’) for a few powder turns. Then she dropped by The Watch office in Ridgway for a visit, accompanied by her Jack Russell terrier, Chile.
When Hawse isn’t guiding clients up rock walls or big peaks in South America, the Himalayas or Papua New Guinea, she kicks back at home, “playing for fun,” as she says, guiding for Helitrax in winter and for the venerable Exum Mountain Guides in Jackson Hole in summer.
As energetic and ebullient as Hawse is, she had been sitting on a bit of news I wanted to talk with her about. She was recently named Guide of the Year by the American Mountain Guides Association. It’s a huge honor, the first time the award has been given to a woman. And it recognizes her considerable contributions over the last two decades to the AMGA and to the profession of mountain guiding worldwide.
Hawse was pleased by the recognition from her peers, but characteristically light-hearted about the possible reasons for her selection. “All the money I’ve brought in?” she said, laughing, tongue firmly in cheek. “I guess it was two things. I do a lot of guide training and examining for AMGA. And my client and student evaluations are usually pretty positive. And, I’m actively guiding in all three disciplines I’m certified in: rock, alpine (glacier travel, snow-and-ice, mixed routes), and ski mountaineering.”
She doesn’t say that she is in fact one of only eight women to have passed all three AMGA certification exams. And one of just 70 (out of a total membership of 2,000) fully certified AMGA guides in the U.S.
Hawse was attending the group’s annual meeting [this year in the Shawangunks climbing area of upstate New York] when her award was announced. It’s typically a six-day gathering, Hawse said, with slide shows, technical development sessions, and a two-day training for the instructor team. At the gala evening event, Hawse was honored, as was Aspen’s Dick Jackson (with the Lifetime Achievement Award) and Emilie Drinkwater, a rock and ice guide from New England, with the President’s Award.
The AMGA started 25 years ago with a small core membership that wanted an American certification program that would be recognized by the Union Internationale des Associations de Guides de Montagne, the granddaddy federation of guiding organizations. Now full-fledged members of the UIAGM (since 1997), the AMGA is growing, Hawse said. “We are going to have more members. Our programs are full.” Which is something, considering the commitment involved. The entry-level course is 10 days long. Advanced courses, to attain “aspirant status,” are 12 days. The exams last six to eight days. “It’s like going to college,” Hawse said. “Total cost [for all three disciplines] is something like $30,000. Luckily, I had scholarship help from Marmot,” one of her equipment sponsors.
“The more people we get [into the organization], the more powerful we can be lobbying.” The AMGA is constantly lobbying to keep access to climbing areas open. There is currently a push to keep bolted climbing routes open in parts of Black Canyon National Park, where wilderness status restricts, or eliminates, the possibility of placing bolts in the rock to protect climbers on the hardest routes.
“Guiding is a challenge” on multiple levels, Hawse said. But it is evident from her smiling brown eyes that it is a challenge she takes up with relish.
Coming soon, a favorite gig: guiding ice with the Ridgway-based program Chicks With Picks, on the now-famous January ice of Ouray and environs.