The most challenging client you ever guided? (No names)


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Fossil climber

Trad climber
Atlin, B. C.
Topic Author's Original Post - Jan 30, 2013 - 05:58pm PT

Back in the day when Yosemite Mountaineering was located in that wonderful old NPS building few hundred yards west of the store, a fellow came in and asked for a private guide.

“I’ve got a bit of a problem with heights, you see,” he said. “In fact, I think it’s fairly severe acrophobia. I’m scared as hell, but I’d like to try to beat it. Will you help me?”

Who could resist such a challenge? I took him over to Puppy Dome, found a route that most folks could walk up no hands, rigged a top rope on him, and we started. It was so sloped that I’m not sure if he’d have been able to slide if he fell down. But even so,before starting I got him to lean back onto the rope so he knew he couldn’t fall anywhere.

Well, he wasn’t kidding about “severe”. About four steps up he was starting to tense up. On the sixth, which anyone should be able to do backwards, barefoot, naked and blindfolded, he was beginning to freak.

That was a long day. But the guy had guts. Determination. I finally got him onto a steeper scramble. About every move he’d freeze up. His face would twist up so much it looked like a scrotum in cold weather. But I’d point out the next move, he’d reluctantly squint down at his feet and struggle to make the move, shaking like a cat passing pineapples. Sometimes I’d have to physically move his foot onto the hold. Had to constantly tell him, “Stand up! Up! You won’ t bump your head.” He wanted to suction the rock with his belly button.

When we got up he was positively wrung out. He was like one big wet noodle. But he was happy. And we very cautiously walked down the back of the dome and we said goodbye. He was effusive in his thanks.

Next evening was beautiful. I walked over to Puppy Dome to just sit on top in the quiet sunset and listen to the hermit thrushes trill their magic. And who should be there but my client, walking up and down the slope on the back of the dome with a huge smile on his face, walking over to the edge (not too close!) and looking down.

“Before yesterday, I could never had done this!” he said.

He didn’t sign up for a basic class, but he’d conquered his summit.


Social climber
Jan 30, 2013 - 06:06pm PT
FC - duzzn't sound like this guy was so much challenging but a guy who really wanted to overcome his challenges. How cool that you helped him to do this.

My story:

In 1984 I was working with Simon T & we were teaching glacier travel on Mt Baker. It was a 3-day course & we were on the south side camped near the Railway Grade. There were two young women ( we were pretty young ourselves.......... ) on the course who were both psychologists or therapists or something like that. They were both painful at times.

Because we were in the glorious and beautifully dangerous mountains, of course they steered the conversation towards death one evening. Sheesh.

Then one asked Simon how he thought he would die. Simon brightened up at the chance " I wanna be shot in bed by a jealous husband!!! "


Mountain climber
Jan 30, 2013 - 06:29pm PT
great and well written story Fossil climber.

i especially enjoyed the fifth paragraph!

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Jan 30, 2013 - 07:03pm PT
A SuperTopo member, who shall remain anonymous, worked at a climbing shop in
Seattle. He called me at home and asked me if I wanted to guide this lady
up Rainier. What, Easy Money Me? Not heck ya, HELL YA!

"Reilly, I have to warn you, she's a little old."

"Yeah, well, everyone's mom is old, right?"

I forget if X knew her from the Tetons or whether she cleverly let it slip
that her name was enshrined in the (old orange) guide alongside, in fact in
the company of, some of the luminaries. Well, in that case how bad could
she be?

We got acquainted on the slog up to Camp Muir. Yeah, she was old, and slow.
Hell, she was flipping grey-haired! But I had scheduled a rest day at
Muir so she could take all day to get there as far as I was concerned. Of
course, before we got to Muir I had to indoctrinate her on conducting herself
like a lady and NOT BREATHING A WORD that I was guiding her!

"You're an old, I mean, you're a family friend, right?"

OK, we had a nice layabout and the weather was beauteous. I got her up at
2230 - I wasn't messing around. Besides, it was pretty warm and I wanted to
be off The Cleaver before it got too soft. The rest day seemed to have done
very well by her as I was impressed with our progress. We were high on the
mountain by the time it even got light. Easy money, whoo-hoo! She started
flagging on the final summit push but it was probably still only 1000 when
we got to the top. We had a very leisurly brunch with plenty to drink and
headed down. She was definitely running a little on the lean side now but,
hey, it's all downhill now, as they say. No truer words.

When we got to the top of The Cleaver the snow was getting pretty slushy so
we took it easy. Then she went down, the first time. Did I mention this
lady might have broken 110 pounds with her gear on? All I had to do was grab
the rope with one hand and hold on while she got back up. But this was just
the start of the steep part. I gave her a drink and a good glower. It didn't
take long before she was down again. So much for the easy money. I thought
her crampons were balling up so I emphasized the need to keep knocking the
snow off the bottom of them. Now we're on the really steep part and she's
down a third time. I've got her on a short leash now with the rope wrapped
around my left forearm a couple of times and every step I make is in a semi-
crouch. This is getting old. I give her some sucrose and more water - it
doesn't seem to help. She is going down every 15-20 steps and we're nearing
the scary part above the big drop-off so I start belaying her. When she
gets down a rope length I have her shove her axe in as far as she can and
hold on with both hands while I come down. When we get to the traverse I
have her within arm's reach so I can grab her by the hood of her anorak. But
since she had the rock to touch and lean on she did ok on the traverse, thank god.

We get back to Muir about 1400 and she is ecstatic, almost as ecstatic as me!
Then came the mea culpa and the apologies. She had run out of her inner ear meds
and didn't want to concern me! OK, thanks for that! I'm glad you were
worried about upsetting me. KNOTT!

Next week stay tuned for: Reilly Guides a N00b up the S. Face of Denali.
And I thought the Little Old Lady From the Tetons was bad!


Social climber
Jan 30, 2013 - 07:25pm PT
Irish guy on the SSE of the Chapelle de la Gliere
Pulls out a cigarette
And chucks the packet on the ground
"What? It's empty"

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Jan 30, 2013 - 08:13pm PT
There once was this guy I had to belay....

Trad climber
Jan 30, 2013 - 08:34pm PT
Simon T represent!

Mountain climber
Anchorage AK, Reno NV
Jan 30, 2013 - 08:40pm PT
Fossil that sounds like a great client.. frustrating I'd bet but damn.. To me that's as cool as hans and honnold breaking the nose speed record..

Hey didnt you sorta hold that record at one point?

Ok mebbe not that cool..

but pretty freakin cool.

I never had a really bad client.. but I didn't like guiding enough to do it very long.

My mentors prepared me well not to have high expectations.

The job of a client they said was to kill themselves, the group and you in some bizarre way you cannot anticipate.. your job is to stop them.

Gym climber
Jan 30, 2013 - 08:45pm PT
Many years ago i guided in the Gunks for the big named outdoor store.

The boss gives me this group of pudgy NYC folks who are training for an "adventure race" and want to learn how to rap and climb easy stuff.

They were all decked out in high end fitness clothing sucking down energy drinks and powerbars in the parking lot.

I proceeded to POUND on these people all day long. Up and down the cliff ,free hanging double rope rappels, jugging fixed lines etc etc.

They were very thankful and gave me a 200 dollar tip!
Lynne Leichtfuss

Sport climber
moving thru
Jan 30, 2013 - 10:11pm PT
Reilly, so I guess you're hired....hehehe, lynnie

Trad climber
Norwalk , CT
Jan 30, 2013 - 10:39pm PT
Maybe not the most challenging, but had me a little anxious.
67 year old, had had a quadruple bypass. Also type 1 (insulin dependent) diabetic.
This was in the early 90's, North Conway, NH. He wanted to climb Whitehorse Ledge, great granite slab climbing. We did Standard, 9 pitches, about 1100 feet, pretty much a long walk up, with long being the operative word. He did great. We moved at a reasonable pace, and it only got weird at the Lunch Ledge, where we stopped for a snack, and he said he needed to check his blood sugar. He had told me ahead of time he had everything he needed with him, and he did. So there we are, sitting on the ledge, he takes out his little fanny pack, pricks his finger, gets a reading, and then pulls out his vial and needle, measures up the correct dose and injects himself. I'd never seen any of this before, not having known any diabetics. I'm hoping that he knows what he's doing, because it's gonna be a long day if he can't keep moving. He packs everything up, says "ok, ready to go" and sure enough, we finish the climb in a reasonable time frame, we enjoy the view from the top, he does his routine again, and we hike down. Very cool guy.
Fossil climber

Trad climber
Atlin, B. C.
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 30, 2013 - 10:58pm PT
Orangsporanges - great story in a few words!

Trad climber
Lander, WY
Jan 31, 2013 - 02:26pm PT
I knew a doctor in Lander who was a very bright guy but mechanically inept to an astounding degree. He had no idea of the 'rightee tightee, lefty loosey" concept of screws. You had to demonstrate every single time.

He really was taken with becoming a climber. He bought all the coolest gear and was quite enthusiastic. For about a year he went rock climbing with us and improved at a steady pace, despite his mechanical ineptitude, and was beginning to lead some 5.10.

One day Edward and this guy and I went up to the Quarry and did some warm-up climbs before getting on a bulgy 10b that has the third bolt in a position that is a bit difficult to clip with the potential for close to a ground fall if you blow it.

Edward and I did it in good style and had a top rope set on it for the doc. But he didn't want no stinking top rope, he wanted to lead the thing, though it was at his limit. Okay, whatever and I put him on belay.

He got the first two bolts okay and was looking good, though the section to the third was the crux. Well, he goes for it and takes about 3 or 4 falls, each time a little farther along but obviously struggling and getting increasingly fatigued. Ed suggested that we come back another day and try but the doc is adamant on getting this thing. It's a test he's gotta pass. Okay, well, how about another try and we'll move on.

He takes a few big breaths and launches out again, full effort. He's quivering like a leaf but he edges closer and closer to that third bolt and actually gets there, eye level, where he can clip it and then, he just freezes, quivering.

Edward is standing next to me hissing 'clip the bolt, clip the bolt...' and I've got the rope as close as I can get, ready for the big one. Then, the damnest thing I've ever seen, his arms just went limp and he came off, head first backwards, headed like an ICBM for the dirt. I saw it coming and I reeled in, at the same time pivoting around under the rope line hoping to break his fall.

I stopped the top of his head about a foot from the ground and when he came tight, that noggin of his was headed right for the rock under the bulge at the start, where I was fortuitously crouched and kept his head from smashing into the cliff, which at his velocity, would have been as fatal as a direct hit. I had the bruise to show for it on my leg for a month afterwards.

When everything came to a halt, I gently lowered him to the ground and took him off. Edward was beside himself, yelling at the doc about how if it hadn't been for goofy old Bob, you'd be dead. I bouldered up and unclipped the first two clips. The doc lay there and didn't seem to recollect what had happened. He wanted to know what was next. Edward and I could only stare at him in disbelief. That was it for me and Edward for the day. Both of us were absolutely shattered.

That was the last time we went climbing with him. He never did realize how close he had come to killing himself. I don't think he ever knew what happened that day. He was a nice guy but that was just too weird. We never climbed with him again.

He later left his job and went back to New York. I always feared I would read of his demise in some horrible accident. To my relief, I learned a couple of years later that he had quit climbing and devoted himself to making scads of money on the stock market. I'm sure he did well at that. I'm sure glad he quit climbing.
Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
And every fool knows, a dog needs a home, and...
Jan 31, 2013 - 02:45pm PT
Great story fossil and well done to you and your client!

Fossil climber

Trad climber
Atlin, B. C.
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 31, 2013 - 02:56pm PT
Bob - the human crash pad. What a story!

Trad climber
Nevada City, CA
Jan 31, 2013 - 03:02pm PT
Keep them coming! Great stories so far......

Trad climber
Santa Monica, California
Jan 31, 2013 - 03:23pm PT
Back in my Gunnison days, I was spending a summer at WSC taking a years worth of Chemistry in 2 1/2 months since I'd been avoiding taking that class. The afternoons were spent hanging out at a long gone climbing store, The Alpine Mountaineer. Summertime in Gunnison is chock full of Texans coming up to fish and drink Coors "in the mountains". Many of them would eventually end up in the store and we would hire out for a 4 hr climbing stint up in Taylor Canyon.

I walked in one afternoon and the owner said "Scott, got a real motivated client for you here, he wants to do a real rockclimb". I looked to his right and saw this, fully decked out in Patagonia wear, the best explanation would be....bull. He was probably a little over 5ft 10in and weighed 325 if he weighed a pound. I put on my best grin and said "let's get going".

We went up to Taylor Canyon and I told him that after we went through our rope work we would start with Kindergarten Crack, a 5.4, very low angle slot/dihedral that's not even a pitch long. After Kindergarten, we would move up to Solo Crack 5.5, and possibly finish up with The Jackal 5.6.

For the next hour and a half he wormed his way up Kindergarten, often with ubiquitous use of the "up rope!" call he had learned a short while before, my belay plate was smokin. When he got to the top, I was really worried he was going to have a heart attack and spent the next half hour getting him down what is usually less than a minute descent off of the backside. He paid me and thanked me and was off down the road.

Later when I went back to the store, the owner told me that he had come in and complained because I promised to get him up "some good and steep stuff", but I must be a pretty bad instructor because he never got to "hang out on those walls that you reeepel(sic)down".

Kindergarten Crack 5.4 &#40;Courtesy John Peterson and;
Kindergarten Crack 5.4 (Courtesy John Peterson and
Credit: ydpl8s

Trad climber
'cross the great divide
Jan 31, 2013 - 03:46pm PT
I was guiding two schoolteachers, a husband and wife team from Conneticutt
up Granite Peak in Montana. The guide service I was working for out of Jackson attracted a lot of Highpointers, a group whose goal was to "summmit" the highest points in all 50 states (excluding Hawaii and Alaska).

These clients had been working on all the summits for 20 years together, and summiting Granite Peak would be the end of a 20 year mutual dream of theirs. It was obvious that accomplishing this goal was a big deal in their marriage. It is a long way into Granite Peak. We got in there, and on the summit day everything was going smooth as I 3rd classed the easy 5th class ridge, and then belayed each client up to me.

When we got to the "icebridge" which was basically a steep notch of green ice, that had to be crossed, with intimidating drops on each side,I had the wife put me on belay, and then I chopped steps across the bridge so that they could follow me. The wife scootched across the bridge on belay, but the husband got all wide-eyed and said he couldn't do it. Both his wife and I tried to coach, cajole, convince, coerce him across, but he would not cross the crucial passage that would ultimately lead to success.

So I went back across the bridge, anchored him in to a very solid anchor on a big ledge, and told him not to move. I then proceeded to guide his wife the several hundred more feet to the summit; thus one of the two accomplished their 20 year dream.

Let's just say the the long hike out from Granite Peak was "awkward" and that I did not get a tip.

Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Jan 31, 2013 - 03:59pm PT
Ironically, clients have been amazingly great and good vibes all around. The epics have more been friends who I was guiding for free. My girlfriend at the time was dangling and crying on the crux of NE Buttress of Higher. A powerbar at the top of the pitch fixed her right up and we got to the car at midnight or so.

The scariest was when I was taking this guys up Rixon's Pinnacle. It's a fine route and in those days it wasn't regarded as such a rockfall nightmare. He was climbing fast and solid so I let him lead the Third pitch. He nailed it ok so I gave him the forth pitch as well. It involves some real crack climbing that's pretty strenuous at the top if you try to hang in there and place gear. He's in the that crack almost to the belay when he pops off dramatically and whacks agains the rock 20 feet down.

My world turned upside down. The guy was unconscious, upside down with the rack hanging from his neck and he was foaming at the mouth! As much as I would have loved to preserve C-Spine, he could be strangled in the position so I lowered him to the belay where it was an effort to turn his heavy dead weight body right side up. Then there's this moment of truth to see how messed up he was? Thank God he started to come around and slowly got oriented. At first he didn't know the month or where he was. As long as he was improving, i was working with him. Finally, he pretty much got his wits about him and I figured out a way to clean most of the gear quickly while he recovered more.

Then I tied our two ropes together and lowered him to the ground 300 feet by passing an overhand knot joining the ropes through a munter hitch on a big biner as a lower system. When he got to the ground he simply needed to unclip and I pulled the ropes up to rap.

When I got down he was even more lucid and we talked about his options to seek medical evaluation or not. He turned out fine.

But he didn't really "get" what happened to him.

I took a guy who was a famous stupid noob on Rec.climbing, and who couldn't lead 5.7 solid, up the Nose once. He did great. The same presistance that can make a person insufferable can make them vanquish all resistance and push up the big epic.

The most personality epic was when I did the Shield with this Union Steward Bank Robber while I was Curry Management. We emerged friends



The Granite State.
Jan 31, 2013 - 04:05pm PT
My Ex.

She loved climbing, but couldn't handle exposure. Many domestic epics were had.
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