ACA Leader Program Changes/Adjustments

Ricardo Verde in Bandito


Howdy CL1’s- Hoping this note finds you all well.  I wanted to send a message to you as a group, to discuss the change-adjustment to the CL1 title in our ACA Leader Program.  Change can be disruptive and frustrating, despite very good intention and I can appreciate that.  Or it can be a super positive thing, with challenges to overcome and opportunities to explore.  Our intention is the latter.  We want these title changes to be a huge net positive, especially for you, the hard working CL1’s.  So we want to take a few minutes, out of respect and appreciation, to make our intentions clear.

The reasons for the CL1 title change is two-fold, personal safety and group safety.  Here’s our thinking:  Myself and Steve have grown uncomfortable with the specific word “Leader” in the Canyon Leader 1 title.  Primarily for two reasons.  First, we were not providing folks with sufficient Leader specific training in Aspirant and Canyon ‘Leader’ CL1, to prepare them for the task.  Despite refinement and manipulation of the skills lists and additional training support, we were/are still not able to provide the complete picture to student Leaders in these two courses.  Therefore, putting them at risk.  Second, the attempt to have certain levels of Leaders, leading in certain technical levels of canyons is not achievable, even under optimum conditions.  The dynamics of canyons and human behavior make that separation of Leader levels unreliable.  An example we can all appreciate is as simple as the following:
A new Canyon Leader 1 is set to lead 4 people through Pine Creek in Zion.  They met in a canyoneering chat room.  All are reporting to be competent in personal safety, appear to have correct gear and some experience.  You’re meeting in the parking lot, and of course they arrive 20 minutes late.  No problem.  Then a group of 6 works its way down to the canyon ahead of you.  No helmets, kinda loud and distracting, but no problem. Suddenly you notice your group is actually 5 people, they brought a friend.….but they have “been rappelling” and its just one extra person, no problem.  You assess the situation……  Just a small group in front of you, no problem.  One extra person, shouldn’t be bad….but you take a deeper look….…..  Easy canyon, decent group, feels reasonable…you proceed.  While gearing up, your folks take forever!   Finally, you’re ready to go, after “wresting” their gear….. but it feels reasonable to continue so you proceed.  At the first rappel you rig it nicely, set a good length and invite the first person, the one self identified as the “most experienced”, to go first while you manage the top.  Just getting on rope you’re watching them struggle a bit and thinking, hmmm… not very smooth…but decent…..putting on their VT goes less smoothly, but they pull it off and you realize… its kinda “now or never”…and despite the growing chorus of voices telling you otherwise, you send that person down.  It goes poorly almost immediately, of course.  They slip multiple times, make a bunch of noise and now you’re thinking…uh oh….what have I done?  You calmly call down, “you ok?”  But there’s no reply.  Again, you call down…”you ok down there??”  No reply, but more loud noise again, sounds like someone is moving…you ask again, with more urgency, “you ok down there???”  You look at the rest of ‘your group’.  They all  have the “I’m freaking out” look.  Below, you hear someone screaming…”hey hey hey, I’m alive!!!!  Yeehaaaw!!!  This is so awesome!!!!  Hold on!!!, I’m getting off the rope!!!!!  Wait….Hold on!!!!   I’m almost off!!!!! Wait….Hold on!!!!…  “Hey, you guys this is so frickin’ awesome!!!”  You ask,  “are you off the rope??”  They scream, “oh ya… I’m off “belay now”.  Now, at this point a few things come to mind. One is, “OMG, this is just the first person and first rappel”, Two; I hate Rick and Steve for labeling me a Leader, they did not prepare me for this debacle.  Third, and much more pressing, is the sinking realization that under the best of circumstances, this is gonna be a miserable day that could result in injury to a member of my group or myself.
This scenario is extremely common and relatively manageable with focused Leadership training.  But without critical knowledge, it can become very dangerous, very quickly.  Our ACA goal is to provide you the complete skill sets of a good leader, including strong technical knowledge, excellent group management techniques and experience in environmental presence.  Our commitment is to make this training a priority for our Assistant Leader CL1’s/ Assistant Leaders.  We want to have your help Leading canyons, training students and much-much more.  Steve, myself and many others will endeavor to train you into the strong and competent ACA Canyon Leaders you deserve to be, so when you’re leading a canyon and its “your group”, you will be ready.
I appreciate your patience and grace as we build the American Canyoneering Association into a product worthy of your hard work and good intentions.  I look forward to your input and recommendations to improve on this Leader program and others as we work our way forward together.  More fun ahead, thank you much my friends.

Rick Green.  ACA Pres.