I recently returned from a British Mountain Guides training course which really did strip everything back to basics. It started by reviewing how to walk up and down hill... Or for that matter walk anywhere. Have you considered if you walk with your feet closer together you go further because each stride length will be fractionally longer?
The course venue was to be in the famous climbing town of Finale Borgio, about 35mins drive west of Genoa Italy and about four hours south of Chamonix. It was to be run by the man who single handily invented the concept of climbing coaching. Paolo Caruso. Paolo is very famous in the Italian climbing community and has become renowned for his teaching methods and results.
Paolo has systematically broken down all the climbing ,ice climbing and skiing movements into quantifiable blocks. His system is known as the "Caruso Method."
The course can be distilled down to "how to change or move from one most advantageous position to another. At this point , the importance of the study of progression become evident" from Mountaineering on snow and Ice by Paolo Caruso
The course convened as most things do in Italy with a Cappuccino in the exquisite cafe in an equally exquisite hill top village of Verrazzi. Apart from the group of British Guides , we had invited a couple off local Italian Guides to join us too. Sergio and Giovanni.
Mountain Guides are notorious for being unable to organize themselves when the group consists entirely of Guides, yet the first potential hiccup was brilliantly anticipated by getting Cain Olsen to co ordinate the whole trip. Cain is a member of the BMG and the Italian Guides and lives in Finale. He is a bilingual Guide. Why do we need a bilingual Guide? Because unbeknown to the rest of us, Paolo did not feel confident enough to deliver the course in English. [The reader would probably identify this is a key problem.]
So the course kicked off with an explanation of what pricked Paolo's interest in developing his Methodology. He explained that when he first went climbing , he was told he was quite good. Yet when he asked how he could improve , he was told : By doing lots of climbing and gaining experience. The problem is that gaining experience can be a hard lesson in our sport. There is a logic still very prevalent today in that the only way to learn is from your mistakes, but and it is a big BUT in climbing sometimes the lesson can get you killed.
According to Paolo no one seemingly wanted to teach him the basic movement skills which are the building blocks with which to progress.
We started like most of the best climbing courses I have ever been on , in the car park. Paolo produced a bag off wooden blocks and got us to walk on them. Easy at first but with the series of sequencing he introduced it became difficult in the sense that you were required to think.
Next we headed up to the crag. What a setting high up on the cliffs which looked out over the Mediterranean sea. Yet instead off climbing Paolo discussed how we should teach people to make big step ups in a way so as to reduce the stress on the knees and be as atomically efficient as possible. This was a revelation.
We gradually moved on to actually rock climbing. Paolo's aim was to pass on four key base positions from which all climbing movements commence.
We reconvened in another beautiful location the restaurant / Hotel : Agriturismo I Lamöi. We did some recapping on the previous days points. Next Paolo introduced the concept of homoloteral movement and cross movement progression. What this means is that if you are walking with trekking poles, you should move your right foot and left arm. Not your right arm and right foot,[homolateral] because you are less stable and prone to "barn dooring." The same would go for ice climbing. Obvious ,but weirdly very difficult to relearn how to walk. [Imagine how a baby crawls? It learns to cross crawl otherwise it fall flat on its face.]
We then headed up to our own private crag [which was owned by the Cafe.] Paulo devised a series of exercises which were designed to put his theory into practice. He did this by sticking masking tape on the holds he wanted us to use. Blue tape for the feet white tape for the hands.
Suffice it to say it is difficult to explain in the written form in a way that would not bore you senseless, but it is my aim to incorporate what I learned into my own Guiding bag of skills. My big regret is that no one told me any this when I started climbing 40 years ago.