My name is Timothy Napper and I first heard about SoulTrak from an instagram post Sportrock shared with its members, the post was for the first outdoor climbing club. I had a great time in the climbing club and met quite a few people that I still climb with to this day. After that initial program I wanted to learn more and help others to experience the outdoors the way I had, so I started out volunteering to support the next climbing and have been there for all climbing clubs since then. Over the course of volunteering with the climbing club I discovered that I loved being able to help and guide people into a new avenue of experiencing the outdoors. I talked with the guides from Sportrock and learned about the AMGAs “Single Pitch Instructor” SPI certification, the knowledge that I would gain from this certification would allow me to more safely guide others in the outdoors. Over the next two to three years I looked up the requirements for the SPI Course and Assessment and began to work towards gaining the knowledge and skills necessary to acquire the certification.
To prepare for the course I learned how to lead “traditional” TRAD climbs which was a new experience for me, I’m not ashamed to admit that in the beginning even learning to follow a lead climber was scary but slowly over the years I became more and more comfortable following and then leading climbs of my own. One of the requirements that took me the longest to acquire was the 25 trad lead climbs for the course and then the 40 trad lead climbs for the assessment, to meet that requirement I climbed everywhere I could in the DMV area even ranging out to Seneca Rock WV, The Gunks NY, and Sleeping Giant CT. During that time I met so many amazing people and saw so much of the area I live in that I don’t think I would have taken the time to visit otherwise. Finally in the last six months of so before the course I began to work on all the technical and professional skill necessary to become an effective guide.
Originally I had planned to cover the costs of course and assessment on my own and had not planned on going through either for a few more years as I saved up, it’s only because of SoulTrak that I was able to acquire the certification so quickly. I was able to participate in the course/assessment at a much reduced cost and the people that I met during my time volunteering with SoulTrak helped prepare for all of the challenges that the course/assessment would throw at me. The recommended way to acquire the certification is to go through the SPI course and then take a few months practicing the skills and techniques learned before taking the assessment, this was not the route that I took. I decided to take the course and assessment back to back not realizing just how difficult that would be, the course is three days held wholly outdoors and those were some long hot days. We would spend all day from 9 to 5 learning and demonstrating different SPI skills and then I would head home and read through my course materials to ensure that I fully understood what I had learned that day. Finally after the three days of the course the two day assessment began and I have to say I was feeling a bit ragged by then, but I pushed on through and put all my effort into demonstrating everything that I had learned. The final two days were long and filled with technical demonstrations, climbing proficiencies, and mock teaching situations. I have to say the biggest thing that helped push me though and helped me perform at my best were the other two people participating in the assessment, they are amazing people and I am so thankful that I was able to do the course with them.
At the end of the final day of the assessment the instructor talked to each of the participants and gave us a rundown of how we did and what we would work on improving to ensure that we are able to guide at the best of our abilities. During my evaluation I was told that I had passed the assessment and I cannot describe to you how good that felt, finally all the work I had done, the literal blood and sweat I had shed preparing myself had paid off. Doing the course and assessment back to back really showed me just how far my determination can push me and I feel like I now have a better understanding of myself and my abilities. To be honest though while it was rewarding to do the process how I did it, I would not recommend it. I haven’t been that mentally and physically drained since I got out of the Marines. I am happy to be moving on to the next phase of my climbing career and am excited to finally have the certification and skills to be able to more proficiently teach others how to climb and enjoy the outdoors as I do. In the future you may see me guiding for a company in the DMV area, you will always find me volunteering the with the Climbing Club, and I will be at the bouldering nights should any one want to know more about the process or how they can start working towards their own SPI certification.