Last name: Kel Rossiter
Job: Climbing and ice guide, Adventure Spirit
Kel Rossiter proves that a person can get work done while playing. It helps people to climb mountains, whether covered with ice or not. He flies clients to Smugglers’ Notch, the Adirondacks, and the White Mountains and teaches them how to place steady screws and prevent “whippers,” or rock face swaying.
Even off duty, Rossiter looks like a recreation professional. A knit cap covers the shoulder-length blonde hair. On his lean figure, he wears double-layered T-shirts and socks inside Birkenstocks.
While he loves the serenity of an isolated, icy rock face, far from civilization and the noise of the freeway, Rossiter says he loves getting back to the culture and bustle of the city when he leaves. his work. In 2009, he and his wife, Alysse Anton, moved to Burlington’s Old North End and bought a house they share with their dog, Moka, and a roommate.
The house provided him with an essential part of his business: a large storage closet next to the bedroom which Rossiter turned into a “piece of equipment”. It’s neatly packed with climbing boots of all sizes on one wall, loops of heavy rope on another, rows of ice axes hanging overhead, and shelves of mountaineering books.
Rossiter, 41, is a Doctor of Outdoor Activities with a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Political Studies from the University of Vermont. He’s philosophical about rock climbing, but doesn’t subscribe to some climbers’ belief that the sport puts them “totally in that zen moment of being one with the wall,” he stoners to the Jeff Spicoli.
“Maybe they are, and that’s fine. But I think, especially if you’re guiding, you better not be totally in tune with the wall,” he says. “You better climb up and think about, Where’s my client? Are they away from ice falls? How is their belay technique at the moment?“
Rossiter sat down with Seven days to describe the ups and downs of climbing mountains for a living.
SEVEN DAYS: Why does someone hire you?
KEL ROSSITER: One of the things with guides in the Northeast: there’s a lot more demand for ice climbing guides than rock climbing guides.
Ice climbing has many barriers to entry in terms of equipment cost, unlike rock climbing. If you have a friend who climbs — I’m not saying that’s always the best way to do it — but if you have a helmet, harness and shoes, you can go for it. As part of my guide package, I provide the equipment. And the gear you need for ice climbing can easily cost $1,000.
People are more aware that in ice climbing a lot of dangerous things happen in terms of falling ice, sharp spikes on your feet and in your hands. For ice climbing, you put screws in the ice. The rock is the rock. Ice breaks more easily. You don’t know if your screw will hold. And you fall with a lot of sharp points. If these points hit the ice on the way down – you can imagine if you have a point on your toe and it hits you can break an ankle pretty quickly.
SD: What do you teach on the first day?
KR: Day one would probably be a high flying day. The focus would be on motor skills and technique. With an ice axe, you’re not really hammering, you’re doing a whipping motion. We then speak of a swing technique, a kicking technique. We are talking about body positioning, in terms of low heels. We’re talking about the transition from planting the tools to lifting the feet.
SD: What do you say to people who are afraid to do that?
KR: You should try rock climbing. I often tell people, and I really believe it, “If you don’t have vertigo, then I’d be afraid to climb with you.” Fear of heights is a healthy thing. I also have vertigo. That’s why I climb with a rope.
SD: What is the downside of this job?
KR: You make a living with your body, and if your body is broken, your income goes away. Unlike, say, a software engineer or even, in my old life as a faculty member, I once broke my arm while climbing, but I could still continue my work and could still earn an income.
SD: What are your best days at work?
KR: It’s a father and daughter who went out to try rock climbing and seemed to be having a great day together. It was the first time they had walked out of a gymnasium and they saw some of Vermont’s beautiful scenery. Or it could be a climber who last year did a bit of top rope, and I led them a few multiple pitches, meaning longer climbs. Finally we will come out, and they will lead me on an ascent. I may be criticizing them on their screw placement, but they have the opportunity to head.