Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Dan Crane On Becoming An Adirondack Guide

P5159195 Guides License BadgeThe name is Fool. Bushwhacking Fool. Licensed to guide.

Guiding is a time-honored occupation in the Adirondack region and beyond. Guides, with their vast backcountry skills and knowledge, can safely navigate others through remote areas, saving the time and expensive of learning through trial and error. Years ago, guides were highly prized by the urban elite wishing to experience the wilderness on its own term, albeit with many of the luxuries of the day. The advent of guidebooks, like the Adirondack Mountain Club’s series, greatly diminished the importance of personal guides as they allowed many to go it alone in the most remote areas.

Although significantly reduced in importance from their heyday, the Adirondack guide still exists within the boundary of the Blue Line. Guides, like those of years past, provide services for those who wish to enhance their wilderness experience with the assistance of a knowledgeable expert. Or who lack the confidence to journey into the backcountry alone.

Anyone practicing the guiding trade on Adirondack State Forest Preserve must first navigate the bureaucratic backcountry of the state government. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) issues licenses for any person wishing to provide guiding services on state lands or water, where a guide is anyone offering services for hire, which include directing, instructing or aiding another in camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, whitewater rafting/canoeing/kayaking and ice and/or rock climbing.

Obtaining a guides license is not an overwhelming task, anyone with some extra time, a little outdoors knowledge and a few hundred dollars can get one. The main requirements are wilderness first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and basic water safety classes, plus a physician’s statement verifying the lack of any serious physical and/or mental conditions impeding one’s ability to perform their guiding duties. Passing a written exam is the final requirement for obtaining a guides license.

Forest north of Robinson RiverThe idea of obtaining a guides license popped into my head soon after starting to blog about my backcountry adventures, when I began receiving inquiries about providing bushwhacking services. I never thought many people would ever entertain the notion of traveling into the vast, remote and trailess backcountry, let alone want someone to guide them through it. Apparently, there were more crazy individuals dreaming of leaping off the trails and venturing deep into the remote Adirondack wilderness than I thought. They just had no idea where to start, or could not find anyone insane enough to accompany them. Well, they certainly came to the right place.

I took wilderness first aid and water safety classes last fall, both sponsored by the New York State Outdoors Guide Association (NYSOGA), a guiding trade association. I picked up the CPR class at the American Red Cross earlier this year, completing my required classes. Regardless of obtaining a guides license or not, these classes are eminently useful for any backcountry explorer, or any frontcountry one for that matter.

Obtaining the physician’s statement was easy enough at my annual physical earlier this year too. Surprisingly, my doctor did not balk on the possibility of any mental conditions.

The final step on the journey was passing the written exam. The exam consisted of 54 questions for the general requirements, and 20 questions for each specific category, where I signed up for both the camping and hiking activities. The questions were mostly multiple choice or true/false, on such topics as map and compass use, state land use rules and regulations, and gear. Last year, I obtained a used copy of the Boy Scouts of American’s Fieldbook, which assisted greatly in over-preparing for the exam.

Having met all the requirements, passed the exam and sent in the required payments, I finally received my official New York State Guides License recently. I am now officially able to take people out camping and/or hiking on state land and charge a fee; just like a professional or something. Move over Old Man Phelps, Herbert Clark and the rest, there is a new guide in town.

What do I get for all this classwork, time and fees? A certificate, an ID card and an attractive bronze badge, of course. Apparently, the guide’s license office of the NYSDEC does not receive adequate resources to allow for 21st century materials, as they appear somewhat archaic, as if they arrived via time machine from the late 70’s or early 80’s.

The certificate is a standard certificate, suitable for framing, if one appears inclined to do so. It states my name, the approved guiding activities, the identification number and the dates of issue and expiration. I plan on framing it and hanging it in my home office, that is, whenever I get one.

The identification card is a laminated card complete with my name, identification number, personal information and a small photograph I provided while registering for the exam. The card is simply a laminated piece of paper, with the print appearing as if produced via a vintage typewriter. It is completely functional, though over-sized, making it difficult to fit into my mostly empty wallet. Unfortunately, this awkwardly sized card is required to be on one’s person at all times while guiding.

Of all the materials, the badge is the most old fashioned. The oval, bronze badge is attractive enough, with my identification number etched onto its surface. Unfortunately, being bronze, it is quite weighty for its small size, but worse of all, it has two sharp points on the back that must pierce through clothing in order to attach it. Unfortunately, the badge is not quite as intimidating as the ones used by law enforcement, but that never stopped me from flashing it to myself in a full-length mirror.

Like the identification card, the badge must be worn at all times on one’s shirt/coat/hat while guiding. This becomes incredibly inconvenient when wearing a raincoat, waterproof hat or tightly woven (i.e. biting-insect proof) synthetic jacket, my typical attire while out in the backcountry. It appears as if it was designed for an era when everyone wore cotton or wool. Any ideas on how to wear this prominently on my person without sticking it through my clothing would be greatly appreciated.

Despite the primitive materials, I am honored to join the eminent ranks of the Adirondack guides. I hope I can live up to the high standards set down by famous Adirondack guides such as Mitchell Sabattis, Alvah Dunning and Orson Schofield, except without all the killing and the unruly facial hair.

I just wish I got a cooler guiding identification number. I assume double O seven was already taken.

Photos: New York State Guides Badge and the forest north of Robinson River in the Five Ponds Wilderness  (by Dan Crane).

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Dan Crane writes regularly about bushwhacking and backcountry camping, including providing insights on equipment and his observations as a veteran backcountry explorer. He has been visiting the Adirondacks since childhood and actively exploring its backcountry for almost two decades. He is also life-long naturalist with a Master of Science in Ecology from SUNY ESF and 10+ seasons working as a field biologist, five inside the Blue Line.

Dan has hiked the Northville-Placid Trail twice and climbed all 46 High Peaks but currently spends his backpacking time exploring the northwestern portion of the Adirondacks. He is also the creator of the blog Bushwhacking Fool where he details his bushwhacking adventures.

8 Responses

  1. Bob Meyer says:

    Dan, this is an absolutely hilarious post!
    But, in all seriousness, congratulations. Well deserved! Guide on!

  2. bill says:

    Probably not a bad idea for most avid backpackers to get one…at least it forces you to bone up on backcountry first aid and take a refresheer course on CPR.

    Plus I am sure all the proceeds go to the right place.

    I know my 8 yr old daughter would be proud of me 🙂

  3. JP says:

    Glad you have joined the ranks. A few thoughts:

    Cut the sharp pins off the back of the badge, drill one or two small holes at either end, and use some nylon cord to create a loop. Then you can use a small carabiner to clip it to backpacks, jackets, keys, etc. As I rafting and canoe guide, I’ve always kept mine secured with cord to the shoulder strap of my PFD.

    As cool as the badge is, it is not an acceptable form of identification if you are guiding a commercial trip and a DEC officer asks to check your license. You must have the ID card on your person at all times. Even with the badge, if you don’t have the card you may face a $75 fine. DEC doesn’t care if you wear the badge or not.

    • Dan Crane says:



      That’s a good idea, but I thought the badge had to be worn on your person at all times too. If not, why not just carry it your pocket, or better yet, throw it in my backpack. After all, isn’t that how they identify a guide on a commercial trip so they can ask for his/her id card?

      I’m not likely to see many DEC officers where I’ll be going, but I assure you, I will carry the id card whenever functioning as a guide.

      That is, if anyone is insane enough to want me to take them to any of the places I typically go. Most likely, they’ll want me to pay THEM when we get back!

  4. Scott says:

    Just a heads up… wilderness first aid is not a requirement for becoming a NYS guide. Basic first aid is all that is required.

    • Dan Crane says:

      Good catch, Scott!

      You are right, standard first aid is all that is required. I took wilderness first aid to cover that requirement.

      Thanks for clearing that up!

  5. Charlie says:

    I sure have had a strong desire to go places in the Adirondacks where trails do not lead the way.Truth be told I never venture too far off a trail,even with a compass at hand. There’s been a few times when i have lost my bearings in the Adirondack woods.Once was when I was headed towards Tirrell Pond.This was (I think) about fifteen years ago after that crazy storm had passed through with winds over a hundred miles per hour.Many trees were laid down in one direction and there were many places where the trail was without markers.I recall I hadn’t seen a marker in a while and so I stopped in my tracks and suddenly realized every thing looked the same and hardly could I tell the trail from the forest floor. The fear of being lost overcame me suddenly,but me having my head screwed on right that thought vanished rather rapidly. I did not panic.I knew what to do.I stayed put and felt around the area where I was and it took a little while but I finally found the trail and continued my way in the woods to the Tirrell Pond lean-to. Well anyway,I’ve thought about hiring a guide to take me places I will never get to see otherwise because i’m a fraidy-cat and I wont go far from a trail even with a compass in my pocket. I would love to go up to the Blue Ridge Dan and if you think you’re up to it sometime we should stay in touch and maybe i’ll hire you just so I can have that experience. This has to be planned well in advance as I work and am always busy otherwise.I prefer to do it on a chilly day,when bugs are scarce at best.Spending a night on that ridge under a starlit sky would really bring an added charm to the experience.

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