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Mountain Savvy Avalanche Courses/permit dispute


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(this is a cross-post, you may see this on multiple sites)


I was looking into the Avalanche courses offered by Mountain Savvy. The courses are offered by Glenn Kesller a former Mt. Hood Climbing ranger. Part of the courses are done on Mt. Hood (under the proper permits). Mountain Savvy's Website is: http://mountainsavvy.com/


While researching Mountain Savvy I discovered several pages from the Oregon Mountaineering Association (OMA) which assert, inter alia, while Kessler was a Climbing Ranger to eliminate competition for his future course he "unfairly" prosecuted the OMA for offering classes on USFS property without a permit


After reading OMA's material, particularly the details here http://www.i-world.net/oma/news/usfs-1.html, I feel Kessler was simply doing his job. OMA should be griping at USFS regulations not Kessler. OMA's statements in no way deter me from enrolling in a Mountain Savvy course.


Does anyone have any input on these events or Mountain Savvy's courses?




From http://www.i-world.net/oma/guides/mountainsavvy.html (note if you're interested in this story you may want to visit the webpage as it links to several other pages):


Oregon Guides and Guide Services

Mountain Savvy and Glenn Kessler


A tale of how government employees ignore ethics regulations, pursue conflicting interests, and abuse their government positions


In the winter of 2000-2001 a new guiding service began offering avalanche courses on Mt Hood. It is called Mountain Savvy and is run by Glenn Kessler.


We strongly recommend avoiding courses through or with Mountain Savvy, Glen Kessler, and Doug Ironside. This is based on ethical and conflict-of-interest concerns, we are not claiming to have evaluated their technical or teaching skills in any way. The conflict of interest and ethical concerns are as follows ...


Glen paved the way for this during his reign as a Forest Service ranger on Mt Hood, during which he eliminated competition and made friends with permit holders, the bureaucrats who issue permits, and fellow Forest Service employees who hold the permits currently unavailable to anyone in the private sector. In at least one case where entirely unfounded actions were initiated against a volunteer leader Doug Ironside played a key role. This is not an empty accusation but a statement of fact - Dougs role came to light from documents obtained from the US Attorneys office. [Details]


We do not know the full extent of the political impacts of Mr. Kesslers actions, but the projects which were undermined during the year prior to the founding of Mountain Savvy while Glen was with the USFS include:


The Oregon Mountaineering Association classes held a few times a year

The implementation (at the request of the Mazamas) of spring climbing season avalanche information

At least one other avalanche and winter safety program which happened to disappear that year

These were all small initiatives in the non-profit sector with the goal of improving mountain safety through education and awareness. They no longer exist, are limited in scope, or failed to get off the ground because Glen Kessler used his government position to effectively shut them down on Mt Hood. It is now clear that this was a matter of paving the way for his own business.


We have attempted to look up Doug and Glenn in the membership list for the American Alpine Club and the Alpine Club of Canada. Neither appear to be members of either organization. There is no indication that either is a member of the American Mountain Guides Association, nor that Mountain Savvy is accredited by the AMGA. So neither individual appears to have an affiliation with any of the major climbing or guiding organizations in the US or Canada.


For a forest service employee to obtain a permit from the agency to run a private business is clearly a conflict of interest and runs counter to government ethics guidelines. Especially when such permits are not based on objective criteria and are routinely denied to individuals outside the government.


In our opinion the actions of these two individuals, Doug Ironside and Glen Kessler, indicate a level of insecurity which leaves them feeling very threatened by almost anyone. Even clubs and associations. Instead of pursuing excellence themselves they are eliminating competition through the abuse of a government position. We urge you to consider this insecurity and lack of self-confidence as well as the negative impacts of their actions over the past few years. Is this the kind of operation you really want to do business with or learn safety critical skills from?


It should also be noted that the curriculum standards are being poorly represented. Mr. Kessler is using Canadian Avalanche Association materials, which are based on a 2 day course or 16 hours. He is claiming to offer an American Level 1 certificate at the same time, even though the American guidelines are based on a course of three days or 24+ hours. Mountain Savvy is charging $185 for their course - note that it is possible to take a 24 hour American Level 1 course for $150 (including accommodations) from other providers which are more socially responsible.


(Note that Doug Ironside operates through several Parks and Recreation programs, so ask who the real operator is when considering these programs as well. As of the 2002 season mountain savvy courses are being offered through Portland Parks and Recreation.)

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I took this course last year, money well spent, good class and field time. thumbs_up.gif


Had not heard about any of this though...


He does claim to teach this as 'US Level I Avalanche Course & Canadian Recreational Avalanche Course' (as per class handout). His text for the class is 'Backcountry Avalanche Awareness' by Jamieson published by the CAA.

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This issue is several years old, as Glen moved on from being a Ranger on Mt. Hood in 2000 (he's on Rainier now).

I don't remember all the details, but the fellow who typed this up against Glen was busted multiple times, by Glen and other Rangers, for guiding on Mt. Hood without a permit.

I have a definite bias - Glen is a friend of mine.

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  • 4 months later...

This is a much better profile of Glenn, I found it on the front page of the Oregonian. He's a stand up guy and one hell of an avalanche instructor. KUDOS to Glenn, he deserves the positive press.


The Monday Profile: Glenn Kessler

A high priest of snow safety for Cascade climbers



SANDY After a five-day storm, the clouds encasing Mount Rainier parted to reveal a radiant, celestial wonderland.

Glenn Kessler emerged from his tent and, with another climbing ranger and a small shovel, began to form and isolate small columns of snow.


The columns held distinct layers, each hinting at the infinite, swirling combinations of water and weather that had formed them. Kessler did not like what he saw when, time after time, a layer would spring away, an indication of the potential within the white fields around him to heed gravity's will, to rumble down the mountain.


He radioed his observations to co-workers, and then a feeling gripped him, a sense that someone was watching. He turned toward the 14,411-foot summit to see a moving wall of snow and a powder cloud. Kessler and the other ranger were still scrambling for higher ground when the cloud surrounded them in white, a freight train's roar filling their ears.


"I think," the wavy-haired Kessler tells a group of his avalanche safety students on a recent Saturday, "that was one of the coolest things I have ever seen in my life."


At 43, Kessler is a man who frolics in places and conditions that would send others muttering back to city life. For more than a decade, he has been a ranger on both Mount Hood and Mount Rainier, earning a reputation as a stern and safety-conscious shepherd to Northwest climbers and skiers.


Now, as winter's curtain rolls away to reveal glaciated peaks, thousands of climbers and skiers, in various states of preparedness, will heed their call.


Kessler will be there to greet them.


If you bumble onto Rainier unprepared for glacier travel, he may lecture you. If you take his popular Mountain Savvy avalanche course on Mount Hood in winter, you will probably hear his energetic lectures and endearing pleas to eat more of the complimentary doughnuts. And if you are injured on Rainier or fall into the terrible blue beauty of a crevasse, Kessler may just charge up the mountain to help save your life.


"If there is anyone I want to be with on a rescue," says Rocky Henderson, a veteran member of Portland Mountain Rescue, "it's him."


Early exposure to national parks


Glenn Kessler grew up outside New York City in privileged Westchester County. During vacations, Kessler's parents took him and his two brothers on trips to places such as Yosemite and Mount Rainier national parks. Those trips were formative, guesses Kessler's brother Brad, a novelist and teacher living in Vermont.


"We spent a lot of time in national parks listening to park rangers spin their tales," Brad Kessler says. "Maybe that has something to do with it."


Kessler's parents have a photo of Glenn at about age 5 standing in front of the Paradise Ranger Station in Mount Rainier National Park, a station he now supervises in summer.


But before Kessler realized his calling, he followed a more conventional path, graduating from Williams College in Massachusetts in 1983 with a major in biology and minors in psychology and art history. He attended medical school in Pennsylvania before quitting to return to New York, where he was a computer consultant into the early 1990s.


"At the age of 30, I just decided I had had enough of that," he says.


In 1991, Kessler left his New York City job, making about $60,000 a year, to volunteer as a backcountry ranger on Mount Hood. The Forest Service paid him $70 a week and provided him with a 350-square-foot cabin, where he was required to chop his own wood and haul in water. He had no phone.

"I just lived close to the bone on Mount Hood," he says.


Although Kessler eventually would assume a paid position on the mountain for part of the year, he would live in the cabin for eight years.


"I had literally hundreds of days a year in the field," he says. "It was wonderful."


While working as a ranger in the national forest, it struck Kessler that about 10,000 people a year climbed Mount Hood, yet there was no ranger presence above the tree line. He lobbied for and helped create the position.


In that position, he witnessed joy and catastrophe, along with saving a few lives. He helped evacuate an injured skier who probably would have died without his help in 1997. In 1998, he was one of the first on the scene when an avalanche killed a climber and injured others. A year later, he worked for nearly two days to remove the bodies of a man and woman who fell and died while descending the north side.


As a member of Portland Mountain Rescue, a volunteer group, he earned a reputation for leadership and caution, often arguing against rushing into a rescue, as in the case of a group from the Mazamas climbing club stranded in a storm in January 2003.


Kessler's people skills and leadership ability, meshed with technical mountain knowledge, drew the attention of Mike Gauthier, head climbing ranger on Mount Rainier.


"Right away, the guy impressed me," Gauthier says, explaining that he met Kessler at a rescue conference in California. Unlike many participants, Gauthier remembers, Kessler had come on his own initiative and paid his own way. And in addition to displaying a vast knowledge of mountain climbing and rescue, he had strong interpersonal skills, a necessary quality to engage and explain things to people on the mountain.


"Things that get to rescuers"


It would not be long before Mount Rainier would test Kessler's endurance.


On a cold and clear night in July 2002, Kessler and another ranger reached the summit as the sun set, then made their way down the mountain. On the way down, they passed two climbers, one of whom worked at the REI store in Tualatin. Kessler warned the pair about icy, treacherous conditions and continued down the mountain.


The next morning, a man and woman who were to be married on the mountain slid into a crevasse, taking their guide along with them. Kessler climbed back up the mountain to assist, then came back down to the tent of the two men he had passed the night before. He needed them to make way for a hovering helicopter. But the pair had not returned, and Kessler, according to his colleagues, realized they needed to launch a second rescue mission.


"I thought, 'Geez, he's put in a heck of a day,' " says Rick Kirschner, who helped coordinate the rescue that day. "He's got to climb back up another 1,000 vertical feet."


But Kessler, Kirschner says, did not flinch.


"He didn't even waver at all. He didn't hesitate. . . . I was quite impressed on that day."


Guided through a maze of ice pinnacles and crevasses by another ranger and a pilot overhead in a helicopter, Kessler and his team found the bodies of the men and then lowered them to a place where the helicopter could retrieve them.


"Those are the things that get to rescuers," Kessler says. "The quick shift between life and death.


"One minute you are greeting people who are full of life and enjoying life on the mountain," he says. "Then a few hours later or the next day, you are pulling them off in a different form."


Knowing the dragon's lair


Back on Mount Hood on an uncharacteristically sunny Sunday, Kessler is teaching his avalanche course. In addition to a day in a classroom, where the former computer consultant lectures with the aid of overhead transparencies and uses Styrofoam cups to illustrate a weak snow layer, he takes his students onto the snow.


The students run about in their snowshoes and slide on their skis, learning how to use avalanche transceivers and probes. They test for weaknesses in the snow and run through mock avalanche drills. During one, Kessler screams, lies in the snow and pretends to be a victim.


At the end of the course, Kessler urges his students to get out into the backcountry. Quoting an avalanche expert, he tells them, "If you want to understand the dragon, 'you have to go into the lair of the dragon.' "


Kessler is a staunch proponent of outdoor life -- even though, he acknowledges, it has not always been easy to make a living. It's a priority of his, he says, to buy a home rather than load all his belongings in a van and move between mountains every six months.


He is not married.


"No marriage imminent, either," he says. "But I'm always open."


He talks lovingly of the nature that called to him as he looked from the window of a Manhattan high-rise. He followed the call, packing up his Honda Accord and driving West into a life of uncertainty, somewhere between the extremes of a sunrise from the summit of Rainier and death within the mountain's maze.


"It can be so wonderful to you," he says of nature. "And it, on the other hand, can do at will with you what it wants."


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  • 7 months later...

I thought I would post something cool about Glenn:


He just called me on the phone at Feathered Friends because he found a very new Murre sleeping bag in the lost and found at MRNP. He wasn't able to read the serial number from the tag at the bottom but was able to make out 3 of the 6 digits and describe the model and color. After going through our database, I managed to narrow it down to one definate owner and contact her to let her know that her bag was found and is waiting to be picked up at the Ranger's office.


If Glenn hadn't thought about calling us, she would have been out a $450 sleeping bag.


Glenn, You are an awesome guy!!!!! Thanks for going through the trouble of trying every avenue to return the bag to the proper owner.

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I think if there were any conflict of interest, it would depend on whether or not the actions taken in obtaining permits could be proven that Glenn did this while working for the USFS with the intensions of cornering the market for his own personal gain,. This could be difficult to establish in a court of law, hence why you may see another guide who was not granted a permit, whining about the whole thing. Regardless, it sounds as if this ranger is a stand-up guy who may not pass the smell test in this situation due to appearance on the cover, wrong place/wrong time kinda thing, but legally and probably ethically, did nothing wrong. If the course is a good one, people will let others know and if not then people will definately know.

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  • 11 months later...

I have known Glenn Kessler and Doug Ironside for over 15 years (although we drifted apart sevaral years ago due to my transition from the mountain to a desk job). I have guided over 20 climbs on Mt Hood with Doug and have spent many afternoons telemark skiing with Glenn - so obviously my comments are biased, however they are important because a) I know them personally, b) I was guide on Mt Hood and know the technicalities regarding the laws concerning guiding on the mountain, and c) Mt Hood is near and dear to my heart and I want its use protected from outlaws.


It is very obvious from the letters and website pages operated by OMA with regard to this issue that they have turned their unlawful actions on Mt Hood into a grudge. They were caught operating illegially on the mountain without proper permits (and eveidently had done this numerous times over the years) and since they have been caught, they are acting like crybabies. Waaa.


I encourage ANYONE to meet Doug and Glenn and determine for themselves that their experience, attitude, and caring nature are of the highest quality. You can even do this from your chair by digging into this online saga a little deeper and looking at comments from others.


Anyone who is trying to smear and slander them should be be very suspect as Doug and Glenn are great folks. I do not know anything about OMA other than they seem to be horrible nasty people from their slanderous remarks.

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