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Sylvan Rocks Guides

Carissa Aarsvold

Rock Climbing Guide

Like most Minnesotans, Carissa loves tater-tot hot dish and summer days at the lake.  Those great things, however, were not enough to hold her in the land of killer mosquitoes.  She felt a pull to move closer to mountains and pursue new adventures out west.  In Montana, she discovered a love of sharing her passion for rock climbing with others and began guiding with Sylvan Rocks in 2018.  When she isn’t climbing rocks, Carissa can often be found taking naps in her hammock, swimming at the lake or in the winter climbing frozen waterfalls in Montana.

Certifications:
AMGA Single Pitch Instructor
Wilderness First Responder

Cheyenne Chaffee

Rock climbing guideCheyenne is Sylvan Rocks’ Head Guide and has been guiding with us since 2009.  A transplant from the north-east, Cheyenne has spent many of his formative years traipsing around the west and living the dream in Colorado while attending college.  Cheyenne had hardly visited the Black Hills before arriving for work, but quickly settled into the rock guide lifestyle.  Cheyenne has a gift for having fun while getting things done at the same time.  He lives simply and plays hard.  Along with teaching courses for Colorado Mountain College, Cheyenne also works with EMS as an ice climbing guide in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  When not climbing, you might hear him picking fancy metal electric guitar riffs.

Certifications:
AMGA Certified Rock Guide
AMGA Advanced Alpine Guide Course
Wilderness First Responder
Leave No Trace Master Educator

Brandon Emery

rock climbing guideHaving grown up in Rapid City, Brandon has spent a considerable amount of time tromping and exploring in the Black Hills.  He began working with Sylvan Rocks in 2018 and is always psyched for climbing and adventures.  Brandon also attends the University of Wyoming in Laramie where he is studying psychology and sociology.  In winter you might find him carving turns on the ski slopes.  When not climbing or skiing, he also enjoys reading, drawing, cooking and going to concerts.  

Certifications:
AMGA Single Pitch Instructor
Wilderness First Responder

Jeff Johnson

rock climbing guide

Jeff is the voice and face of the East River branch of Sylvan Rocks.  During the school year he molds the minds of Sioux Falls high school students, and in the summer he takes his skills outdoors teaching climbing to our guests at Palisades State Park.  In 2014, Jeff and Sam Smolnisky published Palisades State Park – A Climber’s Guide.  That project gave them a good excuse to do a lot of climbing and learn their way around some of the less popular Palisades crags.

Certifications:
AMGA Single Pitch Instructor
Outdoor Emergency Care
First Aid and CPR

Taylor Lais

rock climbing guideTaylor is a lot nicer than he might seem at first glance and nearly as good at climbing rocks as he is at growing facial hair.  From the Sioux Falls area, Taylor has spent some time in his younger years climbing around the cliffs of Palisades State Park, but since then he has ventured out for extended stays at many of the great climbing areas of the west.  He has worked with Sylvan Rocks since 2014, and in the shoulder season also guides rock climbing in Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas, NV.  In the winter, Taylor spends time skiing, ice climbing and working around Bozeman, Montana.

Certifications:
AMGA Certified Rock Guide
AMGA Ice Instructor Course
Wilderness First Responder

Sam Smolnisky

Rock Climbing Guide

Sam is from the Sioux Falls area of eastern South Dakota, but we are sure glad he and his wife have decided to settle in Custer.   In 2014, Sam and fellow guide Jeff Johnson published Palisades State Park – A Climber’s Guide.  Sam spent several years teaching math to high schoolers but has more fun teaching rock climbing.  Sam is now working in the medical field as an EMT/Paramedic and is an active member of the local search and rescue team.  So far we haven’t needed him to rescue any of our guests, but we are glad he is around just in case.  When not rock climbing or responding to emergencies you might find him strumming his guitar while singing catchy tunes.

Certifications:
AMGA Single Pitch Instructor
EMT/Paramedic

Chris Spellmeyer

Originally from MN, Chris is Sylvan Rocks’ senior guide (despite the fact he seems to look younger and younger every year).  2019 will be Chris’ 19th season of guiding here in the Black Hills.  His patience and enthusiasm for teaching new climbers is unmatched.  Although he does not climb it as much as he used to, we are sure Chris has climbed the Durrance Route on Devils Tower more than any other SR guide past, present or future.  In the winter you will find Chris strapping on ski’s and managing the patrol team at Terry Peak.  Off the rock, you might find Chris working on his eye hand coordination with some late night gaming sessions, and in the summer he could be chasing little white balls around a golf course or wetting a fishing line at one of the local lakes.

Certifications:
AMGA Single Pitch Instructor
EMT

Lindsay Stephens

Lindsay began working with Sylvan Rocks in 2007, and continues to share her love of climbing with enthusiastic pizazz.  Lindsay spent several seasons tracking down the first ascents of the pioneers of Custer State Park Needles climbing, Jan and Herb Conn.  Her guide book, South Dakota Needles: The Adventure Climbs of Jan and Herb Conn, is already in its 2nd printing.  Until Lindsay’s explorations, some of these old climbing routes, put up in the 50’s by a couple of legends in tennis shoes, had never seen a second ascent.  When not working with Sylvan Rocks, Lindsay teaches English at the University of South Dakota where she is working toward her Doctorate in English.  There have been mutterings about poor spelling, punctuation, and such, but we are having trouble convinicng here to proof reed this wedsite.

Certifications:
Wilderness First Responder
Outdoor Emergency Care

Shankar Zamora Vandyke

Rock Climbing Guide

Shankar is from the front range of Colorado, but we don’t hold that against him and are glad he has decided to spend his summers in the Black Hills.  Shankar has been guiding with Sylvan Rocks since 2015 and is excited to share this climbers’ playground with our guests.  Shankar holds an Associates Degree from Colorado Mountain College and trained under no other than our head guide Cheyenne, so we are sure he should know what he is talking about…mostly.  He is a no nonsense fellow with a quick smile.  Drums, ice climbing, and the good life take up his hours when not out on the rocks.

Certifications:
AMGA Rock Guide Course
Wilderness First Responder

Daryl Stisser

During his first year of college, after getting out of the US Air Force, so-called “friends” introduced Daryl to a new addiction called rock climbing.  It has taken the Illinois farm boy all over the place in search of great outdoor climbing (…and to follow his wife).  Shortly after he started climbing he began to pass on his knowledge to others who wanted to learn to climb and is truly thankful that no one was injured in those early years.  He has learned a lot since then, and still really enjoys sharing the vertical world with people.  John Muir said, “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”  Daryl believes that everyone should be so lucky.

Certifications:
AMGA Single Pitch Instructor
PCGI Rescue Course
Wilderness First Responder

Cheryl Mayer Stisser

Rock Climbing Guide

Cheryl is known by many for her love of traditional climbing, and ability to hold on for incredible amounts of time.  She loves climbing wide cracks and off-with terrain, but we make her climb less painful stuff when she is with guests.  Since learning to climb in 1993 her love for climbing and adventures has remained strong.  She’s been on short trips, long trips, and even spent months climbing in Joshua Tree, Red Rocks, Yosemite, Argentina, Canada, Mexico and everywhere in between.  Some of her favorite terrain is still right here in the Needles of the Black Hills and nearby Devils Tower.  When not on the rocks you might find her riding a unicycle, counting flowers or playing her fiddle.

Certifications:
Wilderness First Responder