Climbing with a professional guide provides you with so much more than just an extra layer of safety. The right mountain guide is also an effective educator, instructor, and climbing partner. Everyone has something to gain from a guided climb—whether you are a beginner or an expert.
The American Mountain Guide Association (AMGA) is our country's premiere guide education and certification organization, with training/certification programs in Alpine, Rock, and Ski Guiding. Each of these certifications involves two levels of training followed by a final field exam lasting a week or more, in which the guide is evaluated for their knowledge of efficient and safe leadership techniques.
Completion of the entire process leads to becoming an “IFMGA Certified Mountain Guide.” Mountain Guide--and Kate’s ambassador-- Kel Rossiter explains, “There are about 100 instructional days total and success with the three exams means that for each instructional day, you're probably devoting ten more days of practice. The whole process costs from $40-60,000.” Rossiter, who also holds a doctoral degree adds, “It's the PhD equivalent of guiding, every bit as demanding and rigorous.”
Here are just a few of the reasons why tapping into that expertise by hiring a professionally trained and certified guide will enhance your next climb and your climbing progression:
This is often the first thing people consider in hiring a guide, and an important one. No matter your skill level, every trip comes with a certain amount of risk. A professional mountain guide is there to help mitigate those risks by utilizing techniques to minimize hazard exposure and to alert you to the proper safety protocols so you can enjoy your climb, while keeping yourself out of harm’s way. The median professional guide has been working in the field for nine years and has logged nearly a thousand days in the field. When you're out in the field that much, a 99.9% safety record isn't nearly high enough—while a professional guide cannot fully eliminate the hazards, they are fully invested in mitigating them.
But, too many climbers believe that safety is the only benefit of climbing with a professional. While safety is of utmost importance, there is so much more to gain from a professionally guided trip. Above and beyond the safety aspects, climbers can learn new techniques that will make their climbing days smoother and more efficient and allow them to tackle larger objectives confidently.
Guiding and instruction go hand in hand. Many of us first learn to climb with friends, which can be fun, but the knowledge-base can be limiting. Hiring a trained guide is a bit like going to the library to research a topic—suddenly, you have access to a body of rigorously field-tested and proven methods to build your own base. Additionally, while learning from family or loved ones can be a wonderful part of the climbing progression, that can also be filled with predictable problems in terms of each person's goal alignment and expectations.
Hiring a guide can help circumvent that, as the guide's goal is to help you enjoy and learn through the climbing experience. And though a typical guided day can range in the $250-500 range, a recent survey of the guided public conducted by the AMGA found “95% believe value-to-cost of a guided or instructed experience is high.”
3. Problem Solving
In every sport, growth comes when we push ourselves to the limit-- out of our comfort zones. In climbing—especially in the modern era of gym climbing—it's often the case that people's movement skills improve much more quickly than their technical skills. They may be very physically able to climb difficult routes, but lack the technical skills necessary to do a big route in a safe amount of time. Or, they may find themselves with the movement skills to get high up on a multi-pitch climb (a climb hundreds of feet high) and encounter problems or rescue scenarios that they have no idea how to solve.
As Rossiter says, “Everyone seems to focus on getting up a cliff, but they also need to focus on how to get down a cliff with an injured partner in the event something goes wrong.” Taking a weekend to examine and practice common rescue scenarios with a guide-instructor will equip the climber with a skills toolkit that they can carry on any climb, giving them the confidence that they can manage any problems encountered along the way.
We all have that bucket list of climbing destinations that can seem out of reach. Climbing at the local crag can build a solid foundation of skills, but translating that into a big mountain environment can be confusing and daunting. The AMGA survey found that the majority of its respondents were typically hiring a guide in order to explore somewhere new, an experience that even a full-time professional guide like Rossiter can relate to:
“I was in South Africa with my family last year and only had one day free to explore the renowned Table Mountain. Sure, I could have bought a guide book, tried to find a partner online or recruit a family member, and probably wasted most of the day bumbling around learning the place—but instead I hired a trained, certified, guide with local knowledge. He put together an amazing day of climbing tailored to my ability and climbing preferences. Hand-jamming up a pristine crack with the Indian and Atlantic Ocean practically crashing together at my feet was unforgettable.”
Hiring an experienced guide ensures that you will be able to maximize your adventure time.
Climbers engage in the sport for stress—but there's a difference between distress and eustress (positive stress). Guides are there to help you maximize the positive aspects of stress, tackling a manageable challenge, feeling secure about your safety, and working towards mastery in the activity. This allows you to enjoy the place and the moments more, deepening your enjoyment of the activity you love. After a few climbs, some water, an organic energy bar, and a little rest can help you refuel and find the motivation to keep on climbing.
Mountain guides don’t come in a one-size-fits-all package. Take the time to choose the right guide for you. After all, you wouldn’t accept a doctor or pilot without the proper training. So check out IFMGA to learn more about what to look for in a guide.
If you are looking for a fun, highly experienced, professional guide then look no further than the Kate’s Real Food Ambassador, IFMGA Certified Mountain Guide, Kel Rossiter of Adv++2enture Spirit Guides. From ice climbing objectives in the Northeast to high-altitude alpine summits in Peru, he enjoys working with climbers at all ages and stages in life to help them achieve their goals.