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Does guiding suck?

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Postby jmeizis » Tue Sep 29, 2009 3:00 am

I'm in my second full season as a rock guide. It can be tough. It depends a lot on the clients, where you're going, how much you've been working.

Last year was a blast. I climbed a ton outside of work, had a lot of great clients, was learning a lot of new things from people. This past season was really stressful. I had a lot more responsibility and didn't get out climbing on my own as much. I also did a lot of onsight guiding which I found to be particularly nerve racking. There's a huge difference between guiding people up things you know every hand and foothold by heart and things where you're trying to memorize topos or guidebook pages shortly before the clients walk up.

The thing I think is hardest is staying positive when you're not in that good of a mood. I had a trip this summer that got rained out one day and I had to stay there because they rescheduled for the next day. I'd been working for like thirty days straight and all I really wanted to do was meet up with some friends and go climb something for myself. A good guide is always their for their client. Helping them, teaching them, supporting them. Not all clients can do the same in return and if you don't have your wits about you it can suck bad. That being said I can only count on one hand the number of times I, or my clients, have had a bad trip.

As for the AMGA, I agree with The Chief, if they wanted to get people to standardize their practices then they'd make it easier (financially) to obtain the certifications. I remain at my level of certification (SPI), not because I don't have the skills, I simply don't have the money to advance myself. Unfortunately, they're becoming less of a positive influence, and more of a requirement for permits, jobs, etc. They aren't getting any cheaper either. I need a sugar mama.
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Postby The Chief » Tue Sep 29, 2009 4:54 am

ArtVandelay wrote: How else am I supposed to make a decision other than by breaking it down to certified vs. not certified?

Simple..

Find out the reputation of the services that you are interested in have. That reputation should not include success rate. Rather, their customer service, clientele satisfaction and safety record.

Certification may be an item that makes a particular service enticing, but their initial contact, Clientele Satisfaction Evals and Safety Record should prevail when making a decision.

Case in Point... look at these two particularly well known and highly Internationally respected/accepted service and this one, you may be very surprised at the ratio of "Certified" and non-Certified Guides/Instructors on their Staff.
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Postby jmeizis » Tue Sep 29, 2009 5:03 pm

The thing I find funny about the whole certified vs. non-certified thing is how much faith people put into them. You only have to have been climbing 5 years to take the AMGA Rock Instructor course. There is a lot of variation in the experience people gain in 5 years. It only took me five years to become a proficient, strong, safe climber. I see people who've been climbing ten years try to convince me they can tie in through their belay loop. Really I think the best thing you can go on is reputation. Then of course you have to know that your source is reliable. A new climber telling you it was great might not have noticed anything unsafe because they don't know the difference yet. Certifications are not a substitute for experience with the many novel and sometimes dangerous situations that can come about while climbing.

One of the things that I think are great about the AMGA courses is the technical stuff. The people who teach those courses are very good climbers and they're extremely good with technical rope work. The thing that is lacking is the soft skills and pedagogy that are a huge part of being a guide. How do you react if your client cries? What do you do if someone tries to pick a fight with you or your client during a trip? What if your client lights up a pipe when you get to the rock? What do you do if you fuck up (non-injurious/fatal)?Guess which one has happened to me? Anyways, I didn't learn any of that from the AMGA. Most of the tough situations I've had to deal with were entirely new which makes them scary because it puts your reputational neck out. You also can't react the same as you would with your friends. A friend whining on a safe lead would get, "shut up and climb wuss". I wouldn't do that with a client unless I was sure it would help in someway, which I can think of few people, the type who hire a guide, who would be motivated by put downs.
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Postby JedSMG » Tue Sep 29, 2009 6:24 pm

Great discussions going on here. I love guiding, talking about guiding and thinking about guiding. I work full-time, most of the year as a guide in the High Sierra. The rest of the year I fill in with substitute teaching, personal expeditions and plodding my way through AMGA courses.

Guiding is really hard. It's all the challenges of climbing, plus any and all of the following:
    -They're paying you!
    -Most times, this is the first you've even met, much less climbed together. Earlier in my climbing career, at a recreational level, any partner I climbed a multi-day ridge traverse with would have been, like, my best friend prior to the climb- seriously vetted at the least. Now I'm charging out there with folks I hardly know.
    -Your client(s) are not as experienced as you are. I know that probably goes without saying, but it deserves special mention in my book- you are the chief cook and bottle washer, and you lead all the pitches and that client's gonna look straight to you when the proverbial shit hits the fan.
    -Personalities differ
    -Motivations differ


Given the difficulties inherent in guiding, particularly alpine and ski guiding (something like a top-rope day is a different story), I might propose that those hiring a guide look for someone who more than meets The Chief's requirements (profoundly experienced, well-recommended, personable, impeccable safety record, professional demeanor etc etc.) AND meets the criteria of the AMGA. Some of our clients seriously grill us before a trip. Who is this guide? What has he/she done before, may I talk with him/her prior? Where can I read more about their personal climbing achievements? Have they done this route/peak? That's where The Chief's info comes out. We have old clients who are glad to serve as references for new clients. Very important things for a guide to provide.

The AMGA trainings and certifications are merely one more piece of data for prospective clients to include in their decision making process. It is a third-party recommendation- a great thing. It is a rigorous program: There isn't a structured "probation" period between courses, but there are certain intermediate requirements to fulfill. For instance, between the first and second level rock courses, one must guide 20 grade III (or greater) routes, personally climb 5 routes grade IV or greater, and personally climb 10 routes rated 5.10c or greater. Yes, 10c is not that hard in the grand scheme of things, but certified guides are sustaining that through 3 or 4 years of their cert process, all while guiding toprope days and ski tours and Whitney East Butts back to back. My point is that there is a minimum amount of "real world" experience required in the process.

Further rigor to the AMGA program comes from the atmosphere. These courses and exams are intense! 10 days of climbing route after route, with someone looking over your shoulder taking notes is wild. Thankfully, many guides are never tested with a true emergency on their own trips. AMGA courses are not inherently an emergency situation, but the atmosphere is definitely more demanding than routine guiding. I personally know of guides who style on their own trips- totally rockin' guides on their own terms and in their home turf when the going's easy. Some of these long-time, solid guides have a real hard time with the AMGA process. You can bet they're learning something and becoming better guides along the way. Heck, we all have a hard time with these courses and exams- they're meant to be hard!

Oh, and as for the pricing of AMGA courses and exams- it sucks for sure. There is indeed no competition for "mountain guide" training. (the PCIA, PCGI and AMGA all provide training and certification for rock terrain. This competition is shaking things up in that rock world- specifically prices and availability of courses. Probably the quality of education will improve too) That being said, one of my colleagues has gotten a total of 3 scholarships (adding up to basically one third of his AMGA/IFMGA costs) and I couldn't hire myself for the price of an AMGA course. Puts it in perspective I guess... And, the more I get trained and certified, the more I make. That seems to be the case across the board...

Anyway, I've rambled enough. I should be out doing pull-ups or something, getting "hard to kill" :-)
Jed
Last edited by JedSMG on Tue Sep 29, 2009 6:47 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby Diggler » Tue Sep 29, 2009 6:37 pm

jmeizis wrote: What if your client lights up a pipe when you get to the rock?


Ask him for the first hit?? Just kidding. :lol: Seriously, what do you do???
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Postby The Chief » Tue Sep 29, 2009 9:11 pm

Diggler wrote:
jmeizis wrote: What if your client lights up a pipe when you get to the rock?


Ask him for the first hit?? Just kidding. :lol: Seriously, what do you do???


If I were on the clock (Guiding) and this happened, the trip is immediately over! NO QUESTIONS.... END OF STORY!

If I wasn't on the clock and this happened, THE TRIP IS OVER...END OF STORY!

JedSMG wrote: For instance, between the first and second level rock courses, one must guide 20 grade III (or greater) routes, personally climb 5 routes grade IV or greater, and personally climb 10 routes rated 5.10c or greater. Yes, 10c is not that hard in the grand scheme of things, but certified guides are sustaining that through 3 or 4 years of their cert process, all while guiding toprope days and ski tours and Whitney East Butts back to back.


C'mon Jed,

- 10 routes at .10c.... that can be done in one day at the A-Hills

- EF & EB back to back will fulfill the Grade III req in half of a summer season

- Getting on any of the routes at the T- Crag, SE Face of Clyde, East Arete of BCS, NB of Merriam etc will fulfill this req.

It's not that tough and more than doable for us that are guiding here in the Eastern Sierra.

PS.. Jed, have you done the SE Face of Clyde and the NB of Merriam?
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Postby JedSMG » Tue Sep 29, 2009 11:17 pm

The Chief wrote:- 10 routes at .10c.... that can be done in one day at the A-Hills

- EF & EB back to back will fulfill the Grade III req in half of a summer season

- Getting on any of the routes at the T- Crag, SE Face of Clyde, East Arete of BCS, NB of Merriam etc will fulfill this req.

It's not that tough and more than doable for us that are guiding here in the Eastern Sierra.

PS.. Jed, have you done the SE Face of Clyde and the NB of Merriam?


10 "traditional" 10c routes is how they actually phrase it. Yeah, still, not a real high bar. Guided Grade III's here are also a dime a dozen. Still took me more than one summer to get 'em all... 10 each East Face and East Butt would meet the letter of the law, but the spirit of the requirements would be better fulfilled with 20 different routes. Therein lies part of the problem: folks can interpret any seemingly well-defined requirements to their own taste. Grade IV's, also pretty cruiser around here. Still, you climb a bunch of pitches between courses, and you're bound to be getting better. Mix it in with ice and glacier routes for your alpine cert. and big ski tours in multiple ranges for the ski program and that IFMGA guide turns out to be a well-rounded, average mountain traveller. Emphasis on average, or in other words: bare minimum. The wise guide will get out there and send and promote their efforts to that minimum point and beyond. The wise client will, and does, research the heck out of their guide. Some will start with the AMGA logo and go from there, some could care less. Some see the AMGA training or cert. and feel reassured that someone's checking up on us.

It appears to me that companies and guides emphasizing the AMGA thing and those opting out are equally successful. Excepting those, of course, that operate in places like Joshua Tree, places requiring certification. Maybe it's a matter of growing pains, progress and the like. 30 years ago I'm sure guide services and guides debated the liability insurance thing, should we have it, should we not? Then public land managers started requiring it, we all had to pony up, and now we don't think twice. Anyway, there's room for all types, but I think the tide is moving towards certification, imposed by our clients and land managers. The guide with the bare minimum of experience but logos all around has a hard time up against the old dads of guiding, regardless of the certification status of the old-timer. Experience makes one better at 'most everything, can't deny that.

No Merriam or SE Face Clyde for me yet.

Rick, we should meet up sometime. This Eastside guiding scene is "dispersed" at best...
Jed
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Postby hikerbrian » Wed Sep 30, 2009 6:41 am

I imagine guiding makes you a much better climber too. I certainly don't have the skills to be a paid rock guide, but in other pursuits I've found that teaching really improved my game. Really forces you to keep your head on your shoulders, which is damn important in climbing, as far as I can tell.

I've always wondered exactly what kind of person hires a guide. I think this topic has come up here many times. I personally wouldn't climb something that was beyond my ability as an individual, but then I don't have a whole lot of 8K-ers under my belt. Maybe if I was going to be in a new place for a week and just wanted to get in as many good routes as possible. And if I was rich. Dunno, I think I'd miss the exploratory component of it all.
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Postby jmeizis » Wed Sep 30, 2009 6:25 pm

I think guiding makes me more solid from a technical ropework standpoint. It does not make me a stronger climber, except maybe from an endurance standpoint. Climbing between 4 and 12 pitches mostly around 5.8 and below doesn't really build your skills. Especially after the tenth time you've done those climbs. I really like it when clients want to do multipitch climbing because I feel like the pace is better. Single pitch just makes me feel like I'm running from one climb to another.

I usually put people into categories as soon as I hear their goals for the trip. They're either tourists or students. Tourists can be climbers who are new to an area or on vacation who simply what to get on the best routes an area has to offer. Non-climbing tourists usually just want to try climbing. Students want to know how to do something, leading, building anchors, rope mgmt. Something to that effect. There seems to be a lot more people recently who want to learn stuff. The thing is once you teach someone everything, they don't need you anymore but some people still come back because they trust their guide of several years more than they trust their own skills.
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Postby howiemtnguide » Sat Oct 17, 2009 10:39 pm

The Chief wrote:
jasonburton wrote:Craig held multiple certs with the AMGA.


I am sorry but you are wrong.

His latest Bio prior to his death. BTW, he died while actually on his Alpine Cert exam.


Chief, you too are wrong about something here. Craig died while training for his Alpine exam, not during the actual exam. He was not only a certified Rock Guide but also a senior instructor for the AMGA program. In addition he served on the board of directors of the AMGA for 6 years and on the Technical Committee for longer than that. He was a vocal supporter of certification and a legendary mountain guide and climber. He was on track toward IFMGA certification. I don't think you could say he belonged on your short list of uncertified guides.
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Postby The Chief » Sat Oct 17, 2009 11:09 pm

howiemtnguide wrote:
The Chief wrote:
jasonburton wrote:Craig held multiple certs with the AMGA.


I am sorry but you are wrong.

His latest Bio prior to his death. BTW, he died while actually on his Alpine Cert exam.


Chief, you too are wrong about something here. Craig died while training for his Alpine exam, not during the actual exam. He was not only a certified Rock Guide but also a senior instructor for the AMGA program. In addition he served on the board of directors of the AMGA for 6 years and on the Technical Committee for longer than that. He was a vocal supporter of certification and a legendary mountain guide and climber. He was on track toward IFMGA certification. I don't think you could say he belonged on your short list of uncertified guides.


Why was an individual of his incredible abilities, experience and of his stature within the AMGA,

TRAINING FOR HIS ALPINE EXAM?

He was in fact NOT AMGA CERTIFIED as AN ALPINE GUIDE.

Another example of my position.

This does not make any sense what so ever....
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Guiding doesn't suck much at all

Postby howiemtnguide » Sat Oct 17, 2009 11:42 pm

I think guiding is the greatest job on Earth! True that it's not for everyone and it is certainly not the road to riches (You know how to make a small fortune from guiding? Start with a large one!). But it is a pretty great way to make a living as long as your mind, body, and life situation can handle it. Those that really want it can usually figure out a way to make it work.

There is a big difference between hiring a guide and paying someone to climb or ski with you. A few of the people on Chief's short list may have done a bit of guiding on the side, and maybe even got paid a decent wage in the process, but that doesn't make them guides any more than it makes me a stone mason because I did a couple summers of building chimneys and walls.

Climbers often think that guiding is technically easy. I mean if you can climb safely with your friends then why can't you do so with a client? The skill and artistry of guiding is almost transparent to the average climber. The best rock guides are not always even sending 5.12 or even 11's, but if there was a YDS rating for the ability is takes to move a regular client on technical, exposed cliff face or mountain terrain, a lot of certified guides I know would guide in the elite 5.13-14 range. This means they are able to maximize the levels of safety, efficiency, and enjoyment for their client while moving them through complex terrain types. Recreational climbers often solo or "simul-climb" where guides are able to travel more safely, and often nearly as quickly. To accomplish this, a guide has to develop an additional technical skill set. You are not going to easily learn these skills from simply climbing well or often, or even from a book, just like I am not going to learn to be a doctor from the internet no matter how many sites I visit.

What does it take to get a noob to the top of the Matterhorn? How about a weekend warrior up the SE face of Clyde Minaret, or the Sill to Thunderbolt Traverse in the Palisades? How about an avid sidecountry skier on the Ritter Range High Tour or a descent of the Grand Teton? Top-roping and resort skiing is where it all begins for many, but it is certainly not where guided trips end.

Consider that what a non-guide views as the essential skills of a guide might not actually be the same as what the International community of professional mountain guides agrees with after over 150 years of studying the topic. The AMGA program is a part of that community and has develop a program to train and assess these skills. If you hire a guide, certainly ask if they can climb to a high enough standard above your objectives. Of equal importance, ask them if they have the guiding skills required for certification by an established professional organization. Make sure you can trust them to do the job right, and if you like them hire them again.

The best part of guiding is the people you meet and the people we see again and again in the mountains. We have so many good friends that we have shared the amazing places with. No, guides aren't set up well to win the economic game we all play in this society, but we certainly get to enjoy the essence of life. I'll have to worry about how I am ever going to retire, afford health care, or send kids to college during the off-season... :D
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Postby howiemtnguide » Sun Oct 18, 2009 12:06 am

The Chief wrote:Why was an individual of his incredible abilities, experience and of his stature within the AMGA,

TRAINING FOR HIS ALPINE EXAM?

He was in fact NOT AMGA CERTIFIED as AN ALPINE GUIDE.

Another example of my position.

This does not make any sense what so ever....


I suppose you think Chris Sharma or Dave Graham would instantly be an amazing rock guide? Doug Coombs (also a lost friend, and IFMGA guide) had quite a challenge getting through the AMGA program. He was one of the greatest ski guides of all time. He -like Craig- was the first to admit that he had a lot to learn, even about ski guiding. He was on my alpine exam and he and I discussed how great it was to be training and learning these skills that were only going to make us better at what we do overall. Lynn Hill is one of the greatest climbers that has ever touched stone. She took an AMGA rock course to learn guiding skills and she enjoyed it greatly. She has never been known to settle for less than complete excellence in her pursuits. She could have easily proclaimed herself as a guide and sold her services for top dollar. Instead, she went to school like we do when we want to actually learn something.

I do not think it honors Craig's memory to imply that he would have wanted to be considered a qualified alpine guide without having passed his guide exam. I believe Craig wanted to pass on his merits through the process, just as he had always demanded of countless candidates as an examiner in the Rock program.
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Postby The Chief » Sun Oct 18, 2009 12:16 am

"90% of folks that hire a guide in the Eastern Sierra area, climb nothing harder than 5.8-5.9. It takes me a couple of weeks at the end of the Yosh/Meadows Summer season, climbing down in the Gorge or JT, to get back into my 5.11 shape. It sucks!"

A direct quote from good friend who has been guiding this area for over 15 years and a full-time YMS Guide, for over 10 years.

Fact is, most folks that hire a guide in this area are relatively new to the Alpine Rock/Ice environment and are uncomfortable going at it alone. That is my experience as well. Especially in the Palisade and Whitney/Russell regions.

It would be nice to have some diversity in "Schools" of thought and protocols. To have the option of different experiences to learn from is something I would love to see. Having only a handful of examiners from just one learning source, limits diversity.

As you say, this is a learning process. Having an option to learn from more than one entity makes the whole idea that much better.

Limiting it to one entity, is like saying that one can attend only one University, School of Medicine or School of Law to learn their job fields/careers.

And I am no ways demeaning Craig's memory. Just making a comment how an individual of his stature within the AMGA Org was not "Grandfathered". He knew the course material... he helped put it together and write it.

PS: Have run into my share of AMGA Cert'd Rock Guides over the past ten years that could not consistently climb 5.10 trad. Met two of em three weeks ago at the base of the Mithral D. They had just backed off of it...

"That sure as hell aint no 5.9!"
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Postby howiemtnguide » Sun Oct 18, 2009 4:51 am

That's cool Chief, we can change the topic back to monopolies and grandfathering. For the former, We are in full agreement. Competition is good in the realm of guide training. Good for guides and the entire guiding industry. What is not good for the guide industry is: competing industry standards. We are at a critical point in American guiding where the idea of certification is starting to catch on. We have the AMGA to thank for that. The PCGI and PCIA are imitators who are trying to ride that wave. I say good for them, but let it be known that all certifications are not created equal. And there is only one, the AMGA, that is accepted by the international association. Again- competition good, monopolies bad, multiple industry standards confusing, and therefore, bad.

I wish the PCGI and PCIA the best of luck, but I do not suspect they will be able to out-compete the AMGA. That said, their existence is a very good thing. They have already had a positive effect on the AMGA as the AMGA is now fully in action with new program developments and improvements.

Regarding grandfathering, it has been a decade since that program was ended for good. Your argument is way outdated.

I not sure who your clients are and for what companies you have guided, but I would guess different services attract different demographics. Our clients average very high in skill and fitness in all seasons. That said, the reality is it is hard to maintain rock climbing prowess when you are busy guiding full time in the mountains. Try it sometime and you will see. Your legs get big from that heavy alpine pack and the aerobic activity at altitude eats away at your upper body strength. We have a guide who lost 20 lbs. this summer, and he was by no means fat at the start.

PS- I have more than once ran into uncertified guides doing things that nearly killed their clients. I have bailed them out regularly on the crags and in the mountains when they didn't have a clue. Once I saw an uncertified guide show up to meet his clients 30 minutes late at Whitney Portal, rolled out of his friend's VW bus in a cloud of smoke donning purple hair and wearing a T-shirt from the guide service he was working for. The look on those poor people's faces I will not easily forget. I won't mention the name of the guide service, but I can tell you that they do not use certification as a hiring criteria.
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