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How to Select a Guide/Guide Service

Hiring a guide can rapidly increase your skill level and climbing proficiency.  However, like every profession, there are competent guides and guide services--those that will teach you well and help you manage risks--and their are poor guides who may have no idea they are lacking in skill or training.  Because anyone can legally call themselves a "rock guide" in the United States, it is your responsibility to determine if your guide is a competent professional . 

There are two simple questions to ask a potential guide to see if he/she meets or exceeds the standards of training and certification in the industry.  These questions are: 


Question #1: "Are you AMGA and/or USMGA certified? "

Guide Training and Certification
The first thing to look for in your guide is guide-specific training and certification.  This is necessary because in the United States, there are no required qualifications for calling yourself a climbing guide.  Absolutely anyone can 'hang a shingle' as a guide, and as a result self-proclaimed climbing guides in the United States are often unfit for the task at hand, and perform far below international climbing guide standards.  

However, in the United States the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) has developed an objective system for establishing the competence of aspiring guides by offering voluntary training courses and exam-based certifications which themselves are based on UIAGM (Union of International Association of Mountain Guides) and IFMGA  (International Federation of Mountain Guide Associations) standards.  These certifications are earned as the result of years of climbing and guiding experience.  Certification involves educational courses, apprenticeship instruction from senior guides, and finally a week long exam involving graded guiding and rescue scenarios on multi-pitch technical terrain.  Not all AMGA guides were examined, as some were given honorary certifications due to their previous experience as guides. Guides who have taken and passed an AMGA exam, however, can  request United States Mountain Guides Association (USMGA) certification.

The AMGA examination process--and subsequent USMGA certification-- is the only benchmark for professional  guides' technical proficiency in the United States, and indicates a high level of technical and practical proficiency.  Perhaps more importantly, it indicates a commitment to self-critique, client care and continuing professional development.  

Therefore, make sure your guide is a certified guide (formerly called level 2 guide) or a rock instructor (formerly called level 1 guide) by the AMGA.  If they are not, ask yourself why.  Shouldn't you expect that as a professional, your guide will seek and obtain the only recognized certifications in his/her chosen field of expertise?  

Question #2: "What is your level of wilderness medical training?"

Medical Training
Another key qualification is medical training.  Because not all objective hazards of the climbing environment can be managed completely by even the most competent guide, medical training is essential.  And because most climbing takes place in relatively 'out-of-the-way' places, medical training should be focused on wilderness medicine training, not simply training in urban or 'street' emergency medicine.

The first level of wilderness medical training is called Wilderness First Aid (WFA).  This is a helpful level of training for the weekend climber if provided by a first class training organization (e.g. SOLO, Wilderness Medical Associates, others).  However, this level of training is generally considered substandard for professional guides and does not meet the minimum requirements to enter most guide training courses in the U.S.. 

Wilderness First Responder (WIFR) is the next level of training and constitutes the minimum acceptable level of training for professional guides as determined by the American Mountain Guides Association.  Courses should be at least 70 hours long, and from a reputable organization (e.g. Stonehearth Open Learning Opportunities (SOLO), Wilderness Medical Associates (WMA) , Wilderness Medical Institute (WMI), and several others.

Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician (WEMT) is the next level of training and consists of around 120 hours of training including emergency department rotations, written and practical exams on wilderness medicine, and registry with the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) which requires passing the NREMT written and practical exam stations. Tested skills include the assessment and management of pre-hospital trauma and medical emergencies, some drug therapies, basic airway procedures, and health care provider CPR qualification.   

Wilderness Paramedic/ Wilderness Advanced Life Support (WEMT-P/WALS) is the next level of medical training that involves a quantum leap forward in education and scope of medical practice.  Where WEMT requires 120 hours of EMT training, paramedic level certification requires up to 1600 hours of training in Advanced Life Support care.  This level of care involves delivering advanced airway, cardiac, and trauma treatment including hypertonic IV fluid therapy, pharmacologically assisted intubations, pain control, pleural decompression, wound management, etc.  

Wilderness Advanced Life Support (WALS) is a specialized course for physicians and other advanced providers to help them better provide advanced medical care in wilderness settings.







Granite Arches Climbing Guides
Asheville, NC, USA
Chattanooga, TN USA
Johnson City, TN USA
Winston-Salem, NC, USA


Phone: (423) 413-1432

Website copyright 1997-2014
  by Granite Arches Climbing Guides

Permits:  Granite Arches holds a special users' permit to operate in the
National Forests of North Carolina

Disclaimer: Rock, snow, and ice climbing and related activities are inherently dangerous.  We try to manage the risks of climbing, but no guarantee of safety is provided or implied.  You may be injured or killed while climbing.