How to Become a Rock Climbing Guide (All you Need To Know!)

How to Become a Rock Climbing Guide

Do you love the mountains and the exhilaration it gives you every time you climb? Have you ever considered becoming a rock climbing guide? Most people who enjoy this kind of activity would probably wish they have it as a job.

However, becoming a rock climbing guide is more than just love for the mountains. It takes a lot of courage and skills to become one. If you are considering this as a job, here’s everything you need to know on how to become one.

The Hard Truth About Becoming a Mountain Guide

The Hard Truth About Becoming a Mountain Guide

Before you get too excited about becoming a rock climbing guide, it would be best to have an idea of what you are about to get into. Most of the time people tend to only see the great side of becoming a guide. Yes, it has a lot of perks, but it also has its downsides that you need to be aware of and consider before you take any step further in becoming a guide.

Unstable Income

Rock climbing guides do not earn that much and income is unstable because it depends on the number of trips you make. For example, you had 5 trips last week, the following week it can only be 1 or 2 trips, but there’s also a possibility to have more than 5 climbs a week. But the point is, you can never know how much you’ll earn in a month. So, you need to learn how to manage your income properly to be able to stay long in this line of work.

It’s More Than Just Climbing

Being a guide has more responsibilities than just guiding other people through the mountain. It is very important to know and understand that you control their lives and is responsible for their well-being. You are accountable for their safety during the time they are with you. Always remember that there are a lot of risks involved in this line of job.

There will also be times when you need to prepare food and water for your clients. Most of them are new to this activity and are not aware of what they need in order to survive a day of climbing.

You Need A Lot Of Patience

Not all clients are easy to handle, there will be times when your patience will be tested. There may be things that you think are simple enough to follow and understand, for some it may be hard since not all of them are used to staying outdoors or even climbing a mountain. You may need to repeat instructions over and over again, or you may need to remind them frequently of the do’s and don’ts, and you may even have to deal with children or a teenager who won’t listen.

You need to know if you have the patience and ability to handle these kinds of situations. If you want to be a good and trusted rock climbing guide, you need to be prepared to handle different circumstances.

A Possibility To Relocate

Are you ready to leave your hometown or are you prepared to drive for hours to reach your designated climb area? There may not be a lot of jobs available as a guide in your current location, if that’s the case, you may need to relocate to areas where there are numerous destination-climbing.

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It Can Be Expensive and Time Consuming

To become a guide, you may need to enrol on different courses and take certification exams. If you are a busy person, you might need to find time to attend and complete these courses. You also need to have the money to pay for it which is not cheap. Both the courses and certification exams have a corresponding fee.

Rock Climbing Mountain Guides and Tips: How To Become A Guide

Rock Climbing Mountain Guides and Tips How To Become A Guide

Get a Job in the Outdoor Industry

If you are not yet 100% sure that you want to be a rock climbing guide, it might be best to start working in the outdoor industry. You may also try to work at guide companies as backup belayers when there are larger trips or even just doing office works. It’s a first start on having the first-hand experience on guide companies even if it’s not a guiding job. You can also try finding a job at climbing gyms as a climbing wall instructor, mountaineering shops, or other guiding jobs like a mountain bike or raft guiding activity.

Develop Leadership and Wilderness Skills

As a guide not only in mountain climbing but in any industry, great leadership skill is a must. You need to learn how to make your clients follow your lead and listen to you for the safety of everyone. Apart from leadership skills you also need to improve your wilderness skills as well as learn about mountain culture.

You need to learn how to survive in the wilderness and be aware of what to expect when you are outside climbing and being responsible for the lives of other people. There are several training courses for this that you may want to check out. These courses will help develop these skills and if you are still a beginner in rock mountain climbing, you may gain a lot of great insights by joining groups and other courses.

Hire A Guide

Go on a climbing trip and hire a guide. Where else can you get the best tips but from a guide himself? You can learn a lot from them by simply observing and asking questions. This will help you get an idea of what you would be doing every day once you become a guide. You may also try to book a trip with the company you’re eyeing to work for. Here are some tips on how to pick the right climbing guide service.

How to Choose a Rock Climbing Guide Service

  • Research about the company and find out who will lead the trip
  • Check for any certification and experience
  • Check the company’s records regarding success and safety
  • Read reviews or testimonials

Get a Certification

Although this is not a requirement for becoming a guide, you will be more credible if you have certifications. Aside from that, some guide companies may require certain certifications before they hire you. Plus, you can learn a lot from getting certified as you would have to undergo some courses. Even if the company you’ll be working for does not require certification, you can still benefit from it.

See also
The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Rock Climbing

You can choose to undergo a single pitch instructor program if you think you’ll be better or a single pitch guide


CPR/First Aid Certification

This is the first certification you need to pass before you can move on to other courses and certifications. You can try enrolling in community colleges as some of them offer it at different timelines and rates. You may also want to get a Wilderness First Aid Certification in case you plan to work in the backcountry.

Wilderness First Responder Course

Again, if you are interested to be a guide in the backcountry, this course and certification would be helpful. This will help prepare you for any accidents that may happen.

International Federation of Mountain Guides Association (IFMGA)

This is the most recognized certification in the globe in terms of mountain guide certifications. If you are planning to take your guiding career internationally, then it should be your ultimate goal to be qualified for their certification process.

Professional Climbing Climbing Guides Institute (PCGI)

This one is one of the most co-efficient and probably one of the most popular. This is perfect for those who are looking for employment locally, as some local guide services still credit certifications even from smaller organizations. This is also not recognized by IFMGA.

However, not all companies are the same, so you still need to check. Also, one disadvantage of being accredited by smaller organizations is that it may be more difficult to move to other locations or even work from other companies.

American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA)

This and the PCGI are the most popular certifications in most American companies. As mentioned earlier, PCGI is a lot smaller than and the American Mountain Guides Association is the gold standard in terms of guiding in the United States.

If you have no plans of working as a guide internationally, you do not need to get through the process to take AMGA certification. This can be time-consuming and also expensive.

Tips for Successfully Passing Certifications

Tips for Successfully Passing Certifications
  1. Work with an agency that offers affordable prices for classes and outings for climbers. It would help you understand how the systems work.
  2. As much as you can, do trad climbing in every possible situation. This will give you more experience and you can soon master advanced techniques in the future. In the course, you will learn about being 3 steps ahead all the time. This will help you think 3 steps in advance always to avoid panic.
  3. Listen carefully and take notes. You can learn a lot from the instructors and they will even offer tips. So listen hard, take as many notes as you can, and if possible, take pictures. There will be so much information provided that it can be overwhelming at times.
  4. Find a mentor that can help test you before the assessment. Someone who is skilled, who knows the mountains, and the system. Ask them to give you different scenarios, the harder the better. Practice whenever you can, it will be a great help during your assessment.
  5. Be efficient always by again practicing. 15 minutes is the maximum time that a mountain climbing guide can be away from their clients. So, best to practice on different terrain so you can be more efficient and learn to move faster in any situation.
  6. Always remember that guiding is way too different from personal climbing. It is important to know everything about setups. The usual anchor you use during your personal climbing may sometimes be different for a guiding anchor.
See also
How to Train to Be a Rock Climber (Simple Tips!)

How To Find The Right Rock Mountain Climbing Guide Company As Your Employer

How To Find The Right Rock Mountain Climbing Guide Company As Your Employer

So, do you think you have what it takes to become a mountain guide? If you are decided, the next step is of course to find an employer. But how would you know if you are joining the right company? Here are some of the things to consider before joining one.

Search within your area

If you do not have plans on relocating, then you should consider finding a guide company within your area. There should at least be a handful that can offer great benefits and a learning experience.

Look for Companies with Great Reputations

Do your research and start with the ones within or near your area. They can easily be found online as most of them have websites, even small ones. Read the reviews and testimonials, see if they have great reviews. You might also need to check the number and frequency of reviews, as it may show you how the business is going for them.

Check their Guides

Find out as much information about the kind of guides that they currently have. See if they have certifications and how long have they been in the company. A good company will have a low attrition rate, and if it seems most of their guides are new or only stay for a couple of months, then there might be something wrong with how the company takes care of its employees.

Check if They Offer Free Certifications

There are some companies that are willing to pay for their employee’s courses and certifications. This is great especially if you haven’t taken any certifications yet. Check what courses they are offering and see if you still haven’t undergone it.

Try Getting their Service First

you probably have a list of companies that you are interested to work for. If you have the time and money, try to book them for a climbing trip and see how they manage the trip. You’ll be able to see how it would feel like working with them, plus you get a chance to ask the guide how it’s like working for the company. They may not always tell you the truth, but you’ll get a vibe somehow.

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Quickdraws: A to Z Reference Guide for Climbers

Check their Success Rate

Try to find out if there were any incidents of negligence or any accidents that had happened in the past and how they dealt with it. Check for their safety record and the percentage of their success and how they compute the success rate.

Talk with Guide Companies

You may inquire about the current openings that they have and if they require any certifications to be qualified. Having a conversation with them may lead to a great relationship in the future. Also, this will give you an idea on what certifications you need only need to take.

Check if They Offer Opportunities Outside your Area or Internationally

Bigger companies may offer opportunities internationally or outside your current area. If you are planning to be an international guide, they may be able to help you fulfill this dream.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does a climbing guide make?

Pay varies depending on if you’re a full-time rock climber or seasonal. Some can only earn $10,000-20,000 a year. While there are some who can earn that much in just a couple of months. Those who have their own business can earn up to $100,000.

What qualifications do you need to be a mountain guide?

There are numerous qualifications to become a mountain guide such as experience in mountain climbing, leadership skills, certifications, and great physical condition are just some of it.

How do you become a certified rock climber?

You need to take courses and pass the certification exams like CPR/First Aid certification, IFMGA, etc

How much does it cost to become a mountain guide?

It costs a lot to become a mountain guide because of the certifications, although you don’t need to be certified to become one. However, some companies may require their guides to be certified. Each course and exam costs usually range from $3000 to 4000. Plus you also need to add the travel costs.

Is rock climbing dangerous?

Any kind of climbing can be dangerous if not done properly. One of the most dangerous kinds of rock or ice climbing is free-soloing. This can be dangerous because a climber climbs alone without ropes or harness, and any protective gear. They only rely on their own skills, preparedness, and strength.

Is mountain climbing bad for your body?

Mountain climbing is actually good for your health. It can promote a healthy heart and improve flexibility and muscle strength.


What are your final thoughts about rock climbing? Do you still want to become a guide? Being a guide is not easy, it takes a lot of skills and preparation before you can become one. Plus, it does not pay that much. But if you are passionate about it, all the pain, trials, time, and money that you’ve spent will all be worth it. Only a few people get to have a job that they enjoy and if you love climbing then it’s like you’re not working at all.

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Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

A bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.

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