What To Look For In a Professional Rock Climbing Guide

Max Lurie is an AMGA certified Rock and Alpine Guide, as well as an accomplished alpinist. Max has been climbing since 2004 and traveling to the world's greatest mountain ranges in pursuit of his passion.
Written by
Max Lurie

You’ve decided that hiring a rock climbing guide is the right choice for you to develop your climbing skills. Now you are faced with too many options and don’t want to make the wrong choice. 

Hiring a guide can be expensive, but doing so early on in your climbing career, it will set you up with good practices for the rest of your life. Choosing the right guide is very important and there are some subtle nuances that can make a big difference. 

Read below to delve deeper into those topics.

The Benefits of Hiring a Rock Climbing Guide

Climbing was born from the counterculture and is deeply rooted in a “do it yourself” mentality. 

There has been a stigma around hiring a rock climbing guide. However, that is slowly changing as climbing becomes more popular. 

Learning how to climb from a vetted peer reviewed and certified guide hasn’t always been an option, until recently. 

Being able to practice new skills under the direct supervision of a trained professional certainly has its benefits. Getting feedback from an experienced guide will accelerate your climbing career to new heights.

How A Rock Climbing Guide Will Help You Advance Your Skills 

Max Lurie explaining core rock climbing concepts to student

A certified rock climbing guide will be able to demonstrate the latest techniques and their nuances. They will give you access to terrain that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to climb.

This experience will help in your development as a climber. By melding the experiential education and practical knowledge, you’ll become a more confident and capable climber.

Beginner Rock Climbers

Acquiring a solid foundation of climbing skills will help serve you for the rest of your climbing career. 

As a beginner climber, hiring a rock climbing guide is a good idea because they will help you form those foundational skills such as: tying into a rope, belaying, rappelling, climbing movement, etc… 

By learning these skills from a guide you’ll make sure you don’t miss anything important and they will give you feedback on your abilities. 

Intermediate Rock Climbers 

As an intermediate rock climber, you may already be leading sport climbs in the gym and even outside. 

Taking your adventure to the next level with multi pitch climbing is a big step. 

By hiring a guide to help you learn the necessary transitions you’ll be able to climb safer and more efficiently. Stepping into the realm of traditional climbing when you place your own protection in the rock can be an excellent time to hire a rock climbing guide. 

Learning how to evaluate anchors and gear placements on the ground before trusting your life to them is a good idea.

Advanced Rock Climbers

For climbers who are already leading multi pitch traditional climbs, but looking to up their game, hiring a rock climbing guide is an excellent way to break through a plateau. 

Even if you’ve been climbing for years, a rescue refresher course or dialing in those multi pitch transitions can make your climbing experience more enjoyable. Maybe there is a specific objective you’ve wanted to climb for years but don’t feel up to the task by yourself. 

Hiring a rock climbing guide to either help you prepare or to climb with you is a great use of the resource.

Factors To Consider When Hiring a Rock Climbing Guide 

Max Lurie of Alpine to the Max using whiteboard to explain key rock climbing safety concepts

Professional Certification 

In the US, there is only one certifying body that teaches and examines guides and that is the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA). They are a member of the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA)

Not all rock climbing guides are created equal and many are uncertified. 

Lots of guide services or companies that employ guides use vague language such as “AMGA trained guides” or “professional mountain guides” which simply means that their guides have not yet been examined. 

You wouldn’t get on a commercial transatlantic flight with a pilot who didn’t have a license, would you? So why trust your life and climbing education to a lower standard? 

By seeking out an independent and rock climbing certified guide you are guaranteed to have a better experience, learn more and walk away with more confidence.

Willing To Offer a Customized Experience 

What are your rock climbing goals? And how do you want to go about achieving them? 

Both are great questions to ask yourself. By seeking out a certified guide they will have the breadth and depth of knowledge to mentor you exactly as you need. 

Everyone is different and that means that we all have different backgrounds, what you need to learn in order to achieve your goals is unique. Having a fully customized progression will accelerate your climbing career and help you efficiently achieve your climbing goals, whatever they may be.

Teaches with an Educational Approach 

By investing a substantial amount of time, money and effort into becoming a certified guide through the American Mountain Guides Association guarantees that your guide values good education. 

As such that means that they have spent a significant amount of time creating lesson plans for each topic and developing themselves not only as a rock climbing guide, but also as an exceptional teacher.

Dedicated To Safety 

Not only will your guide be supervising you during your outing, but they will also be instructing you on how to stay safe once you go out on your own. 

As a newcomer, how do you evaluate their decision making and what they are teaching you? 

Even though your guide is supposedly an expert in their field, be skeptical and ask questions often. The inquisitive mind gets the answer, don’t just accept a rules based approach to climbing. 

Demand to understand the why behind each technique or skill. By hiring a certified rock climbing guide you drastically increase your chances of getting safe quality instruction.

Read: 4 Tips For Making The Most Out of a Guided Rock Climbing Experience

Man rock climbing in Boulder, Colorado

Frequently Asked Questions About Rock Climbing Guides 

Are Rock Climbing Guide Books Helpful?

Yes, there are many high-quality books on the subject of climbing from reputable authors. 

However, those books serve as a reference or are supplemental to hands-on instruction from a professional.

Is It Necessary to Hire a Guide with The AMGA Certification?

The simple answer is no, but you’ll definitely be thankful that you did. 

There are high quality guides out there that haven’t gone through the AMGA programs, but wouldn’t you want one that has? 

How Much Does It Cost To Hire a Rock Climbing Guide? 

A guided rock climbing day in the mountains can range from $250-$900/day depending on the ratio and the complexity of the objective. 

The upper end of that scale would be a 12-16 hour day in the mountains climbing a strenuous and technical route. Generally speaking, courses are cheapest because they occur at the highest participant-to-guide ratio. 

Private instruction can range from $450-500/day and semi-private instruction is $300/pp/day. Semi-private guiding (for two participants) is often the best of both worlds. It allows you to have a customized experience while keeping the cost as low as possible.

Can Climbing With Friends Replace The Need For a Rock Climbing Guide?

No. Rock climbing with more experienced friends is great and will afford you an excellent opportunity to accumulate experience that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to at your level. 

However, your friends might be talented enough to seem like they know what they are doing, but where did they get those skills from? How old are the practices they are employing? 

Just because they are confident and seem to know what they are doing doesn’t mean they are good educators or that they do truly understand the principles at play. 

Be skeptical and ask questions often. If your friends cannot answer why they do something a particular way that makes sense to you that is a red flag. 

It is best to get an independent education from a certified guide so that you can contribute new and efficient techniques to your friend group.

How Long Does It Take To Become a Self-Sufficient Climber and Not Need a Rock Climbing Guide?

It really depends on your goals/aspirations and how much time/energy you can dedicate to your climbing career. In reality, it doesn’t take very long (just a few days of focused instruction) to become a self-sufficient climber. 

That being said, a rock climbing guide will always be there to help you get to the next level. If your goals are to become self-sufficient then a good guide and educator will work themselves out of a job because you won’t need them anymore.

Final Thoughts

When deciding who to hire as a rock climbing guide, it is much like hiring any other trained professional for a job. 

Look at their credentials, references or testimonials and ultimately pick someone who you think you’ll get along with. 

Try a few different guides to see who you like the most and who you can learn the most from. Like any teacher or educator your guide should be able to explain things in several different ways to help you understand, they should be patient and understanding.

Before committing to hiring a rock climbing guide, have a chat with them on the phone to discuss your goals/aspirations, previous experiences, what a successful day looks like for you and to answer any lingering questions you may have. This will give you a good idea of their teaching style and if you can effectively learn from them. 

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