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How viable is a career in guiding, actually?

Original Post
Artem Vasilyev · · Portland, OR · Joined Mar 2014 · Points: 80

I'm currently reviewing various career options (since I am silently going insane at my office job after a short 1.5 year career so far) and decided to take a peek at what it takes to become a climbing guide. Looking at the options, it seems to be prohibitively expensive to even get a cert to guide people up a simple multipitch (~10k for all of the courses and exams to be a "Rock Guide" and 3k for a multipitch course/exam), which is a silly price in my honest opinion. Something tells me that the people who put the guidelines in place had the luxury of not facing these costs (or the challenge of earning some kind ROI on them).

So my questions are as follows: How viable is an actual career in guiding, assuming that you are in your twenties and not part of the boomer/gen X generation? What is the typical path to be an instructor for either rock or alpine? Are your wages in the form of a paycheck that can be garnished vs. cash? (This specific question is because in despite of being in a finance career, I made an awful financial decision of taking out an ungodly amount of student loans when I was 19, so if I bail on my current career I'll need to dodge our friend uncle Sam - though if the certs transfer between countries, I can dodge that way).

I would enjoy to do something that I actually care about for work, since I believe the likelihood of me finding something of that nature in "regular" society is very unlikely (I just can't stand sitting on my ass for a living, to be honest).

Thank you for your time! If the responses are uninformative or if I've simply opened an avenue to get flamed, I'll delete the post - so please try to keep your opinion productive.

Edit: I appreciate the information provided by Max (thank you!) and others who have knowledge on the subject. I also see that the boomers are crawling out of the woodwork with their current and informed opinions on today's tuition prices in relation to wages. I am a horrible person who is a leech on society. I'll go set myself on fire now.

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275

If you guide for a legit company, I think you will get a legit paycheck that can be garnished.

I understand that there are occasionally scholarships to help pay for your courses and exams.

I am not a guide.

You should ask these questions of a guide. There are quite a few on MP. Do you know one you could ask? I'm sure some will weigh in here. Good luck.

Edit: You're not going to be able to hide from your debt forever. Nor should you try to. 

Bill Kirby · · San Francisco CA · Joined Jul 2012 · Points: 480

Good luck dodging your student loans. The government, whether it’s the IRS or student loans, they’ll get their money. It’s just how much penalties and interest do you wanna rack up?

 Edit: now that I’ve read your whole OP, yea definitely erase. You sound spoiled and entitled. Ahhh to be young again.

Long Ranger · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jan 2014 · Points: 331

I guide backpacking trips, which probably isn't what you're looking for, but here's my take:

It's a great gig, but it's a gig, you know? It's seasonal. I guide with a company that has highly enthusiastic clients that are also incredibly motivated. I like that, but I know not all guiding positions are like that. I got flown to Alaska to hang out above the Arctic Circle for 2 1/2 weeks - and I got paid! How cool is that? Pretty cool, but still needed another job, as the pay isn't something that'll support where I live.

I may not ever been super-motivated to pay for courses myself. If my employeer pays comps me, then I'd do it. But it just doesn't seem like a wise investment to pay out of pocket - or get the accredidation, THEN get a gig that needs it. Chicken/Egg thing perhaps. Guess I'll come to that road when I need to.

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275

Take responsibility for your "awful financial decision." Most lenders will work with you, even if you can only pay a little each month. But you need to start that dialog with the lender. Talk to an attorney, if you can. Don't try to weasel out of your debt!

Sure, it seems overwhelming, but man up, and deal with it.

Dave K · · San Diego · Joined Jul 2019 · Points: 0

I don't have specific numbers and I'm sure there's a wide range, but I do know that Americans in general don't often pay people to take them climbing.

Hayden Moore · · Dallas, TX · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 15

Long is correct in that it is quite seasonal. Most guides do have to have a somewhat transient lifestyle to follow climbing areas, which means you have to have ins at multiple companies if you want to work year-round. It's relatively expensive to get certs, but it's doable. You'll never be rich but you'll get to spend your time in the mountains. 

Artem Vasilyev · · Portland, OR · Joined Mar 2014 · Points: 80
FrankPS wrote: Take responsibility for your "awful financial decision." Most lenders will work with you, even if you can only pay a little each month. But you need to start that dialog with the lender. Talk to an attorney, if you can. Don't try to weasel out of your debt!

Sure, it seems overwhelming, but man up, and deal with it.

There she blows!

Artem Vasilyev · · Portland, OR · Joined Mar 2014 · Points: 80
Bill Kirby wrote: Good luck dodging your student loans. The government, whether it’s the IRS or student loans, they’ll get their money. It’s just how much penalties and interest do you wanna rack up?

 Edit: now that I’ve read your whole OP, yea definitely erase. You sound spoiled and entitled. Ahhh to be young again.

Thank you for both your astute observations and thoughtful assessment of my character. 

Merlin · · Grand Junction · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 10

As someone with student loans, you do not want to try and dodge them if you ever plan on living in the US.  Google "defaulting on student loans".  You'll lose, your life will suffer, and eventually, you'll have to deal with it.
 

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275
Artem Vasilyev wrote: I'm currently reviewing various career options (since I am silently going insane at my office job after a short 1.5 year career so far) and decided to take a peek at what it takes to become a climbing guide. Looking at the options, it seems to be prohibitively expensive to even get a cert to guide people up a simple multipitch (~10k for all of the courses and exams to be a "Rock Guide" and 3k for a multipitch course/exam), which is a silly price in my honest opinion. Something tells me that the people who put the guidelines in place had the luxury of not facing these costs (or the challenge of earning some kind ROI on them).

So my questions are as follows: How viable is an actual career in guiding, assuming that you are in your twenties and not part of the boomer/gen X generation? What is the typical path to be an instructor for either rock or alpine? Are your wages in the form of a paycheck that can be garnished vs. cash? (This specific question is because in despite of being in a finance career, I made an awful financial decision of taking out an ungodly amount of student loans when I was 19, so if I bail on my current career I'll need to dodge our friend uncle Sam - though if the certs transfer between countries, I can dodge that way).

I would enjoy to do something that I actually care about for work, since I believe the likelihood of me finding something of that nature in "regular" society is very unlikely (I just can't stand sitting on my ass for a living, to be honest).

Thank you for your time! If the responses are uninformative or if I've simply opened an avenue to get flamed, I'll delete the post - so please try to keep your opinion productive.

Saved for reference.

James Lee · · Mobile, AL · Joined Mar 2017 · Points: 35

Do you know where the money you took to pay for your education came from? I am not talking about the company that processes your payments or  mails statements, but where the money actually came from. While "Uncle Sam" may have foolishly loaned obscene amounts of money, for overpriced or worthless degrees, to people like you, the money came from taxpayers...you borrowed that money from taxpayers, people like me. People who work for a living and paid off their student own students, if they had any. People who work a job, when they rather be outdoors. Now I am supposed to eat the money I loaned you while you go play? 

Fan Yang · · San Diego · Joined Jun 2011 · Points: 138

Most climbers don't like guides. My personal experience running into American guides have been 50/50, with the odds worsening by the year unfortunately.

It's not especially difficult to see why. 

caughtinside · · Oakland CA · Joined Nov 2006 · Points: 1,450

Guiding is over saturated.  I can't imagine what the ROI is now that you have to spend years and thousands to get a cert so you can set up top ropes.  If you want to climb a lot and make a decent living, become a nurse. 

runout · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2013 · Points: 30

In case you haven't found it yet: https://www.reddit.com/r/studentloandefaulters/

I don't think too many people have success with it. Mostly they save up enough to leave the US and never come back.

Your best bet is vote for Bernie and hope that he will erase all student loans. /s

Fan Yang · · San Diego · Joined Jun 2011 · Points: 138
caughtinside wrote: Guiding is over saturated.  I can't imagine what the ROI is now that you have to spend years and thousands to get a cert so you can set up top ropes.  If you want to climb a lot and make a decent living, become a nurse. 

But the real responsibilities though...and having to behave yourself...and not getting kudos for having holes in your pants...i dunno man...

caughtinside · · Oakland CA · Joined Nov 2006 · Points: 1,450
James Lee wrote: Do you know where the money you took to pay for your education came from? I am not talking about the company that processes your payments or  mails statements, but where the money actually came from. While "Uncle Sam" may have foolishly loaned obscene amounts of money, for overpriced or worthless degrees, to people like you, the money came from taxpayers...you borrowed that money from taxpayers, people like me. People who work for a living and paid off their student own students, if they had any. People who work a job, when they rather be outdoors. Now I am supposed to eat the money I loaned you while you go play? 

This is pathetic. 

Mark NH · · 03053 · Joined Feb 2013 · Points: 0

If you’re not responsible enough to honor your commitments and pay off your loans you’re not responsible enough to be a guide and make decisions for guests. I sure as hell wouldn’t hire you if I owned a guide service. Most are probably gonna do a background check.

I hope you enjoy sitting on your ass for work the rest of your life!

Grandpa Dave · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2016 · Points: 5
FrankPS wrote: Take responsibility for your "awful financial decision." Most lenders will work with you, even if you can only pay a little each month. But you need to start that dialog with the lender. Talk to an attorney, if you can. Don't try to weasel out of your debt!

Sure, it seems overwhelming, but man up, and deal with it.

Seriously! What Frank said - man up! We all did!

Max Tepfer · · Bend, OR · Joined Oct 2007 · Points: 1,702
Artem Vasilyev wrote: I'm currently reviewing various career options (since I am silently going insane at my office job after a short 1.5 year career so far) and decided to take a peek at what it takes to become a climbing guide. Looking at the options, it seems to be prohibitively expensive to even get a cert to guide people up a simple multipitch (~10k for all of the courses and exams to be a "Rock Guide" and 3k for a multipitch course/exam), which is a silly price in my honest opinion. Something tells me that the people who put the guidelines in place had the luxury of not facing these costs (or the challenge of earning some kind ROI on them).

So my questions are as follows: How viable is an actual career in guiding, assuming that you are in your twenties and not part of the boomer/gen X generation? What is the typical path to be an instructor for either rock or alpine? Are your wages in the form of a paycheck that can be garnished vs. cash? (This specific question is because in despite of being in a finance career, I made an awful financial decision of taking out an ungodly amount of student loans when I was 19, so if I bail on my current career I'll need to dodge our friend uncle Sam - though if the certs transfer between countries, I can dodge that way).

I would enjoy to do something that I actually care about for work, since I believe the likelihood of me finding something of that nature in "regular" society is very unlikely (I just can't stand sitting on my ass for a living, to be honest).

Thank you for your time! If the responses are uninformative or if I've simply opened an avenue to get flamed, I'll delete the post - so please try to keep your opinion productive.

Yes, you can make a modest annual wage as a climbing guide, (45-70k depending on how much you work and how successful you are) but takes a long time and investment to get started/established.  Expect to break even for a few years.  

If you work for a company, you'll get taxed as an employee.  This has the added benefit that you're covered by worker's comp which is actually kind of a big deal if you work as a climbing guide.  Some guides choose to work outside of the permitting system (aka the law) but this is pretty risky and generally frowned on by other guides.  Were you to do this, it would be easier to hide your income from the government, but it's quite difficult to get clients if you don't work for a company initially.

10k to get trained to do a high-risk job is actually incredibly inexpensive.  

There's a lot more money and work volume alpine guiding than there is rock guiding, but that requires even more money and time to get trained.  (all of ~20k which is still incredibly cheap compared to your first degree)  If you're set on only rock guiding, you'll have to move somewhere with a decent work volume.  This would be the Northeast, (Gunks, Cathedral, Acadia) Southeast, (North Carolina) California, (Joshua Tree) Oregon, (Smith) or maybe Vegas.  Vegas gets a maybe because it's a lot more difficult to break into than the other venues because it's more desirable work.

There are certainly significant advantages to being migratory, but it can be done without.  Like most of it, it'd be harder to do initially and easier with time.

Regarding working in a field you care about, in this case that should mean that you care a lot about facilitating a specific experience for others as opposed to actually going climbing.  Sometimes you get to go do real climbing and it's sweet, but in my experience that's like 3-5% of the time. (and I tend to get more of that work than most) Expect to do a lot of 'this is how to tie an 8 and step into your harness' instruction if you're going to just be a rock guide.  From there, if you stick with it, you'll graduate to ropegunning 5.6-5.8 multipitches and breaking 2-5 pitch routes into 5-10 pitch routes.  My experience with guiding as a career is that it's extremely complimentary to my own climbing, but I'm fairly certain that I'm an outlier in that regard.
Richard R · · DC · Joined Jun 2016 · Points: 0

I know a guy who worked in finance for many years and didn't like it. But he waited til he was debt-free, used his day job to pay for guiding certs, and now has a great career in outdoor education. Given that you've got a job that pays decently, sticking with it long enough to give you options in a future career switch may be the best idea. Some of the folks I went to college with are starting out in finance now, and I know it's pretty rough for work-life balance, so I feel for you. But work is mostly work, not fun, and especially starting out you have to put your nose to the grindstone and find fun elsewhere.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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