If you have decided that you want to make a living out of rock climbing, but don’t know what that will look like, you’ve come to the right place. Becoming a certified rock climbing guide can take a lot of work and be a little confusing, but that’s why we’re here.
We’re here to help clear up any confusion you might have about how to get certified in rock climbing guiding. From breaking down and discussing the different levels of guiding certifications available to help you understand the skills needed to be a certified rock climbing guide, we’re here to help you.
What is a Rock Climbing Certification?
At its simplest level, a rock climbing certification, a rock climbing guide certification, or a rock climbing instructor certification is a certificate that states that you are knowledgeable enough in a certain climbing field to safely guide people in that field. Rock climbing guides are trained in rock climbing techniques, gear safety and management, teaching techniques, and many rescue techniques to fit all different scenarios.
Different rock climbing certification levels will cover different categories of climbing. For example, if a single-pitch certified guide tries to guide someone in a multi-pitch scenario, they would be practicing outside their scope of practice and would be liable for everything that happened.
In order to get a rock climbing guide certification, you will need to go through a number of steps. We’ll go into more detail about these steps later on in this article, but the general overview is to take a course, go off and practice on your own, and then take an exam. Assuming you pass the exam, you are ready to go off and be a rock climbing guide for as long as your exam is valid. After that, you will need to renew your certification.
What are Different Rock Climbing Certifications Available?
Although there are two different certifying bodies of rock climbing guides in the US, the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) and the Professional Climbing Guides Institute (PCGI), they offer similar levels of certification. In general, there are indoor and outdoor certifications available.
Indoor Rock Climbing
The indoor rock climbing certifications available all center around teaching at and running a rock climbing wall. The most common of these is the AMGA Climbing Wall Instructor (CWI) certification. This is generally seen as the simplest certification to receive, but it will still take a course, practice, and exam to achieve this certification.
Outdoor Rock Climbing
The outdoor rock climbing guide certifications start with being a single pitch guide. For AMGA, this is called the Single Pitch Instructor (SPI); for PCGI, this is known as the Single Pitch Guide (SPG). Both certifications are nationally accepted and cover the skills you need to guide climbers in a single-pitch environment, including teaching and rescue.
If you choose to seek certification of a higher level, you will need to either go for an ice or mountaineering certification, or you will need to go for a certification that allows you to guide on more than one pitch. This multi-pitch certification is harder to receive as a lot of material must be covered during the timed exam that you have to pass to receive this certification.
The AMGA offers more paths beyond just rock climbing. They also have courses and certifications to become ski, mountaineering, or lead rock guides. These courses go well beyond the scope of your average rock climbing guide course and would certify you to guide in more remote places and on more dangerous terrain. However, most guides don’t start with these courses since they are long and packed with technical knowledge.
Requirements to Become a Certified Rock Climbing Instructor
Becoming any level of rock climbing guide will take a lot of hard work and dedication. Don’t expect to just be a good climber and have that be enough to get you through your certification exams. Here are some of the basic requirements to become a certified rock climbing guide:
1. Be a good climber
Each level of certification has a different specific requirement, but part of being able to pass the certification exam is being able to climb a certain level. For example, to even take the AMGA SPI course, you will need to have at least 15 trad leads and be able to climb at a level of 5.8 on the top rope. Each level of certification will have different climbing requirements, so make sure you check for the certification you are going for.
2. Understand the gear used
Learning the ins and outs of climbing gear is something that a lot of people don’t think about when it comes to becoming a rock climbing guide. You’ll need to know the different materials used to make climbing gear and how they respond to different scenarios. There will be a portion of the course that covers the gear you have and other gear that clients might bring.
3. Know how to teach climbing
It might seem self-explanatory, but knowing how to teach is a huge part of being a rock climbing guide. If you know how to climb, shouldn’t you be able to teach it? Well, not quite. Teaching climbing can be challenging since it involves not only the physical movements of climbing but the mental stress of trusting someone while being suspended in the air. Being a good teacher is essential to your future success as a rock climbing guide.
4. Understand lots of different climbing techniques
You will be expected to teach your clients how to practice different climbing techniques and how to climb efficiently. Understanding how the body moves and how to control where your center of gravity is can be a challenge for a lot of recreational climbers, but it is something that guides must be good at. This can often be one of the most challenging aspects of becoming a rock climbing guide.
5. Be able to rescue clients from lots of different situations
Learning the climbing rescue skills that are necessary to become a rock climbing guide can often be totally new and foreign to a recreational climber, but it is vital to keeping your clients safe. Not only do you need to be able to rescue clients when you are on the ground, but you’ll also have to be able to rescue them from the top of a climb. There are a lot of things to think about when it comes to climbing rescue, and you will be expected to stay up to date on any new practices that come out.
If these five categories all sound like things that you are able to learn or already know how to do, you might be a good fit for the job of rock climbing guide. These are the steps you take once you decide that this is what you want to pursue:
1. Register for and take a course
The first step is always registering for a course. Find a course near you or one that is easy for you to get to, and follow the steps from the AMGA or PCGI to register for the course. Make sure you meet the minimum requirements before the start of the course since your instructor will check that you are qualified for that course.
2. Practice for a while
After the course is done, your instructor will be able to give you a pretty good idea of how long you should practice before you take the exam. In general, most people should practice for at least a few months before attempting their certification exam. The exams can be daunting and will take a few hours, so you’ll want to take your time and make sure you are prepared.
3. Register for and take an exam.
Same as you did with the course, you’ll have to register for the exam in advance. Since rock climbing guide certification exams take a few hours at minimum, it is essential that you book in advance. Make sure you are ready for your exam and have all your necessary gear. If you fail and have to retake the exam, you will have to pay the testing fee again, so practice until you really feel ready.
What Can You Do with a Rock Climbing Certification?
A rock climbing certification is an excellent way to launch your guiding career. Although you might be able to lead college outdoor programs as a college student without a guiding certification or work for a summer camp climbing wall, you are more likely to be hired by a year-round guiding company with a certification. Even taking the initial course will make you a much better hire for guide companies.
Even with a rock climbing guide certification, there are other things you’ll need to be hired as a guide. Some guide companies require you to get a wilderness first responder certification but most only require CPR or wilderness first aid. These medical certifications are essential to keeping clients safe.
It’s also important to remember that rock climbing certifications and medical certifications both expire and will need to be kept up regularly. Make sure that you stay on top of when your certifications expire because it is often easier to renew your certification before it has expired. Once your certification has fully expired, you’ll often need to take the full course again instead of just taking the exam.
Wrapping Things Up: How to Get Certified in Rock Climbing?
Getting certified to be a rock climbing guide takes a lot of hard work. From figuring out what course and exam are right for you to actually passing the exam and becoming a certified rock climbing guide, there is a lot of work to be done. Understanding the steps and what you need to do to become certified is essential to not missing any steps and eventually becoming a certified rock climbing guide.