On the 10th August I completed my final alpine assessment and in doing so became an IFMGA British Mountain Guide. The journey has been a long one with more training and assessments than I care to remember over the last four or five years, this on top of the same again before it finishing off my application and gaining the experience necessary to begin the process. I am very pleased to have gone through and be able to qualify with the British Mountain Guides who I believe are some of the best around.
Becoming an IFMGA Guide has been a dream of mine ever since my first season in the Alps when I was sixteen. Over the last eighteen years my attention has wandered at times but essentially it is all I have ever wanted to be. I am of an obsessive type nature and there is a high chance I have thought about becoming a Guide every single day since that first trip to the Alps.
So what is a Mountain Guide? A Mountain Guide is someone with the IFMGA carnet, the highest qualification in the world for leading people in the mountains, whether skiing, climbing or mountaineering. A BMG Guide holds the IFMGA carnet, which is the only UK qualification valid abroad for climbing and skiing off-piste on glacial terrain. The IFMGA (International Federation of Mountain Guide Association) has 22 member countries and regulates the training and assessment process across the board. The different schemes all have minor variations to accommodate their particular mountain environments (the Scottish Winter section for example on the BMG scheme), but when completed we all hold the same IFMGA qualification and ability to guide any mountainous activity anywhere in the world. There are around 6000 IFMGA Guides worldwide.
When I got on the scheme four years ago I knew it would be hard work (I have seen a lot of my friends go through in recent years), but I had no idea how it would change me over it’s course. To get on the scheme the BMG are looking for a vast application with a wide range of experience and not necessarily technical brilliance or past experience of working in the outdoors. That’s right, you don’t need past experience of instruction or UK based guiding to get onto the scheme, of more interest is the amount of experience you have in the mountains and your reasons for wanting to become a Guide.
When I first applied to the scheme I had some pretty big holes in my knowledge. Having never been trained / assessed in the outdoors before my navigation skills were poor and looking back my level of avalanche awareness and terrain management was low. For me this has been one of the biggest points of becoming a Guide, the filling in of ‘essential’ skills in the mountains. Come assessment day there is no-where to hide if you do not have these crucial skills.
A huge part of the job is also just being able to look after people in the hills. There is a constant, on-going dynamic risk assessment going on in your Guides’ head all day long. Sometimes this is easy and straight-forward and sometimes it is more challenging when there is a lot going on.
The job is ultimately very rewarding and I am thrilled to be able to now begin my new career in earnest. I am moving back out to the Chamonix valley full-time from the end of November and can’t wait for the winter to begin.
Before that my next move is a trip back to India in just under a week. I begin with a work trip working once again for Moran Mountain before moving on to a personal objective, the unclimbed North-East Ridge of Nanda Devi East. It’s a whopper at 7434m and I am returning with my regular climbing partner and fellow BMG John Crook. At the time of writing there is uncertainty with which permits the state of Uttarakhand are issuing after a high court order banned certain activities in the area. Hopefully this will be sorted and we will be able to proceed as planned with our trip. The fun and games of expedition climbing!
Here are some pictures. The first one is of our objective on Nanda Devi East that I leave for next week and is from Moran and Thomas’s attempt on the NE ridge in 2015. The rest are of the last few years guiding in Scotland, the Alps, Norway and India. Photo credits to Martin Moran, Urban Užman, Graham Frost, Andy Townsend, Jon Bracey, Mark Walker, and my friend Nick Bortman.
There will be a full write-up of our expedition upon my return in mid November.
Wish us luck!