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Thread: Becoming A Professional Hiking Guide

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    Becoming A Professional Hiking Guide

    I assume there are probably several professional guides here on this forum or at least people who know guides and guiding companies. I'm curious what the legal requirements are for becoming an actual certified/professional guide. I assume things like the WFR course are mandatory but I'm not really sure beyond that what sort of courses, licenses, memberships to professional organizations like the AMC, etc would be needed. If anyone can point me in the direction of how they did it and/or what types of things are required I'd be very curious. I've had several family members ask me to take them out on hikes and while I certainly don't need a certification for that I thought it might be worthwhile to educate myself on what a guide should know and maybe down the road becoming an alpine steward or an actual guide might be something I'd look into.

    Appreciate any thoughts on the subject, references to books, etc. Thanks in advance.

  2. #2
    Senior Member ChrisB's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DayTrip View Post
    I assume there are probably several professional guides here on this forum or at least people who know guides and guiding companies. I'm curious what the legal requirements are for becoming an actual certified/professional guide...
    Interesting question.

    Obviously the AMC trains folks as hike and trip leaders. While not "professional" in the $$ sense, the title does confer some implied expertise to the role and the training is based on established curriculum and standards. It usually occurs at the chapter-level.

    The AMGA (American Mountain Guides Assoc.) requires much more rigiorus training and certification testing and retesting. This is more in the realm of technical mountaineering. However, a winter ascent of Washington (a hike) is usually led by a certified AMGA guided employed by EMS or IME., or operating independently.

    Finally, the State of Maine certifies guides operating within the state. A "Certified Maine Guide" will often lead LL Bean-sponsored activities including fishing trips and other outdoor activities. I don't know what Maine state certification requires in the way of training or testing.

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    Last edited by ChrisB; 09-03-2017 at 11:37 AM.
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    Senior Member Nessmuk's Avatar
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    In what state? Requirements may vary significantly from one state to the next. In NY you have to take a written test, have (as a minimum) WFA, CPR, and if on water, show experience in boats. There are separate and additional qualification requirements for climbing, ice climbing, and whitewater. After meeting these requirements plus a physician's ok, you take the written exam, pay $100 for the basic, and additional money for each specialty you want to guide for (hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, climbing, etc). These must be renewed (with the fee) every 5 years. Some states ( Maine?, Minnesota?) may also require skills demonstration in a field exam, a good idea IMO, but NY does not, only wanting your $$.

    If you "guide for hire" (are being paid $ to guide) in NY, you must be licensed.

    http://www.dec.ny.gov/permits/30969.html

    You might want to check out the NYS Outdoor Guide's Association (NYSOGA)
    http://nysoga.org

    An interesting book on early (and current) outdoor guides of NY:
    Guides of the Adirondacks: A History by Charles Brumley
    Last edited by Nessmuk; 09-03-2017 at 12:31 PM.
    "She's all my fancy painted her, she's lovely, she is light. She waltzes on the waves by day and rests with me at night." - Nessmuk, Forest and Stream, July 21, 1880 [of the Wood Drake Canoe built for him by Rushton]

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    Senior Member NH Tramper's Avatar
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    In New Hampshire there are no requirements. Though the WMNF as well as your outfitter insurance company may not be so content with the minimums.

    If guiding rock or ice I'd suggest you work with the AMGA as it's a recognized route. If guiding hiking, I'd stick to the sort of route I went:

    I earned my AMC Class 1 Leader badge, plus I guided with some good meetup groups like Random and NE Peakbaggers (all for experience), took outdoor leadership school, took the AMGA SPI anyway, took Avy 1, earned my WFR and with CPR/AED have kept both current, became an LNT Awareness Trainer, studied my ass off, volunteered with SAR to further test myself and put myself into situation I could learn in, plus I have partaken in F&G training opportunities afforded by said volunteerism.

    Depending on what you're doing out there will affect what you truly need. Do plan to be far more prepared on every level than anyone you lead. Physically, mentally, judgement, gear, etc. In any case, it's pretty serious if you're guiding above treeline, especially in the winter.

    A good way to start is to apply to an existing agency. If you get in, you're in. Climb on from there.

    If looking to guide rock and ice, I'd suggest contacting Brad White at IMCS. If looking into guiding hikes, I'll talk to you. Apply here.
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    Senior Member Nessmuk's Avatar
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    I did forget to mention insurance. These days you can be sured for a client's cut finger, or for having a bad time. There are companies that specialize in guide's insurance. Insurance is not cheap. Just beware.
    "She's all my fancy painted her, she's lovely, she is light. She waltzes on the waves by day and rests with me at night." - Nessmuk, Forest and Stream, July 21, 1880 [of the Wood Drake Canoe built for him by Rushton]

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    Thanks everyone. These are some good starting points to look into further. I don't know why but I imagined certification being a national thing, not a state by state situation.

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    Quote Originally Posted by NH Tramper View Post
    In New Hampshire there are no requirements. Though the WMNF as well as your outfitter insurance company may not be so content with the minimums.

    If guiding rock or ice I'd suggest you work with the AMGA as it's a recognized route. If guiding hiking, I'd stick to the sort of route I went:

    I earned my AMC Class 1 Leader badge, plus I guided with some good meetup groups like Random and NE Peakbaggers (all for experience), took outdoor leadership school, took the AMGA SPI anyway, took Avy 1, earned my WFR and with CPR/AED have kept both current, became an LNT Awareness Trainer, studied my ass off, volunteered with SAR to further test myself and put myself into situation I could learn in, plus I have partaken in F&G training opportunities afforded by said volunteerism.

    Depending on what you're doing out there will affect what you truly need. Do plan to be far more prepared on every level than anyone you lead. Physically, mentally, judgement, gear, etc. In any case, it's pretty serious if you're guiding above treeline, especially in the winter.

    A good way to start is to apply to an existing agency. If you get in, you're in. Climb on from there.

    If looking to guide rock and ice, I'd suggest contacting Brad White at IMCS. If looking into guiding hikes, I'll talk to you. Apply here.
    Thanks for the opportunity to apply but I suspect I would not meet your minimum qualifications. I'm a year round hiker but have never done any technical climbing or rock climbing (although that had been slowly creeping onto my radar the past few years as something I'd like to try) and have only been seriously hiking for 6 years now. I imagined guiding more "routine" hikes for small groups as opposed to hard core stuff in off the beaten path type areas. Not even sure there is a market for that with all the focus on peakbagging nowadays.

    I didn't realize you were actually from Redline Guiding. That's kind of fitting though because seeing your ads and posts online is actually what got me thinking of the possibility of actually hiking for a job over this past Summer. I've been able to do quite a bit of hiking this Summer (23 of the last 24 weekends) and I'm at a "tipping point" of sorts where I've seen my conditioning, range and knowledge improve to the point where I want to get truly serious about seeing exactly what is possible and where I can go with it. I've helped to get several people I know get hooked on hiking and have had some people ask me to take them out so I got to wondering about what a guide entails and with the exploding popularity of it whether or not I could actually make money doing it.

    Maybe someday in the near future I can catch you on a rainy day and pick your brain with some questions once I've done more research on everyone's posts above. Appreciate the offer to speak to me but I suspect that would be premature at this point. Thanks.

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    Senior Member Raven's Avatar
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    Another avenue for varied experience, income potential, and different legal requirements is to guide adolescent/youth groups. You can expect a different kind of adventure as well. I used to guide trips for schools, Boy Scouts, and led an outdoor club for high schools. I do one trip a year these days. I don't charge but I've also never paid for a trip I'm leading. If you're going to do Scouts, becoming a merit badge counselor so you can award the hiking and backpacking merit badges is a good idea. Not all leaders can give all badges. This is not hard to do. If you lead groups of children, you'll need (most likely) a CORI check. Definitely needed for anyone spending time alone with the kids. Not always needed if you are always supervised.

    I cannot speak to liability insurance as a guide. I keep it for a side business I run and am covered for 300k a year for under $200 cost. I'd prefer not to have it but here we are.

    You can also expect to be halfway up the Coe slide when one of the chaperones informs you of his or her extreme fear of heights. True story.
    Last edited by Raven; 09-05-2017 at 05:48 AM.
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    Senior Member Nessmuk's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Raven View Post
    Another avenue for varied experience, income potential, and different legal requirements is to guide adolescent/youth groups. You can expect a different kind of adventure as well. I used to guide trips for schools, Boy Scouts, and led an outdoor club for high schools.
    There is an Adirondack guide training program, (Voyageur Trek Leader/guide), for anyone wanting to be a wilderness guide for BSA or other youth groups. The written syllabus created by the Adirondack instructors has been adapted by BSA National and modified to fit similar programs in other parts of the country. Most students are of college age, wishing to be hired and work for BSA resident summer camps, but any age adult (over 18) with youth group interest and willing to attend the 8-day training course in June is welcome. There is no commitment required if you do not want to work for BSA, but you will be exposed to BSA camp traditions and subject to BSA policies during the program. Not everyone passes and becomes certified. The most telling passing criteria by the instructors is generally stated: "would I trust this person to take my own child safely into the wilderness and return". If not, there are always specific reasons. On the other hand, many graduates will go on to easily pass the NYSDEC Guide license exam.

    http://adkvoyageur.com

    Training begins at one of the Adirondack region BSA resident camps, including patrol method camping, and classroom interactive lectures and exercises. Followed by a visit to the Adirondack Museum (recently renamed the Adirondack "Experience"), then 4 days of wilderness leadership and skills evaluations while canoeing and backpacking in the Lows Lake area in the central Adirondacks.
    Last edited by Nessmuk; 09-06-2017 at 07:23 PM.
    "She's all my fancy painted her, she's lovely, she is light. She waltzes on the waves by day and rests with me at night." - Nessmuk, Forest and Stream, July 21, 1880 [of the Wood Drake Canoe built for him by Rushton]

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    Senior Member Stan's Avatar
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    I have a Maine Guide and Commercial Boat Operator license. The application focused on training and experience. In my case three things were particularly relevant: experience as a volunteer guide for a non-profit leading people with disabilities on hiking, backpacking and kayaking adventures (the training for that was particularly valuable), accomplishment of the NE 100 highest, and Coast Guard training and leadership. First Aid certification is required as part of the application.

    There was an extensive interview process which includes guiding ethics, map and compass, and a challenging lost/injured person scenario along with other discussion conducted by a Maine Guide and a warden in the Maine Division of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

    There was a 200 question test, maybe a shorter one now, that included, to my surprise, several wildlife questions covering both their behaviors and identification. I was weak on certain waterfowl and fish identification but with so many questions, could afford to lose a few.

    Related references for both experience and character were required.

    There are organizations that provide training as well as books worth reading; Gil Gilpatrick was one I found useful. My personal preference is NOT to train for the the test but to achieve it through a variety of trainings and experience.

    Here is a link to the Maine Guide application process: http://www.maine.gov/ifw/licenses_permits/guide.htm

    Even if you don't intend to guide commercially, I think the application process forces you to be a better and safer outdoorsman or woman (the first Maine Guide was a woman by the name of Flyrod Crosby). A fringe benefit, as a member of the Maine Professional Guide Association, is the significant discount available on related guiding equipment and supplies from a large number of manufacturers and retailers.

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    I am surprised that the old "gold" standard for outdoor leadership training was not mentioned, NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School). I have run into many a NOLs graduate in the field. Their courses do seem to be survival of the fittest scenarios where the folks who make it through deserve it.

    Outward Bound used to have a good rep and tended to publicize it but I have heard from several folks over the years who signed up for courses and found that many of the others in the group were court diversions or folks with serious emotional issues. This was mostly their Newry Maine and the Hurricane Island facilities and of late I just don't hear a lot about them.

    WSI (Water Safety Instructor) used to be and may still be the certification that many organizations require. When I was involved with the Boy Scouts I used to recommend to scouts with good swimming skills to get a WSI certification at summer camp and inevitably it led to a lot of great summer jobs as there has always been a major shortage of WSI folks and many camp insurance programs require WSI trained leaders even for events like backpacking trips.

    At least one of the whitewater rafting firms in Maine used to offer a preseason Maine guide program, wannabe whitewater guides would pay for the training and the firm would hire the cream of the class for the summer.

    A general observation is that I have met many a great incredibly qualified person who guide and they do it as a passion rather than a job. Most have a side gig or a spouse that has a stable job to pay the bills and few live a prosperous lifestyle. A few manage to stay in the business usually by getting other folks to work for them but for most its part time gig at best.
    Last edited by peakbagger; 09-06-2017 at 11:28 AM.

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    Senior Member Tom Rankin's Avatar
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    I chatted with a NY guide last night who works for a guiding company, and their standards are even higher than the state requires.

    The thought of guiding has crossed my mind a few times. My wife and I have extensive experience in the Catskills (her more than me) but the attendant hassles might not make it worth while....
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Rankin View Post
    I chatted with a NY guide last night who works for a guiding company, and their standards are even higher than the state requires.

    The thought of guiding has crossed my mind a few times. My wife and I have extensive experience in the Catskills (her more than me) but the attendant hassles might not make it worth while....
    I have a friend who studied in hopes of applying in New York. I looked over her application and was really surprised by the amount of boating questions, they seemed more difficult than the land-based questions.

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    Senior Member hikerbrian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stan View Post
    My personal preference is NOT to train for the the test but to achieve it through a variety of trainings and experience.
    I think this is a very good point.

    I am not a paid guide, but I did go through the leader certification process with AMC and have led hikes and backpacks in all four seasons for about five years now. I have just a couple of thoughts to add.

    Stan's point above is important. The best leaders I've seen within AMC have a lot of experience under their belt before they start 'leadership training.' Books and trainings are good. But you get a whole lot more out of both if you've already had to deal with some challenging situations, and you know what questions to ask. To just scratch the surface, consider how much thought it takes to plan a 3-day backpack for family members who have a range of experience and whom you love dearly. Do this a couple of times (which you probably already have done), and quite quickly you understand the importance of bailout routes, contingency plans, impeccable navigation ability, and redundancy for critical items. When it's your family, you take this process extremely seriously, and (for me, at least) that thought process really helps you become a leader.

    When I started AMC leadership training, I'd hiked and backpacked fairly extensively in the Whites in all seasons, I'd planned and executed on extended backpacking trips in Montana, the North Cascades, the Olympics, Alaska, and the Sierra Nevada. I'd also done a fair amount of technical climbing. I still felt like I wasn't prepared for EVERY possible scenario, so I led pretty tame trips at the beginning.

    AMC leadership training consists of some reasonable amount of classroom time (I think it was 5 nights?), then a weekend trip somewhere to practice a bunch of stuff. You also need to take Wilderness First Aid periodically. You also need to co-lead at least 3 trips with people who are certified leaders. Those folks ultimately decide if you're ready. The process isn't perfect, but I'd say it's pretty good. Most (though not all) AMC leaders I've been acquainted with really are quite good at what they do. Also, the process is self-selective (you have to WANT to be a leader to put in the time), and folks generally don't want to screw up when others are counting on them, so they lead trips well within their ability. I wouldn't call the leadership training process 'rigorous' necessarily, but certainly those who have no business leading are weeded out pretty quickly. I've also seen a fairly large number of people go through leadership training and realize either it's just not for them, or they just don't have the confidence to be the person everyone counts on. The proportion of folks who go through leadership training and then go on to lead more than a trip or two is quite small I think, though I don't know the numbers.

    AMC leadership training might be one avenue for getting a taste of what guiding is all about without all that much cost or commitment. I also like that there's a lot of autonomy, you're largely protected from liability, and there's a system in place to post your trips and get people to join you. Having done this for a little while, I can say with some certainty that I don't want to guide professionally. I get plenty of feel-good out of the volunteer stuff, and the expectations and potential stress are lower. Best of all worlds for me.
    Sure. Why not.

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    Quote Originally Posted by peakbagger View Post
    A general observation is that I have met many a great incredibly qualified person who guide and they do it as a passion rather than a job. Most have a side gig or a spouse that has a stable job to pay the bills and few live a prosperous lifestyle. A few manage to stay in the business usually by getting other folks to work for them but for most its part time gig at best.
    Yes, I have no delusions of grandeur for what a guide entails. I'm sure there are about 42 trillion outdoor lovers just like me who would love to earn money hiking. I think I'm looking at it like the 48 4k list. Starting the list as a decidedly novice hiker it forced me to go to areas I had never been, hike in conditions I had never hiked before, etc and provided a sense of structure that allowed for personal growth. I guess I'm looking at a guide program the same way. It will provide structure to help expose my shortcomings and provide a checklist of skills to make me a better overall hiker. Regardless of how far I pursue the goal it will let me take my outdoor skills to the next level. If it sparks the level of enthusiasm that the 4k list did for me, who knows, maybe down the road I'll be a guide somewhere.

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