/ Guides really worth it?

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Bob_the_Builder - on 11 Jan 2013
I've reached a bit of a conundrum. I love Scottish mountaineering, big winter days, and long multi-day backpacking trips. I can climb up to Scottish III and lead VS trad. I want to move into the world of high Alpine climbing.

My problem is that I don't really have any friends who want to take the leap with me. I don't have any experience with glacier travel and the highest altitude I've been is just over 3000m. I've started considering that maybe the only way I'm going to get the skills I need is to go on a guided skills week in the Alps.

However I've always been deeply suspicious of "guided holidays" in all forms, and all the skills I have at the moment are learned from more experienced friends or through trial and error on my own. I'm sure there are others on here who have been at this point before, and I'm particularly keen to hear from those who DID take a guide and how that went. Is gettign a guide really worth it?
Conan - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to Bob_the_Builder:

Better option is join a club
Edradour - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to Bob_the_Builder:

How old are you? Conville course?
Bob_the_Builder - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to Conan:

My uni club is far more interested in bouldering or going to a bothy and getting drunk. That is not why I go into the hills.

I've thought about joining the Edinburgh Mountaineering Club but I got the impression it was mostly local, which is fine, but doesn't get me the glacier skills etc.
Mr Ed - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to Bob_the_Builder:

I took a look at prices and it immediately pretty much became unviable for me. I'm sure they're worth the cost in terms of responsibility they have etc but when you factor in that you're taking a gamble with the weather and you have to pay them even when sitting in the valley and pay for all food, huts, cable cars etc it just became too much for my budget. If there was a few people to spread the cost then I guess it becomes better but for me it just wasn't worth it.

Saying that i've had some brilliant guided holidays though more kayaking than climbing.

I'd say join a club and try and find some like minded people that way or look at hiring a guide out there? Might possibly be cheaper?
Bob_the_Builder - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to Fickalli:

Conville course is a good idea. It says on the website the application is closed, but also that application deadline is in April.
GridNorth - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to Bob_the_Builder: Try joining the CC we have meets all over the world. Even as an aspirant you can go on meets and indeed would be encouraged to do so.
rolfe360Expeditions on 11 Jan 2013 -
In reply to Bob_the_Builder:
Hi Bob!
Great to hear you bring up this conversation. I am a professional expedition leader but like you began my journey into Alpine climbing by doing missions to the New Zealand Alps with a bunch of mates. This was a lot of fun and I enjoyed the camaraderie of our teams but it also led to disaster. Our second season out there let to the death of 2 of my best friends. Basically we were biting of more then we could chew and were pushing out the boat on routes where having had a bit more knowledge about the very different conditions involed in Alpine climbing could literally have been less deadly. From a retrospective view I wish I had paid my money in those early days and hired a guide to take me up a route within my capabilities and had gleaned every bit of beta from a professional willing to teach. Sometimes as a developing independent climber one may need to take a step back to move forward.
Doug on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to Bob_the_Builder: If you speak French consider a course run by UCPA - see
Bob_the_Builder - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to rolfe360Expeditions:

I'd love to cut my teeth on the NZ Alps. However it was in the Mueller Hut in M.t Cook NP five years ago that I said "I will never do ice climbing or mountaineering, you'd have to be a mentalist!" Funny how things change.

The danger is what has stopped me flying out to Chamonix and walking up the tallest hill I see (my usual method of learning). Getting a bit wet in a shitty tent on a week long hike is a bit different from falling into a crevasse.
NottsRich on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to Bob_the_Builder: Hi Bob, I noticed you talked about Edinburgh MC, so I guess you're local. Me too.

I'm just starting out in winter stuff this season, although frustratingly slowly (already lead S/VS), have the kit, but the few trips to the Alps that I've had a chance to go on have fallen through.

I've done a bit of trekking around 4,500 - 5,000m and loved it, and Alpine climbing is what I want to get into and is why I started rock climbing the first place.

I'll be interested in following this thread to see what advice comes out of it!
Bee_1 - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to Bob_the_Builder:

Applications for the alpine conville courses usually reopen at some point in the next few weeks and shut in April. The 3 day alpine courses usually run June/early July.
I went on one of the Scottish conville courses last year, and am hoping to do an alpine course this year, keep an eye on the plas y brenin conville page for details of when applications are open.
Bob_the_Builder - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to NottsRich:

I had no interest in Alpine climbing when I started pulling plastic, but after my first trad route I realised pretty quickly that my fascination with "big vertical" and "long walk" had a natural progression and that path ends above 8000m! (not very interested in Everest though)
Bob_the_Builder - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to Doug:

I speak enough French to get myself into trouble, but not enough to get out of it again.
Bob_the_Builder - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to Bee_1:

Thanks for the advice.
needvert on 11 Jan 2013 -
In reply to Bob_the_Builder:

Hired a guide in NZ, 1:1. Well worth it. I say do it, see how it goes.

Would be cool if I had a friend who was an IFMGA, was content to spend holidays/money on [relatively] trivial routes with me. But...I don't. Hell finding someone to come on the guided trips is too hard.

[I don't blame my friends, international flights, physical training before hand, a substantial amount of annual leave, a sizable chunk of money [even without any guides], non-zero chance of death, and for the most part it's just a hard slog up a huge f*cking hill.]
mattrm - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to Bob_the_Builder:

Do a conville course and plan to stay out in the Alps after that. You'll find a bunch of keen folk on the course who will stay out and you'll get some routes done that way for sure.

Or go along to some Alpine club meets. Even if you're not a member, you can just turn up to a meet or two and you'll make some friends. I didn't have enough routes to join last year, but they still invited me to come out to the Alps with them. Most clubs are like that.

However, getting a guide is totally worth it. I spent 5 days climbing with James Thacker (now BMG, then MIC) a few years ago and it was excellent. Lots of great climbing. I learned loads. I also did a Conville course and again learned lots, well worth doing.
Kid Spatula - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to Bob_the_Builder:

I read loads of stuff about glacier travel, and roping up, crevasse rescue etc. and then went to Chamonix and practiced it all until it was stuck in my head. My partner did the same. Then we went and climbed the Aiguille Du Tour, Petit Fourche and Tete Blanche.

We had a bit of a nightmare on the way down as a crucial snow bridge had collapsed leaving us to find our way down through a Tour glacier made largely of massive holes, but we survived!

Worked my way up from there. Started Scottish winter climbing since then.
pepperpot - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to Bob_the_Builder:

You need to consider how long you have for trips.

If you can spend months in the Alps then it's easier to do on your own as you'll have time to find partners and weather won't be too much of an issue. However, if time is a limiting factor (it is for me) then a guided trip is definitely the way forward because I think you'll get far more out of your time. The guides local knowledge will give you more flexibility depending on the prevailing weather and conditions for a start.

I spent a week in the Alps with Martin Moran's outfit and couldn't recommend it enough. Me and two other guys spent the week with a guide (Graham Frost who lived locally) and managed three peaks of increasing difficulty. At no point did it really feel anything other than a trip with a bunch of like-minded people in the mountains, and it was definitely not like a school trip! I think a good guide will work out what you can and can't do and modify how he treats you accordingly. I had more summer and winter mountain experience than the other two and was largely left to deal with things myself but the guide is always there to answer questions. They are also ultimately responsible for your safety and so he's always going to tell you if he's not happy about something and offer tips or guidance if you'll benefit from it. But then again any good climbing partner is going to the same.
Offwidth - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to Bob_the_Builder:

The Conville selection criteria are below. Given these it would be much better if you joined your Uni club and could feedback your skills to that club.

a) You are a keen mountaineer/climber with experience in the UK and intend to do some graded Alpine routes ('F' or above).
b) You intend to benefit as a result of increased knowledge of good and safe Alpine techniques.
c) This will be your first Alpine season, or you have been before but are still unaware of the best techniques.
d) It may only be possible to accept one or two participants from larger groups so that more places can be made available to others. In that event the Trust is keen for some of the essential information from the course to be fed back to other members of the group. A final year student at a university, for example, may not have the opportunity to feed back if they are leaving during the summer. If you are a member of a group, will you have a good opportunity to pass some of the course material on to friends/fellow club members after the course?

MGrock - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to Bob_the_Builder:
Look at Plas Y Brennin's website. They run some excellent intro to apline courses as well as big Guided summits, it can save money in the long run as they will know where best to go, sort transport and get cheaper huts etc
beardy mike - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to Bob_the_Builder: I've been on both sides of the exchange. Myself, I'm mainly self taught. I went on a couple of courses with french guides when very young which didn't get me as far as I'd hoped. Conversely I decided to start instructing and since doing this have been on a good number of courses with British guides who have a very different attitude to european guides in general and who cater more for British "amateur" attitudes. Yes, you can learn everything you need to know from books and mates and in clubs. However, on the other hand, someone who has been trained to teach will be able to impart knowledge efficiently. That is what it's about, not dragging you up and down mountains. In retrospect I learned how to get myself out of a pickle by getting myself into numerous bad scrapes. And you will too. But learning the basics is essential and you need to do that in a reasonably safe environment and in a good pair of hands. If you chose to go down the guided route, pick your guide carefully and really explain what you want out of the trip so that they can tailor it to your requirements. Trips like this are only as good as what you put into them, and it's as much about your attitude as the guides. Once you have the basics, it will not be a big problem, coming on here, finding a partner with similar interests and setting out into the mountains. And don't forget that the Alps are just bigger mountains. All the skills you use in Scotland winter climbing and rock climbing are directly transferable and Scotland is as good a place to train as anywhere, provided you go out with the right attitude and treat routes like they are in the Alps, learning how to move swiftly and efficiently. Indeed you will see conditions in Scotland that you wont encounter in an alpine summer very often. So get out with your local club, get fit, strong and quick. Once you've done that, get on a short course (2-4 days) in glacier travel and then team up with someone to practice those skills. Slowly build up experience and soon enough you'll be biting off more than you can chew and getting into scrapes of all varieties.
Mark Haward - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to Bob_the_Builder:
If you don't have a suitable club locally or friends who have some experience, knowledge and skills for the alps then a guide would be a great way to go.
Two options with this: Go with an individual guide ( the British guides will teach you so that you can alpine clmb independently whereas many continental guides seem to see their role to get you to the top and back rather than teach ).
Second option, usually a lot more economical, is to go for a guided course. Conville is great if you fulfill their criteria, if not consider ISM or Jagged Globe ( many other providers too ).
Another possible option is to fill out your profile on here and see if someone or a group with alpine experience will be happy for you to join them. Just watch out for the bullxxxxxxxs, but it sounds as if you have the experience and knowledge to identify them.
Nigel Modern on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to Bob_the_Builder: I'd go with the advice to join a course. Once you know people you'll find someone to climb with. Personally I wouldn't go to the Alps with someone I didn't know (ie hadn't climbed with) but I would climb with a guided group or a guide. I've had experience of people who believe their own propaganda and think they are God's gift to mountaineering yet are an accident waiting to happen.

We did use a guide once when we pushed a grade...didn't regret it. Got the feel for AD and will probably find the right route and do another AD this year/next year.

Bruce Hooker - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to Bob_the_Builder:

The only problem with courses is that afterwards you'll find yourself spending days on ukc discussing which knot is the best to tie on with and suchlike

As said above with a few books you can get an idea but to go further you really need to find a partner, to progress together. Once in Chamonix there are loads of people on the campsites to give a bit of advice on routes and such like but going on the off-chance of finding someone suitable is risky.

Clubs are usually the best way or why not put an ad on ukc looking for someone? It's best to get in a fair bit of climbing in Britain first, to test the rope work, abseiling (very important to get this down to a swift routine), and above all to make sure you are compatible! I think the joys of discovering the Alps oneself, without the blunting effect of being taught by an expert, are immense - a pity to miss out on them. A bit like the difference between discovering the nicer aspects of life with a girlfriend of your own age rather than going to a brothel.

The first time is always the best, you never forget it, but in both cases being careful thereafter is quite important

Just IMO, of course.

The Ex-Engineer - on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to Bob_the_Builder: I have spent several weeks on a course in the Alps run by Guides and it was superb. I am a fully qualified mountain instructor (MIA) and already had very extensive climbing and mountaineering background (E5/f7b rock, 6000m summits, Alpine TDs) but I still learnt a fantastic amount in 2010 working 1:2 with several Guides.

All the guides I know are extremely keen to work with enthusiastic, existing climbers rather than complete novices who want to be dragged up Mont Blanc. As such you should be the recipient of the best possible experience that will be tailored to exactly what you want to achieve.

Whether it is 'worth it' will depend on how you value time and money. At its most basic I would suggest it comes down to income - how much do you earn per day compared with the day rate you will pay a Guide.

If you are on the minimum wage you would need to work for nearly an entire week to pay for a Guide for 1 day so it is very questionable that it would ever be worth it. However, if you are earning £50,000+ then I would say it is certainly worth it. I would even go as far as to suggest it would seem rather hypocritical if you are in that sort of situation not to be willing to pay someone else the same amount (or less than) you, yourself are paid.

Obviously everyone has different priorities in life and if you are somewhere between those two extremes like the vast majority of us, you will need to make up your own mind.
SeasonalDrip on 11 Jan 2013
In reply to Bob_the_Builder:

I'm in pretty much exactly the same predicament myself. Looked into the Conville course but was met with the same 'application closed' message. Perhaps it will be updated soon.

Looks like some interesting advice from people so far. I'd be interested to know what you decide and how it goes.
Sutty22 - on 12 Jan 2013
In reply to Bob_the_Builder:I went to the Alps late last year and shared the cost of a guide with someone who was advertising on here. We hadn't climbed together before so that is a bit of a gamble but, you're in the care of a guide which helps. As it happens, we climbed well together and are climbing again in Scotland next month.

A massive benefit of a guide , I feel, is extensive local knowledge. I climbed with Mike Lates on Skye last year in preparation for the Alps. After seeing how I climbed that one day, he made some suggestions of where to go the next couple of days on my own, which resulted in one of the best weeks climbing/scrambling I've ever had in Scotland. When we were in the Alps, after a couple of days with a guide, we quizzed him about good practise routes we could do together when we climbed on our own. He suggested a couple of routes to progressively build up our experience.

You could try and get a partner lined up through UKC and get plenty of practise done in the UK before the Alpine season starts. That way, you could get a guide for maybe a couple of days in the Alps, go over Glacier travel and stuff then try a couple of routes on your own.

I'm planning on going out to the Alps again this year and even though I had a couple of days last year, I'd still probably be looking to get a guide for the first day or two.

Hope this helps, Chris
alasdair19 on 12 Jan 2013
In reply to Bob_the_Builder: there are numerous clubs in edin. If your uni club isn't up to the mark then infiltration of eumc is recommended. There used to be a brutal mystery meet which sounds right up your street....

Subsidizes guiding is surely a no brainer and playing partner roulette in Cham is defining UK climbing experience.
ice.solo - on 12 Jan 2013
In reply to Bob_the_Builder:

theres guides and theres instructors, and they are not always combined in the same person.
knowing clearly what you want will minimize wasteing time and money.

both really help if youre going to a place you dont know, need knowledge youre unlikely to find yourself and face hurdles an industry pro can help fast track past.

its a good way to rise beyond bumbledom and see how you could be doing things.
Siderunner - on 13 Jan 2013
In reply to Bob_the_Builder:

As others have said, it depends more on your own attitude to time, money, and risk than anything else.

I have done two guided alpine trips in winter. I've also done a lot of summer trips both before and after without having any guiding.

One was 4 days guided Chamonix icefall climbing with a friend. The goal, which we discussed with the guide ahead of time, was to get us to feel confident leading steep ice so we'd feel confident on easier ground in the mountains. It worked, and within a year I led moderately steep ice in the mountains including the Chere and Jaeger Couloir, and solo'ed the N Face of Mulhacen (AD). There's no way I would have got this confident so quickly without the intensive training I'd got from our guide.

The other trip was a three day ski-touring training course, specialising in avalanche awareness. My only regret on this course was not having done it earlier in my ski-touring career. Afterwards I felt a more knowledgeable, well-rounded, and above all SAFER ski-tourer.

So on balance I think UIAGM/BMG guides offer excellent value when you considered how professional and well-trained they are. It is important to go with someone who knows you want to be trained and learn, rather than simply dragged up gnarly routes (continental guides are awful for this). A specific skills course by the Brenin or ISM or similar is obviously a cost-effective way to get that - with the added advantage of meeting some potential partners.

But if you've got the time and a slightly higher risk tolerance then there's nothing to beat building up slowly with a like-minded partner. You will spend more time worrying, reading, and planning - and you will probably have more epics and failed ascents - but that's all part of the fun. How you find such partners I don't know, I guess I was just lucky!
Simon4 - on 13 Jan 2013
In reply to Siderunner: I think that ski-touring is quite a specialist skill, that you need to be taught and will not just pick up (or not very effectively, I know this has often been debated here, but I am a firm believer in being taught to ski, even piste skiing, not picking it up - badly).

I think you are also right that people would be MUCH better getting a UK guide than, e.g. a French or Swiss one. Italians I have mostly found to be quite amiable.
fk2005 - on 20 Jan 2013
In reply to MGrock: PYB weekends are also great fun, especially the big wall climbing course. Did that in Oct, never though I'd get the chance to actually weight my own gear on a guided course. Hasten to add they checked every placement first, but still spicy fun...if you want just alpine stuff I think they also run guided tours to the alps.
Gav Parker - on 20 Jan 2013
In reply to Bob_the_Builder:

I'd use a guide everytime I think for my summer trip to the alps because Ive only a week out their...I can afford it and logistically everything is sorted for you. Their knowledge in the big ranges is worth the money for me.
gunilla - on 31 Jan 2013
In reply to Bob_the_Builder: I hired a guide for a week in the alps last year as I was retty much in teh same situation as you. They are pricey to say the least and it may be worth it on a good weatehr day, however if the weather is rubbish and you cant get out you still have to pay your guide, expenses and so on.

I would definetly recomend going on a UCPA mountaineering course (think they open for bookings 1st Feb). I've heard nothing but excellent things about the courses and they are dirt cheap in compariason to hiering a guide. Another plus point is that you'll be around a whole heip of like minded people, in the same situation so you would be able to hook up with a lot of people that you can go out with on your own after the course. I woundt worry to much about the french lingo for the instruction, they are all pretty good in speaking english (or show you with gestures) anyway.

Have fun!
Pero - on 31 Jan 2013
In reply to Bob_the_Builder: Guides might be okay for 1-2 trips to the Alps, but unless you are loaded, you'll soon need to go independent. The day rates just go up and up if you want to do more technical things.

There's a difference between doing an Alpine skills course, which won't be too expensive, to give you a grounding, and using guides to do your mountaineering. The former is definitely value for money, but the latter is for the well off.

The best advice you've already had is to join a club and/or find partners through this site.

AlisonSmiles - on 31 Jan 2013
In reply to Bob_the_Builder:

I've just returned from a few weeks in New Zealand. While I was there, I paid for five days of instruction on glacial & alpine mountaineering. I don't know if I'll find people to do things with in the future to get the best use out of the skills I feel I have some better confidence in but maybe, just maybe.

I actually paid for five days of guiding just because I happened to be there. I didn't pay for someone to nanny me up to a summit but for someone to teach me skills. I suspect you could find a similar set up in Europe where you could combine holiday with two or three days of hiring a guide to teach you specific skills? Five days worked really well for me. Roughly it went like this ...

Day 1 - out on the hills, crampon use, basic techniques, ice axe arrest, roping up for glacial travel, climbing in crampons etc.
Day 2 - all about the anchoring and the knots
Day 3 - big day out putting skills gained into place, learning about avalanche dangers, basics in how to add your own assessment to the already available information.
Day 4 - I diverted the instruction to half a day of via ferrata then consolidation of skills
Day 5 - navigation, and consolidation of skills, repetition, repetition, repetition

I reckon a 3 day intro would probably have given me what I came to learn. Next step is to get out in the mountains or all I've learned will start to fade.
BoulderyDave - on 31 Jan 2013
In reply to Bob_the_Builder: Hi Bob, we use a guide to push the grade and for local knowledge. I know it is expensive but I would rather spend the money understanding the challenges than trying to figure them out on my own. I am approaching 40 and whilst I can read books having a day within someone teaching you crevasse rescue and taking you on an AD climb is better than just hoping for the best and taking the risk (IMHO)

Simply put, climb with a guide on terrain you wouldn't tackle alone, harness the psyche, consolidate and push onward. There is 2 of us, so we split the cost as well. I am sure you would be able to find 1 or 2 others to break your costs

Pero - on 31 Jan 2013
In reply to BoulderyDave: I was quoted 1000 euros for a 2-day trip to do Aiguille Noire de Peuterey. Whereas, it's only 300 euros a day to plod up Mont Blanc.

The point is that Bob is at my climbing grade (VS) and beyond my grade on ice. So, he'll be into 1-1 guiding routes. You can only do 2-1 up to a certain grade and I reckon Bob's probably beyond this.

Another problem is that guides often want to see you in action before they go on anything hard. E.g. something like the Zinalrothorn might be on the agenda but they want to take you up Castor & Pollux or the Breithorn first.

Second time I went to the Alps I got guided up Castor and Pollux and it was brilliant. But that was 3-1 and I was a novice with no rock climbing experience. Once you're an experienced climber it's mega-bucks to do anything hard with a guide. It's about £3000 a week, 1-1, which is out of my budget.
Ted1212 - on 07 Feb 2013
In reply to Bob_the_Builder: Hi Bob do a plas y Brenin alpine course.
DONT take on individual guides; most have NO INTEREST in teaching you skills.' Ted
mattrm - on 07 Feb 2013
In reply to Ted1212:
> (In reply to Bob_the_Builder) Hi Bob do a plas y Brenin alpine course.
> DONT take on individual guides; most have NO INTEREST in teaching you skills.' Ted

Sorry, that's utter tosh. I've climbed with 5 different BMGs, 1 MIC and met another BMG. They're all keen to teach skills as long as you make it clear that's what you want to do. In fact, I'd say that the 5 days I had with a guide when there was just the guide and my mate and I were by far the best, when compared to courses. Learnt a lot more that way.

Frank4short - on 07 Feb 2013
In reply to mattrm:

> Sorry, that's utter tosh. I've climbed with 5 different BMGs, 1 MIC and met another BMG.

So that'd be 6 BMGs and 1 MIC then? Other than that i'd tend to concur with your opinion.
ROB W - on 15 Feb 2013
Yes we are worth it,as a member of the BMG and IFMGA guides assosiation I have to say that. But as stated as long as you make it clear what you want from the guide,you will get it, most guides have gone through the MIA or MIC schemes so are coaches,instructors and guides all in one. Or try as stated,PYB, ISM, or Jagged Globe or Adventure Peaks all run skill based courses in Cham valley or Arolla. Good luck and have fun.

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