How to Choose the Best Mountaineering Guide Service
Want to be guided into the mountains? Ask these questions and follow these tips to help make it the perfect adventure.
Learn as much as possible about who is leading the trip. Is it the owner of the organization? If not, does the guide work for the organization or are they a contracted third party? Are they certified? Are they aware of all of the local nuances/permits/rules of the region? What experience does the guide have on this specific trip and other trips? The best guides have plenty of experience under their belt and have no problem pointing you in the right direction to find their credentials. If they are cagey about answering these very basic questions, that’s a red flag.
Who else is going on the trip? What is their level of preparation? I’ve been stuck on trips where I did not ask this question and deeply regretted it—people showed up with none of the proper equipment and were not up to the task ahead. It created a lot of issues for the prepared parties on the trip. A good mountain guiding service will do this work for you. In many cases, they will even hand-select people for trips based on experience and the types of people who work well together. A relatively low climber-to-guide ratio also works in everyone’s favor, as it allows each individual to move closer to their own pace.
SAFETY AND SUCCESS RECORDS
Dig into the numbers as much as you can. Often times guiding companies will tout high success records (100 percent!) but they may define success as only one of 10 people on a trip summiting a mountain, which is really only a 10 percent success rate. Find out how they define success. And why have they had success on each climb in the past? What has lead to an unsuccessful trip? Does this particular service have a good safety record? Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions—they’re important. Do they have insurance? Should you have insurance (I recommend insurance as a back-up plan, especially when climbing outside of your home country)?
I’m a big proponent of real-world testimonials. Any company can say whatever they want about themselves, but when you have real people talking about their first-hand experience, that’s when the truth comes out. If the company has testimonials on their website, great. Read those. If contact info is made available, don’t hesitate to reach out with any specific questions or concerns. (I’m not above a casual Facebook stalk to find somebody with past experience and reach out to them either—I’ve made great friends this way. Within reason of course.)
The company’s Facebook page will often have some basic reviews to read as well. And when in doubt, a good ol’ fashioned Google search never hurt anybody. A reputable service will usually have some positive reviews and experiences written about them that will hopefully support your choice and make you feel good about your decision.
And finally, in my opinion the most important:
I know this one is starting to get a bit granular, but we live in a world today where I think there is some level of obligation to give back. The very best organizations realize this and have incorporated some element of altruism for the common good into their operations. Whether it be assisting with rope fixing efforts in the Himalayas, financially supporting conservation efforts or contributing to the betterment of the outdoor tourism industry, great mountaineering outfitters are aware of their responsibility and opportunity to contribute. In my opinion, this is a clear indicator of the moral compass of the organization.
How responsive is the organization? Is the owner of the company involved in the conversations? Do they seem to take some degree of interest in your experience, goals and expectations as a climber? Are they willing to help you pick the right gear to ensure you are adequately prepared for the trip? I’ve made most of my choices about a guiding service based off gut instinct, and I’ve yet to be disappointed. If you feel good going into the trip, you’re likely to feel great coming out of the trip. Choose a guide you would like to have a beer or coffee with—they’re likely to make you feel the most comfortable, which will lead to a great experience for everyone.
Given all of the above criteria and my extensive research and experience with some top-notch organizations, I’d like to provide some personal recommendations. I’ve had at least one fantastic experience with each and every one of these outfits.
A boutique mountain guide service specializing in organizing and leading climbing expeditions to the world’s most famous and formidable mountains. It’s founder, Garrett Madison, has led more climbers to the summit of Mount Everest than any other guide, and is the only climber from the Americas to climb K2 twice. Garrett has also led first ascents of unclimbed peaks in the Himalayas in recent years. A can’t-go-wrong option for mountaineers seeking the greatest heights.
A premier climbing and trekking guide service, specializing in expeditions to the tallest peaks on each of the seven continents. CTSS is owned and operated by renowned high-altitude guide Mike Hamill, who is a veteran of over 120 expeditions to all seven continents. He has lapped the “Seven Summits” six times and has been guiding for over two decades. Mike is the author of the guidebook, “Climbing the Seven Summits.”
An adventure travel company started by Kenton Cool, English mountaineer, alpinist and IFMGA mountain guide. Adventure Base provides specialist guiding services in the Alps and beyond, with some of the best international mountain guides on their books. They provide a distinguished service whether its skiing, climbing, mountaineering or hiking.
Last but not least, it wouldn’t be a Deuter blog if I didn’t also include some mountaineering pack suggestions:
Favorite Deuter Mountaineering Packs:
Guide 35+: Great for short weekend trips
Guide 45+: When you need a bit more space for gear
Gravity Expedition 45+: A minimalistic, highly functional companion for extreme tours—and it weighs less than a kilogram.