Petra Cliffs Climbing Center and the American Mountain Guides Association

Steve Charest on a preparation ascent of the infamous Epinephrine chimneys, Grade V 5.9+  Photo by Andrea Charest

Some of you folks may have observed that Andrea and I have been away from the office, or better yet we have such an awesome staff you might not have even noticed. We were both continuing our professional development with the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) out in Red Rock Canyon, just outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. Andrea was participating in the Advanced Rock Guide Course and Aspirant Exam, and I was in my Final Rock Exam to become a Certified Rock Guide.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with guiding standards, the AMGA, or the International Federation of Mountain Guide Associations (IFMGA), they are the organization(s) that keep track of and set the standards for which all guides worldwide are held to. The IFMGA through regulation, representation, service and support helps each country’s guiding organization keep the most up to date standards, policies and practices. An IFMGA certified mountain guide meets the global standard in all three disciplines of rock, alpine and ski mountaineering and can legally work in more than a dozen countries. In most IFMGA countries you cannot legally call yourself a mountain guide until you are fully certified. Many European countries in fact view the process as no different as completing a Master’s degree or PhD through a university and IFMGA guides are respected as such. Mountain guiding as in industry in the United States was and still is slow to adopt all of the practices of the IFMGA due to a variety of reasons from geography, personal biases, clients perceived value, permits and concessions and general misunderstanding from land managers, business owners, clients and recreational climbers. That said there are currently are 96 fully certified IFMGA guides in the country, but our numbers, reputation and respect are expanding rapidly.

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Andrea Charest on her Aspirant Exam keeping it grrrrrrreat! Photo by Doug Ferguson

The AMGA is this country’s organization and connection to the IFMGA, and they offer comprehensive training, programming and certification for all mountain guides. Guides certified by the AMGA have demonstrated an acceptable level of skills in everything from risk management, client care, technical systems, application, terrain assessment, movement ability, mountain sense, professionalism, and instructional technique, in all three disciplines. The Guide Track takes potential mountain guides through a series of courses and exams and takes anywhere from three to ten plus years to complete. In addition to the strenuous exams and course work, guides are expected to continue their own learning through mentorship, in-house company trainings, guiding clients, mock guiding and generally expanding ones terrain knowledge by climbing and skiing all over the globe. For every ten-day course the average guide will spend approximately 40+ days in the field perfecting their craft before being accepted into the next course or exam.

It takes a minimum of 91 days of course and exams to become an IFMGA guide Photo by Josh Kling

In addition to guide certification the AMGA also has an instructor track for those working mainly in the single pitch top rope environment (SPI) or the climbing gym (CWI). Beyond the guide and instructor tracks, the AMGA has also implemented an accredited business program for businesses who meet the standards company wide.

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Tim Farr prepping for his Rock Guide Course this past July on Cannon Cliff, NH Photo by Dylan Harry

We at Petra Cliffs Climbing Center and Mountaineering School have been involved with the AMGA and their offerings since 2004. A group of early Petra Cliffs Mountaineering school guides, including myself, were early adopters of the AMGA brand and participated in an introductory course which was then called the Top Rope Site Managers Course/Exam and it started us down track of continuing education and being able to offer our clients the greatest experience and professional product we could offer. To this day we have strived for all our guides and instructors to become involved with the AMGA and have even molded our own standards after the AMGA practices. Currently all guides and instructors for Petra Cliffs are required to hold an AMGA certification for the terrain and environment that they most often work. That means all our indoor gym instructors are at least a Climbing Wall Instructor Certified, all our summer camp specialist and rock/ice guides hold a minimum of a Single Pitch Instructor Certification. Chris Cullaz and Paul Brown have recently jump into the Instructor world by taking their Single Pitch Instructor Course. Others like Andrea, Tim and I have continued down the path a bit further. Andrea just passed her Advanced Rock Guide Course and Aspirant exam in great style and even out shined all the boys with the fastest time completing the 45 minute rescue drill in only 28 minutes! Not only that she, floated the movement test which is held on traditional routes that are 5.10d and are most often on-sighted. Tim this past summer jumped into the guide track and successfully completed his Rock Guide Course and hopes to complete his Ice Instructor Course this winter. I myself have completed all the courses and have passed all my Aspirant Exams making me an Aspirant IFMGA Guide. With no more courses to do and only final exams, I started the process and successfully passed my Rock Guide Exam completing the rock discipline, making me a fully Certified Rock Guide. That said, I have no time to relax, because I just found out I have been accepted to the Ski Guide Exam this coming April, so let the training begin all over again! Who wants to go skiing?

risky buisness
Steve Charest on day one of the Rock Guide Exam on Risky Business to Dark Shadows 5.10c R   Photo by Angela Hawse

So what does this mean for you as a member of Petra Cliffs or a client of the Mountaineering School? We promise to continue to offer the highest level of instruction and professionalism on any adventure from your first time at the gym, to multi pitch rock routes throughout the country, ski adventures around the globe and expect to see a rapidly expanding Mountaineering School with programming and offerings for everyone. Interested in becoming involved with either Petra Cliffs or the AMGA? Currently we are offering Climbing Wall Instructor Courses (CWI), and we hope to be able to offer both the Single Pitch Instructor Course and Exam (SPI) maybe as early as this summer. We also hope as we expand the Mountaineering School to become an AMGA accredited business.


Chris Cullaz in the Gunks participating in his Single Pitch Instructor Course.   Photo by Kel Rossiter

Do you want to improve your own climbing or skiing ability? There is no better way to increase efficiency and eliminate trial and error than by hiring an AMGA certified guide. Whether you just want to learn how to best manage a top rope area, learn to sport climb or have a dream trip you wish to pursue an AMGA certified guide is dollar for dollar the best investment you can make towards your climbing future. That said anybody want to go climb in Red Rocks, Ski in Europe, or summit a Cascade 50 Classics route? Contact me and I would love to discuss the possibility of turning your dream trip into a reality!

For more information on Petra Cliffs Mountaineering School check out

For more information, history, to contribute or become involved, check out the AMGA at

For more information on IFMGA

We look forward to climbing with you
Steve Charest
Petra Cliffs Co-Owner
AMGA Certified Rock Guide
IFMGA Aspirant
45 drill
The 45 minute drill which has participants prove a variety of rescue skills with minimum equipment. Candidates are expected to be able to demonstrate everything from belay escapes, haul systems, lowering systems and tandem rappelling.   Photo by Andrea Charest

Andrea leading the OW 4th pitch of Cloud Tower 5.12    Photo by Steve Charest

My buddy Andrew Blessing joining me for celebratory climbing after successfully passing the exam, Dream Of Wild Turkeys 5.10+   Photo by Steve Charest

Sour Mash 5.10, a Black Velvet classic and one of my personal RR favorites!!!!    Photo by Andrea Charest

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