/ NOW LIVE Q&A - Martin Chester - British Mountain Guides

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UKC News - on 18 Jun 2009
[Martin Chester, 3 kb]NOW LIVE!

Ask Martin a Question!

Martin Chester of the British Mountain Guides (BMG) is going live on the UKClimbing forums this Friday (19th June) TODAY!.
If you have any questions about becoming a Mountain Guide, hiring a Mountain Guide or even on Alpine climbing in general, Martin will be on hand to give advice and explain how the...

Read more at http://www.ukclimbing.com/news/item.php?id=47966
In reply to UKC News: We now have the Mountain Guides article (with video) live.

You can view it here:

VIDEO: Britsh Mountain Guides (BMG)


francoisecall - on 18 Jun 2009
In reply to UKC News: OK, first question: have you ever had an application from a 50 year old lady to get into the mountain guide training? Would age be an issue for even getting into the scheme?
In reply to UKC News: Martin is going live today - he'll be at a computer at 9am.

Martin Chester - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to francoisecall: What a great question to start off with! Whilst I doubt that we have ever had such an application there is no reason why not. The only 'age issue' is that you must be at least 22yrs of age (and it takes most people many years to gain the pre-requisite experience).
We are proud to have had female Guides in the association guiding way beyond 50yrs.
James Edwards - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to UKC News:
Hi Martin,
I'll kick off...
There are a lot of climbers out there that i meet who are interested in becoming a British Mountain Guide. However, they seem to be under the impression that you have to be able to do E5 in big boots and grade VIII with one axe.
Other than on the website is there any way for people to get more info? I think that as there are less than 100 British Mountain Guides living in the UK (give or take) people seem to find it difficult to meet them and get the info on the nature of the job and the whole jua de vivre of being a Mountain Guide. (you can see i'm practicing my French there).

James Edwards
Martin Chester - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to James Edwards: Hi James - this strikes me as one of the crux isues in my role as BMG publicity officer!
The members of the BMG are justifiably proud of their achievements - and the high standards of the award. Yet we would hate to be thought of as 'elitist'.
The reality is that you need to be a competent and experienced 'all rounder' rather than a superstar (I should know)! There is info on the BMG website as you suggest - but there is also the option (by looking up 'members')to find a local Guide and get in touch with them. An evening out cragging with a Guide must be the best way to get your questions answered - and most would be delighted to be asked.
We also run 'open days' every other year (next one in 2010) for interested climbers. Keep an eye on www.bmg.org.uk
In reply to UKC News: Hi Martin, good to have you on the site.

Just reading James' question above got me wondering, just how many active BMG Guides are there at the moment?

Is it around 100?



Tall Clare - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to UKC News:

Hi Martin,

is there any truth, in your opinion, to the idea that British mountain guides have to attain higher standards to gain the same equivalent qualification as French guides?

Mike Raine - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to UKC News:

Hi Martin,

I thought about guiding once, but all that dragging people up horrible snow slopes, just sounds like drudgery to me (Mt Blanc again anyoone!), why on Earth would anybody want to do that for a living?

What else can you do?
Chris Craggs - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to Martin Chester - PyB:

Good answer re being an all-rounder, but what would you say were ball-park figures that aspirants should be looking to climb (UK Trad, Winter, Sport, Alpine)?

Martin Chester - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to Jack Geldard - Editor - UKC: Hi Jack, There are c.200 Guides in the association at the moment. The answer to your question depends on how you define 'active'! One of the great things about having a carnet is that you can do as little or as much 'guiding' as you wish. I am always amazed at the diversity of jobs and roles that are covered by the members of the BMG.
Ian McNeill - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to Mike Raine:

Just what are you getting at is it a crime to be a guide Mike ?

work in rope access ?
design things ?
teach geography ?

seriously - what with the MIC.org and grade increase discussions here and elsewhere would you advocate the increase in grades as discussed in the forums, E1 does seem to be a good grade with climbing at E3 being expected norm for safe margin...?

or would you see an increase ? to what tested on E3 climbing E5 ...?

Martin Chester - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to Tall Clare: Hi Clare - the IFMGA carnet's are all gained by slightly different (but totally 'equivalent') routes. The French, for example, have a different 'system' but the 'standards' are the same. We all wear exactly the same badge at the end of it, and our carnets (licences) are printed in the same office in Switzerland.
Paul Crusher R - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to UKC News: Hi martin, i just wanted to know what your thoughts are on bipassing the MIA, MIC route and going straight into Guiding. I 'so to speak jumped ship' when I finished an Outdoor Degree at 20, leaving with ML, SPA, standard stuff, and decided to be an engineer. I was a bit disillusioned by the whole british outdoor instructing/centre work industry. What it did do was to focus my own personal climbing/mountaineering without the distraction of having to earn a living from it. Anyhow my point is that ive come full circle again and im planning on leaving engineering. I think i could reach the reg requirement level in about 18 month.. so approx qualifying as a guide at 40! Is this pushing it a bit in terms of creating a career at this age? thanks paul
jon on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to UKC News:

Hi Martin, just in answer to Françoise's question, I think Peter Cliff was way over fifty when he joined the BMG. Certainly looked it, anyway! Jon de Montjoye
Martin Chester - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to Chris Craggs: Hi Chris, It's all on the BMG website in terms of a 'black and white' answer, however:
Trainees/Aspirants will be assessed at climbing E1; winter V,6; and a cross section of grades of Alpine terrain. That means you need to look competent and inspire confidence (with a client holding your ropes) in all conditions. It therefore seems reasonable that (to handle the stress of assessment) most people need either a few grades in hand (or simply masses of experience at the grade). Having a handful of multi day Alpine TD's gives you a depth of mountaineering experience to draw upon.
Being 'totally dependable' at those grades is more important than 'pulling on small holds' and exactly how much extra that takes depends on each individual.
Martin Chester - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to Mike Raine: Hi Mike. If you don't like soaring Alpine aretes and value the camaraderie of the rope - then maybe you made the right choice ;) But choice is the key word here - there is a lifetime of Alpine mountaineering away from the crowds if you choose it. Furthermore (from film safety to education, national park wardens to magistrates) you would be amazed at what the members of the BMG do with their time. Once you have earnt your Carnet it is up to you (and your clients of course) what you do with it!
Martin Chester - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to Paul R: Let's assume you've met the pre-requisites in 18months. I would encourage you to question your motivations. The Guide scheme will allow you to work in the Alps in summer, on skis in winter - and is therefore a longer and more committing scheme. You hold all the choices. If these things hold no interest or value - then the MIA/MIC route is a valid alternative. Each year we see people with MICs 'transfer' into the Guides scheme as a further career development. We also see people go 'straight in' to the Guides scheme and do fantastically well due to the wealth of experience they bring.
Most Guides qualify in their mid to late thirties - so 40 is no way too late!
In reply to Martin Chester - PyB: Hi Martin,

Thanks for your answer. I have another quick question, mainly as I'm sat at a desk and would like to be up a mountain!

As a mountain guide, there must be some amazing situations you find yourself in. Just a personal question - after you passed the guides test, did you have a day out working and think - "WOW - this is why I did this, this is what it's all about!"

If you did - where was it and what were you doing?

My crane on 19 Jun 2009 - [proxy5.messagelabs.net]
In reply to UKC News:

E1 eh? so if I see a guide resting on an E1 who do I report them to?
Simon Wells - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to UKC News:

Two questions!

I noticed that MIA / MIC do not have to do some days training on the guide’s scheme. Would you advice people to do the training as more CPD is a good thing or save your time and money to go cragging?

Secondly, if you had limited contact with guides, i.e. only on NGBA’s courses, chats in huts and routes and work in an area with few active BMG’s what’s the most effective way to be able to get a rapport so that a guide can “attest to the candidates good character”. I understand the committee can appoint someone, so would you have to hire them? I'd rather get a reference from some one who wants to than some one who is appointed!

Thanks for the advice,

Simon Wells
Martin Chester - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to Ian McNeill: Hurrah - one of my favourites! Ian - I think I answered this in my reply to Chris Craggs, but for me the answer is simple. Guiding (and instructing) is, for me, about looking after people. If someone can convince me that 'pulling on smaller grips' leads to an improvement in client care - then I'll be interested in higher grades!
Seriously though - I have seen some great Guides who barely climb E1 (but excel in other areas) as well as great MIAs who only climb VS (but could climb ANY VS in ANY conditions). Holding these folks back would have been a travesty - and only their future clients would have lost out from their otherwise broad experience, wisdom and care).
Martin Chester - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to My crane: Just take pity on them - they must be very tired!
It's a good one though - because everyone bangs on about assessment grades - but what you do after that is up to you (as long as you remain current). With all these qualifications - you can be sure they 'made the grade' on the day.
Martin Chester - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to Jack Geldard - Editor - UKC: Hi Jack. There are two gems for me:
The final stage in getting your carnet is 'logging your days' as an aspirant. I got my final day (and my badge) in the middle of a week's work - so one Thursday I was suddenly a Guide - and working on my own.
I left the Moiry Hut for the Pointe du Mourti - weaving a way through the glacier in the dark. To reach my first summit as a Guide with my team - on our own was fantastic. It was made all the better for some other climbers thanking us for finding the route, then as everyone else set off back to the hut - we continued along the ridge to the next peak - which we had to ourselves.
The other gem was breaking trail in the Silvretta Alps - over the col to the Silvretta Egghorn. We escaped the crowds and found a great slope of virgin snow (and - being a Guide - you always get to ski first tracks)!
My crane on 19 Jun 2009 - [proxy5.messagelabs.net]
In reply to UKC News:

I've always wondered why guides pin their badges to their waterproofs, surely this makes the jacket leak?
Martin Chester - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to Simon Wells: Hi Simon. In response to your first question - it has to be individual choice depending on your situation. I was lucky enough to live and work with Guides when I was an MIC - so I took the saving (but only as I felt I could get the input elsewhere). Of course - you always learn something on these days - whatever your level. Many Guides will attend these training days later in their career as CPD.
In terms of 'getting a rapport' I know of very few Guides that will turn down an invitation to go climbing. You will also find that you get to know more Guides as you get closer to the scheme (and we have long memories). I know that you , for example, have been through PyB several times over the last few years (and have been on skis with myself and Spanker). Most Guides would gladly get involved with helping you - you shouldn't have to pay for it - but they do have to 'know you'!
(ps - assuming it's the same Simon - come cragging!)
Martin Chester - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to My crane: Dear Mr Crane. Get up to date. I have a rather nice 'iron on' badge on my waterproofs (and it's bigger than a metal badge - which is good). I use the metal 'pin' badge on fleecy items, and have a rather tasty tattoo on my . .
Ian McNeill - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to Martin Chester - PyB:
> (In reply to My crane) Dear Mr Crane. .... and have a rather tasty tattoo on my . .

hang man game now is it ?

3leggeddog on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to UKC News:

Given that the number of "instructors" of all levels in our sport seems to be increasing at the same exponential rate as elvis impersonators were a few years ago, what is your favourite kareoke track?
Martin Chester - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to 3leggeddog: I'm afraid to report that quite the opposite is true for us in the BMG. Last year, only James Thacker met the pre-requirements for starting the scheme (although it is looking healthier for this year's intake). We are therefore always keen to encourage and develop people towards the BMG - rather than worrying about the increase in numbers!
Do I have to choose an Elvis track?
Simon Wells - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to Martin Chester - PyB:

Yep , you got the right Simon Wells. Amazing memory! You must have worked with hundreds of clients over the last few years.

Bel and I are skill buzzing from the ski course and what we learnt, the resulting trips have been just kept the buzz going.

Thanks for the advice,

bryn - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to UKC News:

Hi Martin,
I have been interested in working towards the guides scheme for quite a long time now (mainly so I can take my clients ski touring), but the only thing that puts me off is the seriousness of the Alpine North faces, so much so that this would be the pure reason I have decided not to go for it. I feel that these routes have so much objective danger that it is really a survival game than anything else.

Could the BMG consider a point system for alpine experience. eg 50 points for north face TD, and 10 points for a AD 4000m peak? And have the entry requirement of 500 points.

In reply to Martin Chester - PyB: Hi Martin,

Another thought that has struck me is: As we have just run a big series on all the qualifications available in the UK:


There are lots of guides and instructors (of different levels) to choose from.

Knowing a few guides myself, I know that they actually do quite a bit of work in the UK, not only in the Alps.

Is this normal? Do a lot of BMG members do much of their work in the UK?


submariner - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to Martin Chester - PyB:

If you are out of action for any length of time due to an injury what do you have to fall back on in terms of insurance/income?

This question isn't specific to guides but instructing in general. Given the high injury risk of the profession coupled with how essential your fitness is towards carrying out your work it seems like a very fragile career, or am I missing something?

Presumably the bigger companies cover you to some degree, say if you are a permanent employee, though i'm assuming as a freelancer you are much more vulnerable? Could you clear this grey area up for me?

Pinch'a'salt on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to submariner:

Hi Dan, I'm not a guide but can answer your question from a ski instructor point of view... I've been teaching skiing on & off piste for 15 years now & also climb..
Have looked into income protection type insurance a couple of times but tbh its outrageously expensive for the cover provided. If your profession is 'adventurous' and your pastimes 'adventurous' as well it really doesn't add up.
As a freelancer if I don't work I have no income, so I try to keep a bit of a 'buffer' financially. I have been very lucky to stay injury-free so far in my career, but know plenty of people (ski teachers & guides) who have had months or longer off due to injury/illness, and some with career-ending injuries...
Martin Chester - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to bryn: Hi Bryn. On one hand I like your idea (as I'm no great fan of objective danger) - on the other hand I don't honestly feel that climbing 50 AD 4000m peaks would give you the experience you need. Now I can't speak for the training committee here (as I am not a member) but personally:
The mix of routes (and grades) required does maintain a 'depth and breadth' of experience to draw upon. I learnt so much more from the multi day commitment of those big routes than I would have ever expected.
Also - I don't think it's appropriate to make sweeping generalisations based on grade alone. I found more objective danger on the SE ridge of the Taschhorn (AD), than on the whole of the NE spur of Les Droites (ED - which I enjoyed far more)!
For me - it's all about climbing these routes in the right conditions and therefore being patient (especially now that I'm a family man).
jonnie - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to UKC News:

Hi Martin

Any idea where I could get a copy of Off Piste Essentials? I've heard it is pretty good

Martin Chester - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to Jack Geldard - Editor - UKC: Hi Jack. A lot of Guides work in the UK - and I'm always staggered at the range of jobs! In the last NSG meeting, there happened to be myself, Neil J, Steve Long (MLTUK), Allen Fyffe (MLT Scotland) - and this is just one example. When you then consider the likes of Tim Jepson - running outdoor ed' programmes at Bangor Uni; Rory Gregory running an LEA centre in the Peak; Brian Hall behind the scenes at Kendal film festival (and behind a camera on most days work); John Ellis Roberts in Snowdonia national park authority - to trip off just a few. Then you get on to the kind of thing you'd expect - like Libby running Llanberis Guides, and the ten Guides who work here at PyB . . .
The list goes on, and is fascinating!
Martin Chester - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to jonnie: Off Piste Essentials is truly awesome in my opinion - but you can read a great review on UKClimbing! If you were passing by Plas y Brenin you could buy one over the counter - but I would recommend purchasing a copy from the BMC online shop. If you are a member - you'll even get a discount.
Martin Chester - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to submariner: Hi Dan. I'd really like to be more optimistic and positive here - but I can't. And in terms of clearing up this 'grey area' I can't. It's fairly black and white if you are a freelance 'outdoor' person - get badly injured and you're probably stuffed.
I'm one of the lucky ones - with a full time job - as I work for a big enough organisation that they could find me 'useful things to do' whilst I recover. Here at PyB we are often supporting folks through one injury or another.
On a more mundane note - it is also tricky to get suitable life insurance for mortgages; loss of earnings for injury/illness; etc, etc
Martin Chester - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to Pinch'a'salt: You answered that better than I did!
It's one of my favourite rants this though - and packed full of irony. For example - a client gets cheaper insurance if they ski off piste with a Guide (than if they go without one) yet my insurance is hard to get because Guiding is so 'dangerous'!? I'm sure it must be down to frequency (or they've read my comment above about always getting to ski fresh tracks) but really . .
Andy Say - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to 3leggeddog:
> (In reply to UKC News)
> Given that the number of "instructors" of all levels in our sport seems to be increasing at the same exponential rate as elvis impersonators were a few years ago, what is your favourite kareoke track?

We've just done a bit of number crunching in the office on another issue. It might be relevant to reveal that up to today 926 people have passed their MIA and 505 people hold their MIC. (Many of the current MIC's will also have passed their MIA but not all; some pre-date the MIA scheme). There's no telling, of course, how many are currently active but I would guess that in the UK there are around 1,100 holders of MI qualifications some of whom may be 'retired'.
Nikki Wallis on 19 Jun 2009 - user-5af24ba2.tcl120.dsl.pol.co.uk
In reply to UKC News:
Hi Martin, fancy coming to the pub tonight??? I keep failing on getting up to 8000m, and also Valeries Rib is too bold for a Severe - what ya gonna do about it? Nikki and Neil PS. No reply expected!!!!!!!
Ron Walker - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to Andy Say:

Does the MIA numbers include the MIC's as well?
the cassin ridge - on 19 Jun 2009
In reply to Martin Chester - PyB:

, than on the whole of the NE spur of Les Droites (ED - which I enjoyed far more)!

Hi Martin,

This route is top of my summer alpine Ticklist - well the direct anyway. any top tips/beta would be very welcome. Where about did you bivi? Did you use the hut?

P.S I've spoken a few guides who no longer enjoy the mountains and rarley climb for themselves. this is what most puts me off the guiding. Have you found this?

P.P.S Do all guides marry on of their clients? ;-)

Martin Chester - on 21 Jun 2009
In reply to Nikki Wallis: Hi Nikki. Having seen you in the pub after all that I thought I better reply!

To help you get to 8000m I would have to say that I'm not the man for the job - but I know who to recommend! It sounds like Russell Brice organises the slickest and most well managed expeditions on the big hills; Shaun Hutson has recently been up Everest from both sides; and it looks like Kenton Cool is pretty handy at Guiding that sort of thing. You can find them (and many more) on the BMG website!
As for Valerie's rib - now that "My Crane" has removed all the vegetation, there will soon be a new first pitch - which will guarantee it's no longer a Severe anyway;-)
Martin Chester - on 21 Jun 2009
In reply to the cassin ridge: The NE spur direct has to be right up there in the list of top ten Alpine routes. Some of the rock pitches on the first day are truly awesome, as are some of the mixed pitches on day two.
We stayed at the hut - providing a fairly civilized start to the first day. We then bivvied at the obvious breche (which needed some serious clearing from snow). With hindsight (if conditions allow) I would suggest climbing another three pitches where there is a truly superb (and objectively safe) bivvy ledge. We then topped out in a bit of a blizzard - so we bivvied again on the descent (which totally paid off).
Your PS surprises me - as most Guides I know have a total passion for the mountains. When Graham and I climbed the Walker spur it was almost all Guides (for fun) who were on it. All except the Girlfriend of a Swiss Guide (which maybe answers your PPS)?!
I worried that climbing professionally may spoil my enjoyment - before I did it - now I just find it helps me get more out of my own time!
the cassin ridge - on 21 Jun 2009
In reply to Martin Chester - PyB:

Cheers Martin,

Another thing... would you recomend wearing lighter boots like sportiva Trangos, or stiffer boots like Nepal Tops?

I'll let you know how I get on.
Nikki Wallis on 22 Jun 2009 - user-544319bd.lns4-c7.dsl.pol.co.uk
In reply to Martin Chester - PyB:
So, in summary, the British Mountain Guide website is the place for me to check out.
Nice one!!!!!!
Keep up the good work

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