Q&A with The Mountain Guides

WHEN YOU THINK OF ALPINE TERRAIN IN THE UNITED STATES one of the first ranges that comes to mind is the Tetons. The dramatic and iconic skyline has inspired countless climbers to head to northeast Wyoming to test their skills in this beautiful craggy arena. In 1967, it was these peaks that inspired the creation of The Mountain Guides, a guiding service based in the infamous mountain town of Jackson. Since its inception, TMG has become one of the most revered guiding services in the U.S., taking clients on climbs throughout the West and abroad.

Working in the country’s most rugged terrain and encountering every type of weather imaginable, The Mountain Guides are the perfect partner to test Mountain Hardwear’s clothing and equipment. Their partnership has lasted many years now, and dozens of experienced guides have put Mountain Hardwear gear to the test, offering critical feedback that has helped refine gear to meet the high demands of their challenging profession.

In particular, ice and alpine climbing trips require the most skill and experience, and thus are the best times to hire a guide. Hiring TMG can allow you to skip much of the uncertainty of route finding, permits, or gear needed to safely enjoy your adventure. Instead you can enjoy your adventure with the knowledge that your guide knows what she’s doing. We caught up with Paul Rachele, who’s been with The Mountain Guides for 7 years to ask them some questions about their winter and alpine ice programs so you can have your own winter alpine adventure.
Why should a client choose The Mountain Guides over other guide services?
Hiring a mountain guide is the same as hiring any other professional. You may start by calling the office, but you end up with a guide. The most visited section of our website is the page showcasing our guides. They are the talent that drives the mountain experience. TMG guides are the best in the business and the reason our guests keep coming back.
Where do you guide ice climbing?
The guides' favorite venue is the South Fork Valley outside of Cody, Wyoming, and it's easy to see why. Long moderates like Main Vein (III WI3+) and High on Boulder (II WI4) are classics at the grade, while tougher climbs like Moratorium (II WI4+) and Joy After Pain (III WI5) challenge more experienced climbers. For folks who like their ice on a mountain, we guide alpine ice routes like the Black Ice Couloir (IV AI3+) and The Enclosure Ice Couloir (IV AI3-) on the Grand Teton, the Tower One Gully (IV AI3) on Mt. Helen in the Wind River Range, as well as the classics in Rocky Mountain National Park. All Mixed Up (II WI4) and Alexander's Chimney (III M4 WI4) come to mind.
How long are your ice trips, or what options can a client select from?
Most of our ice trips are single-day private trips. This boutique product allows our guides to tailor the day to fit each individual guest's need.
What does it take for someone to become a Mountain Guide ice guide?
Training through the American Mountain Guide Association (AMGA) is mandatory for all our guides. At a minimum, ice guides must complete a Professional Level I Avalanche Course, an Alpine Skills Course and an Ice Instructor Course, but many of our ice guides are AMGA-certified Alpine Guides. (This level of certification takes years of experience and training to accomplish.)
What are the most common mistakes clients make in preparation for a trip?
It's been observed that you get stronger when you rest. Many guests rush to "train" in the days before the trip and show up tired. It's better to train early enough so you can take the extra time to rest right before the trip and show up with a full tank.
What do you recommend clients do to prepare physically for ice-specific trips?
Dead-hangs off tools, assisted one-arm pull-ups and lockoffs on tools, and calf raises are all important for ice climbing-specific muscles. Many venues, especially around Cody, require a bit of an approach, so make sure to stay on top of your aerobic fitness.
What are the most common items clients forget to bring?
You can never have too many gloves on an ice climb.
How do you determine if a client is ready for a particular climb or course?
Guests are pre-screened during booking for fitness and experience. Once in the field, guides watch how clients move from the moment they get out of the car. It's amazing how much you can tell about a person by watching them walk 10 feet in uneven terrain with a backpack. Usually for the first objective, a guide will pick an area with multiple options, start on something mellow and then crank up the intensity as appropriate.
What’s your favorite thing about taking clients out onto the ice?
Ice climbing is a scary and brutal sport requiring strength, resolve and a dark sense of humor. The best thing about guiding ice is watching a guest overcome themselves.
You’ve been a Mountain Hardwear partner for many years now, what makes their equipment stand out for the work that you do?
Fifteen years if I had to count. We work in the harshest conditions in the Lower 48. The Grand Teton in May is every bit as snowy as Mount Rainier and twice as windy. Mountain Hardwear makes gear that stands up in those conditions. Everything else we tried just fell apart.