Trekking in Nepal is not the only thing adventurous tourists come here for. Many are here for mountain climbing as well since Nepal is certainly the most preferred destination in the world for mountain climbing activities, having as it does the great Himalayan peaks spanning the country’s northern border from east to west. Mountain climbing is challenging, and often risky, so anyone intent on mountain climbing needs to have an experienced mountain guide who has undergone adequate climbing training.
Till recently, it was difficult to find an internationally certified mountain guide in the country, but strong efforts by organizations like the Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) and the Nepal National Mountaineering Guide Association (NNMGA) resulted in Nepal being accepted as a candidate member for International Federation of Mountain Guide Association (IFMGA) in 2006, only the second country in Asia, after Japan, to be so accepted. In 2012, NNMGA became a member of the international body.
Becoming a mountain guide is not an easy process; there is a systematic certification process, and the interested candidate has to have spent many years in the field of mountain climbing and undertaken climbing training from recognized bodies. Till recently, it was a herculean task for a Nepali climber to attain a certification as an international mountain guide. Take the case of Sunar Bahadur Gurung (Nepal’s first internationally certified mountain guide) for example. From 1997 to 2003, he went about fulfilling requirements needed to apply for the entry exam of Diplome Aspirant, one criterion of which is that a candidate has climbed a minimum of 55 climbing routes of different grades in a minimum time span of 4 years in the Alps. He became an Aspirant Guide, recognized as a national guide in France. Then, he had to undergo a two-year field experience with clients and climb 50 technical routes of different grades in the Alps, before being eligible to apply for the international guide-training program. He was awarded the IFMGA/UIAGM (International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations/Union Internationale des Associations de Guides de Montagnes) certificate in 2008.
Now, having made good headway in training mountain guides within Nepal itself, there has been an increase in the number of certified mountain guides in the country. Nepal National Mountain Guide Association (NNMGA) is the official association to conduct mountain guide exams here. Established in 2005, it has so far produced more than 30 international mountain guides, most of whom have really impressive credentials. A couple of examples here should be enough to vindicate the high caliber of Nepali mountain guides.
Ang Norbu Sherpa, 46, is one such example. Aside from climbing many peaks above 6000 m, including Mount Everest, he has climbed Mount Blanc (4807 m) in France 40 times and Imjatse (6180 m) 33 times. He is a certified instructor for both basic and advanced mountaineering courses run by the Nepal Mountaineering Association, and is a member of its rescue committee, in which capacity he has participated in many search and rescue operations for missing climbers in the Himalayas.
Another example of an international mountain guide produced by NNMGA is 62-year-old Padam Ghale. With more than 30 years of experience in trekking in Nepal, he has led many expeditions to diverse areas of Nepal’s mountainous regions. He was also responsible for organizing the 320 km eight-day Round Annapurna Marathon which started at an altitude of 500 m, went through the Thorung-La Pass (5400 m), and ended at Pokhara (950 m). Similarly, he was also the principal organizer of the 332 km Himal Race held in November 2002. Dubbed the highest race in the world, the route began from Annapurna Base Camp and ended at Kala Patthar (5400 m), passing Everest Base Camp on the way. It took some 29 days to be completed by 35 runners from different countries.
In addition to mountain guide training provided by official bodies like NNMGA, some private tour and trekking agencies such as Royal Mountain Travel Nepal (RMT Nepal) have also taken the initiative in certifying their mountain guides by sponsoring their training’s and exams abroad. No doubt, it has cost them significant sums to do so, but such initiatives have been regarded as a worthwhile investment, especially since, till recently, premier trekking agencies like Royal Mountain Travel Nepal have had to do with foreign mountain guides accompanying their trekking groups. Now, the situation is improving and you can be assured that an excellent and internationally certified mountain guide is waiting to look after your safety during your mountain climbing activities or when trekking in Nepal.