As a climbing guide, certification by the IFMGA (International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations) is the ultimate milestone: Hopefuls must take extensive courses and pass arduous tests in three disciplines—rock climbing, alpine climbing, and ski mountaineering—over the course of five to 10 years. Angela Hawse is one of only seven women in the U.S. to achieve this status—she completed her first American Mountain Guides Association exam in 2005, second in 2008, and final exam in April 2010.
Hawse, 48, has been guiding for more than 25 years, starting as a rafting guide in 1984. She found her mountain calling with the American Alpine Institute in 1992. “I got hooked on more technical guiding with smaller groups,” Hawse says. She has led more than 20 expeditions, including trips to Mt. Everest and Ama Dablam in Nepal. Hawse lives in Ridgway, Colorado, with her partner, MonkE, and their Jack Russell terrier, Chile, and she spends her summers as a senior guide for Exum Mountain Guides, winters teaching at the Chicks with Picks women’s ice climbing clinics in Ouray, Colorado, and “down time” guiding in the desert Southwest. “I have more 1099s than anyone my accountant knows,” she jokes.
Who influenced you to start guiding? I was inspired by my early mentors, David Lovejoy and Mike Goff, at Prescott College. They were masters in technical skills, but their knowledge of geology, natural history, culture, and everything about the outdoors piqued my curiosity and opened my eyes to the endless connections, interactions, and dependence that nature has with everything. I wanted to be just like them and give people the same experiences they had given me.
What have you learned about guiding throughout your experiences? That we all struggle, but we have incredible potential if we are encouraged, feel safe, and are pushed beyond our comfort zone. Most people never go there. When I’m guiding, I take people there all the time. It is incredibly rewarding to see people succeed and do things beyond their wildest dreams.
How does it feel to be one of very few women certified by the IFMGA? It feels awesome. Kathy Cosley, the first woman in the U.S. to complete her IFMGA certifi cation, was my first female role model, mentor, and inspiration as a guide. She continues to inspire me, and I am honored to be among her and the other women who have dedicated tremendous effort and time to complete the process. It feels really good to be done.
What were some of the challenges you faced with certification? Keeping up with young, long-legged, 20-year-old guys who always ran up and down everything with heavy packs. Really, the biggest challenge, I think, was the potential for failure. I’ve guided full-time for my entire working life, I’m 48, and I’m well established in my career. The potential for failure was incredibly stressful, laying it on the line for six to 10 days [depending on the exam] at a time. It’s a long time to perform at a high standard in front of a jury of examiners and peers, with family, friends, and sponsors looking on from the sidelines.
Have you faced any challenges as the only openly gay guide you know of? Unfortunately, sometimes I have to use discretion. Not with employers—I’m totally openly out with them. But there are certain situations where I don’t feel that I need to share that information. I may have clients I can tell are very conservative, and I can tell that would influence their experience. Sometimes, I just can’t be fully honest with everyone, and those have been the most challenging times.