By the Numbers: The Life of a First-Year Mountain Guide

One year with Exum Mountain guides in the Tetons.
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Ben Hoiness Exum Mountain Guides Tetons Rock Climbing

Ben Hoiness guides his father, Mike, up to the Lower Saddle of the Grand Teton last September. Photo by Leslie Hittmeier

My first season guiding—summer 2016—was for the storied Exum Mountain Guides in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. Instead of accepting résumés, Exum fields staff by having senior guides (five-plus years at Exum) bring in recruits on a trial basis. My mentor, Zahan Billimoria, aka “Z,” vouched for me to Exum’s president, Nat Partridge, much as Chief Guide Christian Santaleces did for Z eight years ago. Being a first-year guide meant unpredictable hours and lots of time portering heavy loads, but everything I learned (and am still learning) makes it all worth it. Here, some stats from my first season in the Tetons:

$200

The going rate guides earn for portering Exum gear to Mount Moran, the Lower Saddle, or various other Tetons sites. Oftentimes, this meant carrying a 38-pound propane tank up the 5,000 feet of elevation gain to the Lower Saddle, a journey that typically took 4 hours round-trip. In addition, I would carry up food and clients’ personal belongings, while carrying their heavier items back down for them.

70+

Number of active guides today employed by Exum, the oldest (founded 1937) and one of the most prestigious guiding services in North America. They have employed such greats as Kim Schmitz, Alex Lowe, Rolando Garibotti, Chuck Pratt, and Doug Coombs.

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2,000

Guided days in the Tetons by Exum every summer.

$0

Amount I was paid my first 3 weeks guiding, as I shadowed senior guides and audited the mountaineering schools.

$1,000

Amount I cleared in tips my first month at Exum. 

6,000–8,000

The number of calories I consumed on a long day in the hills. Here’s my standard intake for a one-day ascent of the Grand Teton (13,776 feet):

  • Breakfast burrito: 400 calories
  • 4 double-chocolate-chip cookies: 800 calories
  • Club sandwich: 600 calories
  • 2 Epic Bars: 280 calories
  • Bag of cashews: 600 calories
  • Chia-seed squeeze packs: 500 calories
  • Almond-butter squeeze pack: 800 calories
  • 3 Snickers: 645 calories
  • Post-climb triple burger: 800 calories
  • Post-climb pint of ice cream: 800 calories

155

My weight in pounds at the start of the season.

142

My weight in pounds at the end of the season. Even with my increased food intake, the strenuous climbing and sheer vertical gain meant I couldn’t keep weight on. 

240

Miles traveled over the Tetons’ steep, rocky paths while guiding or auditing—the equivalent of 9 marathons.

3

Number of pairs of approach shoes I destroyed on the Tetons’ rough terrain.

112,000

The number of vertical feet I climbed last summer while guiding or auditing the Grand Teton, the park’s signature summit and most popular guided outing. This was via the Owen-Spalding (1,560 feet), Exum Ridge (1,700 feet), and North Ridge (1,200 feet). 

Two

Number of chief guides needed to give you a final audit before you’re ready to officially join the Exum staff. It’s a rigorous process, but once you’re in, you’re family. I was welcomed back for the 2017 season and I couldn’t be happier to continue to work and grow among the amazing staff at Exum.

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