Changing Times: Three Prominent Female IFMGA Mountain Guides

Explorers Survival
Female IFMGA mountain guide in Bugaboo Provincial Park
Photo: Igor Kyryliuk/Shutterstock

Women make up less than 2% of all mountain guides certified by the International Federation of Mountain Guides Association (IFMGA). Here, we examine the gender disparity, talk about what it takes to attain this highest guide certification, and briefly profile some prominent female mountain guides.

What is the IFMGA?

The IFMGA was founded in 1965 by several mountain guides organizations from various Alps nations. As of 2021, the IFMGA oversees guiding standards for its 26 member associations, encompassing more than 20 countries.

IFMGA mountain guides have attained the highest professional credentials, and the prestigious IFMGA pin is given to those certified as Rock, Alpine, and Ski Mountaineering Guides. For that reason, mountain guides can “work in any type of terrain, anywhere” in any of the IFMGA’s member countries.

The IFMGA gender gap

Female IFMGA mountain guides

Photo: RGBMedia/Shutterstock

Although female mountain guides are common in some parts of the world — the Alps and Canada, for example — overall, the ratio of female-to-male IFMGA-certified guides stands out from almost any other vocation. Estimates from 2018 indicate that just 1.5% of all IFMGA Mountain Guides are women. That percentage gets substantially slimmer in areas like Nepal and Latin America. The United States is also stunningly short on female guides, with a headcount of around 12-15.

Social and cultural barriers are the primary cause of such a low female IFMGA turnout. After all, some of the world’s best and most encroached high-altitude peaks rest near extremely “traditional” settlements. Here, women rarely stray from their traditional domestic roles.

Becoming an IFMGA mountain guide

IFMGA programs are conducted around the world by member associations. Often referred to as the Ph.D. of mountaineering, IFMGA training takes at least five years and $30,000 to complete. To even qualify for enrollment in the proper IFMGA course, applicants must have four nontechnical, sub-7,000m treks and at least one successful ascent of a peak above 7,000m.

Once enrolled in the program, candidates must pass three-month guiding exams in the field and a 21-day test in which they must guide a client on an alpine trek.

Prominent female IFMGA mountain guides

Female IFMGA guides acclimatize in Chamonix

Photo: Soloviova Liudmyla/Shutterstock

Angela Hawse: AMGA President & 6th-ever female IFMGA guide

Photo: Angela Hawse/Instagram

Angela Hawse became the sixth female IFMGA mountain guide globally and only the third in the U.S. For many years, Hawse has led the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) in a significant capacity — first as director, then V.P., and today, as president.

She also co-founded Chicks Climbing and Skiing, a women-led, female-focused outfitter.

In her long career, Hawse has led expeditions to Denali, Carstensz Pyramid, Ama Dablam (6,120m), Everest, Aconcagua, and Pakistan. She also executed a self-supported, 26-day ski traverse from Sweden to Norway. Hawse has deep experience in sport, trad, alpine, ice, big wall, and mountaineering disciplines.

Notably, her Ama Dablam expedition was all-female and raised $23,000 for the dZi Foundation, a women’s organization in the region.

Juliana Garcia – 1st female Latin American IFMGA guide

Photo: Juliana Garcia/Instagram

In 2017, Ecuadorean Juliana Garcia became the first IFMGA-certified female mountain guide in Latin America.

Even earlier, in 2015, Garcia was president of the Ecuadorean Mountain Guide Association. She now sits on the IFMGA’s Board of Directors, the first woman to serve as a board member. Garcia and Angela Hawse (AMGA) are the only two women in the world at the helm of a mountain guide association.

Garcia is known for establishing high-altitude routes alpine-style, including H.K. on the eastern Huandoy in the Peruvian Andes in 2021, for which she and Joshua Jarrin received a Piolet d’Or nomination. In 2016, Garcia and climber Anna Pfaff established The Solstice Route on Bolivia’s Tiquimani (5,551m) and attempted Gasherbrum II (8,034m) in Pakistan, one of the tallest peaks in the world.

Dawa Yangzum Sherpa – 1st Asian female IFMGA guide

Nepalese mountain guide Dawa Yangzum Sherpa received her IFMGA certification in 2018 at the age of 27, making her one of the youngest female mountain guides in the world.

By that time, Yangzum had already summited Everest at just 21 years old. She has also summited Yala Peak, Island Peak, Ama Dablam (6,120m), Annapurna 1, and K2. She owns the first ascent of Chekigo Peak, also in the Himalaya. Finally, Yangzum remains the youngest woman ever to have climbed K2. In 2019, she clinched the speed record on Makalu, taking just 20 hours from Base Camp and back without supplemental O2.

In April 2021, Yangzum’s all-female team summited Annapurna (8,091m) without supplemental oxygen.

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About the Author

Jilli Cluff

Jilli Cluff

Jilli grew up in the rural southern Colorado mountains, later moving to Texas for college.
After seven years in corporate consulting, she was introduced to sport climbing. In 2020, Jilli left her corporate position to pursue an outdoor-oriented life.
She now works as a contributor, an editor, and a gear tester for ExplorersWeb and various other outlets within the AllGear network.
She is based out of Austin, Texas where she takes up residence with her climbing gear and one-eared blue heeler, George Michael.

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Sheeny
Sheeny
4 days ago

What about Josette Vallotton!? Certainly worth mentioning.

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