There is no shortage of guide companies and schools in the Pacific Northwest who have programs for Mt. Adams. While the selection is plentiful, the selection process is fraught with hazards for someone new to the game. My limited knowledge means I am judging the schools on mostly third-party reviews, website forum postings, Yelp, etc. This isn’t anywhere near ideal. So, I made a list of potentials, based on lots of Google searches and reading:
- International Mountain Guides (IMG)
- Mountain Madness
- American Alpine Institue
- Alpine Ascents
- Northwest Mountain School (NMS)
Most (if not all) of these are well-known and pretty well respected in a general sense. Of course, that doesn’t mean that they all come recommended by those who have been a part of their programs. SummitPost was one of the websites I spent a lot of time on, both reading previous threads and posting new questions. Yelp (and other review sites) provided some information as well.
The first question I needed to answer was how much time I had to spend for this climb: a 7-day class (including the summit attempt) would be ideal- learn all the skills and climb the mountain. Sadly, like most folks, I have a day job and thus can’t get away for that long. It came down to having just a few (2-3) days to make this happen. Some of the schools don’t offer programs that short, so that knocked them off the list. Of the ones that were left, I sent emails. The emails asked basic questions about their program and available dates for 2012. The replies I would hear from each would, for the most part, dictate which direction I go in.
Ultimately, Northwest Mountain School came out on top…for a few reasons. First off, they (the proprietors- John and Olivia Race) came highly recommended in a number of different places. They seem to be quite well known in the community, and one or both of them have/do serve as guides for IMG as well (which, from a reputation point of view, stands above the rest), in addition to other schools and programs. According to their website, they have 30 years experience between them, and they’re both IFMGA and AMGA certified. But most important, within a day of sending my initial email, I got a reply from Olivia. In fact, in all my subsequent emails with her, she had responded incredibly fast. She’s been wonderful as I’ve had questions on their gear list, putting dates together, and building a custom program. Their cost certainly wasn’t the lowest, but it also wasn’t the highest of my options. But in the end, it was my interactions with them via email that convinced me I made the right decision.
Reading through their website, I like that they provide bio’s and pictures of their staff, and of all the different companies I researched, their website was one of the easiest to navigate. While that doesn’t say much about their climbing experience, it does count for something.
The dates were set for August 2012- I had a guide service selected, and a list of gear to start poking through. Most importantly, I had someone (Olivia) who could help answer some of my questions going forward. With this set, I found a partner to join me. A long-time friend with more outdoors experience than I, he would accompany me on the trip to Washington State and climb with me.
I thought this process (the above) was hard- in reality, the much harder part has been the gear selection. More on that next….