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Becoming a Mountain Guide

My journey to becoming a mountain guide all started around five months ago when I signed up for a mountain guiding course offered by Venture Forth. I had no idea what to expect, and certainly didn’t think it would be as hard as it was. But despite it being super challenging, it was a fun and exciting opportunity! I wanted to share my experience, and hopefully encourage all women out there that no matter how hard the going gets, it’s worth it to push through.

I originally set out to complete the course in two to three months, however life happened and it ended up taking me five months to complete. It has been something I’ve always wanted to do, I mean, what better way of sharing your passion with people and making a career out of it. As I see it, I would never have to work a day in my life! This is what the course involved:

  • Attend the 8 day programme consisting of lectures, practical work and a practical weekend camping in the mountains.
  • Complete the GASG (Generic Adventure Site Guide)
  • Adventure Guide component
  • This is the general core qualification needed to legally enter the commercial adventure guiding industry in South Africa
  • The GASG is mostly foundational theory work in the form of written tasks being submitted for assessment and external moderation
  • Once your GASG is complete, you will then have to complete your assessments:
  • Theory exams (pass mark of 80%)
  • Practical exams
  • Complete a logbook with a minimum requirement of 21 entries matching your chosen scope
  • You will only be signed off once all the above is complete and once you have passed all the assessments
  • You also need to acquire First Aid level 3 in conjunction with your mountain guiding qualification (I completed a Wilderness First Responder course)

Theory exams:

Because my chosen field is off-trail, overnight hiking, I was required to write four theory exams.  Out of the four, I passed one, which meant I had to rewrite the other three to attain a pass mark of 80%. When I did the rewrite, I only ended up passing two of the three. You can imagine, things started to get frustrating at this point. I also started doubting whether I had what it takes to become a mountain guide. Failing that test for the second time made me feel really low. Thankfully, it wasn’t necessary for me to take the test a third time, but I was required to pass a practical assessment based on the sections I struggled with in the theory exams and be evaluated in that way.

Practical exams:

The practical exams were an absolute blast, and everything went well. I felt a sigh of relief as I thought, wow this is the home stretch to becoming a qualified mountain guide. A few days later I received an email, requesting that I redo the rope work component of the assessment. For crying out loud how can it be so daunting to achieve a mountain guiding qualification.

A second time around, and guess what? I still couldn't get the hang of the darn rope work. Totally disappointed, I started questioning everything about myself, from what I set out to do to the time it has taken me and even the socks I was wearing. I mean, I could’ve finished this course within two months! Having to redo assessments just delayed the whole process.

I was given a new date for my third attempt at rope work, and really set about practicing and practicing.  Just before my assessment, I totally forgot how to do a body belay! Seriously, how could I forget one of the most important things on the day of my assessment? In total panic mode I reached out to a friend who talked me through it and gave me a lot of practical advice. Thank you Ryno Griesel.

I arrived at Matroosberg and began my assessment and can you handle, the first thing I had to demonstrate was a body belay. At this stage, thanks to the work I had put in, as well as the last minute tips and demo from Ryno, I felt confident enough to do it with my eyes closed. There was nothing I couldn’t do, and I felt so proud demonstrating all the knots to perfection. I finally passed all my assessments and got my mountain guiding certificate.

The road to getting my certificate was long and loaded with self-doubt and fear. Every time I failed a test of assessment, I doubted my ability and my choices. But I chose to push on, and practice and work hard at it, after all, I was chasing a dream of mine. I think that’s what’s been the most rewarding part of the journey, is realising exactly that, that sometimes it’s not just about getting from a to b in one easy step, but that taking a bit longer, failing, repeating and trying again, you learn more about yourself in the process, and how to handle stress, fear and failure. I’m so thrilled to have my mountain guiding certificate and cannot wait to do it for a living!

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“Failing that test for the second time made me feel really low.”

Shafeeqah shares her journey to becoming a mountain guide, the ups, the downs, the challenges and the reason that it makes it all worthwhile.

What was the last dream that you chased?

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“The road to getting my certificate was long and loaded with self-doubt and fear.”

Despite being faced with failure, Shafeeqah Gordon rose above it, worked hard and overcame the obstacles in her way to becoming a mountain guide. Read her story here.