EP 4 Aimee Barnes


Aimee started climbing in 1980 and started guiding in 1985. Aimee was a member of the 1990 U.S. Women’s climbing team and has competed at a World Cup level.

Aimee’s professional career has been dedicated to developing the skills of new climbers, while inspiring seasoned climbers to achieve their goals.

In the spring and fall seasons, Aimee can be found in the canyons of southeast Utah, overseeing Jackson Hole Mountain Guides’ Moab Branch 

Show Notes:

Mentioned Articles:

Aimee’s Links:

Episode Intro:

Hello there, welcome to the Female Guides Requested Podcast. I’m your host Ting Ting from Las Vegas. Our guest in this episode is Aimee Barnes.

Aimee Barnes started guiding in1985 and is a legend in the guiding world. Her love towards guiding and her dedication to hard work is infectious. I was so inspired during our conversation, that I felt compelled to reflect on my own guiding to recalibrate my career path.

She is also an advocate of education and mentorship. She has run the all-women Guide Protrack in City of Rocks for about 10 years. Both newer and seasoned female guides have benefited and learned much from the Protrack and built and grown their own network of support.   

Aimee is a walking history book. It was so fun listening to all the stories, from toughing out storms waiting for her Dad when she was a little girl, accidental participation in the Snowbird World Cup competition, to multi-decade long engagement with the outdoor and guiding industry.

Now let’s take this wild ride together with Aimee.

Interview Outline / Questions:

I prepared many questions and gave it to Aimee a few days before the interview. Aimee was super thorough. Not only did she answer most of my questions, but she added many personal stories. So instead of sharing the timestamps here, I think it’s best to share the questions I prepared.

  • Guiding Life
    • a living proof that guiding can be a life-long career
    • When did you start guiding? I read somewhere that you started guiding in 1985. to put it into perspective AMGA was established in 1979. and that’s only 6 years after AMGA’s birth. Back then guiding industry must be quite different. And certifications were probably not as important as reputation and business savvy? Can you recall back them any big name guiding services and how they operated? And was it consider a “real” career choice?
    • In one of the article I read, at the beginning you couldn’t make all the income from guiding, so you have to supplement it with other jobs, what other jobs did you do?
    • When did you start full-time guiding and use guiding solely to support yourself?
    • What kind of guiding have you done? And am currently doing? Rock, ski, mountaineering etc?
    • Back then, I would assume, it was very difficult to find other female guides, and you mentioned that all (?) of your mentors were men. How does it affect you? Did you have to or think you have to overcompensate (meaning be extra tough or having an over achiever’s mind set) in order to prove your worth?
    • Even though you mentioned all of your mentors were men. Did you have female role models when you started?
    • You also mentioned most if not all early clients were all men? How did they take it being guided by a woman, even though you were of course a strong and competent women?
    • I assume most people think the career of guiding doesn’t have such longevity. What’s your tip or secret to guide this long? Have you ever thought about quitting and look at other professions?
    • In one article talking about the City of Rocks Pro Track (I think it was on mountain hardware website) they quoted you “I started guiding in 1985, and I can tell you of three other women who I met back then who are still around. Today, there are definitely more women guiding, but it is still just as hard, if not harder, to succeed in this industry than it was then.” I’m curious – what are the three other women?
    • Also what do you think it takes for female guides to succeed? Back then and now?
    • Any proud moments (well I know there must be lots but perhaps pick one or two?) during your guiding career? And any epics?
    • What do you like guiding the most?
    • What ever you observed? Changes in guiding industry and climbing community?
    • Btw did you “grandfather in” for your AMGA Rock Guide? How did that work?
  • Climbing Life
    • You started climbing in 1985 and how did you start climbing? And why did you like it?
    • Can you tell me a bit more about the world cup back in 1990? When you were a team member. I nowadays watch a lot of world cups but back then must be very different. I didn’t even realize back then US had a team
    • Can you tell me some of your climbing stories? Such as why City of Rocks was such a special place for you and did you also do much alpine climbing? Travel around the world. (Aimee, I know you are quite bad ass, so I want to hear you tell me stories! Sorry I can’t be more specific, because I couldn’t find much on the internet, I think those records must not be online)
    • And how about the 100 desert towers?
  • Mentorship
    • I want to talk about the Protrack, I feel sorry that I didn’t make any of them. 🙁 and I know that people love it!
    • You started the Protrack under the Mountain Guides, right? Can you describe what is Protrack? Was that for women only from the get-go or was the protrack also for men when it started?
    • From the article “Sisters of the Rope”
      • “Starting these programs and bringing in diverse groups of women, it made me realize that, “Wow, I can actually let some of these guards down, and I don’t have to go down that path to accommodate feeling comfortable around men. I can just be more productive and more myself.” It’s been a real eye-opener on how I structure my day and the way I actually approach women now, and how I approach people of color, or anyone who’s coming into a climbing class.”
      • “Unfortunately, there’s not a clear path charted for women within our guide structure that we have. The AMGA has an 80-20 split, men to women. So, the network’s a little stronger on the male end of it. They know how to show up and speak the language, and people want to pull them up because they can see themselves in them.”
      • What exactly is “the language”? I think I know what you meant because I probably sat through some bro’s discussion but I wonder whether you can help me to define that better.
      • What kind of “clear path”? I know becoming a guide right now there’re AMGA courses, but mostly it seems that mentor/mentee relationship is quite important as well. Do it mean that it’s hard for women to find mentors?
    • The first time when you ran the Protrack, were you worry about what kind of guidance/advice that you had to offer to newer female guides?
    • During the Protrack
      • What kind of education components are there?
      • I think I saw sometime you invited speakers what kind of topics did you offer?
      • Also I’m very curious about what frequent asked questions from the participants?
      • During the campfire talk what did you all talk about? Personal experience sharing or follow some set theme?
    • I know in Protrack you were definitely the “resources provider” but I’m wondering what did you benefit from the Pro Track, what did you learn?
  • Women’s Network
    • Women’s Network is a bit newer than the Protrack. Can we talk about it as well? What was your goal and outlook on Women’s Network program. I talked with Phil Powers once and he mentioned that you hold this program dearly.
    • I’m not sure whether I got the timeline correctly. But my impression is Women’s Network was a relative newer thing. Given that there are many women’s only clinics, programs, retreats out there. What direction do you think how Women’s Network should head to?
  • Outlook
    • Balance between guiding and other things, such as family, personal climbing goals, other hobbies, etc
    • Future goals
    • Advice or encouragement to female guides want-to-be?