Jeremy Dawson spent two years attending UCSD before he dropped out to be a mountain guide. His parents, while not thrilled with the prospect of their son climbing mountains for a living, gave their blessing.
Dawson sold his calculus textbooks, headed for Leavenworth, Washington, and enrolled in the Northwest Mountain School.
“It was always my dream to be a guide, to lead people up Denali or even Everest, but I never thought I had the guts to do it,” Dawson said. “It’s not a life for everyone, but if you have a passion for adventure and helping others then I recommend becoming a guide.”
Dawson worked for two years in the Leavenworth area, guiding people through the Washington Cascades both in the winter and the summer.
“Not everyone who guides is certified, but it’s becoming the more popular, and safest way to go,” Dawson said. “Mountain sense will only get you so far and you have other people’s lives to think about.”
Dawson has led groups of as many as 10 and as few as one person. The pay is good and he markets through word of mouth. Last summer he led a group of four up K2, the second tallest mountain in the world, topping out at 28,251 feet. It’s located in the Karakoram Range between China and Pakistan.
“This is my job,” he said. “How lucky in life can you get?
Dawson said that salary is commensurate with education and experience. Base salary is $100 a day for new guides and up to $150.00 a day plus tips for experienced climbers.
“I would do this for free,” he said. “But then my parents might ask me to go back to school.”
Mountain guide schools:
The American Mountain Guides Association
Alaska Mountain Guides and Climbing School
Northwest Mountain Guide School
A River Runs Through It
Lynsi Chapman works as a swimming instructor in San Diego in the winter, but in the summer she takes off for Colorado, where for 10 years she has been working as a white water river guide guiding brave tourists down the Upper Arkansas River.
“I went on a trip when I was a kid with my dad and always knew I would guide,” she said. “It’s the most exhilarating job I can think of.”
Even though it can be dangerous, Chapman has her water lifesaving skills which earned her a job the first time she applied. Now that she has seniority she can work any summer she wants- and as long as she wants, she said.
“I plan on being that old tan, weather- beaten old lady guiding other old ladies down the river someday.”
Chapman said that the average pay for a river guide is $60 to $100 a day plus tips, and as a veteran guide she usually makes about $10,000 for the summer.
Whitewater Guide Schools
California Whitewater Guide School
All-Outdoors Professional Whitewater Guide School
ARTA River Trips
Billy Mason grew up in La Jolla, but spent his summers with his uncle fishing in Yellowstone. After graduating from La Jolla Country Day School he packed his bags and headed to Montana to learn to be a river guide.
“I’d had 15 years fishing on those rivers, so I thought I would be the perfect fishing guide,” he said. ‘Turns out I’m pretty close.”
As a guide, Mason doesn’t actually fish; he finds the spots for city slickers intent on bragging they caught the biggest trout.
“It’s a lot of sitting in the boat and telling stories and tying the flies,” he said. “People love to get away from their busy lives and come out here to relax. I help them achieve those dreams.”
Mason lives year-round in Montana, but comes home to La Jolla occasionally.
“When I come home to the city I just wonder how I used to live here and what would I have done for a living if I had stayed,” he said. “I don’t make a ton of money, but I am happier than my friends who ended up as stockbrokers. I know this because they are some of the people who pay me to be their fishing guide. It’s a dream job, and I live the dream.”
Simply Hired estimates that the average salary for a professional fishing guide as of May 2012 is about $55,000 per year. Fly fishing guides make a bit more at $59,000 per year. The most in-demand guides can earn as much as $85,000 annually.
Fishing guide schools
Sweetwater Travel Guide School
Hubbard’s Guide Academy
Fly Fishing Outfitters Guide School