Mountain guide selection test

Hi all,

I'm entering a mountain guide selection test in september. I've been training hard for this since 8 months now, but now I need some more specific training.

The test is two races.

First day (everything with a 15kg/33# backpack):

- you start at 1000m (3000ft), run down to sea level
- walk/jog 4-5km
- and climb back up to 1500-1700m (4500-5000ft).
- 10 minutes rest
- "various terrain" descent (rocks, cliffs and tricky slopes... very technical so you need to still have good legs... definitely not the shaking quads or whatever).

You have 5 hours to do that... but the faster you come in, the better your note.

Second day: 10-12km orienteering race in the woods and mountain sides (only the first 10 to cross the line will be allowed in the mountain guide course).

So... That might be just about what you guys are doing on sundays before lunch <g> but I need some advice for my training :)

Right now, I'm jogging 3-4 times a week (often running 8-10 kms in hills, but I can only do this since a week or so), and long hiking with a heavy bag at least once a week or whenever my body allows it.

I'm doing some fartlek and hills running to improve my Vo2 max. Now I need some advice regarding long endurance and recovery.

How can you go for 5 hours of intense exertion (mostly aerobic, I hope, but anaerobic at times in steeper slopes) and still have legs for the technical descent after that?

How can you recover from that well enough to be able to run well on a 10-12km orienteering race (in the mountains) the next day?

Are there any good training tips, sites, information, whatever regarding these aspects of training?

I have no racing experience so far (though entering a 10k in june)...

Any input would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance...

Best regards,



  • only one way to train for 5 hours on mountains im afraid....
  • Well... If you mean that I should do 5 hours on mountains, I already do it, alongside with jogging :)

    Recovery tips for 2nd day?


  • Get used to using energy drink ?
    Use a Camelbak type drinking system ?
    Watch the SAS programme, and realise that it could be worse than what you are doing. (maybe only slightly though !)
  • agree with cougie - you need to keep fuelled so water and energy gels/bars are the way to go but I guess you know about hydration systems

    but the only way I can really see you getting the best out of it is through experience of doing these things in the hills - even better if you get higher for a period to increase red blood cells
  • SeelaSeela ✭✭✭
    Energy drinks and loads of carbohydrates in the evening.

    Hows your orienteering skills? You need to be able to do a 'brown' or 'blue' orenteering event. If you don't belong to a o-club I would suggest you join one and test your skills.

    Be a real glutton for punishment and do a 5 hr training run on the Saturday and an orinteering event on the Sunday.
  • and dm - who is organising this selection test - the BMC??
  • Make sure your iron levels are at a high level. This encourages oxygen transportation by the red blood cells. If in doubt take iron supplements but start now because iron build up is very slow.

    From my personal experience of mountain racing I would do the downhill part well below your speed capability as this is the part which will destroy your leg muscles and leave you with problems the day after. 5 hours for the course you mention is easily sufficient so the important thing would be not to get carried away by enthusiasm or fear in the first part and start off too fast.

    If you do this you probably won't have any difficulty on the difficult terrain part because your muscles will still be warm and receptive (keep them moving during the ten minutes rest and don't be tempted to sit down).
    The difficult part will be the next day after a night's inactivity. Try to be ready well before the start and give your legs a thorough warm-up.

    Your training should include at least once a week hard intervals on up and down hill. This is the only way to get your leg muscles used to the pounding and pushing of mountain running.

    Btw in Italy the similar entrance exam consists of running 1000m uphill in an hour (but starting at 1000m and arriving at 2000m).

    Where are they doing this exam? - on Ben Nevis.
  • Hi all,

    Energy drinks will be used in the event indeed. I'll manage to eat/drink all the way up and down (I read the body can absorb 60-70g or carbs per hour, so I'll stick to that, preferably in a liquid or semi-liquid form).

    I use a camelbak-type system too. It really saves a lot of time for hydration on the way.

    Carb loading on the evenings and right after the events will be a top priority (and probably a great pleasure after all this fat burning ;).

    This event is not held by the BMC. It's in France, actually, and held by the official "Sports & Youth" office. I sincerely think that that kinda test exclude many good potential mountain guides. Physical fitness is not the only thing you need to bring tourists back down from the mountain in one piece, and with a smile on their face...

    I do like challenges, though, and it gives me a good excuse to spend all that time training ;) And there's nothing like training in such nice places as the moutains :)

    The idea of joining an orienteering club is a good one. I'll check around my place if there is one that's open to new members.

    Thanks a lot,

  • Ooops :) Some more posts while I was writing the last one down.

    Firemonkey: thanks for all the good tips.

    My iron is ok (I eat plenty of red meat). Also, as I live around 1000m/3000ft, I'm already relatively well adapted to altitude (my doc told me I had something like twice the average hematocrit density).

    Taking the downhill part slow? Actually, I hoped I could go faster than the others on that part, since it's one of my strong points (rock solid ankles and knees, thanks mom, thanks dad...). I actually planned on starting slow, and accelerating progressively as I warmed up properly. Your advice makes me think twice about that strategy...!

    As for hard intervals in hills, I'm already doing that. It really is a killer, but the muscles are responding very well, and the VO2 Max is going up very fast. Great, great feeling... :)

    I did not think it could be that hard to do these hills intervals... I'm used to walking hills, but running up them is painful. There are a few steep slopes on my favourite trail back here that are a real nightmare for me :)

    Thanks again,

  • The downhill problem isn't really the ankles or knees. The compensation and compression that the leg muscles have to endure while running downhill literally tears the muscle fibres to pieces and if they're not used to it the next day will be agony. Plus they will get so tired on this part that you won't have the energy or strength for the uphill part.
    I figure that most people will start out fast as you planned to, but will probably pay the price in the second part.

    One more point - the gap created by a fast downhill and a slow downhill is not actually that much in terms of time (though it may look a lot in distance). On the other hand a reasonably paced uphill is way, way faster than a slow uphill and every rest/recovery break will lose you between 30 - 60 seconds.

    Btw I'm a mountaineering and ski-mountaineering instructor (Club Alpino Italiano) here in Italy, as well as competing in mountain marathons.

    Depending on how you feel about sport / nutrition integration/supplementation I could also suggest you utilise Amino acids in training and in the race. You could also increase pure strength with Creatine. If you want to know more about this let me know.
  • dm - sounds like you should handle this well - best wishes - do tell us how you get on
  • Firemonkey,

    I understand what you mean regarding the downhill running. Maybe I'm some sort of ET, but I usually have no problem with downhill running at all (however I never ran all the way down from 1000m to 0!!!)... Maybe this is because of my bodybuilding/martial arts competition background, I don't know. However, you are making me seriously doubt about my strategy, and I will definetly take it into account. You have more experience than I do for that matter ;)

    First thing I will do is to TEST how much and how fast I can actually run down without tearing my precious fibers apart, so I know exactly how much running I can put into that descent. It might be a lot less than what I thought...

    Good remark, too, for the importance of a regular pace all the way up... It's noted. I'll manage my fuel in order to be able to go up steadily.

    As for creatine, it's unfortunately illegal in France. I've never tried it, but I heard many good things about it. It seems, however, that it has a tendency to make people a bit bloated with water, alongside with additional muscular mass. Is that true? What's your experience with this?

    Amino acids and such are very often whey powders and such, which I can find in natural grocery stores over here for a fraction of the costs of the pills...

    Besides, right now I don't feel like I need more muscular mass at all (I'm around 125-130kg with 9-10% bodyfat right now...). I'd actually need to shed a few pounds of muscle, especially in the upper body.

    Most people in the mountain guide curriculum are small, thin, light guys. I look like a crazy giant among them... and I'm still a LOT slower than many of them. My main goal is to develop my VO2 max quickly, and to maximize my endurance/recovery capacities.

    Where are you, in Italy? Are you anywhere near the Mt. Blanc? There's a funny disagreement as to the location of the border between France and Italy on the top of these peaks ;)

    Thanks again for your precious tips.

    Cheers !

  • creatine is illegal in France? it's a natural compund produced in the body and they ban it??

    yet they pump out all this shite for controlling wrinkles, smoothing cellulite and they sell that.

    weird old world eh??

    and as for the border dispute on Mt Blanc - that has been running for as long as the 2 republics have known about Mt Blanc/Monte Bianco. it's accepted that the summit is in France (in the parish of St Gervais) although the Italians have named a slighty lower peak that is inside Italy as Mt Blanc du Courmayeur.

    at least on Mt Dolent the French, Swiss and Italians have made the junction of the 3 borders on the summit!!
  • Well, I'm one of those small, light, thin guys - 65kgs for 175cm.

    Creatine (legal in Italy, but cheaper in the US) can give good results in pure muscle power. As you say it can create problems of bloating and I found irritated my stomach causing excess air. I utilised it while training for an expedition to Peru (Alpamayo). I would say it works but doesn't give that much of an advantage, especially compared to its price.

    On the other hand I'm a disciple of the use of amino acids. Not so much for their muscle developing properties as the fact that they aid recovery when training hard.

    Two types of aminos. Essential and non-essential. Essential aminos are those which are generally sold as tablets or in whey form. The most important of these are Isoleucine, Leucine and Lysine though other amino acids are found within the formulation. They are called essential because they can only be introduced into the body as a supplement or as food. There is a second type of acid which is non-essential, so called because the body is able to produce it by itself. Usually referred to as L-Glutamine. Although the body is able to produce Glutamine it can only do so in limited quantities which however are sufficient for the body's basic needs. The problem comes when you are doing high training levels. The amount of Glutamine produces by the body is no longer sufficient to guarantee optimum muscle recovery. Therefore supplementing with Glutamine during intense training can give great advantages.

    Personally when involving in intense training I take 4gms of essential amino acids and 5gms of glutamine one hour before and immediately after the session.

    Good thing about these is absolutely no side effects whatsoever.

    No unfortunately I do not live that close to Mt.Blanc. I live in Parma close to the Appenine mountains. Until a couple of years ago however I was in Valle d'Aosta virtually every weekend (little fm stopped that). My wife and I love this area and also Chamonix which is where we usually spend our summer holidays (since we can't do expeditions anymore).

    The border thing on Mt.Blanc has never really worried me - up one side, down the other - never seen any police on top.

    Where are you living David - somewhere in the French Alps I guess.
  • Hey Dick, I knew you'd be along to enlighten us on this. Saw your article on the Tough Guy - and you say that I'm crazy!!!!
  • fm - doing toughguy cannot be compared to doing the TMB race. is a different sort of crazy!

    what's the winter conditions like down your way at the moment? was in Cham in Jan but we had too much snow/high winds and most of the place was closed so we went down to the Pyrenees instead. am thinking of going back to Cham first weekend in March but keeping an eye on the conditions first. Was looking at some info yesterday on the Office du Haute Montagne site and it seems that the Mt Blanc Massif is still not in great condition for climbing after last summer's heat blast - although the touring is not looking so bad on the Aiguilles Rouge/Argentiere sections.
  • Winter has been very mild but there's plenty of snow on the southern side of the Alps - lots's of avalanches in January - usual number of victims.

    Snow conditions are becoming spring like. Icy in the early morning, getting softer as the heat rises, slush in the evening especially lower down. All this is hearsay due to not being able to ski - got a slipped disk a few weeks ago. Therefore also the TMB race is out for this year - I'll think about it for next year - in the meantime I may be doing some triathlon this summer - less traumatic.

    Say hello to Cham for me if you go. I'll be there for the first 3 weeks of August.
  • nasty little injury there fm - and can see why you are out of action - hope it gets better quickly
  • Firemonkey,

    65kg... You're lucky :) Imagine climbing mountains and running with another yourself on your back, and you have what it represents for me ;)

    I hope your slipped disk will heal quickly... Sorry to hear that.

    Thanks for the amino acids data. I didn't know about the glutamine deficiency after hard training. I'll supplement and/or adapt diet!

    My stepfather was born in Valle D'Aosta (Vallée d'Aoste, as we say here). It's a great place indeed :)

    I live in the Alps, you're right. Southern French Alpes (Drôme), in the Vercors. It's a beautiful place, filled with hundreds of 1200 to 2500 peaks within 10km from home. No high altitudes here, but thousands of great routes to hike/climb :)

    BTW, the course I'm trying to go for is "Accompagnateur de moyenne montagne". That's good for bringing people up, as long as there is no glacier or serious climbing. Snow is ok in winter, though, and we're allowed to bring people off-trail (and we'll have very little avalanche training... which is dangerous IMO).


  • Fat Buddha,

    Yeah, they ban stuff your body will produce by itself, but they allow botulic toxin (probably the strongest toxin in the world) to be handled by anyone...

    But huh... Growth hormone is also naturally produced by the body -- LOL.

    But it's not a real problem... Without supplements, it's possible to get relatively high doses of creatine through food (found in salmon, for example).


  • nice place you live in there DM [envy]

    and that test looks seriously tough now for the qualification imho. probably equivalent to the UK Mountain Leader one (maybe the Winter version) and as far as I know there is no physical test required for that
  • Fat Buddha,

    I know... Most of these courses, in the world, will pass people through a regular paced hike with very technical passes, and an interview to check personality, motivation, etc. This, IMHO, makes sense, as you can show your level of skill, confidence, and ability to keep your thinking going straight under stress (which you usually can't learn in a year of formation anyways).

    Physical tests are just a way to limit the number of people who are allowed in the course. Keep in mind that the instructors in there are also mountain guides themselves. As the market is quite arid, it's a good way for them to control the number of new competitors they produce I'm not mentioning that many of them will also sell you "pre-test" courses ranging from 2 to 7 months that are designed to prepare you for the event... and you pay a LOT of money for such courses... but having been through their hands, you have a great advantage over the other participants.

    This is such a racket, really :(

    Fire Monkey, is it the same in Italy? The testing seems to be more humane, from what you wrote... and that's for high altitude guiding, right?


  • The physical testing is more humane - it has to be since a number of the applicants are also female. This is the test for fully fledged mountain guides (no limits). But on the technical side it's really tough - they have to be able to climb at 7c (European not English) in a protected environment and 6b in mountain environment, ski almost like a ski-instructor (on and off piste), and ice climb up to grade V. Plus they have to present a curriculum with at least 12 difficult classic routes over 800m long, numerous ski-mountaineering routes, traverses and multi-days.
    That's just to get into the course - then it's three years of intense course and exams.
    I was going to do it some years ago but I couldn't afford to take 3 years off work.

    The qualification that I have is similar to the one you're doing except it's also for rock and mountain climbing including glaciers and ski-mountaineering. The difference is that it's voluntary work within the CAI (Club Alpino) and I only receive my expenses.

    I envy you too - living in the Vercors. One day I'm going to buy a house in the mountains (Valle d'Aosta or Chamonix) and retire - still a few years to go though.

    Hope the exam goes well for you.

    Btw if you happen to be in Chamonix in August let me know. We could meet up - maybe go for a run or hike together - training for your exam.
  • fm - if you want to buy in Cham start saving or win the lottery - prices are going through the roof as in the last few years loads of Brits are spending like crazy and outbidding all the locals which has led to the Directeur du Tourisme to get all shitty about us Brits - despite the fact that there are probably more Italians with maison secondaires than Brits like me. a number of long term Brits in Cham are thinking of baling out as some weeks it's like living in Chelsea with hoorays all over the place and the charm Cham had has gone to a great extent. but that is also a consequence of the popularity of siing and the ease of access. great shame but that's modern life

  • Yeah, I know I've seen the prices go up like crazy over the last five years. In fact I should have bought a few years ago. On the other hand the prices in the outlying villages aren't that bad still - only slightly more expensive than in Italy. I wouldn't be too keen on living in the centre of Cham anyway.
    Too many Brits. :-)

  • agree there fm - am outside the town down Les Houches way (Taconnaz). we bought 10 years ago.

    best bet for prices these days is Servoz but even there they are increasing. personally I would look further at either Sallanches or even head over towards Samoens/Morillon on the other side of Cluses. These are in the Giffre Valley and is lovely and still unspoilt and skiing links in to Flaine/Grd Massif.
  • Thanks for the tips fb, though the further away the more difficult for me. In fact I was kind of thinking about the Les Houches area. Anyway it's still a pipedream for the moment. Got to put my daughter through University first and get my son out of kindergarten (both have horrendous fees). So at least three years of economic restrictions.
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