The simple answer is a steady history of leading the way in climbing instruction.

Acadia Mountain Guides Climbing School is committed to helping you choose the climbing school or guide service that is right for you. We believe strongly in the value of instructor and guide education and provide the following information to help you make an informed choice.

This was prepared by Jon Tierney, owner of Acadia Mountain Guides.

Jon was one of the earliest individuals to complete the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) rock guide certification in 1993 and subsequently achieved alpine and ski mountaineering certification to become a fully certified IFMGA internationally recognized mountain guide. He served on the AMGA BOD from 1996 to 2002 and the AMGA technical committee from 1997 to 2008 and was an AMGA instructor/examiner during that time. He also chaired the AMGA Accreditation committee for many years. Jon has served as a peer reviewer and consultant to a variety of universities, organizations, and climbing schools on climbing and outdoor leadership. Jon was the point person behind the development of the AMGA Top Rope Site Manager Course (now called Single Pitch) in 1997 and coordinated it through its youth from 1998 to 2004.

In 2004 the AMGA awarded Jon a lifetime membership for his educational contributions to the AMGA education and accreditation programs. In 2007 Jon co-founded the Professional Climbing Instructors Association and is the current PCIA educational director. He is uniquely qualified to author this information.

There are many quality climbing schools and guides in the Northeast. However, there are differences in detail, history, quality and style that may make a particular school or guide a better choice. While the public is beginning to expect training and certification, there is no government or insurance-based requirement regarding training rock climbing instruction. Acadia National Park does not require training or certification to offer rock climbing to the public.

Although risk can never be eliminated, proper training minimizes it. A strong resume of personal climbing is not enough. It must be combined with formal education, evaluation, and strong mentorship to maximize competency and to reduce risks.  Most people expect this of a doctor or a pilot – Shouldn’t you expect the same from your instructor or guide?

Since our inception in 1993, Acadia Mountain Guides has consistently offered the public a cadre of highly skilled guides who have been trained and certified by professional organizations before working with clients in the field. Few to no other schools in the country can match this commitment to instructor and guide education and mentorship. Simply put, I was a believer in guide education and evaluation long before it became a necessary business expense as some services view it.

When one reviews marketing materials, most climbing schools appear to offer similar products. Crafty language can present a rosy picture to the consumer but what does this all mean? Highly experienced? AMGA or PCIA accredited vs trained vs certified? What training applies to what terrain? How does it relate to you?

In the United States, as in many countries, the needs of climbing instructors and the needs of guides are best served by multiple organizations. While some individuals are equally adept at instructing and guiding, this is not commonly the case. A person who might be really good at guiding you on Cannon Mountain may not be the best person to teach you how to climb on a short crag. While both need to be technically proficient climbers, the instructor needs to better understand learning styles and educational outcomes and have a nurturing attitude that supports learning and fun.

The Professional Climbing Instructors Association focuses on the education and certification of climbing instructors. Instructors provide early climbing experiences and teach fundamental climbing skills such as belaying, rappelling, anchoring, and how to lead climb. They play a pivotal role in forming the habits of new climbers.

The American Mountain Guides Association provides a broad spectrum of training and credentialing programs as well as resource stewardship and services for professional mountain guides and climbing instructors in the United States.  Completion of the entire AMGA certification program leads to recognition as an internationally licensed guide by the International Federation of Mountain Guides (IFMGA).

The common goal of both organizations is to raise technical and professional standards in the climbing industry.


American Mountain Guides Association

Acadia Mountain Guides Climbing School is one of just 30 programs in the U.S. accredited by the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA).

AMG Accreditation reviews operational guidelines, staffing, permits, and insurance to help insure professionalism.
The purpose of AMGA Accreditation is to increase the professionalism of mountain guiding and climbing instruction in the United States by functioning as a tool for institutional self-evaluation and development. It is a voluntary means of quality assurance and external review that examines such things as business practices, compliance with state, federal and local regulations, staff training and professional development, resource stewardship, and adherence to current industry standards. This credential represents a commitment to excellence through exemplary operating standards and an adherence to the
highest ethical standards of this profession.

AMGA Accredited Programs represent many of the nation’s most recognized and respected guide services, climbing schools, and educational institutions.

In 2011 the AMGA website suggested that “Forward-thinking individuals are participating in AMGA courses and exams. Forward-thinking business owners are pursuing AMGA accreditation and increasing the number of AMGA trained and certified guides and instructors on staff.”

AMGCS is the only climbing school in Maine to remain continuously accredited by the AMGA for over it’s entire history – several years longer than any other local service. AMGCS is the only Maine school that is credentialed to can take you on more complex rock and alpine terrain.

Professional Climbing Instructors Association
The PCIA is a newly formed organization intended to complement the AMGA program by focusing specifically on the needs of climbing instructors. PCIA accreditation requires that individual staff members be trained or certified for the terrain they take clients into. Acadia Mountain Guides is one of just a handful of programs in the U.S. currently accredited by the Professional Climbing Instructors Association (PCIA).
Our AMGA and PCIA Certification history

Single Pitch Instructor TerrainAll instructors since 1997
Multi-Pitch Climbing, Rock Instructor TerrainAll guides since 1993
Multi-Pitch Climbing, Rock Guide TerrainAll guides since 1993
Alpine Guide TerrainAll guides since 1997
Advanced Alpine Guide TerrainAll guides since 1993
Ski Guide TerrainAll guides since 2001
Ski Mountaineering Guide TerrainAll guides since 2001


The charts below summarize the training and certification of PCIA and AMGA programs. Both utilize terrain definitions to define the intended scope of practice.

PCIA Modular Courses / Certifications
Base Managed Climbing Instructor: focuses on technical proficiency, safety, core curriculum and educational delivery for sites where anchors can be walked to on top. Time: 4 days.
Top Managed Climbing Instructor: Includes all of the above plus skills to manage participant belays from the top. Time: 5 days.
Single Pitch Climbing Instructor: an add on to the above for climbing sites that are belayed from below but require leading up to 5.6 to set up. Time: 5 days.
Lead Climbing Instructor: similar to SPCI but at a higher standard (5.8). Teaches the subtleties how to teach lead climbing. Time: 7 days
AMGA Courses / Certifications
Single Pitch Instructor: replaced the Top Rope Site Manager and includes verification of recreational leading ability at the 5.6 level to set up bottom belayed top rope climbs. Time: 5 days.
Rock Instructor: Focuses on technical skills used to guide straightforward multi-pitch routes. Time: 15 days.
Rock Guide: Focuses on technical skills used to guide complex multi-pitch routes and at a higher 5.10+ grade. Time: 15 days.
Alpine Guide: routes with glaciers, loose rock, and ice such as Katahdin winter climbing, Alps, Tetons and Cascades. Time: 26 days.
Ski Guide: up and down backcountry ski guiding such as Katahdin backcountry skiing. Time: 15 days.
Ski Mountaineering Guide: involves mountaineering techniques, rappels, glacier travel, etc. such as skiing in parts of Alaska, Cascades, Canada and Alps. Time: 20 days.

The International Federation of Mountain Guides Association certification is awarded to those completing the entire AMGA Rock, Alpine and Ski Mountaineering certifications (a several year endeavor) or a similar program in other IFMGA countries such as Canada, France, New Zealand or Switzerland.

The Acadia Mountain Guides Difference

We are a dually accredited climbing school, by the Professional Climbing Instructor Association and the American Mountain Guides Association. That means our guides are highly trained and certified to bring you into the cliff side environment. Acadia Mountain Guides Climbing School also highly values improving their guides’ skills, which means you get a guide who is taking advantage of every opportunity to improve their ability to bring you an unforgettable experience. Whether you’re a family or a full time crusher, we can have blast getting your six year old to the top of her first climb or get stoked getting you on your first outdoor 5.10! Let us craft an experience that caters to you.


• Since 1994 •

AMGCS is one of 32 AMGA accredited programs in the US and was one of the earliest to pursue and achieve accreditation. AMGCS is the only climbing school in Maine to remain continuously AMGA accredited. We have had one or more AMGA rock guides on staff each year since 1994.

Owned by internationally recognized IFMGA/AMGA Mountain Guide Jon Tierney who has been climbing in Acadia since 1982. Jon has over 30 years of local and worldwide experience. The IFMGA requires full AMGA certification as a rock, alpine and ski mountaineering guide.

PCIA Accredited

• Since 2007 •

AMGCS has the distinction of also being accredited to the highest standards of the Professional Climbing Instructors Association. The PCIA requires all staff to be individually trained and certified.

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