Kate Ayres - Mountain Guide, Mountain Journeys
Four pitches into Sonjanikka, a multipitch sea cliff route that Kate Ayres and I are climbing as a team, we take a lunch break high on a ledge. In the warm Spanish sunshine I took the opportunity to talk to Kate about how she became a mountain guide, and what the job involves.
Based in the English Lake District for the summer and Costa Blanca, Spain for the winter, Kate is a keen fell runner, climber, and hill walker. "I am a mountain guide, most of my work is guided walking, but I also do climbing courses, beginners climbing days, abseiling, and gorge scrambling. I do guided trail and mountain running, the sort of thing that appeals to trail runners and fell runners."
Earlier in the week I ran with Kate, she chose the perfect trail for me - steep, warm, and rocky. I asked her about the type of people that use a mountain guide. "We get all sorts of people, a real mixture. Families with children, individuals, couples, groups, and stag parties. Mostly I work with beginners, people who’ve done a bit before and they just want to get out. Maybe they’ve climbed indoors at the wall and they want to try outside."
"As well as beginners we get people who are fairly competent, but they just want someone to take them out. People use a guide because [it means] you can go out and enjoy the countryside, you don’t have to worry about navigation or the weather turning. The guide is there to get you up and down safely, to look after you, to advise and choose the best route."
"If you’ve never climbed before you definitely need somebody to take you out – a qualified climbing instructor. We ask people what they want to get out of the day. Some people just want to get a feel for climbing on rock, others want to learn about rope work, belaying, or how to tie in."
As we continue our route, it's my turn to lead - an intimidating overhanging exit from a cave, and I'm scared to take the step into the unknown. I ask Kate if she wants to lead. Realising that I'm nervous, she talks me through the next moves and explains what I'll see when I climb out of the cave. With my confidence restored, I'm exhilarated to lead the pitch and bring Kate up to join me, I'm so glad I gave it a go.
"I enjoy being outside doing something I love, and being able to get other people to enjoy it as well. Some people get a real buzz out of it, they really appreciate it, that’s the best bit."
"I’ve got the Mountain Leader (ML) and Single Pitch Award (SPA) qualifications for climbing. I have a coaching award with the Fell Running Association and UK athletics – I coach children fell running. For the qualifications to be valid I have to have First Aid. Experience is the most important thing. You can have a qualification and not much experience, and I think the two need to go together. You obviously build that up over the years."
Kate got her ML qualification 10 years ago, but she has been out in the mountains since she was a child. "My mum and dad were very supportive, a lot of our holidays were in mountain areas in North Wales, Scotland, and the Lake District. My dad’s always led walking holidays, and my mum led walks with the ramblers association, so it’s in my blood really. I was lucky that the London climbing wall I lived near also had a centre in North Wales. My parents were always up there, so I went as well. I started climbing, I went out with groups, I went to the Alps with them, I did loads. I was lucky, a lot of young people don’t have those opportunities."
Kate tells me that she never intended to work in the outdoors. "I moved up to the Lakes to do my primary school teacher training. I met Mark who was doing his ML, and he persuaded me to do the training. The following year I did my ML, then my SPA training and assessments, it just fell into place."
"I did my teacher training and decided that teaching wasn’t for me. At the same time I was doing bits of outdoor work, and it just picked up. Working with Mark we built up the business. Over the past 10 years I’ve been doing other jobs at the same time, last year was the first year it was completely full time. Now I’m doing something I really love, and I get outdoors whenever I can."
Along with her partner Mark Eddy, Kate runs Mountain Journeys, guiding individuals and groups on activities from fell running and hill walking challenges to rock climbing and canyoning in Costa Blanca, Spain and the Lake District, UK. Kate and Mark invited me to join them for part of their multi activity week in Costa Blanca along with a group of mountain loving female climbers, trail runners, and mountaineers.
Read more about the services of mountain guides with our Five Reasons to Hire a Mountain Guide.