“Don’t be bitter, be better.” –Habeeb Akande
Aimee Barnes dedicates her life to outdoor pursuits. What started as an interest in her high school outdoor program blossomed into a full-blown obsession and career that takes her outside, either personally or professionally, nearly every day of the year.
Aimee’s guiding career began right after high school as an outdoor trip leader through the campus recreation program at Idaho State University. This was back in 1983 when few women were climbing and even fewer women were guiding.
“Not a lot of ladies came across my radar for about 10 years,” Aimee says. “Back then men were my partners and I climbed as well, if not better than they did.”
Still, a lack of women on the rocks didn’t deter Aimee Barnes from pursuing a guiding career.
Once Aimee graduated from university she started guiding in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountain Range. There she made a close friend who became her guiding mentor. However, at the time it was difficult to make enough money guiding year-round, so she moved to Salt Lake City, UT to work for Black Diamond Equipment. At Black Diamond, Aimee developed the climbing company’s Pro Purchase Program which is still in place today.
While working at Black Diamond, Aimee met the owners of a heli-skiing company based in Valdez, Alaska and the owners encouraged her to move there to run their company. This was in 1996 and the moment Aimee started working as a full-time, year-round guide.
It’s not just the physical aspects that make Aimee love guiding, it’s the comprehensive experience.
“What I enjoy most about climbing is the focus and being in the moment,” says Aimee. “I like that climbing is hard and can be dangerous [and] I like that you need a skill set, an understanding of physics and special equipment to keep yourself safe and alive.”
On top of that, she also loves the solitude of remote, alpine environments.
Trading solitude for guiding groups of women is worth it, though, when Aimee gets the chance. “I like to watch ladies interact and share their stories of careers, motherhood and climbing adventures,” she says. “It’s nice to see friendships develop and watch a network of new climbing partnerships develop.”
Aimee takes her work of female camaraderie in the mountains to a new level through her work developing the female, professional guide track. Aimee wants to encourages women to pursue a career in guiding because “I really love working with other professional female guides,” she says. And, to be frank, the percentage of female guides is still too low (only 10% of current AMGA certified guides are female).
When Aimee’s not guiding, she’s probably climbing.
Currently she is attempting to tick off 100 individual towers on the Colorado Plateau from her home base in Moab, UT.
One of her most memorable climbing days was in the Tetons and it involved her friend Erica. “We remembered the quickdraws and left the rack when we went into the Rock Springs Buttress [but] we were not going to leave without climbing our objective, the Exum Arete. So, we ended up jamming knots made from our prusik cord [and] making it a bit of an Eastern bloc experience.” One thing is for sure. Aimee is determined.
At age 40, Aimee started guiding the Grand Teton. There she helped develop a guest guide program: “a program that I am very passionate about,” she says. In what free time she has, Aimee also helps to raise money for a Guide Scholarship which helps career-guides further their AMGA certifications.
Born and raised in southern Idaho, Aimee leads our City of Rocks, ID rock climbing programs. She also brings her exceptional guiding and climbing experience to our Indian Creek, UT rock climbing programs.