Women's Climbing & Mountaineering Programs


AAI is proud to offer a variety of women's climbing and mountaineering programs, including women's rock climbing clinics, mountaineering courses, and guided summit climbs. All-women courses offer a powerful opportunity for women to build mountain skills with other like-minded women. Our women's trips are led by our highly trained and experienced women guides, providing climbers the opportunity to not only learn alongside other women, but to learn directly from women instructors and mentors.

Mt. Baker Women's Climb, BP4

June 2017 Mt. Baker Women's Climb Members. 

Alejandra Garces 

Our women-specific courses lend themselves to a supportive, cooperative learning environment in which all women are welcome to participate. Like all AAI courses, students develop technical skills that will prepare them for their next objective, whether that's leading a multi-pitch rock climb, joining a group of friends for a climb of Mt. Rainier, or tackling Denali's West Buttress. The women-specific version of these courses covers all the same technical skills and techniques as the co-ed courses; we go to the same venues, and climb the same peaks. The only difference is that they are for female-identified participants and facilitated by female-identified instructors.

Why Join a Women-specific Climb?

Why join an all-women climb? Junko Tabei, the first woman to summit Mt. Everest, who has participated in at least 44 women-only alpine expeditions, offers the following insight: 

"Personally this is the best approach for me. I find men and women function differently. Being a woman we understand how each other works. We tend to be supportive, and there always seems room for discussion about the climb, direction, and decisions to be made. I haven’t always found this with men. I have done my best climbs with women ...  The satisfaction I get from women-only expeditions is greater than from mixed expeditions. When the members have similar physical conditions, climbing becomes equal among them. It is much easier to be in a small tent with partners of the same sex, and I feel much happier when we overcome difficulties with only women.”

— Junko Tabei, as quoted in Molly Loomis's 2005 article Going Manless, published in the American Alpine Journal

Use the tabs on this page to learn more about our women's instructional courses in rock climbing and mountaineering. All other AAI courses may be arranged as private women-only trips depending on staff availability; contact the AAI Office for more information: 360-671-1505. We offer programs throughout the year in six states and 16 countries.

Scroll down for a sampling of impressive women climbers and mountaineers, both famous and less well-known, and for recommended readings related to women's climbing and mountaineering.

Note: Whereas women-only courses can be ideal for many climbers, we understand that many women prefer coed trips, and AAI offers both styles of program. 

Inspiring Women Climbers and Mountaineers 

“Mountain climbing is the greatest sport in the world...There is no better fun than that of sliding hundreds of feet on the snow in mid-summer while the rest of the world is sweltering below you, or to know the wonderful exhilaration of viewing range on range of mountain peaks for hundreds of miles, that rise in tinted ranks against the sky.”

- Alma Wagen, pioneering Northwest mountaineer & guide

Alma Wagen

Alma Wagen, circa 1920.

Tacoma Public Library

Alma Wagen, the first woman to work as a professional mountain guide in North America, grew up climbing windmills on a farm in Minnesota. "There were places to climb and I wanted to teach other women the joy of climbing," Wagen told an interviewer in 1923, in a profile in American Magazine. In 1918, Mt. Rainier National Park Superintendent Dewitt L. Reaburn described Wagen's groundbreaking position as "the final and undeniable proof that there's no longer any limit to what women can do."  You can read more about Alma Wagen's personal and professional life in Pretty Girls & Windmills, by Jason Martin, on Alpenglow.org.

Lynn Hill was the first person (male or female) to make a free ascent of the Nose on El Capitan, and she is a major advocate and spokesperson for women's rock climbing. Hill is recognized as one of the best rock climbers of all time, and as one of the best female climbers, worldwide.

Ashima Shiraishi, a professional American rock climber, is one of the strongest female rock climbers of all time. When she was 13, Shiraishi became the youngest person (male or female) to climb a sport route rated 5.14d/5.15a, and she was the first female to ascend Dai Koyamada V15 "Horizon" in Mount Hiei, Japan.

Arlene Blum led the first successful American ascent of Annapurna, doubly recognized as the first all-women ascent of Annapurna. She was the first American woman to attempt to climb Mt. Everest and she was part of the first all-women ascent of Denali. Blum is also an author, an environmental health scientist, and an environmental safety advocate.

Nimdoma Sherpa in 2008 became the youngest woman to summit Mt. Everest, at the age of 17. Growing up in a remote Nepalese mountain village, Sherpa dreamed of climbing mountains. “The Sherpa are known as mountain heroes and I always wanted to live up to my name” she told an interviewer for Aida, in a 2008 article.

Alison Hargreaves, a British alpinist who died on K2 in 1995, was the first person, male or female, to solo climb all six of the great North Faces of the Alps – those of the Matterhorn, Eiger, Grandes Jorasses, Piz Badile, Petit Dru, and Cima Grande di Lavaredo. Hargreaves is also recognized for climbing Mt. Everest solo, without bottled oxygen or Sherpa support.

Interesting Reads

We recommend the following books and articles related to women's climbing and mountaineering:

  • Arlene Blum, an environmental scientist and advocate for the regulation of cancer-causing chemicals in fabrics, was a very active mountaineer who helped organize the first all-woman ascent of Denali in 1970. Her book, Annapurna: A Woman's Place, tells the story of the first American ascent of Annapurna, by an all-woman expedition in 1978.
  • Molly Loomis, mountaineer and guide, writes for the American Alpine Journal. Her 2005 article, "Going Manless, Looking Back, Forward, and Inward," features insights from interviews with nearly two dozen leading women alpinists. Giving voice to their stories, Loomis's article explores reasons women are still underrepresented in mountaineering, and discusses the past, present, and future trends of women and alpinism.
  • Shelby Carpenter, AAI Instructor and Guide, wrote an insightful blog post in 2016, Tips for Women on AAI CoursesThis educational posting discusses staying warm, women-specific mountaineering equipment, pee funnels and urination, general hygiene, menstruation management tips, and the importance of attitude. In 2017 Shelby wrote a similar post with considerations for Day Trips
  • The AAI Climbing Blog features several other posts that highlight women in climbing, including awe-inspiring rock climbing videos (2013), a discussion on women's programs (2008), and previous Guide Like Liz scholarship winners (2015).



Women's Climbing & Mountaineering Programs

Rock Climbing

Our women's rock climbing courses offer the opportunity to learn or improve your climbing techniques in a spectacular outdoor environment with like-minded women, taught by women instructors.

Check out the following courses, and contact us if you have any questions about what program would be the best fit for your climbing skills and experience.  Go to the links below to see dates for select women-only courses.

Rock Climbing, J-Tree

Climbing in Joshua Tree National Park, CA.

Jason Martin

Outdoor Rock Climbing - Intensive Intro (4 days – Washington, British Columbia, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and California)

A four-day intensive course that provides beginners and indoor climbers with a foundation in outdoor climbing techniques and the principles of rock climbing technical systems. By the end of the program, climbers will be able to belay, rappel, and set-up their own single-pitch top-rope systems to enable them to climb independently.

Climbers on First Flatiron

Two climbers nearing the top of the North Arete of the First Flatiron (II, 5.4) - Boulder, CO. Zach Lovell 

Learn to Lead - Trad Rock Climbing Leadership (4 days – Washington, British Columbia, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and California)

The objective of the Learn to Lead program is to introduce climbers to the techniques required for leading single and multi-pitch traditional rock routes, while advancing technical and movement skills.


Our women-only rock climbing courses are offered on specific dates by location. Please visit the course page for details on public trips, or contact the AAI Office to arrange a custom or private course: 360-671-1505. 


Women's Climbing & Mountaineering Programs


Take your skills to the mountains with a team of women climbers, and summit a 10,000+ ft. peak!

We invite you to review the following women's mountaineering programs. Our staff can help you in determining which course would be the best fit, considering your goals and background.  Go to the links below to see dates for select women-only courses.

Mt. Baker Women's Climb, Skills TRN

Lead AAI guide, Alejandra, demonstrating the kick-step technique on a Mt. Baker Women's Climb. Sara Jung

Mt. Baker Skills and Climb (3 days - Mt. Baker, WA)

This program is for novice climbers who have limited time but would like to experience the thrill of climbing immense glaciers to the summit of one the alpine giants of North America. Mt. Baker's 10,781-foot summit is the highest point in northern Washington and offers commanding views of Vancouver, the San Juans, and the North Cascades.

Alpinism 1 - Introduction to Mountaineering (6 days - Mt. Baker, WA)

This course provides a general introduction to the sport of mountain climbing, including one day of rock climbing and five days on Mt. Baker for a thorough introduction to glacier travel, crevasse rescue, self-arrest, and movement on snow and ice. The course culminates with a climb of Mt. Baker.


Our women-only mountaineering courses are offered on specific dates by location. Please visit the course page for details on public trips, or contact the AAI Office to arrange a custom or private course: 360-671-1505.


Women's Climbing & Mountaineering Programs

Guide Training

Interested in becoming an outdoor educator or climbing guide? AAI has been accredited by the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) since 1986, longer than any other guide service, and places great value on providing opportunities for women to become instructors and guides. The first American woman to gain IFMGA certification, the international gold-standard required to guide in the Alps, got her start at AAI. Women and men alike who aspire to progress as guides prize the experience they can gain here because of the emphasis AAI places on nurturing guides' self-sufficiency and mastery of the widest possible range of alpine skills.

Technical Outdoor Leadership Courses

Not solely for professional guides, guiding skills are essential for club climbers and youth program volunteers, and are useful for anyone who climbs with a less experienced partner. The programs listed here are carefully designed to lead into the AMGA certification program, the only route to full, internationally recognized certification. These programs represent the industry standard of technical training both for aspiring guides and for practitioners of adventure-based and experiential education:

Mountaineering Instructor Professional Training Program

Mt. Baker Women's Climb, Guide Talk

AAI guide Alejandra Garces sharing her wisdom on a Mt. Baker Women's Climb. Erin Hardy

This comprehensive training program prepares anyone with a love of the mountains to launch a career in mountain guiding. Backpacking experience is the only prerequisite. Experienced climbers can place out of introductory level courses.

AMGA Single-Pitch Instructor Course and Exam

The 3-day SPI Course is designed to enable capable recreational rock climbers to become effective rock climbing instructors. The 2-day SPI Exam tests students' performance of industry standard practices.

Leave No Trace Trainer

The Leave No Trace Trainer course provides students an opportunity to develop a high level of understanding of the seven principles of Leave No Trace. Those who successfully complete the course will have the skills to provide LNT educational programing to their own student participants. This is an essential course for outdoor educators, guides and rangers. (See also Leave No Trace Master Educator.)

AMGA Climbing Wall Instructor

The American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) Climbing Wall Instructor Certification is for professionals who teach climbing on indoor gyms and artificial climbing walls. This two-and-a-half-day course and exam aims to provide the participants with the technical skills to run an effective program at a climbing facility.

Wilderness First Responder

The Wilderness First Responder first aid program was designed for serious outdoor practitioners. The course provides students with the skills required to manage minor backcountry ailments while simultaneously providing them with baseline techniques that they will need in order to respond to more serious incidents. This course is often required for outdoor professionals.

**NOTE: All of these courses are taught in a coed environment. Visit a specific course page for dates and additional information.**

Scholarships Available for Guide Training

Guide Training, Rock Rescue

AAI Guide Shelby Carpenter learning rope rescue skills in guide training – Mazama, WA. Jason Martin

AAI is proud to offer the following scholarships to encourage more women to become climbing/mountaineering instructors:

Liz Daley Memorial "Guide Like Liz" Scholarship

The Liz Daley Scholarship is intended to assist women climbers, skiers, and boarders who want to enter the guiding industry. The scholarship is designed to help women advance their skills from beginner or intermediate level to the level of proficiency and experience at which they could qualify for guide training programs either at the Institute or with the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA). For more information, click here.

American Alpine Institute Internal Guide Training

AAI's internal guide training program, which is offered to selected candidates for guide positions each year depending on the Institute's employment needs, is a three-week intensive professional course and practicum designed for seasoned all-around climbers and alpinists.  Unique in the industry, the course is intended to enable talented climbers with a high level of technical proficiency and proven leadership ability to gain the additional professional skills to begin working as guides on AAI's programs.  The course is offered free of charge to the selected candidates with an offer of work contingent on successful completion.  For more information, see our employment opportunities page.


Women's Climbing & Mountaineering Programs

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