Miranda Oakley, Recipient of the 2015 Julia Cheney Culberson Educational Fund


A scene from the Advanced Rock Guide Course, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo: Miranda Oakley

When I first arrived in Yosemite almost ten years ago, I knew that it would be a part of my life forever. I arrived with less than $50 in my bank account and had simple dreams of getting a job washing dishes and climbing just high enough to see above the trees. As a young girl in the Yosemite Valley “scene,” I was of course intimidated by the giant looming walls and the big, burly dudes that climbed them. I never thought that I could land a job taking people climbing with the Yosemite Mountaineering School. I started small and worked my way up (quite literally), climbing long, classic routes like the Nose of El Capitan and the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome in a day or less. With training from the American Mountain Guides Association, I was able to translate my skills on the vertical rock into a guiding career. From my AMGA courses—the Rock Guide Course and the Advanced Rock Guide Course and Aspirant Exam—I was able to learn the many subtleties of guiding that I could never learn from just climbing big walls. Thanks to the AMGA and their sponsors supporting me, I turned my summer job into a guiding career. I am the only full-time female guide in Yosemite Valley. I hope that I inspire other women to “go for it” while climbing and test traditional boundaries in a world dominated by men.


A bomber anchor on the Advanced Rock Guide Course, Red Rock, Nevada. Photo: Miranda Oakley

In both of the AMGA courses that I’ve taken, I have been the only female. In my first course, the Rock Guide Course in Joshua Tree, I excelled in the rock climbing portion of the course but I had a lot to learn as far as rope management in a party of four, short-roping, and general client experience. Although I have always been a very safe with other climbers, the Rock Guide course taught me about all the small things that I could do to keep clients and myself safer. I had a lot to learn about what kinds of dangerous things the clients might do and what I could do to avoid these. The biggest thing I got out of my first course was confidence. I felt I was ready to start guiding people in the great vertical world of Yosemite.


Textured rock and a nice belay, Advanced Rock Guide Course, Red Rock, Nevada. Photo: Miranda Oakley

The Advance Rock Guide Course that I took this spring in Red Rock was a great review of the first course. It helped my polish my skills as a guide, and I was able to get helpful critiques from my experienced instructors. Since my first course with the AMGA two years prior, I had been more or less set loose into the world of guiding in Yosemite with no one to give me constructive criticism other than my clients (who never did). It was really helpful to have some of the most experienced guides with me on climbs to tell me what kinds of things I could do better.


High off the deck on the Advanced Rock Guide Course, Red Rock, Nevada. Photo: Miranda Oakley

I am now starting my third season as a rock guide in Yosemite. Thanks to the AMGA, I am able to start my season with a new boost of confidence and professional attitude. I feel more efficient on the rock, with rescue skills and with short-roping. I feel that I have the skills to take people up longer climbs in Yosemite Valley. I hope that my boost in confidence shows through to my clients and community, and that I can inspire other women to not be intimidated by their climbing dreams.