And before you head out into the woods, make sure you sign the MWV Pledge to promise to preserve and protect the very woods you love playing in. Ensure the White Mountain National Forest, Saco River and State Parks are protected so we can all enjoy them for years to come.
Imagine loving something so much you go all in for it. That’s how Paul McCoy, Lead Guide and owner of the International Mountain Climbing School (IMCS) feels about climbing and guiding. So much that at the age of sixteen he sold his saxophone to pay for a climbing rope, and the rest is history.
Growing up he would head out west on annual father/son trips to fly-fish. During one of those trips, when Paul was sixteen, a brochure on rock climbing caught Paul’s eye. His father set-him up with a lesson, and from there Paul was hooked. Guiding for IMCS for the last twelve years, and climbing for over two decades, guiding has not only become his profession, but his personal passion.
Having dreamt of being a guide since he was sixteen years old, Paul wanted to do it “right.” This meant really focusing on the safety and technical aspect of not only being a great climber, but being a great instructor. He wanted to dedicate time to truly knowing the area he was going to be guiding in, and both of those priorities, led him to choose International Mountain Climbing School as his professional launch pad.
Notorious for its stickered front door, International Mountain Climbing School can easily be found on Route 16, right in North Conway Village. The first time Paul walked through that door in early 2010 he was instantly made to feel right at home. Which is a huge reason why he has guided exclusively for IMCS; they treated him like family. They do the same for anyone coming through looking for a lesson.
Over twelve years later, Paul is now the Lead Guide and owner. Taking over from longtime owners Brad White, and Rick and Celia Wilcox; between them all, they hold over seventy years of guiding experience, and now Paul is adding his experience through twelve years as a guide, and twenty-plus years as a climber.
With close to 100 years of experience (not counting the years other guides who work for IMCS add to the mix) circulating through the walls of IMCS, you as a customer, guest, and student have access to that library of knowledge. This includes trail information, technical and skill training, insight into assessing weather and terrain patterns, and a collection of personal anecdotes on climbing, team work, and cultivating mental and physical resilience that have come from the hundreds of treks IMCS’s guides have led in the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF), and the world.
It’s also important to note that International Mountain Climbing School is also the originator of the Mount Washington Valley Ice Fest. An event dedicated to “bringing together climbers of all abilities and backgrounds to celebrate the adventure, the fun, and the camaraderie of ice climbing!” It’s a weekend long event typically held the first weekend in February, where seasoned and famed guides come from all over the country and world come to share their knowledge through clinics, demos, presentations, and more. Food trucks, beer tastings, live music, and more are all part of the event that has evolved from being hosted in the gym of the local elementary school to now, thirty years later occupying the space of Ledge Brewing Company, the auditorium at Theater in the Wood, and the whole of Mount Washington and area trails!
What are some of the signature services that International Mountain Climbing School offers?
Of course, IMCS offers traditional courses in basic and advanced rock climbing skills, as well as avalanche training and Mount Washington ascents. But one program we’re really excited to grow is IMCS’s Youth Rock Climbing Camps. These are three-day rock climbing clinics that are offered to two different age groups; ages 8-12 years old and 13-17 years old. The student to guide ratio is kept very small, with six students to one instructor. Students learn safety and technical skills, climbing commands, as well as team work and how to be a supportive teammate.
The program is particularly important to Paul and IMCS because it focuses on getting the youth out into nature. It connects adolescents to nature, and teaches them important life skills that they may not get so directly in a traditional classroom. Cultivating a love for the outdoors and respect for nature, as well as planting seeds of resilience and self-confidence are critical lessons that guides and clinics can impart on young climbers eager to learn more.
What sets climbing and guiding in the White Mountain National Forest apart?
The WMNF and Mt. Washington Valley has some of the greatest resources when it comes to climbing; not just in natural resources, but in the people that climb here. World renowned guides live in the Mt. Washington Valley and climb in the White Mountain National Forest. The forest’s allure and prestige has brought in some pretty incredible climbers and skiers. And good skiers and climbers bring even more good climbers and skiers with them. If you are exceptional at something, you’ll encourage more exceptional people to check out your home base for climbing and guiding. And that’s what the WMNF is; it’s exceptional.
It’s important to note though that we don’t just climb and guide in the White Mountain National Forest. The Mt. Washington Valley is also home to state parks, like Echo Lake State Park, and the famed Cathedral and White Horse Ledges, as well as a network of private land that climbing schools and the land-owners have come to an agreement on for sustainable and respectful use.
What’s your biggest piece of advice when it comes to guiding in the White Mountain National Forest?
First and foremost, hiring a guide can be helpful because we simply have the gear you need to have a successful climbing trip. We have rope, harnesses, and carrabeeners, shoes, helmets and more. There’s a lot that goes into an outdoor adventure, and hiring a guide simplifies that process. Guides also have a depth of knowledge on trails and terrain. So if you show up to a piece of rock you planned your entire trip around, and the parking lot is full, a guide can instantly come up with a new location that matches the grade and terrain you were looking to climb.
Diversifying your trail and rock repertoire is really important when it comes to the sustainability of the WMNF’s terrain, and it can be hard to build that glossary unless you’ve invested a lot of time into climbing in the White Mountain National Forest.
When it comes to gear, my go-to piece of clothing is Outdoor Research’s Echo Hoodie. Don’t let the term hoodie fool you - this is a great base in winter and a great single layer shirt in the summer. It’s lightweight, breathable, offers UV protection, and wicks moisture. I have three of them, and wear them daily. Everyone should have one of these, and you can grab one for yourself at International Mountain Equipment.
Hiring a guide in Mt. Washington Valley helps support local economy, and it keeps you safe. Local guides make a up a huge part of the cultural and community identity of the Mt. Washington Valley.
By hiring one for an excursion you'll gain expert insight on how to make your outdoor adventure in the White Mountain National Forest more fun, and interesting, and it will better prepare you for your trek into the wild; ensuring that you will go on many more for years to come.
For complete trip planning resources and information, explore this site, visitmwv.com, or call 800-367-3364 (800-DO-SEE-NH) to talk to a Mt Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce rep. To learn more about New Hampshire vacations, go to www.VisitNH.gov.