Cliff Bars and Climbing: An Interview with Nikki McGee


I had the chance to sit down with Nikki McGee before she went down to Austin Boulderfest with her non-profit, Elevated Mountain Guides. I first heard Nikki’s name through a manager of mine at Momentum, who mentioned Nikki doing work getting gear and WFR (wilderness first responder) certifications to guides in South America. I was immediately excited because of my own experience in the Andes and with the local guiding community in Ecuador and even more so when I found myself lurking in the background of an EMG video taken at the gym.

“Climbing is unique in its ability to teach accountability and confidence.” Asserts Nikki, a climbing instructor and non-profit director/ founder. Who since 2015, with help from her husband Erkki, has been running and funding Elevated Mountain Guides, an organization that’s dedicated to accessibility and growth through the outdoors. The organization has been seeking to achieve their goals of stewardship, community, education and family in the local area and abroad. So far they’ve worked with over 120 people and collected/ distributed over 400 pounds of gear.  

“We’ve always wanted to do it with our community, on top of our international work. But while it’s in its infancy, I don’t want someone who’s never been where these kids are, to tell us how to run these programs.” Adding, “thank god for the Cliff-Bar grant because they’ve really vetted us, it’s shown other people what we’re doing and expanded our reach in the local community. So that stamp of approval means a lot.” Cliff-Bar is just one of many groups who have taken notice and added their support to EMG.

With the little extra cushioning from the grant, Nikki has been able to expand and bring in her first paid employee. The new support from Cliff-Bar is an exciting moment, validating what’s been a painstaking personal work and allowing new developments.

“We have a program starting in January with the Salt Lake City Juvenile Services and working with their homeless youth and foster kids, being facilitated by our partnership with Momentum Climbing gyms”

Along with creating several new courses that will now be offered. Between continuing with the Boys and Girls clubs of America, who they’ve already had great success with. They’re also working to create an EMG club with Women of the World, a female refugee non-profit. Nikki plans to have a full camp style program for kids in the very near future.

“The reason why working with these kids is so important are; some don’t have access to it, they’re not in stable homes, so they couldn’t play a team sport. Growing up is rough enough without any additional stress. It [climbing] creates a new dynamic and It’s become part of my own personal daily therapy. You develop a community… and it’s also something really scary but you’re bonding over those fears. In climbing you can bring people to the threshold of discomfort and help them deal with and process, and they can do it in a supporting loving environment with other kids in similar situations.”

It’s increasingly difficult to deny the therapeutic side of nature and exercise. With growing neurological evidence confirming something, its participants have long suspected.

“What’s important to me though, is the kids dictate how they want to be treated and how far they want to push themselves. And support them in that, so what they do is their own. Most people have trauma, it’s not just kids, but these kids also don’t have access to some things that can also help with trauma, so access is really our overall aim.”

As climbing in general continues to not only increase in popularity but play fundamental roles in the way we connect to our world, Nikki see’s Elevated Mountain Guides continuing as resource for people. With which they develop their own confidence and generational stability through manifold healthy lifestyles of outdoor recreation. She merely asks one question, “if you can make an impact and make someone else’s life better, why wouldn’t you?”

As the sport changes around us, Nikki acknowledges that we as climbers have also grown in our personal responsibility to crags and mountains.

“We’re going to continue to have an impact, it’s up to us to learn ways to do so as lightly as possible. So, having more people taking care of it, just propagates that mentality. Climbing can become this Olympic sport, but it can still be a therapeutic individual sport. You can’t lose the catharsis of climbing, it’s intrinsic. If that’s what you want it to be. A sport like skiing, yes that’s very personal but do you need the person next to you? No. But climbing has unfortunately become financially out of reach for so many people.”

So how can we help the overall accessibility in climbing? Nikki stresses donating gear and time. Elevated Mountain Guides always needs help, whether it’s teaching a clinic, providing space or time, old gear and layers you no longer use, “don’t throw away those extra shoes you never use, someone will use them, and they’ll be very appreciative to have their own.” As EMG is growing they look to bring in more employees, but in the meantime always need interns. Those looking to utilize and spread their skills, can get in contact via email at [email protected]