We’re frequently asked about the process to becoming a Mountain Leader so we’ll look at what’s involved and why it’s structured as it is. The Mountain Training awards are all built upon personal experience, with input from experts along the way to direct your continuing development, before finally attending an independent assessment to accredit your ability. Ultimately, it’s a progressive pathway, designed to support and develop you onyour Mountain Leader journey.

Getting Started

To get started on the Mountain Leader scheme you should meet the following prerequisites set by Mountain Training;

  • be at least 18 years old
  • a year’s worth of experience of mountain walking
  • an interest in leading groups in the mountains
  • be a member of a mountaineering council: BMC, Mountaineering Scotland or Mountaineering Ireland

Essentially you should already have experience hill walking and be passionate about the mountains, with an interest in leading groups. A year’s worth of experience is subjective, as you may have a lot more free time to devote to hill walking than the next person and be super keen! If you haven’t already got lots of experience then this is your excuse to go out and bag loads of days out in the mountains adventuring!

The last point about being a member of a mountaineering council can easily be addressed at the point of registering for the award scheme below.

Registration

If you meet the above criteria, then the next step is to Register for the Mountain Leader scheme with Mountain Training.

  • Create an account on the Mountain Leader Candidate Management System or log in if you already have one.
  • Register for the Mountain Leader scheme (currently £49 July 2021)

Mountain Training are the awarding body for the qualification. The registration fee is a one off cost that allows them to maintain the award scheme, provide customer support and quality assess the providers, trainers & assessors who deliver the award scheme.

Training

Prior to attending a Mountain Leader Training Course, you’ll need to already have some good hill walking experience. The Mountain Leader award is a leadership qualification and there’s a great deal of material to cover, so you’ll want to be up to speed with the basics as a foundation to build further knowledge. Research undertaken by Mountain Training shows that candidates attending training courses with less than the minimum prerequisites have a higher rate of not passing Assessment first time around. Mountain Training’s prerequisites for the Mountain Leader are that you should;

  • be registered on the scheme (see above!)
  • have recorded a minimum of 20 Quality Mountain Days (ideally on DLOG) which can have taken place at any point (pre- or post-registration)

What makes a Quality Mountain Day is a whole article in itself! Essentially, it’s a good day out in the mountains where you’ll have tested yourself. Whether that be in the planning, navigation, decision making, weather, terrain etc and increased your experience. Head to new mountain areas, and in varying weather conditions to build up your skills.

Training courses are 6 days long and run by approved Mountain Training providers such as ourselves in the major mountain areas of the UK e.g Snowdonia. We recommend you book with a specialist provider whose staff are active Mountain Leaders themselves, doing the work of the award scheme. You can check out our sample Mountain Leader Training itinerary for what to expect at training.

We often get asked about the ropework and if any experience is needed before training. No prior experience of ropework is needed, it’s not a climbing award so you won’t be dangling over precipices or the like. We look at simple ropework that can be utilised to provide a bit more security up or down slightly trickier ground. We’ll also travel on some slightly steeper terrain to look at managing clients through short sections without a rope through body positioning and spotting.

Consolidation

At the end of your training course a good provider will create an action plan to help identify where you’re at and what you need to work on to progress toward assessment. The consolidation period is about taking the skills and knowledge from your training course, honing, improving and developing them further. A 6 day training course can’t cover everything, so personal research on topics such as the mountain environment will be needed also.

The period of consolidation is different for everyone; some may need to gain many more Quality Mountain Days prior to assessment, whereas others may already have the prerequisites to book immediately. Either way, it’s an opportunity to amass more experience with greater direction, focus and intent; having the end goal of assessment in mind.

In addition to gaining the prerequisite QMDs for assessment, I highly recommend practicing some of the skills from your training course in isolation such as emergency ropework and night navigation that might not get used on a typical mountain journey. If you’re feeling rusty, many candidates attend a “Refresher” course to swot up on specific aspects before assessment. We’d recommend booking a refresher day with instructors who regularly work on Mountain Leader Training training and assessment courses so you’re getting the best possible input.

Assessment

Prior to booking assessment Mountain Training require that you;

  • have attended a Mountain Leader training course (or been granted exemption.)
  • be familiar with the syllabus
  • have logged a minimum of 40 Quality Mountain Days in three different regions of the UK and Ireland
  • have logged at least 8 nights camping, including at least 4 nights wild camping
  • have physically attended and completed (i.e. not online) a first aid course which involved at least two full days or sixteen hours of instruction and included an element of assessment

Familiarity with the syllabus hopefully should come from the training, the assessment criteria is detailed detailed in the Mountain Leader Scheme Handbook and is itemised clearly in the Skills Checklist, both of which can be found in the Downloads Area here. We highly recommend using the Skills Checklist as a document to check your progress and development in the build up to assessment. Working through it means you’ll have covered all the skills that make a Mountain Leader and will increase your confidence.

The required 40 QMDs are a bare minimum, turn up to assessment with 40 unequivocally solid QMDs. My top tip is to use the “flag” feature to mark your best 40 QMDs so it’s easy for your assessor to see your best stuff. Hopefully you’ll been out many more days and nights camping than the minimums though, and it’s worth logging any & all hill days, even those that don’t qualify as QMDs, as it highlights other good experience. It makes sense to attend a First Aid Course that is geared towards working in the outdoors such as the REC or ITC schemes.

For a rough outline of what an assessment looks like, check out the sample itinerary on out Mountain Leader Assessment course page. The assessment is 5 days with 2 nights out camping.

Results

There’s no quotas or set pass rates, your assessor wants to see you suceed. If have achieved the prerequisites and demonstrate all the skills and syllabus competencies to a good standard you’ll pass!

If you haven’t demonstrated the required level in 1 or 2 areas then you will be deferred on those syllabus points for either 1 or 2 days. Candidates should try not to get disheartened by this result as it doesn’t mean you won’t make a good mountain leader, and it may be you just had an off-day, or nerves got the better of you. Your assessor will specify exactly what aspects you have been deffered on and why. They’ll create a specific action plan for re-assessment and recommend what form the re-assessment should take, so you’ll know how to prepare and progress onward.

The final possible result is a fail. This happens rarely and tends to be due to candidates not gaining all the prerequisites, inadeqaute preparation or leaving too long a time between training and assessment – there’s no limit to the time but obviously skill fade will increase. Ultimately it’s an experience based award, go hill walking, actively practice and take on board the info at training and most people pass.

Qualified Mountain Leader

So you’ve put the work in and got the result you were after! The Mountain Leader qualification has no expiration date and you’ll hold the award for life. As with any professional qualification, you need to use it or lose it – the skills that is.

It’s best to maintain an ongoing record of your experience and for those wishing to use the award for work it is worth considering joining the Mountain Training Association. This is similar to a professional body and they provide ongoing support and Continuing Professional Development to support your career as a Mountain Leader whilst also providing many useful benefits such as gear deals.

The Mountain Leader is a highly respected award in the outdoor industry having been around since 1964 and those who’ve completed it should be proud of the accomplishment. If you’re interested in becoming a Mountain Leader, check out our training and assessment course dates below.

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