QMDs: ‘The List’ 2013 vs. post-2013

QMDs: ‘The List’ 2013 vs. post-2013

The MTE ML Award is registered as a Vocationally Related Qualification (Level 3) with the regulator OfQual (since 2013).  As the Award is regulated any advice or suggestions from a registered provider would, presumably, need to be in keeping with the regulatory requirements and the Award criteria and definitions and syllabus as set out by Mountain Training. Any comment or advice from peers is just that: comment and advice from peers.

Mountain leaders are always discussing what is, and what is not, a Quality Mountain Day, and this used to include opinions and advice from providers. It takes quite some time for most people to really get to grips with what is entailed in a QMD, and to appreciate the subtleties and nuances of a day that challenges and develops you as opposed to one that might ‘make you feel good.’ The criteria for Winter QMDs are clearer in as much as they point out that enjoying the day is not a prerequisite for a QMD. The feeling of being challenged in some way usually is.

When I was first thinking of the doing the MLS I was fortunate enough to have some informed conversations with experienced assessors. One of these conversations was about the history of the MLS and the problems with QMDs.

There is some unwarranted confusion over what is, and what is not, mountainous country and the so called ‘list’ which ‘includes’ but is not limited to what is on the list. That having been said, the list was changed in 2013 despite MT saying there was no plan to change the list.

Part of the reason the Mountainous Country ‘list’ for the UK was curtailed after 2013, I was told, was because so many MLs were only ever doing training, QMDs, and assessment in what we might now call ‘Hill Country’. In addition to this, the ML Award was registered with OfQual around this time with the intention to register further awards including the Lowland and Hillwalking Awards. Clearly there was a need to distinguish between them especially if they were going to be regulated by OfQual as separate and distinct awards.

The definition of mountainous country is ‘…wild country which may contain unavoidable steep and rocky ground where walkers are dependent upon themselves for immediate help.’ The 2013 list readily meets that definition. Also, parts of Dartmoor clearly meet this definition whereas parts of Snowdonia and the Lake District clearly don’t. The most popular parts of the Brecon Beacons are so crowded and well served by heavily eroded trails from nearby car parks that it is difficult to see how they can meet this definition, and the same is true for part of the Lake District, whereas the most remote parts of the Brecon Beacons, which have a fair bit of steep and rocky ground, lack substantial height.

The 2003-2013 ‘list’ of Mountainous Country in the UK and Ireland was as follows (note the list ‘includes’; I have the MT handbooks from 2003 and 2013).

  • Antrim Hills
  • Black Mountains
  • Brecon Beacons
  • Cheviots
  • Dartmoor
  • Galloway Hills
  • Highlands and Islands of Scotland
  • Lake District
  • Mountains of Mourne
  • Mountains of North and Mid Wales
  • North Yorkshire Moors
  • Peak District and Northern Moors
  • Pennines

This list was curtailed sometime between 2013 and 2015. This was, as noted above, presumably linked to registering the award with OfQual. Interestingly, QMDs logged in any of these areas prior to 2013 will potentially have to be accepted as QMDs (given the rules allow for historic QMDs to be logged and accepted).

The 2013 MT FAQ stated (I have a copy of the 2013 FAQs):

‘How come the North York Moors and Dartmoor are on the list of mountainous areas?

Yes, one would expect these kinds of areas to come under Walking Group Leader exclusively. There are two points to make:

  • a Mountain Leader award holder can operate in Walking Group Leader type terrain. The reverse is not true.
  • The Mountain Leader scheme pre-dates the Hill & Moorland Leader (formerly Walking Group Leader) by more than 30 years so the list is historic and has not been changed since the inception of Walking Group Leader. There are no plans to change the list in the near future. Hill & Moorland Leader terrain is described in a different…

The 2019 list’ of Mountainous Country in the UK and Ireland is as follows (note the list ‘includes’):

  • Snowdonia
  • Brecon Beacons
  • Lake District
  • Mountains of Mourne
  • Scottish Highlands
  • Galloway Hills
  • Cork & Kerry Mountains
  • Galway & Mayo Mountains
  • Donegal Mountains
  • Dublin & Wicklow Mountains

The MT FAQs (2019) specifically exclude Dartmoor and the North York Moors from ‘the list’ of Mountainous Country. However, what MT FAQs (2019) goes on to say is:

‘Mountain Training however acknowledge that learning can occur in the most diverse of environments. If you believe that a particular experience in a non-mountainous area contributed towards your development and met the definition of a quality mountain day, it may be recorded as a QMD in your DLOG.

It is the course director’s responsibility to ensure that candidates satisfy the prerequisites. Challenging days on the North York Moors/Dartmoor may therefore contribute to the QMD total. It’s up to the course director’s discretion.’

It seems to me that MT has thrown the baby out with the bathwater with regards to the ‘list’ of Mountainous Country on the one hand, and has allowed for the assumption that course directors have carte blanche to determine QMDs on the other hand. This creates problems rather than solving them, not least in that ‘the list’ fails to recognise areas of well-known Mountainous Country in Wales on the one hand, and carte blanche discretion by directors is not what MT allows for (one assumes), and especially given the ML Award is regulated by OfQual.

To clarify the last point, course director discretion to responsibly ensure that QMDs appropriately meet the definition and criteria is both necessary and important and is not being questioned. It is the invited assumption that course directors have carte blanche to determine what is, and what is not, a QMD that is a problem and could be called into question by the regulator if there is wide variation across providers (Although the Five Hour minimum is clearly stated and is necessary to make up the hours for the QMD part of the award).

It is important to be aware that there are good QMDs on Dartmoor, in the Peak District, in Mid Wales, in North York Moors, and so on. But only a limited number, and that is part of the problem with those areas. But equally the number of QMDs you could realistically achieve in either Snowdonia and the surrounding mountains or the Lake District are limited. Probably the only place you could really achieve an ‘almost unlimited number’ in the UK is Scotland. Ireland has excellent Mountain Country as well with huge scope for maximising QMDs.

For example, there is at least one QMD in Dartmoor, at least two in the Elan Valley, at least one in the Plynlimon range, possibly two or even three, at least one in the Radnor Hills, probably 2-3 in the Peak District, possibly 3-5 in the Black Mountains, and so on. Equally there is probably only 4-5 QMDs on the Snowdonia range, 5-10 on the Glyders, 2-3 on the Rhinogs, etc. (And of course around 3-4 in the Berwyns if you are imaginative enough to seek them out.) In the Cairngorms you probably have 15-20+ (as a ballpark), and so on. Then you add in the weather conditions, whether you are alone or with others, how long you are out for, how many summits you bag, whether or not you include a scramble, and so on and you increase the range and options within any one area. What you really don’t want is more than a certain number of QMDs in a single area and the more limited the area the more limited the possible QMDs. For example, Dartmoor only has two mountains, the Elan valley only has three (inc. Pen y Garn). The Snowdonia range has around 10 or 11 mountains but most of them have big paths running up and down them, and so on.

The overall definition and criteria for a QMD have remained unchanged over time except that some exclusions have recently been stated, namely: ‘…days as a course member under instruction (for example on a training course or military exercise), assisting a qualified leader, as a member of a group practising skills, or days spent repeating familiar routes are very unlikely to meet the requirements of a Quality Mountain Day.’ This exclusion was presumably added due the increasing trend of people advertising organised days assisting a qualified leader and stating they would count as QMDs, people suggesting that repeated routes were suitable, and so on. There was a trend seeming to advocate that days of less than five hours are adequate, when clearly they are not.

At the end of the day you can always make use of the definitive Mountaineering Ireland criterion as a benchmark for a QMD:

‘The majority of time should be spent above 500m, distance should be over16km with over 600m of height gain during the day and cover a variety of terrain.’ Add to that a good understanding of the need to get off marked paths and to cover steep and rocky ground and appreciating what is, and what is not, a QMD becomes a lot clearer.

Comparison of 2013 list and 2019 list of mountainous country

2013 2019
Antrim Hills
Black Mountains
Brecon Beacons Brecon Beacons
Cheviots
Dartmoor
Galloway Hills Galloway Hills
Highlands and Islands of Scotland Scottish Highlands
Lake District Lake District
Mountains of Mourne Mountains of Mourne
Mountains of North and Mid Wales Snowdonia
North Yorkshire Moors
Peak District and Northern Moors
Pennines
Galway & Mayo Mountains
Dublin & Wicklow Mountains
Donegal Mountains
Cork & Kerry Mountains

Comparison of 2013 FAQ and 2019 FAQ. Note that North York Moors and Dartmoor are explicitly excluded in the 2019 FAQ

2013 FAQ 2019 FAQ
‘How come the North York Moors and Dartmoor are on the list of mountainous areas? Yes, one would expect these kinds of areas to come under Walking Group Leader exclusively. There are two points to make: a Mountain Leader award holder can operate in Walking Group Leader type terrain. The reverse is not true. The Mountain Leader scheme pre-dates the Hill & Moorland Leader (formerly Walking Group Leader) by more than 30 years so the list is historic and has not been changed since the inception of Walking Group Leader. There are no plans to change the list in the near future. Hill & Moorland Leader terrain is described in a different…   ‘Mountain Training however acknowledge that learning can occur in the most diverse of environments. If you believe that a particular experience in a non-mountainous area contributed towards your development and met the definition of a quality mountain day, it may be recorded as a QMD in your DLOG. It is the course director’s responsibility to ensure that candidates satisfy the prerequisites. Challenging days on the North York Moors/Dartmoor may therefore contribute to the QMD total. It’s up to the course director’s discretion.’  

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