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‘If you want to spend time in the mountains then the
only way to do that is to go and spend time in the mountains.’ Byron.
I completed my Mountain Leader Training at Glenmore Lodge in Scotland, where the ethos of Eric Langmuir is kept alive, in September 2017I went on to successfully complete my assessment in May 2018. During that time I bagged around 30 Quality Mountain Days mainly in the Lake District and Yr Eryri. Before doing my training, and between my training and assessment, I spoke to around 15 providers and discussed many aspects of the award. I learnt a lot about the history of the industry and the value of the award.
Perhaps the most important piece of advice I was given was, in the words of Stephen King, dontdoitforthemoneyhoney – it isn’t worth it. Few people, if any, earn anything close to a living from a single Mountain Leader Award unless it is internationally recognised – the IML for example – and even then it’s tough going.
On the other hand, what you will gain as an individual from a good quality training course and a high quality assessment is worth the investment. As long as you do the work. A lot of people worry about the assessment unnecessarily. The process is driven by a set of objective criteria and the standard is set by Mountain Training and not by individual providers. There is also a full appeals process if you feel you have been treated unfairly. If you have bagged enough good quality QMDs at the right standard, and practiced your navigation and rope work, then the assessment is going to be little more than a formality and all you need to do is enjoy it. The only time you need to be concerned is if you are not out in the mountains clocking up QMDs and getting onto steep and rocky ground. And that is where most people fall short – they simply don’t go out into the mountains and rack up true QMDs.
end of the day the ML award is a starting point, not an end point. And if you
aren’t out in the mountains then why do want a mountaineering award?
notes are completely my own and more or less as I made them in the order I made
them. I’ve done a little bit of editing to tidy them up in places but otherwise
they are as made at the time.
requires the deployment of skills suitable to the terrain and conditions and
the use of relevant technical equipment. It may require the unplanned use of
ropes. If the skills required exceed the
skills of the training/syllabus then it is no longer within the remit of the
qualification. The planned use of ropes exceeds the remit as do conditions that
require the use of equipment beyond that of the equipment noted in the
syllabus/training. You can lead a group during winter but if you encounter
conditions that require the use of winter equipment then you exceed the remit.
One of the key boundaries is safety (and duty of care) and another is use of
quality of the event is an important consideration. The group needs to have a
quality experience that both manages and meets their expectations within
realistic and reasonable boundaries.
managing the groups expectations and performance it is important to recognise
that the quality of event is not, and should not be, set to the level of the
‘lowest common denominator’. That is, the event should not be managed according
to the expectations and considerations of the lowest level of assumed
capability and performance. It is important to assess the capabilities and abilities
of the group as a whole. This will mean challenging some people to ‘up their
game’ and managing other people to accept a reduced level of
challenge/experience. You need to be able to make a good and accurate
assessment of your own fitness and the fitness of the group as a whole.
is important for both safety and quality of the experience. A useful model for
leadership is the GIT model:
- Take account of
the needs and expectations of the Group
account of the needs and expectations of the Individual
account of the Task
is the space where the Group, Individual, and Task overlap.
- Leadership is
managing a Group of Individuals to complete a Task.
Packing a Bag
- Wear good quality
kit including appropriate footwear (suitable boots) as a model for the group.
a group is inevitably slower than your own pace so wear more clothing than you
would usually wear.
strong waterproof jacket is essential. That is, one that will not rip and tear
easily on rocks and if you need to do rope work.
extra food – more than you would usually take. Take a flask.
trousers. From my own experience these need to be tough. Rocks will lacerate
good quality lightweight waterproof trousers like a werewolf toying with a
group of drunken revellers.
and hat. Take spares (both gloves and hats). Again, you may as well put thinner
gloves through a mincing machine as wear them on rocky ground.
aid kit. This should include extras including a pencil (and an indestructible pen)
and waterproof paper. ICE details. Interesting extras include cable ties, boot
laces (or specialist cord), and the ubiquitous Duck Tape.
bothy big enough for 6 people (?) at minimum suggest 4 but this needs to
for super lightweight bothys at super expensive prices.
warm layers. An extra warm jacket is essential.
blanket or similar as long as it has foil layer.
proper heavyweight survival bag.
pole. This is part of rescue equipment and can be helpful with a heavy pack.
30m rope. This needs to be a proper weight climbing rope.
headtorches. Check batteries and make sure that at least one torch has a new
set of batteries in it.
maps of the area. If using paper maps then a proper waterproof map bag is
essential. A waterproof map bag is part of equipment even if using waterproof
good quality compasses.
fully charged mobile phone.
according to the season include sun cream, a sun hat, and so on.
There is no guidance on how much water to carry but you need some and a means
to transport water. (For myself I also carry a small filter and chlorine
tablets and I know some people always carry a UV steriliser pen. In areas with
farmed animals – sheep especially – you need to check c. 150m upstream for any
dead animals; don’t take water form a source that cattle have been using.)
of the bag is important. A fully packed bag should be no more than 12-15kg for
an overnight EXPED and less for a day trip. You need to be able to move over
all ground steadily and securely with your bag fully packed.
need to be able to know how to switch on a GPS and take a grid reference and
relocate. (I tend to use OS Locate for this; it picks up on satellites so does not
need a phone signal.)
need to have a good knowledge and understanding of the environment. Knowledge
of fauna and flora is essential. This doesn’t need to be more than a good
quality general knowledge but you should be continually working on improving
this. Knowledge of geology and geomorphology is also important as is the
significance of place names that relate to the geomorphology. Knowledge of the
relevant history of an area is also useful.
You need to have a full understanding of environmental considerations and enforce them. ‘What you take in you take out’. This may mean carrying a back for rubbish. Leave No Trace.
waste needs to be buried. You should be at least 30m from a water source when
urinating and ideally a 100m from a water source when defecating and this
should be buried (including any tissue).
all navigation skills are important – from map reading to taking a bearing –
there are specific skills relevant to the ML. These are particular
micro-navigation skills and they come into their own in adverse conditions. Two
key skills are:
able to understand and use contours at a fine level of detail even in the
on a bearing.
are the most important feature of a map because:
make up the majority of information available on a map
and everything else may be inaccurate, unmarked, open to interpretation, or may
change or not be visible.
for using contours as micro-navigation aids include:
the size of the contour feature;
the aspect of the slope;
the shape of the contour feature on the ground in relation to the map;
aware of distance between contours (varies between types of map);
aware of detail, aspect, gradient, and so on relative to scale.
size and detail of feature relevant to scale;
on the ground identifying catching features beyond the attack point/destination
that can be used to relocate.
is essential to know how to relocate. The most important relocation is from contour
features but other features can be used if they are there. These are primarily
water and rock features but it depends on map and scale of map.
techniques are the application of good micronavigation techniques to your
the ground flat or sloping;
is the aspect of slope (take a bearing down the slope with the bearing at right
angles to the contours)
is the gradient
is the shape of the land – especially any flat features or readily
does the gradient and aspect change over time and in the immediate vicinity
did the land – gradient, aspect, and so on, change while you were moving over
are the catching features nearby – e.g. there should be an X within Y metres in
this direction; the slope should do X within Y metres in this direction. You
need to know what happens if you that is not the case. E.g. if the slope goes
up instead of down in Y metres then were not at point X but more likely to be
at point X2; if at point X2 the slope should…and so on.
also need to be able to apply search techniques such as stars and squares.
bearings and triangulation are useful relocation techniques. Back bearings are
also useful when travelling on a bearing. RTFM for triangulation.
Pacing and Timing
and timing are important navigation techniques. Pacing tends to be more
accurate than timing.
every second step (usually on the left foot)
how many paces = 100m
in sets of 100m
count of sets
for ground: terrain; going uphill; going downhill. Note that the count may or
may not be affected by the slope, it will depend on a combination of factors
such as gradient, tiredness, and the type of ground being covered. Only
practice will improve pacing accuracy.
something you can use to keep count of sets of 100m (e.g. knots on cord and a
movable fixable toggle).
need to know the pace the group is moving at over the ground and how to adjust
this for rough ground and for contours. Then you can predict how long it will
take to reach a point and keep check of the time using the stopwatch feature on
The general guide for timing is Naismith’s rule (RTFM).
pacing is more accurate than timing.
using timing it is important to use a stopwatch
Walking on a
is important to be able to walk on a bearing including over rough ground, on a
slope, at night, and under adverse conditions.
aware of any tendency to drift.
front and/or back bearings to check accuracy of line of travel (taken against
group members if suitable).
fix on features on bearing and take front and back bearings against features.
In the dark or in limited visibility the distance between these features may be
very short. In zero visibility (e.g. white out; driving rain at night) you need
to be able to move at a pace that keeps you on the bearing and be aware of any
tendency to drift.
walking with the contours against the slope you need to be aware of drift up or
down. This can be useful to manage staying on the bearing.
you are covering ground you need to be effective and efficient. This means
keeping the group moving at the appropriate pace with the appropriate
boundaries. Don’t stop unnecessarily and make every stop functional and
purposeful. When stopping make sure the group knows why you are stopping and
what is expected of them. When stopping for lunch, snacks, and so on set time
boundaries. You should have a good idea of how long each leg will take and how
long the overall journey will take.
good quality appropriate lines across the ground. They not within the groups
capability and ability and the group should maintain momentum.
aware of how the group is managing rough ground, boulder fields, vegetation,
scree, slope and gradient, climbing, descending, and so on.
paths when available and if appropriate both to keep momentum and for
in mind that too many stops and unnecessary stops will frustrate and demotivate
the group. Equally, not stopping to allow for layering/delayering, snacks,
toileting, and so on can lead to a build-up of problems.
stops at appropriate intervals to share knowledge of fauna, flora, and
geomorphology can be used as disguised rest breaks for ‘slower’ group
members but should be neither too
frequent nor too long. Be mindful also that rest breaks in cold weather can
increase tiredness and coldness.
planning g is important but you need to be flexible and adaptable. A key skill
is being able to change and adapt route according to the weather, the needs of
the group, and unforseen situations and changes. Changing a route according to
the weather forecast and changes in the weather on the day are core skills that
need to be developed. This means being aware of the impact of the weather on
the terrain. This applies to streams and rivers, bogs, rock, slope, etc. Also
the impact of precipitation in terms of mist. Windspeed and the impact of
windspeed X height and so on.
planning is also applicable to micro-navigation as every leg of
micro-navigation is effectively a route. And a route is effectively a big leg.
full routes should be broken down into legs but it is important to have a
overview not only of the whole route but also of the general area as this
allows for better planning and flexibility.
need strategies and tools to plan routes (a route is applied to the whole
journey and to a leg).
core strategy is to storyboard the route. Identify features and objects you
will see along the way and how the ground will feel. Anticipate and be aware of
changes in gradient, aspect of slope, and contour features and any other stable
features (features that are big enough and fixed enough to be there on the
need systems to ‘get it right’. These same systems can be used to relocate. We
use of set of criteria and indicators to know where we are at all times. This
does mean being familiar with the map. However, we also need to be able to pick
up a map on spec and use it. That is, we should be able to navigate in an
unfamiliar area from a map we have not used before.
small legs can be broken down into shorter steps so that we can move from point
to point in order to reach the destination. The worse the conditions and
visibility the more we can break down a leg. However, you need to be aware of
the impact of this on the momentum and the implications of this for the group.
Equally, breaking a leg down in adverse conditions may increase the sense of
security for the group as they move from point to point.
sets of tools we can use are the 4Ds and the 4 Whats.
– what does the destination look like; size, shape, slope, aspect, and so on.
Any other features.
how far is it to the destination; how far is it to catching features; how far
is it to attack points leading up to the destination.
what is the bearing
How are you going to get from A to B; are you going to go along a bearing; are
you going to aim off; are you going to traverse a slope; and so on. How long is
it going to take? Are you going to stop at checkpoints?
are you going to use to get to destination: bearing, pacing, timing, catching
features, attack points, handrails, etc.
will you see along the way; micro-features, catching features, obvious changes
in slope, and so on
will you see when you get there: features, contour formations, aspect, gradient,
and so on.
happens if you go to far: How do the contours change, what other features will
all strategies and use of tools it is important to focus on micro-features because
these are what you will use in poor visibility. You need features that are
distinguishable and within sight and that can be found on the ground. Contour
features are particularly important and it is important to know the distance to
checking features and catching features. It is also important to be able to
find catching features as a means of relocating.
are many tools and techniques and strategies. RTFM.
need to be able to find routes that the group will be able to manage. When
going over rough ground you need to be able to take account of the groups
ability to manage over the ground and find the safest route for them. This is
particularly important across rocky ground and steep ground.
need to be able to find good lines across the ground, up and down slopes,
across rivers, and so on.
paths are available they are usually the easiest and safest routes to follow.
However, this is not always the case. Paths can disappear and can change
direction and lead you off course. They are seductive in that they draw you
along the path. However, paths may also wiggle around but continue to go in
right direction. They can be boggy and slippery. Not all paths are marked on
all maps and sometimes there are good quality unmarked paths.
Steep ground and
crossing steep ground it may be necessary to use a rope. However, any rope work
should be unplanned. That is, ML does not include the use of planned rope work,
only unplanned rope work.
are three basic ML parts to rope work:
is when you set up an anchor and belay the person down a step. It is essential
to find a fixed anchor that will not move. There should be a straight line
between anchor-belay-contact. The knot for the belay should be on the same side
as the rope.
abseiling there are a number of forms but the main ones are the classic, the South
African, and the angel wings. (ADDITIONAL NOTE: I would only ever use the South
African to abseil without a harness. Both of the other methods require a high
level of skill and can be both painful and dangerous.)
roping involves attaching the other person to the rope, keeping a short
distance between yourself and the other person, and moving downhill with them.
When they turn they need to turn towards you.
techniques all require practice and are unplanned. They are uncomfortable and
are for use in difficult situations.
Spotting and fielding
going over steep ground and especially up and down boulder fields and steps and
so on we may need to spot and field.
for the best line including footholds and handholds. Show the person where to
put their feet and hands. Hold their feet in place if necessary. Stand to the
side of them with one hand behind their rucksack. Do not push them but lightly
support them if necessary. Be to one side so that if they fall they do not take
you with them. The same applies to descending.
is important to be able to find and test good lines with good holds and
supports. Be aware of capabilities. Check handholds. Check for loose rocks.
Make the sure the group in not in the line of a fall or loose rock.
taking the group across broken ground and rocky ground you may need to work a
traverse especially when there is loose rock. Make sure the group is in a line
with no one above another. Stop at the turning point on the traverse. Make sure
it is a safe stopping point and gather
everybody behind you before continuing on the next traverse.
crossing rivers look for shallow crossings – knee level at most. But this needs
to be balanced against the strength of the flow, the ground underfoot, the width
of the river. At the very most it should be mid-thigh deep in a gentle flow.
face upstream. Use a pole to test the strength of the water, the depth, and so
slightly forward onto pole. Right hand on top, left hand below. Step sideways. Take
can form a line, one behind the other. Don’t put the ‘weakest’ person at the
can form an arrowhead. This is more stable in stronger, faster water.
sure you keep line or arrowhead.
check where you are crossing to and ensure you can get out. Check entry points
as well to make sure it is straightforward to get into the water.
need to be confident to deal with emergencies and hazards.
need an up to date first aid certificate of minimum 16 hours ideally coping
with outdoor situations
need to know how to use a bothy shelter
need to know what to do in extreme weather conditions
need to know what to do in the case of lightning
need to know how to make a simple emergency stretcher
need to know how to move a casualty if necessary
need to know how to check if a casualty can move under their own volition
need to know how to deal with hypothermia
need to know how to contact mountain rescue and how long they are likely to
need to know what to do to aid a chopper
need to know how to keep someone warm
good knowledge of how the weather works, how to read the weather, where to find
and accurate information, how to be prepared for different conditions, and how
to manage weather conditions is essential and a core part of being an ML.
planning at every level should take account of the weather conditions. However,
you need to be flexible and adaptable and able to respond appropriately to
changing weather conditions and modify or change the leg/route accordingly.
weather needs to be understood as a combination of elements ranging from fronts
through wind to rain and sun, mist, snow, and so on. Key elements:
of wind speed on temperature (wind chill; charts are available)
forecasts are highly location specific and are increasingly inaccurate in terms
of forecasting. The forecasts should be monitored for some time before a trip
and checked again on the day. Forecasts can be checked online, through local
knowledge, and there are often forecast sheets in major car parks. Be sure of
the validity and accuracy of a forecast before using it.
important part of the weather is being able to read and assess synoptic charts,
especially over time in relation to planning. This takes practice. RTFM.
such as the Met Office give good hourly information that is updated to specific
is important to have a longer term view if going on Exped. However, this view
can only really be clarified and forecast immediately before leaving (i.e. in
the hours before setting out). It is equally important to be able to assess the
likely weather from the environment (clouds, temperature, windspeed) as when
out you are unlikely to be able to get weather information that is up to date
and it may be days before you can access any information. Notes of forecasts
should be made on waterproof paper and taken on journey, especially Exped.
is essential to understand the weather and the impact of the weather in order
to stay safe. One of the most important factors is the windspeed, wind
direction, and how the wind behaves on the mountains. RTFM.
the wind is in excess of 40mph it becomes unsafe to take a group onto high
sites and apps (check for apps in relation to these):
MWUK [Mobile App]
Mountain weather forecasts
Hills-database (combination site)
is important to have an understanding of your access rights. These vary between
Scotland and England and Wales and Ireland. Crucially, in Scotland there is a
right of access to land.
England and Wales there is no corresponding right although there are some
access rights on Open Access Land. In Ireland there are no access rights per
se. In Scotland, England and Wales there are similar access rights to Public
Rights of Way. These rights do not apply in Ireland. It is also important to
know what to do if access if challenged and this should always be managed
professionally and in a non-confrontational way. As an ML leader you are the
one who needs to manage this should it occur. These considerations are even
more important when Wild or Valley camping.
check you kit before going out. Kit should be up to date and in good working
order. Kit should be appropriate to the journey and should include additional
and essential items.
of kit is important both for safety and to set an example. Consideration needs
to be given to how to manage should a party member not have appropriate kit,
lose kit, and so on. Safety always comes first.
is useful to have a wind layer to combat wind chill. A windproof layer will
reduce the impact of windchill.
to notes, handouts, and other relevant sources for this. Key points are:
have a duty of care in keeping with your level of training and qualification
- Liability is
related to reasonable responsibility
- Negligence incurs
liability. Negligence is linked to blatant neglect which in turn is linked to
- Risk management is
related to reasonable responsibility and neglect.
leadership incurs a direct duty of care
disclaim risks for people under 18 years of age
defence against liability rests on:
- Volenti non fit
break in causation
should be familiar with these defences as that instils an understanding of how
to manage risk as the defence takes account of those things that are in effect
outside of your reasonable control. RTFM.
takes place over five days. Three days are out continuously and include two
nights of wild camping. There are five parts (days) to the assessment:
of log book (start each entry with a summary paragraph highlighting main
- Knowledge of
- Water Hazards
- Packing a bag
2 – Security on steep ground and personal movement
preparation and route planning
Days 3-5 Exped
(this includes navigation in adverse conditions with poor visibility; if there
are no adverse conditions with poor visibility then there will be night
navigation and this may take place on both nights)
and efficient travel
Usual reasons for deferment/fail
on steep ground
professional at all times (safety first)
use of CPD workshops
Desk exercises (can be done at home)
identifying small contour features on a map and working out what they are like.
E.g. measure them, take a bearing on them, write down the shape, look at what
other features are nearby.
- Stick a pin in a
map then work out how you would know if you got there
- Draw a line
between two random points. Work out how you would know if you were at point A,
how you would get to point B in the safest and most effective way if you had no
visibility, how you would know when you were at point B
- Pick a point and
work out the aspect of slope
- Plot a route and
look at attack points and catching features
- Plot a route from
A to B then imagine that part along you have an impassable barrier. What do you
- Plot a route. Pick
a random point on the route. You are at that point. There are adverse weather
conditions and you need to modify your route. What do you do?
- Do the same using
an arial photograph
work: practice on flat ground and progress to steep ground.
the same as above but include walking on a bearing, pacing, and timing.
the same as above at night.
all of the above with different scale maps and different maps.
the same using an arial photograph.
Some useful sights
is worth looking at this site and the free OS data
you subscribe to OS maps you can get ariel views
Dash4it does cut
price maps https://dash4it.co.uk/ordnance-survey-maps.html