I recently spent 6 days in Snowdonia National Park in Wales on a Mountain Leader training course. With stunning views, changeable weather and challenging terrains all made for the perfect location for a summer mountain leader training course.
I had an amazing time and this is something I have been wanting to do for the past 15 years (since working in outdoor education in my late teens, but struggling at the time to find work in it).
Now my career is slightly different (in sport sciences) but my research interests remain around adventure sports and activities, with my current studies for a PhD in strength and conditioning for Rock Climbing, and taking on the role as research lead for staff and students in climbing and moutaineering at the University of Central Lancashire. I’m in a position again where I can give some focus to this programme and finally get the extra skills and qualification to enable others to enjoy the mountains and uplands.
Why Chose Snowdonia National Park For My Mountain Leader (ML) Training
Home to the highest mountain in the country, largest lake, Snowdonia national park is referred to as the highlands (Eryri) of Wales; and it’s easy to see why. Situated in North Wales and offers something for everyone. With 9 mountain ranges, 100 lakes and 36,400 hectares of woodland snowdonias terrain offers something for everyone.
It is also well known for many things including being home to the worlds fastest zipline, producing the Welsh slate (which has been mined for over 1800 years), it’s agricultural history and many stunning castles in and around the park. With this rich history and the beautiful wild landscapes to satisfy any outdoor enthusiast, I had to chose Snowdonia as my location to do the training.
What Is A Mountain Leader?
Each country has their own national mountain leader or guide qualification. In England we fall under the same scheme as the rest of the United Kingdom. The award is called the mountain leader (ML) award from Mountain Training. We have both summer ML and winter ML courses.
This one is the Summer ML. You can work all year round with this, but it just means you are limited to working below the snowline (you would need a winter mountain leader award to do this). With the summer mountain leader course you can work in the lowlands and forests leading groups too.
What are the Pre Requisites For Becoming A Summer Mountain Leader?
Unlike many sporting vocational qualifications; in the majority of outdoor qualifications you will need to have evidence prior experience before attending the initial training course for your discipline.
For this particular award you need to have experience hiking in mountaineous regions in the united kingdom (overseas is also allowed but only certain ones will count) and you will need to have at least 20 quality mountain days that you have logged on your DLOG (digital log book, previously a paper version).
It is important to establish that mountaineous regions are not the same as lowland regions, so moorlands, marshland, fields and woodland (this would be a seperate training scheme for those that may work on general community outdoor leading or duke of edinburgh). However a mountain leader can work in each of these (but lowland leaders, forest leaders cannot lead in mountainious areas).
Once have your 20 logged quality mountain days, you can book on to your mountain leader training. You can book your training course before completing the all 20 but you will need to make sure you are able to complete these before (and will need to show this to your trainer). They are also strict on what would count as a quality mountain day. Ben nevis, snowdonia pyg track, scaffell and hellvellyn would not count.
What Counts as a Quality Mountain Day (QMD)?
A quality mountain day needs to meet certain criteria. For example:
- It must be in a mountainious region (Only the lake district counts in England, but Wales has two, Scotland and Ireland have plenty).
- It should be 5 or more hours
- You should ascent and summit substantial peaks (not just one, unless you can demonstrate a lot of the other skills required)
- You should be either leading, assistant or equal leading (with someone where you take it in turns doing sections or legs or working together in equal responsibility).
- You should also navigate away from the main paths.
- You will need to demonstrate your learning that day.
These are just some of the criteria it should meet. When you read the instructions in the handbook, it does state some or all. But after being on the training and also speaking with other providers who I know working in industry they tend to be pretty strict as you get further down the line of what constitutes as a quality mountain day. They have said really most of your QMD’s should meet all of the criterias listed.
Duplicate areas are counted but not duplicate routes. We were also advised they would prefer no duplicates but may allow the odd ones for example you may go for the first time in good visibility with a friend and navigate with no issue, meeting all of the criteria, manage some challenge; then the second time you go with an in experienced friends who hasn’t been to this area and in poor visibility but take a different route based on the environment and the person (this can help to demonstrate competencies in decision making).
Mountain Leader Training Course Overview
Duration 6 days including an overnight expedition with wild camp and navigation (Our itinerary).
- Day 1 – Navigation in the uplands, leading skills and the weather (synoptics, understanding mountainious weather systems).
- Day 2 – Legalities, rescue techniques and managing emergencies
- Day 3 – Managing groups in steep terrain and rope work
- Day 4 – Expedition ascent (with each of using micro navigation to different points), Wild Camp, Night Navigation and Tracking up.
- Day 5 – Expedition day 2 descent down.
- Day 6 – Steep ground terrain and applying skills
Each day we started and finished the day with theory, discussing roles, repsonsibilities, kit/equipment, helpful books, apps and websites. We learnt about the weather, native flora and fauna. Every day was mostly practical out in the hills for 5-6 hours, but we had a few hours for planning, reflection and theory.
Over the week I explored just a tiny, tiny portion of the 1,497 miles of walking footpaths and developed my skills with our guide to confidently navigate away from the marked trails.
This is something I have done many times especially in the lake district and also in some areas abroad, but I definitely feel less apprehensive about doing this, knowing what I need to do to keep me and others safe (not just what I thought I knew).
What Was My Favourite Part Of The Mountain Leader Course?
I absolutely loved this course and the whole experience. I loved being around snowdonia and being able to get away from the trails. I also loved the group we were with that week. We were so lucky that everyone else who was on the course with us were absolutely lovely.
From a skills perspective my favourite learning was the night navigation. I really enjoyed it much more than I thought. There was something so fun about using your compass and map in the pitch dark with the stars out in full force. One of our group took an awesome picture of our camp at the end of the navigation with his phone. I wished I had thought to get a shot on one of the clear nights from our accomodation (but you know… sleep and all that). I wish I had my camera to show you just how clear the stars were and how we could see the jupiter shining bright, along with the well known constilations and the shape of the milky way.
The training provider Leading Edge was fantastic. They are based in north Wales but also run courses, workshops and provate guiding in other areas of the United Kingdom. They offer mountain leader courses, climbing instructor courses, bespoke guided mountain days and skills workshops.
The staff who were running the course were amazing too. They each had so much experience and knowledge. They shared everything with an open mind, encouraging questions and discussions. I really liked this approach. I love that I could openly ask questions weather it was why certain approaches are used, when we should apply certain approaches or sharing what we had experienced with guides or on our own hikes etc. I just felt each of the guides who lead us over the week were so approachable and genuinely wanted us to be the best we could be.
Snowdonia Accomodation During The Mountain Leader Course
Everyday we met in Moel Siobod cafe for breakfast, planning and then again at the end of the day to have lectures. With this in mind I looks for accomodation close by. I didn’t book the accomodation until a few weeks before.
I’d definitely reccomend booking in advance in the national park. I’d also reccomend this in any of the U.K national parks. The prices go up closer to the date and it has become harder to rock up and find vacancies. Even camp sites have limited spaces if you plan to go in the summer.
We booked 4 nights in a local holiday let so we had somewhere warm to dry our clothes, cook dinner and meals for the next day. We also wanted to have some comfort of being somewhere we could wash some of our clothes rather than having to bring so much with us. The expedition did get brought forward a day (it was suppose to be the last 2 days) so we stayed in a nearby hostel for the final night instead.
- Gwern Goch Isaf (this is a campsite but has a lovely 2 bedroom holiday cottage onsite and is very close to our meeting point and Tryfan) – Price £89 a night
- YHA Snowden, Llanberis – the hostel was a little further away but a really nice place to stay and they charge by the room, meaning you could have the room to yourself or split costs with friends. The place was spotless and very comfortable. Also included a dry room for kit, duvets provided and option to buy hot breakfast or make your own meals with self catering kitchen too – Price £89 a night
- Other members of the team stayed either in their Campers or local bunkhouses. There were also a few locals on the course too.
I actually feel the order of this was a really good way to do this, to allow everyone to apply their skills following the expedition and again the following day; but I imagine there for benefits to any order.
Other Top Tips For The ML Course
• Make Sure you have appropriate kit.
• Save money by letting the outdoor shops know you are doing your ML training, they may just ask you to log into the Mountain Training Association Dlog area.
• Make sure you take enough water with you
• Don’t forget to bring a good quality flask or thermal mug, even on warmer summer days (if you end up damp and or there is wind chill higher up, you will appreciate it.
• Plan and prepare your meals and snacks before you start the course.
• For snacks I love dried fruits and nuts, along with the odd biscuit or crisps. I really like making this dehydrated cinnamon apples, they are easy to make and lightweight.
• For the night navigation and wild camp, pick something that is filling. I opted for tinned ravioli. My friend opted for dried meal that just needed water (Chilli), which he enjoyed. There are so many options. The key is making sure whatever you bring is easy to carry and know you will enjoy it.
• I took a small coleman foldable gas stove. I have had this for 14 years now but recently updated to an Alpkit mess stove. Whilst on the course I notice a few people had Jet Boils which cooked quickly and was insulated, meaning you coudl eat straight out of the same canistor (rather than transferring from a pan).
• You will get a full kit list, but until then whilst builing up your quality mountain days be sure to get a first aid kit that you can carry with you, a survival bag, a good compass and waterproof / laminated map of the area used for training and logging.
Book A Mountain Leader Training Assessment
The mountain leader training does not yet make you qualified as a mountain leader, you then need to go away and have a consolidation period with an additional 20 quality mountain days (making 40 in total), You also need to log 4 wild camps and 4 general camps. Working through the skills checklist (in the mountain training handbook) and book your assessment.
The Assessment takes place over 5 days and includes 2 nights of wild camping and with night navigations. I will be giving myself about 12 – 18 months to get this done. I will do another write up when I do my assessment to reflect on the process, any areas I under or over estimated and just an overview for those considering it. I will as always be sharing some of my favourite trail hikes and will start to share some of my quality mountain days on here (hopefully those that are doing it may be able to benefit from my mistakes, successes and planning through these reflections) and share more off the beaten path pictures or videos of the United Kingdom’s mountainious areas.
You could get this done sooner but it’s already autumn and between my jobs, travel jobs (through this blog and neilson) and studying my PhD, I have to prioritise those at the moment.
If you are thinking of doing your mountain leader training and want to ask any questions, please feel free to reach out or pop a question in the comments.
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