What does it takes to get a Mountain Leader (ML) qualification?
by Paul Cummings (Originally posted on uk.rec.walking, and published here with kind permission. His website is here)
The early results were good, a couple of passes. Then came a deferment for night navigation, then a night navigation and day navigation deferment. Last but one went in Geoff. A full fail. He would have to retake everything. Finally I went in. I was told off for my night navigation cock up, but commended for always being the first one ready to confirm or deny our position to the assessor. Just when I suspected I was going to get away with it, they threw the book at me. It was my logbook. Pathetic was about the best word used. I was told that I had passed the test, but they were going to defer me as I had only half the minimum number of logged days. I tried to argue that I had over forty days logged there, but they said the writing up was very poor (using a much more vernacular word). I also needed to get to Scotland and the Lake District walking, not just Wales. I pointed out the week I had spent in Scotland in May, plus the time I had logged in the Peaks and Dartmoor, so it was not just Wales. In the end, I had to leave with my deferment, which at least meant I would not have to return for a retest, just resubmit my logbook.
I can honestly say, I don’t think I have ever been as tired as I was at the end of that week. I don’t sleep well away from home, so I had been averaging 2-3 hours sleep per night, which combined with the pace of the walking during the week left me exhausted. The only thing I can say is that I think I coped better than most on my course. At the start of the week, I was the slowest person there (and the third oldest), by the end of the week, I was probably the second fastest. I may not be fit, but nobody can question my endurance.
And that was it. Four straight passes, three deferments and one fail. All except Geoff decided to stay the night, have a few beers and then head home. Geoff was in no mood to stay and left immediately.
What actually happened is that I wrote up my logbook much better. I used as much space as I needed for each walk. Once I had submitted this back to Penny, he was satisfied it was fine and happy to award my ML. You would think, working for a bank, I would understand the value of keeping your paperwork straight!
My paperwork finally arrived, something like ten weeks after my assessment and eight after Penny said he was happy with the log (thanks largely to delays due to Penny’s impending deployment to Afghanistan and the trips / training he had to undertake before it. The paperwork is slightly disappointing: No certificate for the way, just a stamp on your endorsement page and a yellow page saying you have passed. This is to make clear the on-going nature of the qualification. It states that the qualification is a lifetime one, but only valid with recent experience and a current first aid certificate.
My final task, two weeks after I got my pass, was to call the MLTE, as any prospective employer might, and ask about my qualifications. It turned out Penny had not sent my paperwork into the MLTE. Luckily I spoke to Mal and he remembered me. I e-mail copies of my paperwork and he was happy to update their records (he actually got the paperwork from Penny a week later).
So there you have it, I am now qualified to lead groups anywhere in the UK so long as I do not plan in advance to cross the snow line. In total, the courses and other fees probably cost me around £1000, for which I got the six days training, two days refresher, five days assessment and a cheap plasticy folder with two invaluable pieces of paper in it. In other costs, I probably spent another £400 buying kit and travelling to / from Snowdonia (I have since bought a rope to help trying to remember the rope skills I put so much effort into learning).
Was it worth it? For me, the answer is yes. I learnt a lot from the time and managed to spend more time on the hills during 2005 than I normally do. Did it change my life? No. Did it change my hillwalking life? Yes. It has increased my confidence in my ability in the hills. I also now take much more responsibility in the hills. I have stopped and tried to help a number of people and groups who had difficulty in the hills. This culminated in me talking down someone who had frozen on the top of Tryfan (after climbing the north ridge). The poor guy just could not move. Rather than ignore him or insult him, as his three companions were doing, I sat down and chatted with him then helped him down the south ridge. It is the only time I have told anyone I was an ML when I was helping them (and then only that I had just attended a Mountain Leader training course), but it was appropriate as he needed to have faith in me to get him down. It is a skill I am now trying to master to help people without appearing to be theall-knowing-pain-in-the-arse that we have all met on the hills. If someone looks in trouble, but says they are fine, then I walk away.
If you are at all interested in leading groups in the hills, or if you just want to increase your personal skills, I would highly recommend taking this route. If anyone wants advice on it, from someone outside the industry, I am happy to help, e-mail me.
Have fun and take care,