Getting my Mountain Leader Award

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“Squash, it does seem a bit backwards, climbing Everest, doing the expeditions you’ve done, to now do your Mountain Leader Award.” stated Nathan as we were navigating our way towards a bothy (a small hut used as a mountain refuge) on the South West coast of the Isle of Rum on our ML assessment a few days ago.  I didn’t really know what to say.  I guess it does seem a bit backwards.

My plan hadn’t been to do my Mountain Leader (ML) award.  Last summer after spending the winter doing loads of ski touring in Tignes with Floss from Freeflo we did a Mountain First Aid course with Snowdonia First Aid.   Floss was doing it for her ML and had suggested a few of us should join as it was a fairly important skill set to have in the backcountry should things go wrong and I completely agreed.

Steve and Helen who ran the first aid also run ML courses and at the end of our first aid course Floss and Helen were doing a day on Navigation and I joined them.

“Ahh this is Tormentil,” said Helen, “a great flower to know for your ML award.”  I looked and thought to myself, I won’t need to remember that because I’m not doing mine.


The navigation day was great and that day followed by a white out in the mountains this past winter season made me realise that my navigation was alright but what I wanted it to be was really good, in fact I wanted it to be brilliant, so that I could (with my team) confidently get to where we needed to whatever the conditions.  In the back of my mind I started to think probably my ML would be a very good idea.

Fast forward to May this year and I had arranged to meet Steve and Helen in a cafe in Llanberis to discuss it.  The ML is not an award to be taken lightly.  It requires time, dedication, a lot of learning and a lot of practical application.  I had thought my previous experience would go a significant way to satisfy the criteria for the award but I was wrong.  Although great to have the experience I have, it wasn’t in the UK, and I would be required (like everyone else) to complete; a first aid course, a week’s training course, 40 Quality Mountain Days (QMD’s) in the UK and a week’s assessment.

“I think you’re ML is a pretty incredible achievement and we run two assessments a year on the Isle of Rum in Scotland, so it’s worth considering when you reach that stage to do it somewhere special.”  Steve said as we talked.  Knowing their next Rum trip was at the end of September, “Would it be unrealistic to think I could aim for an assessment in just under five months?” I asked.  Steve smiled and said not if you put the work in.

Like most of us I think when we have a goal, the next step is to work out how we’ll achieve it.  I looked at my work schedule, my bank account, and my travel plans.  It wasn’t going to be easy but I decided it would definitely be worth it.

I booked onto the training course and headed to North Wales.  By the end of that week the anxiety had set in, what on earth had I been thinking, how was I ever going to be ready by September?

Then I did what I always do when I get ‘the fear’.  Tried to ignore it, got stressed, calmed down, ate a couple of tons of chocolate and finally I talked to people, asked for help and got on with it.  Help came in various forms; from words of encouragement, to coaching and very practical help.

The British summer wasn’t the driest and I learnt a lot about being wet and cold, not just cold!  I travelled to North Wales, The Lakes and Scotland hiking and my Mountain Training Handbook Bible was read cover to cover several times.  Small and with its bright yellow petals, Tormentil became one my favourite flowers to look out for (apparently chewing the root relieves gum inflammation as well as being used to tan leather and fishing nets red in the Scottish Highlands, where it is known as blood-root).

I arrived on the Isle of Rum feeling suitably anxious at the start of the 5 day assessment.  There were 8 of us and 3 assessors, there was nowhere to hide!  What a place to be though; within two days we’d seen dolphins, seals, a sea eagle, red deer and explored some of the beautiful mountains on the Isle.  I’d found a rhythm with the navigation and just needed to keep myself together.  On the final evening, one by one, we were invited into the bothy nearby our wild camp spot with our three assessors for the verdict.

Steve reached out his hand to shake mine, smiled and said “congratulations”.  A wave of relief went through my body and I was very happy!

I’ve loved the mountains for many years and in sharing my adventures it’s always been my aim to inspire others to get out there too, if they want to.  Having my ML will help me to do that, even if I have done things backwards 😉

If you’re thinking about doing the ML yourself I’ve got two pieces of advice; start now, those QMD’s can take a while and contact Steve and Helen at Snowdonia Mountain Skills.

So many people helped in so many ways and to all of you, thank you.

  • Jenny for the days you spent with me in the Lakes, they helped more than you can imagine.
  • Alice for the love, food and amazing bed you always made available when I was in N Wales.
  • David for the QMD’s in N Wales & Scotland and for lending me your pad.
  • Adam, from The Adventure School, for the intense Nav days, despite the rain!
  • Verity for the QMD’s and always being up for a wild swim at the end of them.
  • Matt for the QMD’s and not always being up for a wild swim at the end of them 😉
  • Tracy for letting me base at your lovely home when I was doing QMD’s in the Cairngorms.
  • Floss for making me do it in the first place and for all your help along the way.
  • To my family for your support, as always.
  • To Steve, Helen & Charlie at Snowdonia Mountain Skills , I can’t imagine better people to have done my training and assessment with, your knowledge, coaching style and attitude was just what I needed.


Thank you also to Rab, Lowe Alpine, Salomon & Suunto for your support.

My favourite items of kit for my ML have been –

Rab women’s Alpha Flux Jacket – amazing midlayer for hiking.
Lowe Alpine’s Cerro Torre ND60:80 for wild camping and Airzone Trail ND32 for day hikes – both incredibly comfortable packs with enough compartments/pockets in the right places.
Salomon’s Womens Quest 4D 2 GTX Hiking Boots – incredible comfort and fit from the moment they went on nmy feet and kept my feet dry (when I avoided the knee deep bogs)
Suunto’s Spartan Sport Wrist HR – great for using on the move and keeping a log of QMD’s.