Tales from Mountain Leader Training

Ian Holden and his ML cohort

Ian Holden, BDO’s fundraising manager and videographer, recently spent some time with Phill George, a  Mountain Training approved provider, doing his Mountain Leader (ML) training.

Mountain Leader training is run by Mountain Training and is designed for people “who want to lead groups in the mountains, hills and moorlands of the UK and Ireland”. Qualified MLs work with all sorts of groups – from schoolchildren to OAPs – and several of Blackdog’s staffers are qualified MLs. Training takes place over 6 days in key areas of the UK/Ireland mountains and covers all aspects of mountain leadership, including navigation, access, hazards, equipment, expedition skills and weather. Once training is completed, it’s followed by a consolidation period and assessment.

Snowdonia, where Ian's training was held
Snowdonia, where Ian’s training was held

Ian’s shared the ups and downs (no pun intended) of his training with the Blackdog Outdoors Facebook group. Here’s a few snippets…

“During the drive from the flatlands to Snowdonia I felt inexplicably sad and have no clue as to why this was. Maybe this was a bit of anxiety kicking in. This morning before we met up I was really nervous about meeting people for the first time, but I needn’t have worried – the people were really nice and I had no problem making conversation.

ML training cohort getting to grips with their navigational skills
ML training cohort getting to grips with their navigational skills

Day 1
The first hour of Day 1 was spent looking at the weather forecast for the day; discussing the likelihood of rain, poor visibility, wind speed and wind chill. We looked at synoptic charts and isobars and areas of high and low pressure. You really need to know what it’s going to do when venturing in to the hills. The rest of the day was spent out and about, practicing navigational skills – taking bearings, measuring distance and pacing on the ground. Zero-tech navigation skills are so important to have in case of device-failure or poor visibility.

Day 2
Today we focused on navigating short legs using a mix of techniques, including bearings/compass work, pacing/timing, contouring and features. We also made a team effort to climb down a tricky section within a small waterfall.

Confidence roping
Descending as a leader

Day 3
Today, anxiety was kicking in – I thought I would be out of my comfort zone learning something totally new: steep ground and rope work. I’ve tried climbing a few times but remembering knots and belay techniques was filling me with trepidation. We were shown simple mountain leader rope techniques such as direct and indirect belays; we learned a couple of knots, how to help people climb or descend with a rope and how to then descend ourselves. Finally we learned how to use a short rope to give ‘confidence’ to someone who may be nervous on the hill. Today was a very enjoyable day. Up there with the best. We were taught that we don’t need to learn hundreds of fancy knots and I learned something else: I needn’t have worried. I’m not sure that knowledge will stop me worrying in future, but I can use it to try and put my mind at rest.

Day 4
This morning, we studied weather forecasts and synoptic charts before moving on to discuss access and the Countryside Rights of Way Act – tracing it back to the mass trespass on Kinder Scout. I was in good spirits, knowing that we would soon be spending the day consolidating our navigation and rope work skills. Not a big day mileage-wise but we were practicing scenarios when rope work may be required, relocating ourselves on the map and navigating small legs.
I was feeling very nervous and more exposed than I had done on any day and all of my cohort confirmed they were feeling the same as we had all had a slide on some very slippy rocks at the start of the walk. I was very relieved when we started using ropes to aid the ascent up the steeping slopes above.

Expedition campsite
Expedition campsite

Days 5-6 – expedition
With compasses and maps to one side, we were to be navigating legs of the expedition without using timing or pacing as the primary tool, taking it in turns to set a strategy of taking the team to the next point.
I’m now looking forward to honing my skills during a consolidation period before booking in for an assessment, hopefully next year”.

And we’re looking forward to having you onboard as a regular ML, Ian. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

Interested in doing the ML training yourself? It’s a hugely rewarding adventure.

If your mental health is an obstacle to enjoying the outdoors, get in touch with john@blackdogoutdoors.co.uk
All of our events are aimed at beginners and are staffed by qualified volunteers.
As ever, thanks to our supporters and sponsors at BMC, Berghaus, CAM.

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