Training for ML assessment in the Scottish Higlands
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From Mountain Leader Training to the Assessment – How to Consolidate

In mid-August 2020 I finally completed my Summer Mountain Leader training. This was after many years of planning to do it and, for various reasons, never quite getting around to it. In fact, I had booked onto courses a couple of times previously – just for them to be cancelled for different reasons. The latest of them being Covid-19 this spring. Now it has been a couple of months since the training and I have had some time to think and decompress. And with that in mind, it is time to format a plan for the future. It was clear to me already prior to the training that, as I’d like to freelance as a Mountain Leader, I’d need to sit the assessment soon. However, this is not necessary for everyone. Many people decide to do the ML training for personal development and to improve their mountaineering skills.

Read here more about my experiences on the ML training, and have a look at what gear I packed for the week.

What is the consolidation period?

For those who are aiming for the assessment, the period between the training and the assessment is called a consolidation period. This time is, according to Mountain Training, ‘an opportunity to develop your skills, paying particular attention to any weaknesses identified during the training course’. There is no official framework for the consolidation period provided by Mountain Training. However, many course providers will be happy to chat about your training needs and what to practice during this time. In the end, it is down to you to plan your journey from the training to the assessment – including how long you want to take. The ML training does not expire so there is no time pressure. However, if you take a very long time, or are especially unsure of certain skills on the syllabus, it is possible to take a refresher day with a provider before the assessment.

What to aim for during the consolidation period?

Personally, I have three main aims I want to focus on during my consolidation period. These are the areas which I feel like I can work on now, and which will help me the most once I am an ML. It is of course also important to stay on top of the general skills and knowledge required. This is especially true regarding navigation, which is largely a practiced skill and needs to be done frequently.

Let’s have a closer look at which skills I think will be especially beneficial for me:

1. Get experience of working with groups – and especially with children

I have a fair amount of experience of taking adults into the hills. And I have worked with children in different capacities over the years – including as a lifeguard. But I have never worked with children in a mountainous environment – or in the outdoors in general. So, I want to learn more and gain experience by shadowing instructors who have a wealth of knowledge in this area. It comes down to the details – how to best encourage, but also control, a group. What to carry with me in order to be prepared for all eventualities. What games and activities are good to have on hand for different situations. All the things you only learn by doing.

2. Get more QMDs in several mountainous areas of the UK

The DLog is definitely something I need to work on. Unfortunately, I have never before logged my days out – or the hills I have done. It is not a habit that has come naturally to me, and therefore I filled in my DLog from scratch for the training. But instead of trying to remember the vague details of hills I have done years ago in order to fill up my DLog for the assessment – I have decided to take this time to walk up new hills and log them to build up to the required 40 QMDs before the assessment. Find out what Quality Mountain Days are here.

My reasoning is that this is a chance to scope out routes and hills I might take clients on later. And therefore, I will focus on increasing my local knowledge of the areas I want to work in. And walk hills with the mindset of how I would take a group up them. This is an opportunity to build up a solid portfolio of routes which I can use in different conditions and with different types of clients. In this sense, this is all preparation to make things run more smoothly in the future.

3. Get fitter and faster

I am not a fast walker. This is a frustration shared by a lot of women; many of us have struggled to keep up with a group of considerably taller or fitter guys at some point. Sometimes it is demoralising that I train much harder than my partner and still, when we go out together, can’t keep up. I have in some ways accepted that this is unlikely to ever change. And I find comfort in the knowledge that I am strong and can keep walking for a very long time, at my own pace. But in order to work with clients, I want to be fitter and faster. Therefore, I will be building a training plan for the winter. The things I will focus on are days with a lot of elevation gain, walking on rough and difficult terrain, carrying a heavy backpack, and walking for several consecutive days.

Get the necessary first aid certification

Additionally, as is required by Mountain Training, every ML needs to have a valid first aid certificate. As my previous first aid qualification has just expired, I will need to take a course over the winter. I plan to do a dedicated outdoor emergency first aid course – these are scenario based and specifically designed for outdoor instructors. I am waiting until the winter – maybe December/January – to do a course simply because I do not need it earlier. And therefore, it makes more sense to do it closer to the assessment. Furthermore, the course needs to be renewed every few years. Timing this in mid-winter will let me renew the course when it is unlikely to interfere with work opportunities.

When to go for the ML assessment?

It is now autumn and the nights are getting longer and darker. The first snow of the season has already happened, and so I am running out of summer. And of course, the scope of the Summer Mountain Leader is limited to summer mountain conditions. Once there is snow on the ground, and especially if you might need to use any winter equipment, you move to Winter Mountain Leader territory. For this reason, the assessments for SML stop running around November. And it is unlikely that they will start again until March/April. Although, this depends on the location and the length of winter this year.

Therefore, it is currently looking like it will make more sense to take my time with the consolidation period. And then take the assessment the first thing next spring. I had originally hoped to get the training done in the spring and the assessment in the autumn. But these plans too had to be abandoned in 2020. I will now look to do the assessment next year instead.

There is a balance between feeling like you are ready to take the assessment and setting yourself a deadline and just going for it. Mountaineering is a sport you learn over a lifetime and there is always more you could know. Therefore, it is not realistic to feel like you will ever know everything and be completely ready to sit the assessment. Instead, focus on the main aspects of the syllabus, set some intermediate goals, and then book the assessment. Work towards this deadline and use it as your motivation to go out lots in order to feel confident when the date rolls around!

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