18th February 2019

Preparing for a Quality Mountain Day – Mountain Leader Training

Written by Georgia Colman

Senior Instructor Mike Raine gives his top tips for your QMDs.

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What is a Quality Mountain Day? Mountain Training has laid down some very sensible criteria but, criteria need translating into real-world experience. Maybe we should start by asking why we need a minimum of 40 quality mountain days before we undertake our Mountain Leader Assessment.

To some people that is a superfluous question, they go hillwalking in the mountains every weekend or at least every chance they get. To others, the journey is different and achieving 40 quality mountain days can seem like a challenging task. But I’m afraid to say it is rare that anyone with less than 40 quality mountain days demonstrates a level of experience upon which the sound judgments required for effective leadership in the mountains can be made. Indeed, the most proficient candidates will have many more days than the minimum requirement of 40, and they will usually really enjoy their assessment week.  So, you mustn’t think of the 40 days as anything like a chore, we are asking you to go hillwalking, enjoy yourself, learn new things and travel to new places.

“ In terms of experience, the quality of a mountain day lies in such things as the conditions experienced both overhead and underfoot, the exploration of new areas, the terrain covered and the physical and mental challenge. Such days make a positive contribution towards a person’s development and maturity as an all-round mountaineer.”

I’ve heard it said that in the early days of your time spent hillwalking, every day is a quality mountain day. I certainly have some very vivid memories of days in the hills from many years ago and I’m sure I’m not alone in that. On your journey to becoming a mountain leader, you need to re-create the joy and wonder of those early days. You’ll probably only get this if you venture off the beaten track and head to new places. If you live in England or Wales then the likelihood is that this will open up Scotland for you as, by now, you should very familiar with the more mountainous bits of the Lake District and North Wales. If you live in Scotland then please don’t rule out a trip to Snowdonia or the Lake District.

The magic of the QMD is to visit new places, the learning comes from the planning, where to go, where to park, what route to take, what to see, who to go with and what to bring. Who might you bump into on the day? How will the weather influence the day? Will the planned route work out or will you need to change your plans?

 

 A good mountain day will usually mean some or all of the following criteria would be fulfilled:

  • The individual takes part in the planning and leadership.
  • Navigation skills are required away from marked paths.
  • Experience must be in terrain and weather comparable to that found in UK and Irish hills.
  • Knowledge is increased, and skills practiced.
  • Attention is paid to safety.
  • The journey is five hours or more.
  • Adverse conditions may be encountered.
  • Ascent of a substantial peak would normally be included in the day.
  • The individual takes part in the planning and leadership.

Was this your idea? How did you find this route? Perhaps you’ve been browsing Classic Walks or Big Walks, perhaps another book caught your eye, perhaps you searched online or perhaps you were just browsing maps. Maybe you went to a hill you have heard of such as Ben Nevis, you enjoyed your day on Ben Nevis and wondered at the hills in the distance; or maybe you saw a hill you’d like to climb – this might be your next trip, start the research as soon as you get home. Taking part in organised events, however challenging they may be, is not you taking part in the planning I’m afraid.

  • Navigation skills are required away from marked paths.

This doesn’t mean walking through trackless wilderness all day, it doesn’t mean you have to fight with waist deep heather, tussock grass or tip toe through the sphagnum every time you go out. It does mean you need to get off the beaten track, it does mean Snowdon, Scafell, or Ben Nevis by the ‘tourist’ track will hold little sway with your assessor and, more importantly, won’t provide you with the learning opportunities you require. Maybe follow a path up the hill but, just look for something a little different on the way down. Head away from the honey pots, head to Lakeland’s Eastern fells, the Moelwynion, Ben a Bhuird or think Corbetts instead of Munroes.

  • Experience must be in terrain and weather comparable to that found in UK and Irish hills.

This is the one that often gets people confused. It’s not that we don’t accept overseas days it’s just that if you spent your time on a waymarked path in an area like the Alps, the Pyrenees or even the Peruvian Andes it is not really the same experience as heading into un-waymarked British hills. So apply the rest of the criteria to your journey such as ‘navigation skills are required away from marked paths’. This is uncommon in the Alps, the Himalaya and the Andes, it is more likely in Norway, Sweden or parts of North America. Your assessor will, quite likely, ask you a few probing questions about your overseas experience.

  • Knowledge is increased and skills practiced.

How do you define this? Your consolidation period is just that, a consolidation period, this would imply that you are consolidating gained skills rather than acquiring new ones. It may be that you weren’t quite ready to grasp all the new skills at training and you may have been advised to seek further input, it may be that you need to take the new skills you have and develop them to a higher level. I wouldn’t worry unduly about the semantics of this line, if you are traveling to new places and undertaking unfamiliar journeys, you will, almost by osmosis, be learning new skills, new facts and really building up that experience into a solid thing, a thing you can lean on when you need to.

  • Attention is paid to safety.

By now this should really go unnoticed; you’ll be carrying the right gear; you be naturally plotting escape routes in your mind; you’ll be adjusting your routes according to progress; you’ll be aware of where there is and where there isn’t a phone signal. You should be looking out for other people and learning ways to advise them, help them and support them. You will be comfortable with your rope, with your group shelter; you’ll be gaining experience route finding in steep mountainous terrain in ascent and descent.

  • The journey is five hours or more

Five hours or more, yes it depends how fast you walk I suppose and if you tell us it took you five hours we might not argue. It really just goes to support the idea of it being a day out, rather than an evening or half a day. A good full days hill walk will usually be more than five hours.

  • Adverse conditions may be encountered.

Not every time, I hear you cry! Of course not. But, it will happen and we want you to revel in it. We need you to have tested your kit in the wind and the rain, we need you to learn when too much snow is too much snow, we need you to know how much water to take when it’s really hot. We need you to be able to put up your tent, to get in to your tent, to get out and get back in your tent when it’s pouring with rain. We need you to know what it’s like to walk in the dark, to walk in the cloud, to walk in the dark and the cloud at the same time, we need you to enjoy the ‘suffer’ aspect of British hillwalking. We also need you to know it doesn’t have to be horrible, we need you to ‘sell’ the joy of the mountains. We know it’s better to wild camp in good weather but… who knows what it’ll be like on your assessment week. Enjoy the mountains and all they throw at you and this aspect, more than any other will only come through experience. Only you can really learn how to cope with map reading in the wind and the rain, to follow a compass bearing as it comes dark, to do mental calculations on timing as dusk draws in. Love it.

  • Ascent of a substantial peak would normally be included in the day.

What is a substantial peak? It is not possible to put a height on this. The oft-quoted figure off 600m does not come from the world of Mountain Training, we are much more interested in the nature of the terrain. Some of our 600 metre plus peaks do not feel particularly mountainous whereas some smaller ones really do; particularly as you head north in Scotland, take a look at the map of north Harris for example.

Forty Quality Mountain Days, enjoy them, if you want to be a Mountain Leader, you need to be an experienced hillwalker. Head to new places, head north, head to Ireland, and make it a positive activity, not a chore. You should arrive on assessment able to navigate at the same time as looking after, and talking to, your group. See the 40 as a minimum, and don’t rush your consolidation period; take a couple of years at least. This time is for you to develop your experience, to test your kit, to develop your own quirks and most importantly, enjoy yourself.

If you’ve already got 20 QMDs, or are planning on getting them this summer, and you’re thinking about booking your Mountain Leader Training, have a look at our brand-new Mountain Leader Accelerator programme, starting 4 November 2019.

Over an intensive four weeks, you’ll cover the official Mountain Leader Training, alongside an additional 10 days of further Mountain Skills training and time for consolidation. You’ll leave with new knowledge and skills, a personalised mentoring and action plan for your continuing development, and five days of credits towards your Mountain Leader assessment.

 

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