10 Top Tips for Progressing from Mountain Leader to Mountaineering & Climbing Instructor


This post was originally published in June 2017 as Top Tips for Progressing from Mountain Leader to Mountaineering Instructor. There have been some changes to the award schemes mentioned, so we’ve updated the post to reflect this, and added some more advice.

Congratulations! You’ve passed your assessment, and you’re now a Mountain Leader. That might be as far as you want to go with outdoor qualifications, and that’s fine – well done for getting this far. But on the other hand you might want to progress further and go for Winter Mountain Leader (winter ML), Mountaineering & Climbing Instructor Award (MCI), or International Mountain Leader (IML). We’ll be focusing on MCI here. It is a big step up, but here are some tips to make it easier.

The Inaccessible Pinnacle, Cuillins of Skye. Photo courtesy of Jordan Manley

The Inaccessible Pinnacle, Cuillins of Skye. Photo courtesy of Jordan Manley

1 Find a mentor

You will significantly increase your chances of success if you have an effective, engaged and knowledgeable mentor. It could be a friend who has already passed their assessment, or you could buy into a mentoring programme (we will soon be launching our own mentoring programme, Chris Ensoll Mountain Mentor).

2 Be aware that the scheme has changed

Mountain Training have been undertaking a huge review of all the climbing awards, and have made some big changes – new courses, new awards, and changes to current awards. The Mountaineering & Climbing Instructor (MCI) qualification was previously know as the Mountaineering Instructor Award (MIA), and the Rock Climbing Instructor (RCI) qualification was previously known as the Single Pitch Award (SPA). Both awards have been updated and changes made to the syllabi.

3 Get the Rock Climbing Development Instructor award

This is not currently a pre-requisite for MCI, as shown in an excellent Mountain Training infographic, but it is a recommendation, and you will find it really useful. You will first have to do the Rock Climbing Instructor award.

RCI course in Langdale

RCI course in Langdale

4 Go climbing lots

This might sound obvious, but you need to be happy at VS before you do your MCI training. If you make it your aim to be happy at HVS/E1, then you’ll have a few grades in hand. You’ll be much more relaxed, less focused on yourself, and more able to think about your clients. When I assess people for the Rock Climbing Instructor award, those who climb above the minimum requirement have a much easier time on assessment – without exception.

5 Tick off lots of mountaineering routes

The Cuillins of Skye, Glencoe, Ben Nevis - go for big days out on long mountaineering routes and scrambly terrain.

Climbing on Pavey Ark

Climbing on Pavey Ark

6 Observe as many instructors and guides as you can

The more you see people work, the better. Be a magpie – collect as much info from as many people as you can. Be analytical: when you see someone do something really well, think about why it works. Equally, when you see someone doing something that doesn’t work well, ask the instructor why they do it that way. Think about how you can take on new ways of doing things, and how to avoid mistakes.

7 Work with a variety of client groups

Most people have a preferred client group, and become very good at working with those people. You need to be able to change your approach to suit your current audience, and this only comes with experience.

8 Don’t be put off by horror stories

You might hear tales of woe from friends who have started off on the scheme, but it is very doable if you are a competent climber and mountaineer, and you are willing and able to put in the time and effort.

9 Get some extra help

We offer bespoke climbing days which can be tailored to provide a great introduction to the MCI or to give a pre-assessment brush-up.

10 And finally - have fun!

Take it seriously, but don’t lose your passion for the mountains. If you’re having fun, your clients will be too.