My Story #3: Kelvyn James, International Mountain Leader

In this series we will be sharing the stories of outdoor instructors, mountain guides and enthusiasts who work and play in the mountains. You can read previous posts here: 
My Story #1: Chris Ensoll, International Mountain Guide

My Story #2: John Kettle, Climbing & Mountain Biking Coach

Kelvyn James is an International Mountain Leader, living in the Lake District and working throughout the UK and abroad. 

What Are Your Memories Of Adventures In The Outdoors As A Child Or Teenager?

I didn't really have the best childhood. An unhappy home life meant that I took every opportunity I could to be outdoors – Scouts, Boys Brigade, my grandparents farm. Being outdoors is one of the few things that made me really happy as a child.

What Do You Remember About Your Outdoor Adventures When You Started Doing Them Independently?

I left home at 16 and friends helped me stay on at school. I thought football would be my thing – but then I was hit by a drunk driver. As I recovered and football moved on, those same friends took me to the Lake District climbing. Like many before me, Little Chamonix was my first rock climb, and when our leader got scared it seemed the most natural thing in the world to take over and do that wonderful last pitch. I was hooked. From then on every moment of spare time for the next decade was spent climbing or planning climbing trips. The quarries of Manchester led to the Peak District, which led to North Wales, the sea cliffs of Cornwall, and then further afield to Buoux, Verdon, the Alps and eventually the Himalaya.

When I changed jobs it was for more holiday time, and that time involved ropes, walk-ins, tents and fun. I grew up in Manchester in the 90's – we worked, partied, climbed, and started again.

Climbing in Cornwall

Climbing in Cornwall

When Did It Change From A Hobby To A Career?

It was never the plan for it to be a job. After several increasingly goods jobs my wife & I decided to open our own manufacturing business in the Lake District, so that I could climb and she could paint. Whilst the business was successful we hadn't really realised just how hard, and time consuming, it would be. Climbing became an occasional trip then less and less until it was a thing I used to do.

In 2011 my Mum was killed. As you can imagine, an event like that makes you question everything. At the same time we were lucky enough to get a good offer for the business – not enough to retire, but enough to let us take stock, and take a couple of years for us and to reconnect with the world.

Those same old friends took me to the far north of Scotland – Munro bagging, scrambling and long long walks. I was fat & unfit, but it was the most fun I'd had in years, and I could feel that passion for the outdoors returning. During the next twelve months my brother & I ran 2000 miles for charity in memory of Mum. I also completed the Wainwrights, and best of all started to climb again.

In September 2011, just for skills, and with no real plan, I booked my Mountain Leader training course with Chris... and saw a whole new world. I had leadership skills in spades from my business life, I was now super fit, and I've always loved people. It wasn't a huge leap to realise I'd found a new career!

What Has Your Path Been Since Then?

Within a month of doing my Mountain Leader training with Chris I'd booked my Single Pitch Award and a couple of months after I was out on assessment. One of my assessors was an International Mountain Leader, something I'd not even heard of, but as he told me about it I realised he was getting paid to do what I'd being doing for the last few years for the simple joy of seeing the look on people's faces. As soon as I'd passed my Mountain Leader assessment I booked onto the IML course, and completed it in 15 months.

I now work an average of 3-4 months of the year leading treks in (mainly) the Alps, and love it so much that we've bought an apartment there. For the remainder of the year you'll find me running first aid & navigation courses or simply guiding folks – showing them the wonderful places I'm lucky enough to call my office.

I've always believed in giving something back, so now six years on I'm the Chair of the British Association of International Mountain Leaders and the Lake District rep for the Mountain Training Association.

Oh – and we have a house full of paintings too!