How To Prepare For Your Mountain Leader Assessment #2: What I Look For In An Assessment Candidate


Passing your Mountain Leader assessment is all about showing that you can take care of yourself and your group in the mountains, whatever the terrain or the weather. In order to be able to do this, you have to be able to multi-task: to confidently take care of yourself and be able to navigate effectively whilst keeping your group safe. Here’s an inside peak into what we look for in each assessment candidate.

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Effective Navigation

One of the most common areas that people are deferred on is the inability to navigate effectively whilst managing the group on difficult ground. If you can only navigate by being totally focused on the map, then you won’t be taking care of your group. The Mountain Leader syllabus says this:

“Navigation is a fundamental skill in mountain walking and leaders must be confident of their route no matter how limited the visibility. It is important that you are able to navigate efficiently, accurately and confidently whilst still being able to look after a group, avoid hazards and make the journey interesting.”

That means map-to-ground and ground-to-map interpretation, relocation if needed, picking the best route, following bearings, using timing and pacing as appropriate – all whilst looking after your group and giving them a great experience. The only way to be good at this is to practice, practice, practice. You might be an excellent navigator if you’re on your own with no distractions and no-one to think about but yourself, but you need to make the time to go out and practice being the leader.

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Group Management

Empathy: the ability to share someone else's feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person's situation.
Cambridge Dictionary

You might be an excellent navigator, have all the best kit and know how to use it, know all about the flora, fauna and geography of the area, but if you can’t empathise with your group members, you won’t be a strong Mountain Leader. You need to be able to remember what it was like to be inexperienced, unfit, and unsure. And you need to be able to foresee the needs of the group and meet them before they create a problem, eg taking a lunch stop before everyone is really hungry, or making everyone put their jackets on when you stop to prevent them from becoming cold. A really useful question to ask yourself is this: do I have solid effective strategies to manage my group on serious ground and/or in limited visibility?

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Personal Management

You are no good to your group if you are tired, cold and injured. Most people are very good at taking the right kit and using it to keep warm, dry and well-fed, but there is another aspect to personal management: moving confidently on difficult ground. If you are uncomfortable or concerned, it will be hard for you to be looking after your group. Effective movement will also mean that you will be less tired as the day goes on, and that you will be much less likely to take a tumble and get hurt.

These three areas of competence overlap, and the sweet spot in the middle is a strong Mountain Leader. If one area is weak, the other two will be affected.

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These three areas of competence can be related to the Mountain Leader syllabus as follows:

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If your logbook is thin, and you’ve just about reached the minimum requirements, you will find the assessment more difficult than someone who has loads of experience and has lots more than the minimum needed. Think of it like this:

More quality logbook days = better personal management + better group management + better navigation.

Want to know more? Got questions? Leave a comment below and we’ll get right back to you!