My Philosophy About Mountain Leader Assessment Courses (& Other Inside Info)


All photos in this post were taken by Kelvyn James on the assessment course on 3rd-7th June 2019.

Every Mountain Leader course covers the same syllabus and the same programme, but every course is different - different clients, different skills levels, different weather, and different outcomes. Last week’s assessment course was our 66th, and over the years since our first course we have developed a way of running the courses so that the candidates can perform at their best.

Monday 3rd June: the Coniston fells

Monday 3rd June: the Coniston fells

Our philosophy for the assessment course is this: the course is an opportunity for further learning, so whatever level someone starts the course at, he/she will leave better and stronger and more able to be a good Mountain Leader. In addition, anyone who is thinking about progressing to higher awards will have the best possible foundation.

The maximum ratio on an assessment course is 1:4, and we can take up to twelve candidates with three assessors. I prefer to keep our courses to eight, because on a bigger course I don’t have as much contact with each candidate, so I don’t get to know them so well.

On every course there has to be two assessors, so if we have a small course with four candidates, we bring in a second assessor to work one of the days instead of me. With eight candidates there is a second assessor working the whole week, which I really like - we can discuss the progress of the candidates and give balanced feedback at the end of each day. Kelvyn James worked last week’s course with me.

We often get people who we trained coming back to us for assessment, which we really like. Last week’s course was unusual, as I hadn’t trained any of the candidates, although some of them had been on our Masterclasses, and one had done his Rock Climbing Instructor training course with us.

We almost always establish the groups of four on the first morning and keep them the same until the end of the course, to help create a supportive atmosphere and a strong team ethic.

We run each assessment course so that each candidate knows how they are doing as the course progresses, giving them opportunities to show improvement if needed.

This is what we did on the course last week:

Monday: general mountain day

The first day is always a ‘shake-down’ day, to let the candidates relax and get into their stride. We looked at navigation and route finding, journeying in the mountains, group management in the Coniston fells. We did the first of two written test papers - a general mountain knowledge paper.

Monday 3rd June: the Coniston fells

Monday 3rd June: the Coniston fells

Tuesday: steep ground day

The steep ground day includes picking lines, spotting, briefings, group management, confidence roping, and the emergency use of rope. We used the area around Middlefell Buttress in the Langdale valley. We did the second test paper, on mountain weather.

Tuesday 4th June: the Langdale valley

Tuesday 4th June: the Langdale valley

Wednesday: expedition day one

For the expedition I chose a figure-of-eight route based around the top of the Wrynose Pass, which runs between Little Langdale and the head of the Duddon valley. One day one we looped around the north side of the pass, taking in Pike O’Blisco, Cold Pike and Crinkle Crags. We camped at Red Tarn. We were blessed with poor visibility during the day, which meant that we didn’t need to do our poor visibility navigation after dark - so we didn’t have to go out again after 10pm.

Wednesday 5th June: navigating in the mist

Wednesday 5th June: navigating in the mist

Thursday: expedition day two

On Thursday we looped around the south side of the pass, taking in Wet Side Edge, Great Carrs, Swirl How, Raven Tor and Brim Fell, returning to the pass to camp.

Thursday 6th June: better weather for day two of the expo

Thursday 6th June: better weather for day two of the expo

Thursday 6th June: making our way back to the Wrynose Pass

Thursday 6th June: making our way back to the Wrynose Pass

Friday: expedition day three

We packed up our camp, and headed back to the Old Dungeon Ghyll hotel for debriefs and action planning.

What did the candidates think about the course?

After each course we ask the candidates to complete our feedback form, choosing a score out of 5 for each section, because we’re always aiming to improve what we do. These are the unedited comments from one of last week’s participants:

Enquiry & booking procedure, information provided, etc: 5: excellent
Booking was easy and communication was clear, friendly and quick - felt welcome to ask any questions or clarify although I didn't need to as all information was provided.

Programme: 5: excellent
The structure of the course was excellent, with time to settle in and start to feel comfortable on the first day and a balance of demonstrating skills and knowledge with opportunities to learn more and discuss approaches with the assessors and each other. Over the course of the week, although aware I was being observed/assessed to a standard, I felt that the assessment was almost secondary to a valuable learning experience with an emphasis from both assessors on giving us the tools to be the best possible leaders - can't remember the exact quote but both used a phrase along the lines of 'I can pass you at the standard, but I'd rather train you to be excellent' which I think is a wonderful philosophy that made for an excellent week!

Guides/instructors: 5: excellent
Chris and Kelvyn were both fantastic - not only obviously highly skilled and experienced but they also worked hard to put us all at ease (as much as possible within an assessment situation!) and ensured we had plenty of opportunities to learn further skills and discuss approaches with them and each other. They clearly both have a passion for teaching and developing people as well as conveying/assessing skills and it was genuinely enjoyable to be out in the hills with them. I can't recommend them both highly enough and got so much out of the week thanks to them, including a better feel for how I can take the next steps forward.

Why did you book with us, rather than a different provider?: Second hand recommendation from another participant - I then browsed the website, including comments from previous clients and reading some of your blog posts, and felt like your approaches would work for me.

Any other comments?: Thank you - I came away from the course not just with the achievement of passing a standard but really feeling like I've taken steps towards being the best leader I can be and the confidence to keep progressing, learning and developing!

Would you recommend us to friends?: yes

Want to know more?

Our Mountain Leader course dates for 2019 are:
5th-10th August: training
19th-23rd August: assessment
14th-18th October: assessment

You can find out more about our courses here. You can contact us by email or give us a call - details are at the bottom of the page. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!