This article details the remit of the award, how to register for it and what exactly it covers. This article has been produced in conjunction with the Mountain Leader Training Association (MLTA).
VIDEO: Walking Group Leader Award
The Walking Group Leader Award was introduced quite recently as a rung below the Mountain Leader award. The ML is a longer and more complex course than the WGL. ML holders can guide walkers over any UK terrain, including into the mountains in summer conditions. WGL holders can't lead over terrain that is overly remote, steep, rocky or mountainous.
Acceptable WGL terrain is difficult to define – mainly because everyone has different ideas of what is, for example, 'remote' or 'steep'. Even the difference between 'hill' and 'mountain' is open to interpretation: the Oxford English Dictionary calls a hill somewhat vaguely 'a natural elevation of the earth's surface, a small mountain'; in Scotland 'a hill' usually refers to more mountainous country, while in Ireland rounded hills can be called 'mountains'.
By the end of your WGL assessment, you should have a clear understanding of where you are qualified to lead walkers – really it just requires common walking sense - and, if you are ever in doubt about the suitability of walking terrain, you can contact your relevant training board for advice.
Here follows a description of WGL terrain:
WGL terrain is open, uncultivated, non-mountainous, high or remote country, such as
upland, moor, bog, fell, hill or down. Walking areas should be enclosed by well-defined geographical or man-made boundaries such as classified roads, and should not merge with mountain regions or involve steep or rocky terrain. The WGL scheme doesn't qualify you to cope with winter conditions (ie snow and ice) or to use rope work. The walking areas you guide over must be easy to exit in a maximum of three hours - either to a road accessible to traffic, or to a refuge that would provide shelter and from which help could be summoned.
The main aspects of the WGL course are group management, navigation, emergency procedures, access and conservation. Training and assessment courses are three days long, so half the length of ML courses. Many people use the WGL as an intermediary stance on the way to becoming an ML instructor. If you do intend to go on to take the ML afterwards, consider taking an ML training course instead of a WGL training course (if you have the relevant experience), followed by WGL assessment and then ML assessment.
“I am presently an Instructor for Call of the Wild, an outdoor activity provider in the Brecon Beacons. I have been instructing for seven years and have qualifications to lead caving (Level 1 Cave Leader), hill walking (WGL) kayaking (Level 2 Kayak Coach), climbing (SPA award) and gorge walking. My next aim is to gain my Mountain Bike Leader award and ML assessment.
The Mountain Leader training course was split between South and North Wales, and enabled candidates to experience both high moorland and mountainous terrain environments. I chose to attend a Walking Group Leader assessment as a progressive step towards gaining my ML award. The main differences between the WGL and ML are that the ML involves leading in more remote and greater mountain environments, taking remote camping trips and protecting clients safely on steep ground using ropes.
The WGL assessment was fine, it wasn't too intense: a two day assessment consisting of an overnight camp, an expedition including preparing route cards and navigation, group management and environmental issues. On the ML assessment you do some micro-navigation: tracking down less obvious features. In the WGL assessment the features are usually more obvious and easier to find. We also discussed controlling a group and a bit about wild camping.
The WGL is a fairly easy award to get. You just have to log a minimum of 40 quality days. Having completed an MLS training course I would recommend taking the WGL assessment as a practice for the full ML assessment. I did my WGL assessment with Mountain Water Experience (www.mountainwaterexperience.co.uk) and they were very good. It was all happy days really.”
Be aware that WGL terrain can have its own navigational challenges! Navigation on WGL is different to ML navigation, rather than easier. We had a very high defer rate in the first year of the WGL as folks possibly elected to go for an 'easier' award and came unstuck! Typical ML navigation involves short legs between fairly identifiable features; WGL navigation can rely far more on subtle contour interpretation over longer 'legs'.
Andy Say, Executive Secretary of the MLTE
How to register for the WGL:
You need to be at least 18 years old, with a minimum of 12 months hill walking experience. When you register you will get a log book. Log your walks to date in it before your training course, so that your course director can assess your experience. You need to log 20 walks. If you have done lots more walks than that, log routes that demonstrate the breadth of your experience.
Both WGL training and assessment courses can be run over three consecutive days or two weekends and involve a minimum contact time of 30 hours.
If you have already completed ML training, you don't need to attend or apply for exemption from WGL training although you will need to re-register for the WGL. You will have to show your walking experience encompasses WGL type terrain though.
Because candidates should already have plenty of hill walking experience, WGL training courses emphasise skills that you would be unlikely to have learnt without expert guidance, and works on perfecting your existing skills.
At the end of your WGL training course your course director will agree a personal action plan with you to carry out before your assessment. There is no time limit for this 'consolidation period' but you must feel confident in your abilities to lead walkers over the terrain defined by the scheme before your assessment, and should have logged a minimum of 40 hill walking days in three distinct areas of the UK or Ireland.
Use the consolidation period to practice the skills you learned during training, and consider assisting a suitably experienced leader on some guided walks.
A WGL hill walking day:
Log walking days which involve you:
taking part in planning and leadership
using navigation skills
experiencing terrain suitable to the WGL scheme
increasing your knowledge and practising your skills
paying attention to safety
spending at least 4 hours walking
planning/dealing with adverse weather conditions
Wide experience as a hill walker in several different regions, in varying weather conditions, is a key element to becoming an effective walking group leader.
Camping within the scope of the WGL scheme takes place in terrain that is sheltered and within easy walking distance of roads and habitation.
Walking and route finding
Hazards and emergency procedures
GROUP MANAGEMENT AND THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE GROUP LEADER
The overnight experience
The upland environment and access
Background understanding of hill-walking in the UK