What to Expect on a Mountain Leader Training Course

© Chris Ensoll

Last year we interviewed a number of working Mountain Leaders on the attractions and rewards of the job (see here); but what is it like to train for your ML? What are the minimum requirements in terms of experience; what does the training involve; and is it enjoyable as well as being a learning experience? Course provider Chris Ensoll and his wife and business partner Anne take us through the steps leading towards ML qualification.

When you sign up for your Mountain Leader (ML) training course, you might not be quite sure what to expect. You may have an idea of the syllabus, and you may have talked to other people who are further along in the scheme. But you will probably still have unanswered questions, so here are some pointers as to what it's all about - the challenges and the rewards.

1. It is a six-day course...

...packed with learning and fun in the mountains. It is a challenging but rewarding experience, where you will meet like-minded mountain-lovers and form long-lasting friendships.

2. This is a training course

In other words, you are not expected to know everything at the start. However, you do need to meet the minimum requirements you need to have logged at least 20 'quality mountain days' in the UK. If you have done a good deal more than the minimum, you will be able to learn more than if you are struggling to keep up with learning the basics.

But what is a Quality Mountain Day

Here's the definition from Mountain Training:

In terms of experience, the quality of a mountain day lies in such things as the conditions experienced both overhead and underfoot, the exploration of new areas, the terrain covered and the physical and mental challenge. Such days make a positive contribution towards a person’s development and maturity as an all round mountaineer.

Usually some or all of these criteria would be fulfilled:

  • The individual takes part in the planning and leadership
  • Navigation skills are required away from marked paths
  • Experience must be in terrain and weather comparable to that found in UK and Irish hills
  • Knowledge is increased and skills practised
  • Attention is paid to safety
  • Five hours or more journey time
  • Adverse conditions may be encountered

3. Questions are welcomed

There is only one silly question the one you didnt ask.

4. People come from many different backgrounds...

...and bring lots of different experiences to the course. Some might be teachers wanting to take their pupils out of the classroom or do the Duke of Edinburgh award. Some are doing it to skill up for taking friends in the mountains, others are pursuing a career in the outdoors their ultimate aim may be to achieve the Mountain Leader award, or they may be looking to progress higher up the qualification ladder.

5. There are guidelines that your course director will have to work within

But at the same time, he/she is given a lot of freedom as to how the course syllabus is presented. Delivery of the course content can be adapted to the needs of the group. The programme may be tweaked during the week to take into account the weather and the progress of the candidates.

6. There will be an overnight expedition

This integral part of the course will be either one night or two nights.

7. An overview of a typical training course programme

Every Mountain Leader training course programme is based around this standard programme designed by Mountain Training:

Day 1

  • Course introduction
  • Mountain Training presentation
  • Mountain day: mountain navigation and access & conservation
  • Evening presentation on mountain weather

Day 2

  • Weather interpretation
  • Planning a quality mountain day
  • Mountain day: mountain navigation and access & conservation
  • Explanation of the digital logbook
  • Evening presentation on the responsibilities of the Mountain Leader

Day 3

  • Introduction to simple rope techniques
  • Evening: mountain safety & emergency procedures

Day 4

  • Mountain day: navigation, group management, leadership strategies, hazards of steep ground (with & without the rope)
  • Evening: expedition planning

Day 5

  • Mountain expedition day one & overnight wild camp
  • Navigation, group management, access & conservation, camp craft and associated equipment
  • Evening: poor visibility navigation

Day 6

  • Mountain expedition day two: navigation, group management, access & conservation, camp craft and associated equipment, river crossing
  • Feedback
  • Logbooks and personal action plans
  • Consolidation period and assessment outline

8. What do people say about their Mountain Leader training course?

The best way to find out what a course is really going to be like is to chat with folks who have already done the same course. The next best thing is to read reviews and/or feedback. Here are some comments from Mountain Leader training course candidates:

"Each day whilst on the course we received regular de-briefs and had the opportunity to ask questions and take notes about areas we had covered. Our trainer was very patient with each candidate and also took time to pass on his wide knowledge of the mountains, terrain, flora and fauna and other interesting and related information."

Chris Godridge (44)

"I had a great time. I was both mentally and physically exhausted by the time I got home, but learnt loads! The attention to detail and commitment to training us was much appreciated. Ive hopefully taken on board all the advice and guidance given and plan to put into practice these new skills."

Andy Hope (42)

"Just wanted to let you know how grateful I am for planting the seeds of how to walk and move better particularly on broken ground on ML training and assessment. This week I've been working with a group of mainly older retired people (one was 84!) who wanted to go up Scafell via Lord's Rake, a trip very much on the top end of most people's confidence. Being able to model good movement on previous days and then coach them on how to move around on scree and broken ground turned what could have been an ordeal of a day for some into a challenging but enjoyable and rewarding one. Made me realise how grateful I am for someone showing me that and how cool it is when it goes full circle and I can pass it on so thank you!"

Beth Wallis (24)

"We were taken beyond the syllabus where our trainer felt that we would become better leaders if we did so - this is very much appreciated and led to a much more engaging experience. It was great not to have a box ticking exercise, and to have something that reflected the nature of the group."

Alex Massie (32)


About Chris and Anne Ensoll

Chris and Anne arepassionate about providing opportunities for people to take time out to explore physical and mental boundaries, to reconnect with what is important, and to be encouraged and refreshed. Chris is an International Mountain Guide and provider of Mountain Leader, Lowland Leader, Single Pitch Award, and Climbing Wall Award courses. Anne keeps everything running smoothly in the background.

For more info see


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