The consolidation period
So, you’ve completed your mountain leader training course and have officially moved into the consolidation period. Congratulations! It’s a place where eager leaders lurk, as they transition from experienced hillwalkers to expert mountain professionals.
Mountain Training describes this consolidation period between training and assessment as ‘an opportunity to develop your skills, paying particular attention to weaknesses identified during the training course’.
This means the consolidation period will be different for everyone. It’s your chance to gain as much experience as you think you’ll need before booking an assessment, building on knowledge amassed from the training week.
This article is all about sharing my experiences of the consolidation period – the things I’ve found helpful while preparing for mountain leader assessment. It’s an enjoyable part of the qualification – the perfect excuse to visit different mountainous regions, to meet new people and hone your skills in varied conditions.
Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions about the consolidation period or the mountain leader award in general and I’ll do my best to answer them.
Practise, practise, practise
We all like ticking off summits when the sun is shining, there’s the merest whiff of a breeze and not a cloud in the sky. But the consolidation period is about more than just clocking up the miles.
Get out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself. Can you still operate effectively when it’s raining? How about in the dark? Or when it’s windy? Or when it’s dark and windy? Learn what it feels like to use your kit in different conditions. To take a bearing with gloves on. To navigate while talking to a chatty member of your group.
It’s an opportunity to visit new places. Don’t just stick to the obvious places in the Lake District and northern Snowdonia (although it’s important to do this too as future clients will expect you to be familiar with the iconic routes). Head somewhere a bit different. To southern Snowdonia perhaps. To the Galloway Hills, the Scottish islands or Assynt. Anywhere that requires you to approach your mountain days with a fresh pair of eyes.
It helps too if you have at least one objective for the day. Think about areas you feel less confident in and practise them until you become slick. Consider how you might deal with different situations as a leader. I like to play the ‘what if’ game – asking myself what I’d do if X, Y or Z happened while out with a group.
Mix things up in terms of the people you normally walk with. If you’re a solo hiker, make an effort to head out with others. If you typically walk with friends, go out on your own. Walk with seasoned mountaineers and those with less experience than you. It’s all good stuff.
Join the MTA
Joining the Mountain Training Association (MTA) is one of the best things I’ve done since starting my mountain leader journey. My only regret is not signing up sooner.
Not only does it offer some fantastic discounts, which should more than cover the cost of membership, it gives you access to a wonderful community of agreeable mountain folk.
I’ve been on peer-led night navigation sessions and geography walks in the Yorkshire Dales with experienced mountaineering professionals, happy to give up their time to support others through the award. Even when you can’t get out for what might be a quality mountain day, you can still be working on your skills.
Members have access to fantastic online resources too.
Learning off the hill
Sadly, I can’t spend every day in the mountains. But that doesn’t mean my learning is parked until the next trip. Use this time off the hill to swot up on the theory. A good place to start is the Mountain Leader Candidate Handbook, available to download from Mountain Training. Otherwise known as the syllabus, this provides a comprehensive list of the skills you’ll need to demonstrate. If you haven’t already bought Hillwalking by Steve Long (aka the mountain leader’s bible) then put it on your list to Santa right away!
Your reading needn’t stop there. I’ve built up quite a collection of outdoors literature – books on flora and fauna, geology, the weather, leadership and random fascinating facts (did you know Cumbria has seven places called Newbiggin…)?
If books aren’t your thing, then look out for webinars or zoom talks (often free) in areas that interest you. The MTA is great for this, as is social media. Subscribe to something like Trail magazine and sign up to outdoor mailing lists for regular topical features in digestible formats.
I’m a massive geek and love digesting content like this. It keeps the mountains close when I’m stuck at my desk. Demonstrating an enthusiasm for the uplands forms part of the ambassadorial role of a mountain leader. And, if nothing else, it’s a whole lot of fun!
Make an effort to connect with others in the outdoors sector. Now, I hate the idea of traditional corporate networking – standing around with drinks and nibbles in a soulless conference room chatting about how busy everyone is. But mountain networking feels different. People genuinely seem to want to help you! My address book is bursting with contacts eager to join me for quality mountain days. All you have to do is ask.
It all feels hugely collaborative, and I’m looking forward to working on new opportunities with likeminded people.
There’s no getting away from the fact that all these mountain adventures require kit that’s up to the job. Unfortunately this comes at a cost and the spending never seems to stop!
By this point, you’ll have a good idea of the kit that works for you personally. But think how your approach might differ when you are with a group. For example, I’ve found the need for a more versatile layering system when I walk with others. More frequent stops, changes in pace and group discussions means I tend to feel the cold more than when I’m striding out for the summit on my own.
Take this opportunity to spread the cost and upgrade kit gradually. Use your MTA discounts, support independent retailers and relegate old kit for spares.
Top kit upgrades:
- Decent head torch
- Warm layers for longer periods of standing around
- Spare maps and compass