Mike successfully passed his Mountain Leader Assessment with us last year. Here he offers some advice on preparation for your assessment.
When's the right time to go for assessment; what's the best way to prepare; what should I bear in mind during the week?
The first one you need to answer yourself but you could be advised by someone who's been through the process recently or who has led you on a recent course such as a ML refresher.
The second one, the preparation that you need to do, should be fairly obvious: be familiar with the syllabus but don't over-complicate it. Focus on the priorities and be realistic.
But what are some of the key points to bear in mind during the week itself?
The points below represent my personal view and are not intended to be "an expert's view" but rather just some recent and hopefully, relevant pointers that I feel helped me to successfully complete my ML assessment week.
In most cases the points overlap. Feel free to draw a colourful Venn diagram!
1 Be genuine; be real
A friend of mine was a hard-working PE teacher in a busy high school. One of her responsibilities was DofE. She was thinking about doing ML because she felt she ought to, but “didn’t really have the time and I'm not that bothered about hill-walking.” She had no kit; never went to the hills; hated the cold and wet; couldn’t read a map…you get the idea.
ML is not an attendance course in which you show up and get a certificate. You’ve got to want it because you’ve got to earn it.
You don’t need to be an ace climber or a grizzled veteran who’s spent a lifetime in the hills. But you do need to be genuine: you walk and camp in upland areas as often as you can; you’re interested in the mountain environment; you read articles on routes, kit and skills; you love it when Countryfile covers an upland area; doing your QMDs is a great excuse to get out, not a chore to trudge through.
So ask yourself: am I genuine? If the answer is “Yes” then crack on with confidence.
2 Nav, nav, nav
Someone once said that navigation is the glue that holds the whole of ML assessment together. Having been through the week I can see why.
It’s quietly relentless.
You warm up your navigation on day one. On day two you typically do your security on steep ground stuff but you’re navigating on the way in and on the way out and throughout. Days three and four typically involve the expedition. You’ll be navigating legs on your way in; you’ll be navigating as soon as it’s dark enough to do your night navigation exercises; and when you wake you’ll probably go on to a full day of navigating using a different map
scale. By the time you navigate out on the final day it’ll probably be clear that you can either navigate to a suitable standard or not.
3 Be slick; be ready
From arriving at your meeting point to being ready to go after a lunch break; from getting your helmet on and adjusted to getting your waterproofs on: don't be last.
Being quick and slick shows that you're well rehearsed with your kit and with procedures. It shows respect to the rest of the group. And it also shows that, as a leader, you are ready to go and catch a little bit of route-planning time while your clients are engaged in some (copyright) "tactical faffing."
4 Keep all of the plates spinning…but prioritise
There's a lot to think about and prepare for. Just as you feel you're getting one aspect of the syllabus up to speed to realise that you're a bit wobbly on something else. This can lead to a lack of confidence, frustration and procrastination.
But although you will be assessed on all aspects of the syllabus some clearly carry more weight than others. You are supposed to be able to keep yourself and others safe in the mountains. So think about it: navigation, security on steep ground and rope work are going to count for a bit more than being able to name every plant and insect.
So brush up on your weaker areas but make sure you nail the key ones.
5 Be humble : listen and learn
Finally, although it is the assessment week and you’ve been preparing for a long while this is not the end. Your CPD begins when you pass your assessment. So start now. Listen and learn. Your assessor will have a wealth of knowledge and experience so tap into it. You’re paying a fair wedge for the week so get your money’s worth! Ask questions; ask for advice; ask "what ifs"; ask for examples; ask for alternatives. But don’t neglect your fellow candidates. Maybe they know some cracking routes in an area you’re less familiar with; or they’ve done tons more wild camping than you have; or they have an item of kit that seems to just do the trick.
You don’t know it all and you’re not expected to. So keep your eyes and ears open and start really learning about how to be a mountain leader.