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Top Tips: Preparing for your ML assessment if you don’t live in the mountains

In the run up to my Mountain Leader assessment I remember racking my brains trying to figure out what would be the best way to prepare for it. At the time I was living in deepest darkest west Cornwall, I didn’t have much money and even though I was a student I didn’t have that much free time either. Over the previous few years I’d already logged more than enough QMD’s so it was just the assessment prep bit that I needed a plan for.

Instead of coming up with a plan I went for the much tried and tested technique of procrastinating, which worked well for a while. When I did finally knuckle down one obvious fact stood out – I wasn’t going to get as much time in the mountains as I’d like to. Once I’d accepted this fact I started to think about what my options were, but then I got bored and went for a run instead. Whilst out running I got thinking and the small 1 watt bulb, that is my brain, light up – you don’t have to be in the mountains to prepare for being in the mountains. With this new outlook I started to view things differently and before I knew it I had lots of work-rounds for fine tuning my skills and practicing various parts of the syllabus.

I thought I’d share some of these ideas with you and some other ideas that I’ve come up with since. Some of these may well seem obvious, others less so, but if this article only helps one person prepare a bit better then I won’t feel that my time spent writing this will have been wasted.


Top Tips

1. Security on staircases.

Yep you read that right. I’m not gonna lie without the mountains your going to struggle to practice various parts of the security on steep ground skills in context, however you can dial in the nuts and bolts of the individual techniques. By that I mean you can practice certain rope-work skills whilst at home: practice your knots with a pair of gloves, abseil down the stairs and body belay a friend/partner/dog/teddy up and down the stairs. To be honest the possibilities are endless. Trust me when I say in the run up to various assessments (ML/WML/IML/MIA/MIC) I know lots of friends who have spent many an hour dialing in their rope-work skills on the stairs, traversing the front room and abseiling of various bits of furniture! If your lucky enough to have some craggy ground near where you live then use that instead of the stairs, if your not sure if you do then have a look on google earth or a map.

2. Go orienteering 

If you work five days a week and are going struggle to get to the mountains for a whole weekend then use your time wisely and do some navigation practice, including night nav, in the evenings or on one day at the weekend. Most people live only a short drive from somewhere that is suitable for practicing various navigation techniques. Consider joining a local orienteering club, you won’t regret it, your nav skills will sky rocket! The beauty of orienteering is that instead of doing one or maybe two navigation legs in an hour you’ll get to practice 6,7,8,9 or 10 or more in quick succession. Check out the British Orienteering website to find out more about local clubs, courses and events near you.

3. Get fit. 

We all know that hill fitness is different to running fitness but if you can’t get to the mountains then some regular cardio in the form of running or cycling definitely won’t do you any harm. If you’ve only got one day free and the drive to the mountains is to long then how about going for a big local walk with a heavy rucksack instead. It’ll help you with your mountain fitness and along the way you can practice other syllabus areas e.g. navigation and environmental knowledge.

4. Go for nature walks. 

Head out on some local walks armed with a camera and a variety of identification books or apps. Stroll around and try to identify what flowers, trees, birds, rocks and land forms you see. Some of these may not be the same as those in the mountains but they will add to your breadth of knowledge and often to get into the mountains you have to walk through lowland countryside and woods. A handy plus is that actually being able to quickly identify something, even when you have the book/app is actually a skill in it’s own right so if you get good at it now you’ll be slicker at it in the mountains. Some great books to read and use are: Hostile Habitats, Nature of Snowdonia, Rock Trails, and How to Read the Landscape. Some brilliant apps are: Mountain Flora & Fauna, Birds of Britain, and British Trees.

5. Use your travel time wisely. 

If you don’t live in the mountains then when you do get the chance to go there is inevitably going to be a fair bit of travel time to get there. Use this time wisely and view it as a gift. If your on the train or bus then read books on mountain flora/fauna, mountaineering history, mountain weather, geology and mountain myths and folklore to help build up your mountain knowledge. If your driving then get hold of some e-books. If your sharing a lift with another keen ML candidate then give each other pop quiz’s to test your mountain knowledge.

6. Online Learning. 

Nowadays with the internet were only ever a few clicks away from some great sources of information. If you haven’t already checked them out then I’d recommend taking a look at the e-learning modules on the Mountain Training website, the Met Office which has a great learning area and UKhillwaking which has a great archive of articles on all things walking related.

7. Join the Mountain Training Association. 

By joining the Mountain Training Association you’ll be able to take advantage of the broad range of workshops which provide a fantastic opportunity to learn new skills or to up-skill your existing ones. There are also regular members meets and events where you’ll meet like minded people who chances are will be keen to head out not the hills with you. Lots of these workshops and meets happen all over the UK and not in the mountains so they can be a great addition to your assessment preparations.

8. Observe/Assist Experienced Instructors. 

If the time you can spend in the mountains is limited then you’ll want anytime that you can get to be of maximum benefit to you. Therefore get in touch with some companies and/or instructors and see if you can come along and observe or assist on any of their days out. I can guarantee you’ll learn something and pick up some useful top tips and handy hints, as well as gaining some real group work experience which is invaluable.

9. Get onto the hills just before your assessment. 

This may not always be possible but if you don’t live in the mountains then it can be worth arriving a few days early for your assessment and going on the hill. It’ll help you to feel ‘current’ which in turn will hopefully help to relax you so that the night before the start of your assessment your not fretting about the fact that the last time you were on the hill was quite a while ago.


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We’re pleased to be able to provide bursary funding in the form of a 50% contribution towards course fees for school staff and volunteer leaders who work, or in the future intend to work, with young people in the outdoors.

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