For over a decade I have spent my spare time roaming the wilder parts of the UK in search of adventures. So when I came across the Summer Mountain Leader course and discovered you could get paid to help others explore the outdoors, I was hooked. Like many though, after the initial excitement wore off, the questions and anxieties sprouted up.
Speaking to others about the criteria for things like ‘quality mountain days’ and DLOG left me with many opinions, but no concrete answers. Searches on social media groups often left me confused, and the sometimes-heated arguments in the comments section left me apprehensive about even posting a query.
Having spoken about my aspirations and worries with others though encouraged me to swallow my fears (not to mention hold me accountable for taking action). I booked a space on the Summer Mountain Leader training week with Plas y Brenin. The North Wales centre offers accommodation, food and tutoring packages for the week. Given I was apprehensive enough about the training, the opportunity for someone to do ‘life admin’ for me during that time was worth the expense.
While I had months to let my anxieties build up, it was a huge sigh of relief when I arrived. Everyone in my group was open and friendly, and while we all had different backgrounds, we were all united with an adventurous attitude and eagerness to learn. Our tutor for the week, Mo, was engaging and talkative, and quick to dispel any uncertainties we had about the qualification. The format of the Summer Mountain Leader training week was different to what I expected, with morning and evening classroom discussions separated with practical education outdoors in the afternoon. The last leg of the week was spent wild camping overnight, to develop new skills and further test what we had learned earlier in the training program.
The pace and attitude was more relaxed, and the skills were taught through scenario-unfolding or discussions. While I sometimes felt tested to show my logic or skillset, it felt it was done more so to help me figure out what I needed to learn, rather than attaining a certain mark or approval from an instructor. Given how much apprehension I had developed in the build-up to the course, I surprisingly left with much higher confidence, improved skills and a more clearer perspective of the expectations required of me as a Summer Mountain Leader.
Besides the practical skills, I learned so much about the course and Summer Mountain Leader qualification itself during my time at Plas y Brenin. To help others debating whether the course is right for them, I have listed the biggest fears or obstacles I felt before signing up, and what the reality was when I arrived.
The week is meant for learning, not assessing.
I wasted ages in the run-up to my Summer Mountain Leader training course worrying my skills would not be up to scratch. I even started thinking of back-up plans in case they kicked me out on arrival! It seems many people get ‘imposter syndrome’ or something similar, as our mentor Mo was quick to tell us on the first day that the week was for learning, and there would be no assessment at the end. Each day we focused on a particular skill, such as micro-navigation or rope work, and either worked in pairs or ‘lead’ the team for short sections, before swapping with someone else. This method gives you the opportunity to test your skills, and provides frequent scenarios for discussion points and best practices with the team. At the end of the week, everyone is given individual feedback on their performance and the skills they’ve shown throughout the week.
While it can feel daunting to have a mountain guide assessor watch you all week, take it as an opportunity to ask any question you ever had about the assessment, about the DLOG – anything!
In a way, everyone is on the same level.
Another worry I had with the course was whether everyone else would be more advanced than me. As it turns out, we all had the same worry. Many people focus on the rope work and navigational aspects of the Summer Mountain Leader course, but the role incorporates additional skills. Mountain leaders should also motivate a group, and know when to offer assistance to people struggling in an appropriate manner. Customers also expect them to make the day entertaining and inspire them to enjoy more adventures outdoors. Not only that, but mountain leaders also have a responsibility to help preserve the environment in which they work, and pass on best practices to others. If you are already adept at all this, then you probably don’t need the training. For the rest of us though, just remember that everyone is focused on improving some particular skill on the course.
Don’t worry if your DLOG isn’t perfect.
This isn’t to say don’t bother having one; but if you are worried you haven’t filled your DLOG in correctly or you are questioning whether the days you have logged ‘count’ as quality mountain days, don’t let this stop you from signing up! The Summer Mountain Leader training week is the best opportunity to get an understanding of the expectations of what a ‘quality mountain day’ entails, to ask these questions, and get feedback on what you have entered so far.
Speak to as many people as possible.
When doing the Summer Mountain Leader training week, you’re surrounded by like-minded adventurous people! Most have attended these training centres on their own too, so people are generally more talkative than they usually would be in other environments. Ask about their top days out in the mountains, where they gained experience in group leadership, etc. It gives you and others inspiration for more great days out, and ideas to improve your skills and further your experience that you otherwise might not have considered.
Stress less about having ‘top-of-the-line’ equipment.
A kit list is sent out to applicants before arrival, but if you’re worried your stove is too bulky or your tent a bit heavy, Plas y Brenin has a store room where you can borrow kit. Sleeping bags, tents, stoves, even hiking boots can be checked out in your name; it’s a nice ‘insurance policy’ to help ease the mind if your equipment is on its last legs. Supplies are limited though, so don’t depend on sourcing all your kit list from them!