Attending Summer Mountain Leader Training

First stages to becoming a summer mountain leader

Aaron Mitchell
7 min readSep 19, 2021
Photo Credit: Aaron Mitchell

For many years now I’ve wanted to become a mountain leader. I spend a lot of my free time hiking in the British hills and have always liked the idea of taking people out and introducing them to the hills and various mountain skills.

Becoming a summer mountain leader is fairly straightforward. But it does require a fair bit of time to gain the necessary experience to complete the relevant courses.


Before signing up for this course there are a few things you need to have under your belt first and I’ll take this directly from the Mountain Training website to save confusion.

You must be registered on the scheme

You must have recorded a minimum of 20 Quality Mountain Days (ideally on DLOG) which can have taken place at any point (pre-or post-registration)

As you can see it’s not much to attend the ‘training’ course. A lot of people get worked up about the quality mountain days (QMD’s) criteria. Chill, relax and don’t worry. Here’s what makes a QMD.

  • 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 the 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
  • Ascent of a substantial peak would normally be included in the day

These bullet points have been taken directly from the Mountain Training website that you can read here. It clearly states that some or all these criteria are to be met. That means you don’t have to try and tick everything on the list.

If you head out into the hills for a minimum of five hours, plan the day yourself and get away from the hot spots to explore new places, then almost all of these days you’ll find will qualify. Don’t get worked up about it. It’s more about your interpretation of the day. Do YOU feel that it was a ‘quality mountain day’? Put it down in the logbook. Put everything down in the logbook. Even if you did a local hike in the low ground at home. It all counts to your overall experience and that’s what they want to see when you book on to a course.

I was told that when the instructors check your logbook they only scan through it as it’s time-consuming to go through in great detail when they’re running these courses every week. Get as many days in as possible and you’ll be golden.

Let’s talk about the training course in a bit more detail and what to expect. It’s a 6-day course and usually run as a complete block. However, some providers run a split course over two weekends. This is what I did as it meant I could save my work holiday for more training days before the assessment week.

Day One

The first day starts like most courses with a meet and greet. A good chance to know who you’re going to be training with and a little more about your instructor. After this, I was briefed more on what to expect from the course and an outline of the scheme and other ML awards.

The afternoon was spent outdoors going through some navigation theory and practice. This involved a great micro navigation class in the local hills. To wrap up the days training we were introduced to movement and security on steep ground.

Day Two

We met around 0900 at a local cafe and had a group discussion on the aspects of leading in the mountains. This was good to do as a group to hear about the experience of others in the group and what they thought made a good leader and what actions they would take in certain situations.

Once the tea and bacon sandwiches were eaten we headed up the mountain ‘Moel Siabod’ with the instructor for a ‘Quality Mountain Day’. We couldn’t log today as a QMD because we were under instruction but the idea of today was to see what a quality mountain day looks like. The instructor was very knowledgeable and passed on a lot of knowledge about the local hills, including the history, flora and fauna. He also explained how the group leader can make the day safe, interesting and fun for the group.

Photo Credit: Aaron Mitchell

Day Three

We headed to the Llanberis Pass and practised some ropework. Our instructor taught us how to set up belays using a rope and natural anchors. We were also shown how to move and be secure on the steep ground using the aid of a rope.

This was very interesting and you get taught a lot about your ropework and tying of knots.

After this session, we headed back to the classroom to have a discussion on equipment for leaders and group members and what’s expected of you.

Photo Credit: Aaron Mitchell

Day Four

Today was a full theory day in the classroom. Below is a list of the various lessons and presentations we had on this day.

  • Introduction to mountain weather
  • Access to the mountains and environmental care
  • Emergencies and mountain rescue
  • Planning and preparation
  • Water hazards

Today was a chilled day that included a nice pub lunch in town. Once the lessons were finished it was time to prepare for the expedition phase that would be happening tomorrow.

Photo Credit: Aaron Mitchell

Day Five

Today is all about the expedition phase of the training course. We headed out in the morning to an area near a mountain called Cnicht.

We spent the day taking turns navigating separate legs to practice more of our navigational knowledge. Lots of micro navigation today to fine-tune our skills.

We set up a wild camp this night as you have to spend a night out on the training course. It was a beautiful spot we pitched up at. We sat together and cooked up dinner while waiting for nightfall.

Photo Credit: Aaron Mitchell

Around 2200 we headed out for the navigating in poor visibility phase. This was a great piece of training. Again, we took it in turn to navigate separate legs. We spent a few hours out walking the hills in the dark until we were all comfortable navigating in poor visibility. We then headed back to our camp for sleep.

Photo Credit: Aaron Mitchell

Day Six

In the morning, after we ate breakfast and packed up, we made our way back through a series of navigation checkpoints that were set out by our instructor. This took a few hours and finished back at the car park to conclude the expedition phase of the course.

After a good lunch back in town, we had our debrief and course conclusion. This is where we were told about our next step of attending the assessment phase and any additional training that may be needed.

I attended the training course in August 2021 in North Wales. Of all the mountainous areas in the UK, this is the area I know best so I thought it would make things a little more relaxed to train in familiar territory. I will also take my assessment in the same area.

Attending a split course has its pros and cons. For me, it was great to save on holiday at work but I did wait two weeks for the second part. Not a problem I’d say for the training course but I don’t know if I’ll be doing this for my assessment. I want to concentrate fully on the assessment course and not have any interruptions.

I was trained by Andy Newton who is based in Llanberis. Very friendly, approachable and his knowledge is top-notch. So many years of experience under his belt.

Photo Credit: Aaron Mitchell

Thank you for reading this post. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to message me here or you can find all my socials here.




Aaron Mitchell

Mountain Leader & Freelance Instructor in Land Navigation and First Aid. British Army and once rode a motorcycle around the world.