As an expedition leader it’s good to be able to reassure people that you do actually know what you’re doing. That’s one reason I recently spent three days in Snowdonia and three days in the Peak District on a Mountain Leader Navigation Course.

‘You are here’

The course is about 80% complex navigation in difficult terrain and involves guiding a group of people to a very specific point, a random contour line on the map. So it’s not a landmark or just getting to the top of a peak, but somewhere that you need fairly advanced navigation skills using a compass and map to get to.

To add to the challenge, part of the task is at night time – and some of it was in quite heavy rain too!

The other 20% of the course is to manage your group of people navigating them to the specified destination, keep them happy, dry and rested along the way. Each of then people on the course took turns in leading a group to a specified set of coordinates and we were also tasked with role playing particular types of groups – like children or a bunch of challenging guys on a stag do!

We had an observer tagging along to see how we did and they were quite likely to stop you and ask you to describe exactly where you were – without consulting the map.

As you would on any expedition we camped out each night and carried all our kit with us throughout the training.

The stamp of approval

This is the entry level qualification for all outdoor and expedition leaders and run by the Mountain Training Association. Anyone who leads a group should have that qualification. There are subsequent qualifications at level 2 and level 3 for professional mountain guides and also specific courses for summer mountain leaders, winter mountain leaders, international mountain leaders and British mountain guides.

What do people do with this qualification? The most common challenges are to lead Duke of Edinburgh Award expeditions, but also charity walks, scouts and cadet events. However, the skills can be translated into any environment and you could just as easily be leading an expedition to Kilimanjaro or the Atlas Mountains.

I don’t see the training as a chore – I respect the level of knowledge and skill needed to succeed – and it’s a challenge I thoroughly enjoy.

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