The Pathway To Becoming A Mountain Leader

Becoming a Mountain Leader remains to this day one of the most rewarding things I have done.

It allowed me the opportunity to start and grow my business, to travel abroad working as a trekking guide and to continue my education in the outdoors, progressing on to higher qualifications.

I get asked on a regular basis what is the pathway to becoming a Mountain Leader? While I would love to have the time to chat to each person who enquires individually, that’s usually not practical for me and I thought the best way to answer this was with a blog post detailing the process and my experience and timeline through that process.


Start With Mountain Skills

The best thing you can do is start your Mountain Skills training as soon as possible. Doing both your MS1 (2 days) and MS2 (2 days) is absolutely fundamental to your start in the industry. These two training courses arm you with a lot of navigation skills, but also with the foundations to make solid decisions about hazards, route choice, planning, that you will hopefully use one day in the industry as an ML
Once you have completed both MS courses, you will enter your first consolidation period, where you must ensure you embed the skills learned so that they are automatic and when this is the case you come back for your 2 day MS assessment.

Can I exempt Mountain Skills Training? 

Yes, if you have a high degree of personal skills already, experience in line with what would be required to pass the 2 day Mountain Skills Assessment, then you can apply for an exemption on the training.
Being an avid hillwalker who has never received training in navigation or personal mountain skills isn’t usually enough to gain an exemption. The type of person who gains an exemption are usually those who have received training via the Defence Forces or The Scouts.
There is no exemption on taking the Mountain Skills Assessment prior to taking the Mountain Leader Training.

What Happens After The Mountain Skills Assessment?

Once you pass your MS assessment, this entitles you to go forward for your Mountain Leader Training. This takes 5 days in total. ML1 (2 days) and ML2 (3 days).
Once you finish this you enter a second consolidation period and a much longer one at that, one that will take about 2 years to complete all the practice requirements, if you are committed.
Once you are ready, then you put yourself forward for your 4 day ML assessment with Mountaineering Ireland, upon passing which you will be able to take people hiking in Ireland and the UK under your own insurance or work as an ML for someone else. The ML is a minimum requirement to do this type of work.
There is no exemption from ML training or Assessment.

How Long Will The Whole Process Take?

All of the above will take you a minimum of 3 years, if you are committed.
You might be wondering if there is a quicker way to complete it all. It’s a question I get asked alot. Unfortunately, no, there isn’t a quicker way to being an ML, but then I also always tell people that they shouldnt aim to or want to arrive at being an ML any quicker. A good house is built on solid foundations and the same can be said for a good ML.
The level of responsibility you are tasked with, the decision making acumen we need to attain and the experiences we need to go through, good and bad, will take time. If you are confident that you want this more than anything, then time won’t be a hindrance.
The best advice I can give you to get started is to do your MS1 and MS2 and start training for the MS assessment. By the end of the process you’ll really know whether you wish to progress to ML and if you do then that’s awesome, but if you don’t, then you will have been trained and armed with a ton of useful personal skills.
My own journey wasn’t a quick one. I started MS in Early 2011 and passed ML in late 2014. I didn’t stop there, as I continued with further courses such as my MCI in 2018 and have just started my International ML (of use if leading groups in the Alps and Internationally). It was hard graft and continues to be, but has been extremely satisfying and also continues to be.