Can it work for you?

For many people the idea of turning their hobby into their full or part time occupation is a dream, the idea of these pages is to help you establish whether that dream can become a reality.

The following article provides a background on working in the outdoors, an explanation of how the qualification structure in the UK works and finally details of our instructor mentor scheme and some useful additional links and information.

If you have any questions then just drop me an email

Rob Johnson
BSc (Hons) MIC & IML

About working in the outdoors

To take people walking, climbing or mountaineering in the UK you don’t legally need any formal qualification, unless you are working with under 18’s. If you don’t have any qualifications then you will need to demonstrate that you are qualified by experience. As an employer I look for a formal qualification as a minimum, backed up with additional personal experience and competence.

The qualification process is described in the next page but is fundamentally based on having a breadth of personal experience in the mountains before progressing onto leading others.

If you would like to pursue a career in the mountains then you must first be competent yourself in the sphere that you wish to work in. You have several options available to you:

Hillwalking in the UK:

Mountain Leader: The appropriate qualification for leading groups in the UK Mountains in summer conditions, the syllabus covers group leadership, navigation, security on steep ground, expedition skills, emergency ropework, rescue drills and environmental awareness. The Mountain Leader award is for people who are experienced hill walkers who would like to lead other people in the mountains. Before you attend a training course you should be a competent navigator and hill walker. For Mountain Leader training courses click here.

Employment Prospects: You will be abe to work on a self employed basis taking your own clients hill walking anywhere in the mountains of the UK for a fee. You may also pick up freelance work from outdoor centres and companies but competition is fierce as there are literally thousands of Mountain Leaders out there. This is one of the basic awards that you need to allow you to progress to the other awards. It is hard to make a full time career with the ML but you could earn some extra pocket money on a part time basis.

Winter Mountain Leader:The winter version of the Mountain Leader allows you to take groups hillwalking in winter conditions and teach basic winter skills such as ice axe arrest and how to use ice axe and crampons.

Employment Prospects: As per the summer award but in winter! The Winter ML has been acknowledged as being educationally equivalent to a degree and is a valued award that opens up your employment prospects to 12 months of the year.

Rock Climbing

Site Specific Award:
If you are looking to supervise groups climbing at just 1 climbing wall then it could be that the site specific award is ideal. We provide training and assessment over two days at your climbing wall and this validates you for a 12 month period. Click here

Climbing Wall Award:
Qualifies the holder to supervise people climbing at climbing walls across the UK. There will be bolt on elements to cover abseiling and lead climbing on climbing walls.

Employment Prospects: The award is recognised throughout the UK and so you will be able to pick up full or part time contracts at climbing walls. Be prepared to work evenings and weekends for a low hourly rate.

Single Pitch Award: Qualifies the holder to supervise people climbing and abseiling on single pitch crags across the UK. Before registering and attending a training course you will need to be happy leading your own climbs. Before attending assessment you will need to be happy leading Severe.

Employment Prospects: You will be abe to work on a self employed basis taking your own clients single pitch rock climbing in the UK for a fee. You may also pick up freelance work from outdoor centres and companies but as with the Mountain Leader competition is fierce as there are lots of SPA holders to choose from.

Mountaineering, Climbing & Walking

Mountaineering Instructor Award and Certificate: These are the two professional instructional awards in the UK. If you want a full time career in the mountains then this is where you need to aim to be. The awards are explained in more detail on the next page but the MIA allows you to instruct in all aspects of rock climbing, mountaineering and hillwalking in summer conditions whilst the MIC does the same in winter.

Employment Prospects: Once you hold these awards you will be able to make a full time living in the outdoors with a bit of marketing savvy and some contacts. Once you hold the MIA you can join the Association of Mountaineering Instructors (AMI) and use their logo and benefit from their marketing power, gear deals, insurance and training workshops.

Hillwalking Internationally:

International Mountain Leader: This internationally recognised award provides you with a carnet to take people hillwalking or snow shoeing anywhere in the world on non technical ground ie ground that does not require the techniques of alpinism or climbing. You can lead walking holidays in the Alps, Pyrenees, Arctic etc

Employment Prospects: You can earn good money with this award on a freelance or self employed basis and the award is becoming more sought after and more highly valued with time. Freelance rates in the Alps are currently around £145 per day.

The Outdoor Qualification Structure in the UK

As I stated on the previous page the qualification structure in the UK is based on previous experience. It is a modular system where you gain personal experience, attend a training course, gain further personal experience and some professional experience and then attend an assessment course. As you work through the awards you can widen the fields in which you can gain employment.

Each stage of the awards require personal experience, formal training, consolidation which includes some further personal experience and working with groups, shadowing qualified instructors, a referee, a formal assessment and then continuing professional development. Each award also requires a valid First Aid certificate to be held.

The previous page gave you a summary of the qualifications in the UK and the employment prospects. The idea of this page is to break down the experience required to gain the MIA and MIC. They are held as some of the highest qualifications of their type in the world. The process is described for someone starting from scratch with a keen interest in working in the outdoors.

Gain 12 months experience of hillwalking.
Register with MLTUK for the Mountain Leader Award and undertake 20 quality mountain days
Attend a Mountain Leader training course which lasts 6 days
Have a 12 month consolidation period to build on the skills learnt at the training course and undertake another 20 quality mountain days in a variety of regions including at least 8 nights wild camping.
Acquire a valid First Aid qualification
Attend a 1 week Mountain Leader Assessment where the candidate is assessed on Group Management, Navigation including two night navigation exercises, Access & Environment, Steep Ground, Emergency Use of the Rope, Water Hazards, Emergency Procedures, Expedition Skills & Equipment & Weather.
Assuming a pass first time total minimum time spent = 2 years including 40 days in the mountains, 6 days training and 5 days and 2 nights of assessment.
Once you hold the Mountain Leader if you wish to progress onto the MIA you will need to do the following:

Hold the Summer Mountain Leader Award
Work as a sole leader for 20 mountain days using the ML
Have substantial climbing experience and be able to list a minimum of 30 named multi-pitch rock climbs of VS4c standard or above which you have led in at least 3 main climbing areas of the UK. These routes should represent the breadth of your climbing experience. A large proportion of these routes should be on mountain crags and major sea cliffs.
Register with MLTUK for the MIA.
Lets allow 2 years to attain the above.

Attend a 9 day training course
Complete a consolidation period of a minimum of 12 months during which candidates must have completed a further 20 quality mountain days as a leader in sole charge of a mixed ability group
have completed 20 rock climbing teaching days with students
have completed a further 20 multi-pitch climbs at VS4c or above in three major climbing areas of the UK, a large proportion of which should be on mountain crags and major sea cliffs. (During several days of the assessment candidates may be climbing at this grade, so experience of leading harder routes is extremely valuable).
hold a valid approved first aid certificate
have obtained a reference from a referee
have gained a broad working knowledge of all aspects of the mountains and mountaineering, including the mountain environment and British mountaineering history, ethics and traditions
Attend an assessment which pasts 5 days and assesses candidates on personal multi pitch climbing at VS4c, problem solving and casualty evacuation from a multi pitch crag, teaching climbing, personal mountaineering skills, teaching mountaineering, national awards & accreditation schemes, the mountain environment, development & history of mountaineering and risk assessment.
Assuming a pass first time round the minimum time spent so far = 5 years including 80 days walking in the mountains, 50 multi pitch rock climbs at VS 4c or above, 40days leading groups in the mountains, 20 climbing days teaching students, 20 days teaching mountain scrambles, say 40 days personal mountaineering, 15 days training and 10 days and 2 nights of assessment.

An MIA holder is qualified for multi-pitch rock climbing, scrambling and other mountaineering skills in summer conditions. If you want to work in winter you need to get the winter Mountain Leader and then the MIC.

The Winter Mountain Leader will require the following:

An absolute minimum of 40 Winter Quality Mountain Days with at least 20 of them gained in Scotland, distributed over a period of at least three winter seasons.
Hold the Summer Mountain Leader Award.
Have completed at least 10 Grade 1 named Scottish winter climbs
A 1 week training course and a 1 week assessment with a 12 month consolidation period between the two.
Additional time spent = 3 years including 40 winter mountain days, 10 grade 1 climbs, 1 weeks training and 1 weeks assessment including 2 nights of night navigation and overnighting in snow shelters.

To then gain the MIC will require the following:

have completed the Mountain Instructor Award (Summer)
have completed the Winter Mountain Leader Award
have 20 days logged experience of winter party management (this can be both pre and post winter ML, but at least 10 days must be post)
have logged at least 20 routes at Grade II or above in a minimum of three main mountain areas of the UK, of which 10 should be Grade III.
Attend a week long training course
have 10 days logged experience of winter party management, post MIC training
have logged 5 days climbing experience at Grade II or above post MIC training
hold a valid first aid award
be currently leading winter climbs at Grade III standard or above
If a pass is gained with the minimum of experience this will require another 3 years from gaining the Winter ML allowing for the vagaries of the Scottish Winter weather.

MIC – Total Time Spent – 11 years including 150 days walking in the mountains, 50 multi pitch rock climbs at VS 4c or above, 70days leading groups in the mountains, have lead at least 25 Grade II/III winter climbs, 40 climbing days teaching students, 20 days teaching mountain scrambles, say 80 days personal mountaineering, 26 days training and 19 days and 4 nights of assessment. Lets assume that you overlap MIA training and assessment with the Winter ML training and assessment, you could then go from start to finish in 8 years – assuming you pass everything first time!

You can gain further information from the Mountain Training Boards website, click here.