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Walking in Cumbria and Beyond

My Summer ML

My Summer ML

There are some things in life no one will ever tell you the bad bits of.


Contact lenses.

Oh, it’s fine… glossing over the difficulties.

Conversely.  ML Assessment, that’s Mountain Leader for the uninitiated, is rumoured as the: hardest week ever, tough, no feedback, mentally and physically exhausting.

Even the course outlines only give a brief agenda.  Rope work, steep ground, three day exped and so on.

I’ve read a few blog posts about how to get through it, what to revise and so on, but what I wanted to know before I did my assessment was ‘what actually happened’.  What would I have to do each day? Why is it so terrifying? After all everyone has had a week, at least, of training.

So my experience.  How I, a small in stature, fifty something female,  ‘survived’ my Summer ML Assessment.  I confess, I have a deferral on part, but that’s fine.  Given how the week went I’m delighted.

Day one.  A bit of an introduction.  I’d been told that the assessors never spoke to the candidates bar a brief nod or giving instructions.  This was not my experience.  Day one was a ‘settling in day’.  To help calm the hurricane of nerves.  Along with feedback on all our performances.  Mainly route planning and navigation.  One by one. Each given a ‘leg’ around Walna Scar, Coniston with appropriate and welcome learning points.

Walna Scar

Day one route

Nothing too difficult.   Time to get to know each other.

Day two the fun started.  At least I think it was fun.


Langdale from Raven Crag

Steep ground and rope work day.   We ‘hung’ about under Raven Crag in Langdale for most of the day.  Finding our way up and down gully.  Scrambling the sides without a rope and demonstrating ‘leadership’ and ‘support’.  Some of it was very close to the edge of my own comfort zone. If you end up there with a group of ten year olds you’d be having a seriously ‘bad day’.

Raven Crag

Day two, Raven Crag

The rope work at the top was a relative breeze.

At the end of day one there was a mixed bag of a written paper.  Short questions on mountain flora, fauna, geology and other random bits of information.  Some I struggled to know why I needed the answer.  Who is the chairman of the BMC?  Name two mountain birds, I could understand the need to know.  Day two another written paper.  Purely on weather.  Both were marked by ourselves and no one failed.

Great Moss

View from first camp

Then came the infamous ‘three day exped’.

Of course the weather ‘turned’ and the first three hours of day three we were treated to all the tricks of the Cumbrian mountains.  Drizzle, wind, cold, mist.  By the time I pitched my tent my first pair of sealskin gloves was sodden and my Mountain Kingdom gore-tex jacket proved to be distinctly less breathable than required.


Day three – Langdale to The Tongue

On the exped first day we used 1:50,000 maps and Second day, 1:25,000.  Both nights we did night nav using respective maps.  Following a leader, and then relocating was the form and what I expected.  What I didn’t expect, on day four, was having to put maps away while another was leading.  Only taking out on relocation.  This was the bit that threw me.  I was there or there about, but not pin point accurate.

ML Route

The Tongue to Mosedale

So was it the horrendous experience I’d been led to believe it would be?  No.  Difficult but not horrendous or terrifying

I expected to mess up, night nav and rope work.   But I’d practised them to the nth degree as I know other people who have had deferrals there.  Knowing my paces over bog, slope and boulders really paid off.  I’m just glad I can stop muttering under my breath every time I go for a walk.

Mosedale to Langdale

Mosedale to Langdale

For me the hardest thing was just sheer physical exertion.  It was gruelling.   I would say for a 50 something female I am relatively fit.  But try as I might I could not get my rucksack below 11kgs.  I only weigh 52kg. If the weather had been better I would have been able to take fewer clothes and ditch the bivvy bag. and extra clothes.  But with the cold wind and temperatures close to zero I knew I needed them.  If I had to do the whole thing again I would be picking July or August.  Even if it rains for 5 days solid it won’t be as cold as it can be in spring or autumn.

As in nearly all training courses or activities relating to ML I was the only female.  The gender ratio for women to men in ML is appalling.  I think in the region of 17/18% female.  Given the horror stories I am not surprised that women do not apply.  There are aspects which are daunting and if you’re put off by not having a proper wash for a couple of nights then yes, it may not be for you.  But ‘ladies’ if I can manage then anyone can.  The rewards of the outdoors make it worth while.  Don’t be put off.  I know more women are needed.

The assessors were great.  Not the speechless automatons that other people  have described.  Feedback I received along the way and at the end was constructive and considered and I learned a lot.  I’d recommend them for anyone’s assessment. More info about Chris here.


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  1. Well done Alvina – I know what you went through! P x

  2. I did my ML 3 years ago and also got a deferral. But went back 3 months later and passed. I’m female and now 59 and it wasn’t so bad as we were 2 of each on assessment. But generally I agree it’s a very male biased activity. I’ve been on a CPD day today and I was the only female with 8 males. Certainly I found PYB to be very sexist. There are quite a few independent assessors who are fine but we def need more women to do that. Great to read your experiences.

  3. Congratulations from Peak Region MTA!

  4. Very well done, you must be smiling on the inside. I completed my challenge last November, 214 Wainwrights, and I know how it feels to do something that seemed impossible to me when I was less than 50 something.

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