It seems hard to start this review of The Mountain Leader – A Practical Manual without first talking about the author. Mike is an extremely experienced mountaineering instructor, having worked as a senior instructor at a national training centre, and on most of the Mountain Training awards, which really shines through the whole book.
Main image: Llyn Idwal in Eryri/Snowdonia, Mike’s stomping ground. Credit: Shutterstock
While there are many experienced instructors, not everyone has the ability to distil their knowledge in such an easy way as Mike. The tone through the book is informal and chatty, rather than a handbook style series of instructions. That is one of the important points of this book, it’s not a handbook. It won’t tell you exactly how to pass your Mountain Leader assessment, but what it does do is prepare you to be a real Mountain Leader, working with real groups, real weather, and real expectations.
The book is split into two parts. The first is ‘To be a Mountain Leader’ and covers the topics of clothing and equipment, navigation, weather, access, environment and conservation. This sums up what you will learn on your training course, what you would be expected to know for an assessment, and those little extra bits that might be useful to know.
The second part is ‘Being a Mountain Leader’, which takes a much deeper dive into how to actually do the job, and the so-called ‘soft skills’ around leadership, group management and decision making. This is usually the hard part because it can’t be learnt from a textbook, and needs to be developed over time spent doing the job. But this is where all the little boxes sprinkled through the book of ‘Top tips from Mountain Leaders’ come in. These shared stories and handy hints can help shortcut some mistakes you might make, and allow you to learn from others, especially if you’re not in a position where you know many Mountain Leaders and can have these conversations. Gathering this information not just from Mike, but many of his colleagues, must contain the learning and experience of many decades, if not centuries!
Unlike other Mountain Leader suggested handbooks, Mike has included topics which many people still shy away from. The sections on menstruation, menopause, and working with ethnic minority groups, are really useful additions for people who maybe have no experience of this, and how they can approach these situations. Remember, when you’re a Mountain Leader, you need to be able to give advice on how to deal with periods during a day’s walk or overnight expedition, regardless of whether you’ve ever had one!
Having come through the Mountain Training awards myself, and now in a position where I work on Summer Mountain Leader courses, I would highly recommend this book to anyone considering the award. As well as the vast amount of useful information, the photos are great for highlighting key points, and all the input from other instructors gives a really broad picture. The sections for trainers and assessors are not just useful for them, but also gives candidates an idea of what the assessor might be looking for or how to approach a part of their assessment.
Finally, Mike recognises there’s lots of ways to do most things, and is open to the fact that not everyone will agree with absolutely everything in the book, which is a very healthy attitude. I’m certainly sure we’d have a few things to debate!
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