Mountain Leader assessment on Rum – the outcome

June 6, 2019 0 By NatalieM
Mountain Leader assessment on Rum – the outcome

Last month I spent five days on the beautiful Isle of Rum, doing the assessment for my Mountain Leader award. It was a fantastic week. We learned so much and were so lucky with the weather.

But at the same time, it felt very stressful, being continually aware that we were under assessment and needed to get things right. It was also pretty tiring – five days of near-constant outdoor activity, into the early hours a couple of nights, doing night navigation.

By the last day, I was shattered, and eager to get home. I think we all were. I gave one of my fellow candidates a lift back to Glasgow from the ferry port, and he slept throughout most of the three-hour journey.

But before this, we would have to walk the 7km back to Kinloch, the main village on Rum, from our second night camping spot at Dibidil bothy. During this 3-hour walk we were assessed on our ability to navigate from a 1:50,000 map.

Navigation using a 1:50,000 map on the three-hour walk back to Kinloch to catch our ferry back home.

At the end of the walk, the assessors would tell each of us in turn the outcome of our assessment, in a private chat.

Nervous anticipation

I felt very nervous about this. Some of the earlier navigation sessions had not gone well for me, especially the night navigation – despite having practiced it with other trainees several times before the assessment.

When it was my turn for a chat with the assessors, my worst fears were confirmed. I was to be deferred on my navigation. I was told that it was not a fail, and that it was borderline. Basically, my contour work was not up to scratch. I would have to do a reassessment of around six hours in day and night conditions, in no less than three months’ time.

I felt devastated, almost at the point of tears – for about 10 minutes.

And then I rapidly started to feel better about it. I remembered that I have a lot on my plate just now. I’ve put a lot of time into working towards my ML award over the past few months, and there are several other things that need my immediate attention.

The ferry heading for a brief stop at the Isle of Canna on the way back to Mallaig.

I also have several weekends away booked over the summer, and as much ML work takes place at weekends, my availability for work could be limited.

Mulling this over in my mind, and realising that most of the effort I’ve put into achieving my ML award has paid off, and that there is just one more hurdle to overcome, made me feel much happier. I was able to turn my attention to my fellow ML candidates, and congratulate them on their success.

In fact, just a couple of days ago, I had to turn down a request for paid monitoring work on a mountain event, because I’m going away this weekend, with travel and accommodation booked.

It seems surprising that someone was willing to pay unqualified trainees, but such is the level of demand: there is a lot of work out there.

Performance flaws

Rock “window” near the summit of Halleval, caused by glacier movement thousands of years ago.

To be honest, I completely understand why I was deferred. The rigorousness of the assessment process exposed performance flaws that I had been unaware of. The report on my deferment said in two brief sentences that there were inconsistencies with my navigation on 1:25,000 maps, that my contour interpretation was sometimes below standard, and that I sometimes failed to make use of navigational strategies.

It doesn’t mean I’m bad at navigation, but that my navigation skills need more work to bring them up to the required standard of excellence for this award.

It’s frustrating, because it means I will need to spend time and money on further training and assessment. However once I’m qualified, it shouldn’t take long to earn that money back, so it should be seen as an investment. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to take the six-hour reassessment day later this summer.


In the meantime, it’s probably not a bad thing that I still have a bit of “free time” to myself. I’ve had other training courses to attend – a two-day first aid course, which is an essential requirement for achieving the ML award, a day as a voluntary “shadow” co-ordinator on a mountain navigation course, and a training day for doing voluntary hill path surveying.

Assisting a group learning navigation skills at a hill called The Brack.

Last week I had to spend four days in Yorkshire with my family, as two elderly relatives had died and their funerals happened to be in the same week. This was the day after I returned from my first aid course. In the end, I spent a total of eight days away from home, driving long distances.

After that I had one day to relax, and then I was off on the hill path training course. It’s all been great fun, and I’ve learned such a lot over the past few months, but it’s also been quite stressful and tiring.

Second trip to Rum in a month!

By complete coincidence, one of the Meetup groups I’m a member of had arranged a two-day trip to the Isle of Rum two weeks after the assessment week. I’d signed up for this trip weeks earlier, because I wanted to enjoy being on Rum without the pressure of being under assessment. It meant that I walked the “Rum Cuillin”, a 22km circuit of five rocky peaks, twice in one month.

Summit of Ainshval, one of the mountains in the Rum Cuillin – this time with my scrambling group friends.

This second expedition was quite different from the first. It had to be done in one day, because the ferry does not operate on Sundays, and people had to be back for work on Monday morning.

This was a challenge. The mountains of the Rum Cuillin are very rocky, with many tricky sections that you have to take your time over. And sadly the weather wasn’t great. It was cloudy, quite windy, and there was light rain throughout the day.

Doing the Rum Cuillin traverse in one day can take 12 to 14 hours, so we set out at 5.30am in order to be sure of catching the last ferry back, at 7.20pm. Six of us set out on the walk, and two dropped out near the halfway point. The remaining four of us completed the circuit in 12 hours and 37 minutes. We felt very chuffed!

Approaching the rocky summit of Trollabhal.

There is so much more to see on the small isle of Rum: fascinating history and wildlife, beautiful beaches and more interesting hills to climb.

I will definitely be back for another trip sometime.

Kinloch Castle, also known as the “Pink Palace”. It was built by a Lancashire textile heir in the 1890s, who had inherited the Isle of Rum from his father. Unfortunately there were no guided tours available when we visited.


Read part one: Mountain Leader assessment on the beautiful Isle of Rum

All photos author’s own.