The Winter Mountain Leader assessment has fairly mythic status in the pantheon of outdoor qualifications, with a reputation for stress-testing candidates in weather conditions most other hill goers would justifiably classify as insane to be out in. My particular favourite was the story of the assessment expedition which took place in the 80s, where the participants were caught in an unexpectedly violent storm on the Cairngorm Plateau. It resulted in two of the instructors being injured and separated from their groups after one was avalanched and the other blown over a cornice by a horrendously gusting wind.
I completed the training last year, in conditions which couldn’t quite match that, but did it’s best to come close on a couple of occasions, especially on the last day of our expedition, when the wind and visibility was so bad that we nearly walked into the Ptarmigan restaurant before we could see it. The weather this winter has been a bit more benign, but still managed to inflict enough suffering on my assessment to ensure we didn’t feel that we’d gotten off lightly. The thaw on the first day of our expedition was a neat touch, delivering a double whammy of deep snow snow underfoot, with a selection of concealed burns to drop into at random intervals, and heavy rain which eventually overwhelmed my waterproof and left me with the boots slowly filling with water from both inside and out. They ended up so saturated that they’re still not entirely dry nearly two weeks after the event!
Walking into the meeting with the assessors on the final afternoon, I was pretty confident that I’d passed, but it’s still a massive relief to hear the word “congratulations…”; they said more, but it was a bit drowned out by the noise of the party poppers going off inside my head. Overall, it’s fair to say it was fun; Type 2 fun to be sure, but fun nonetheless, and made more so by the quality of the craic with my fellow sufferers, who were excellent companions, and even forgave me for forgetting to pack my hip flask on the expedition. I don’t have many photos from the week (too busy being stressed most of the time) but managed to get a couple on the last night in our snow hole.