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The world of guided mountain adventures can be a mysterious place to some. Unfortunately, it can also be a dangerous one. This is for one main reason. Do you know if your Mountain Leader, the person you have put your trust in, has the qualifications and knowledge to be leading you or the group you are a part of? Many would believe that every company and individual that offers trip out in the mountains has the knowledge for every eventuality that could occur.
Yes, of course there are registered qualifications that are well earnt, but for someone to set up a company and take out groups or individuals out, does not actually require anything. When starting up a business, many don’t mention their qualifications – and are not required to – and even if they were to place a logo on a website, what’s to say they even have taken a course or registered for a scheme. This is where it can get dangerous for clients. Now, in the health and safety age that we are in, imagine being able to start up a business without having all the skills needed. A simple love for the outdoors really just isn’t enough.
This part I’ll get out of the way now. As part of Maddog Adventures, yes of course we have this love but we also ensure that our event leaders are registered with the Mountain Training Association (MTA) and have passed the Mountain Leader (Summer) course at the very minimum. Those who haven’t passed a specific course yet but are still registered, are there as a back up on events and are there through their proven experience in the terrain but the final say and responsibility will always go to the leader.
What is worrying is we have seen businesses and individuals where we know their leader(s) have not completed any course and rely on their knowledge alone. Others who say they have passed courses yet there is strangely no record through the MTA database of qualified Mountain Leaders. In these cases, take a long thought as to how you’d feel being a client on an event were something to go wrong? Can you be assured the correct medical process, does your guide know when to turn back even if it means an event may be abandoned? Could carrying on further place yourself and your group in further danger? I’ve been on events where as good as a summit would be, the risks that would be taken to achieve this just are not worth it. At the end of the day, I’d much rather have a story to tell, turning back than being stranded or worse.
The world of social media can make it worse. It’s the way most businesses of course like to advertise their services to potential clients. What could look better than an amazing photo of a mountain bathed in sun or a large group of clients hiking along a trail. Posting some great outdoor photos can make others believe you know all there is to know. But, what if your mountain leader is only out there for the Facebook or Instagram likes. Are they our there for your trip, or theirs? Imagine relying on your guide and for them to be concentrating on the all important selfie. How would you feel as a client, and putting your trust in an individual that you have paid good money to, to get you up and over safely when you feel that you are not 100% the focus. As a leader, take your selfies safely at the summit, the highlight of your client’s day but remember as a ML you are paid to safely guide to a route and the event is all about the clients and not yourself. Luckily, we rarely come across this and the majority of businesses carry out their role professionally. It’s just good to know who you are with.
With all that in mind, maybe its time for associations such as the MTA and British Mountaineering Council (BMC) to require outdoor businesses which offer events such as mountain trips, roped climbs etc to publish a registration number to their qualifications on sites and for all qualified leaders to openly show they ID to clients prior to starting an event, much like Mountain Guides on the continent would have their IFMGA or BMG badge worn at all times and carry their ID card. If not, they are liable for serious fines! All MTA Mountain Leaders will have been sent card at a minimum on registration. These cards will state the highest qualification held to date – from trainee upwards and no ML should feel embarrassed if a client asks to view theirs. As a customer, you are paying for a service and should expect a professional to give you this service.
At the higher end, being a Winter Mountain Leader requires an immense amount of time and experience in the mountains, in conditions that we rarely see south of Scotland in the UK and you may need to travel abroad to experience. For someone to say they are prepared to lead me in the snow, I would 100% want to know that they have had the required number of days before taking a group out. Through personal experience, I have seen first hand the reason for a good knowledge of terrain and the dangers that could be encountered if they are taken for granted or equipment is either incorrectly prepared or, even worse non existent. As a ML, buying an ice axe and crampons for example simply isn’t enough if yourself, or your clients do not know the correct procedure for using them. Sure, you’d look cool in that Everest pose, leaning on your axe in the snow but if it was needed to arrest your fall, would you really know what to do?
I guess I’ll sum this up. If your not sure, please ask. If you have any doubt in your leader, let them know. Don’t wait for an emergency to realise where you stand. The mountains can and most often will change in a instant. What is usually a straightforward and often travelled route, can suddenly become a bottleneck. The outdoors are there to be enjoyed and your guide will want you to have an amazing experience but ensure they are prepared for this.
Author: Chris Elkins (Maddog Adventures)