Rock Climbing Instructor -
Training and Qualifications in the UK
This is a short guide on how to become a rock climbing instructor in the UK. I can write from experience because I am a qualified climbing and mountaineering instructor who runs my own freelance climbing instruction business - the Rock Climbing Company .
The life of a climbing and mountaineering instructor is pretty good - you will never earn a fortune, but you tend to live and work in fantastic areas, you meet lots of interesting people and generally have a high quality of life amongst like minded people.
How to become a Climbing Instructor
There are several paths that you can take to become a professional climbing instructor. The route you choose will depend on what you want to teach, what level you want to teach at and where in the world you want to teach.
1. Qualifications. In the UK the MLTUK (Mountain Leader Training UK http://www.mltuk.org/index.html) is the co-ordinating body for all mountain training schemes and awards. It supervises some schemes directly and works closely with the other supervising bodies - the four home nation boards: (MLTE, MLTNI, MLTS and MLTW) and the Association of British Mountain Guides (BMG)
The climbing qualifications available are:
- Climbing Wall Award: A stand alone award for working in climbing walls.
- Single Pitch Award: A stand alone award for looking after groups operating on single pitch crags with top rope systems only.
- Mountain Instructor Award: Award holders can teach all aspects of rock climbing, mountain skills and scrambling in non-winter conditions. Needs the Mountain Leader (Summer Award) as a pre-requisite to application. The award for those wanting to teach rock climbing in the mountains of the UK. The MIA remit and insurance also allows them to work in several European countries.
- Mountain Instructor Certificate: Award holders can teach all aspects of climbing and mountain skills in both summer and winter conditions. Needs the Mountain Leader (Summer) Award, MIA and Mountain Leader (Winter) Award as a pre-requisite to application. The award for those who want to teach both rock and ice climbing in the UK and often a spring board for those who want to work abroad as a British Mountain Guide.
- British Mountain Guide: A stand alone award run by the British Association of Mountain Guides that allows the holder to work internationally and covers all aspects of mountaineering, climbing and skiing. The award meets the standards laid down by the European Guides Commission (EGC) and is ratified by the International Federation of Mountain Guide Associations (IFMGA), formerly referred to as the Union Internationale des Associations de Guides de Montagne (UIAGM).
There is also the International Mountain Leader award that lets holders guide clients on non-glaciated terrain in the mountains. This also needs the Mountain Leader (Summer Award) as a pre-requisite to application.
The Mountain Leader (summer and winter courses) are awards that cover the core mountain skills such as navigation and safety on steep ground. Full details on the awards can be found on and via the MLTUK web site.
These awards all normally involve a training course, a period of consolidation/gaining further experience and then an assessment; thus gaining the higher awards takes a long time i.e often between 3 and 5 years. All of the awards place a lot of emphasis on gaining real-life experience and this can be quite demanding if you are holding a day job in the meantime. All the higher courses (MIA and MIC) have to be done at a national mountain centre (Plas Y Brenin in North Wales or Glenmore Lodge in Scotland) thus living close to one of these areas gives you a real advantage as you will have easy access to the areas in which you will be tested. Plus in this small world it is inevitable that you will start mixing with other instructors who will pass on invaluable information.
How to become a Climbing Instructor - Part 2 - Methods
Routes into becoming a Climbing Instructor.
- Part-time: Hold down your day job and use (all) your leisure time to train and work up through the awards. Only viable up to MIA, but after this you should be able to find work reasonably easily.
- Intensive Course: Go on an intensive course that will fast track you through the basic awards/experience so that you are then employable by an centre/can start to freelance. The Brenin run these - fast, but not cheap.
- Placements: Some larger centers offer placements whereby you work for them for a pittance, but in return get to work alongside the instructors. The Rock Climbing Company offer placements for trainee instructor at busy times of the year as do other companies offering climbing courses. It is a good way of learning a lot fast. The Plas Y Brenin offer this type of placement each year, but the places are normally hotly contested.
- Outdoor Education Courses: There are lots available - see BlueDome for a list. Bangor University is also popular because of it's location to the Welsh mountains and the Plas Y Brenin. You will need the access qualifications and, most probably, access to student grants/loans.
Becoming a Climbing Instructor - Part 3 - A Long Road
It takes a long time to become a climbing instrucor with an MIA or MIC award. The MIA is for those who want to teach in summer conditions and the MIC is for those who want to work on snow and ice in winter.
These awards are some of the highest qualifications of their type in the world. There are some rough timelines set out below for those starting from scratch.
- You need to get 12 months experience of hillwalking in Britain.
- You can then register with MLTUK for the Mountain Leader Award and undertake 20 quality mountain days
- Attend a Mountain Leader Training Course which lasts 6 days
- Then you need to complete a 12 month consolidation period in order to build on the skills learnt at the training course whilst also completing a further 20 quality mountain days in a variety of regions in the UK including at least 8 nights of wild camping.
- Gain a valid First Aid qualification
- Attend a 1 week Mountain Leader Assessment Course where you will be assessed on Group Management, Navigation (including a two night camping/navigation exercise), Access & Environment, Steep Ground, Emergency use of the Rope, Water Hazards, Emergency Procedures, Expedition Skills, Equipment & Weather.
Assuming you pass you will have spent a minimum of 2 years to get to this point including 40 days in the mountains, 6 days training and 5 days and 2 nights of assessment.
Once you hold the Summer Mountain Leader you can progress onto the MIA scheme, but you will need the following as a pre-requisite in addition to your newly gained ML award:
- Work as a mountain leader for 20 mountain days after having gained the ML award
- Have substantial climbing experience and be able to list a minimum of 30 named multi-pitch rock climbs of VS 4c standard or above which you have led in at least 3 main climbing areas of the UK. These routes should represent the breadth of your climbing experience. A large proportion of these routes should be on mountain crags and major sea cliffs.
- Register with MLTUK for the MIA.
Let’s allow 1 year to attain the above if you already are a competent climber or 2 years if you are new to climbing. Then you must:
- Attend a 9 day MIA training course
- Complete a consolidation period of a minimum of 12 months during which candidates must have completed a further 20 quality mountain days as a leader in sole charge of mixed ability groups.
- Completed 20 rock climbing teaching days with students
- Completed a further 20 multi-pitch climbs at VS 4c or above in three major climbing areas of the UK, a large proportion of which should be on mountain crags and major sea cliffs. (During several days of the assessment candidates may be climbing at this grade, so experience of leading harder routes is extremely valuable).
- Hold a valid, approved first aid certificate
- Have a reference from a qualified referee
- Have gained a broad working knowledge of all aspects of the mountains and mountaineering, including the mountain environment and British mountaineering history, ethics and traditions
- Attend an assessment which lasts 5 days and assesses candidates on personal multi pitch climbing at VS 4c, problem solving and casualty evacuation from a multi-pitch crag, teaching climbing, personal mountaineering skills, teaching mountaineering, national awards & accreditation schemes, the mountain environment, development & history of mountaineering and risk assessment.
Assuming a pass first time round the minimum time you have spent so far is 4 to 5 years including 80 days walking in the mountains, 50 multi pitch rock climbs at VS 4c or above, 40 days leading groups in the mountains, 20 climbing days teaching students, 20 days teaching mountain scrambles, 40+ days personal mountaineering, 15 days training and 10 days and 2 nights of assessment.
An MIA holder is qualified for multi-pitch rock climbing, scrambling and other mountaineering skills in summer conditions. If you want to work in winter you need to get the Winter Mountain Leader and then the MIC award, which will take another 4 years ... it is a good job I prefer the Spanish sun in the winters....