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Mountain and climbing assessments: What is my approach?

This article is an insight into how I approached winter mountain leader assessment, so I was able to enjoy it as much as possible and succeed. I'm sure there's many similarities between us and hopefully many transferable aspects that you can use for your assessment. Remember whatever assessment you are doing it's a challenge and it will push all of us in different ways. When we do something that's a challenge that's where we grow, so lean in to the discomfort, you got this!

Firstly, I need to start by saying there are aspects to assessments that will challenge us in different ways. For many of us we have an 'inner critic' that can easily take over when we're pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones. Below there is a list of aspects to the assessment that I worked on, that challenged me. Perhaps you have some different things to me but I'm sure some of the things on this list are applicable to us both.


#1 - Mindset

For me, hands down, this was the most important thing to work on. The mind is a powerful tool and under the pressure of an assessment that you've probably worked towards for years it can do weird and wonderful things. I've done lots of work over the years on mindset, attitudes towards myself and my confidence and had to do lots of work for my assessments. Crippling self doubt and a harsh inner voice has been an ongoing feature of my assessments. I did two things to help me through this, one work on my inner critic and two books really helped. Playing Big by Tara Mohr (it's aimed at women) and also The Beginning of everything you want by Sarah Morgan. The other thing is I decided how I wanted to feel during my assessment, and I decided I wanted to enjoy it. I also decided it didn't matter if I passed, failed or deferred, as it's not a reflection on my self worth. More a reflection on how much I've learnt/how much I need to learn.


#2 - Fitness

Fitness and quickness is something I've always been insecure about, I'm not sure where that started and to be honest I have plenty of evidence that points the other way. Even after 13 years of working professionally in the mountains this is something I was worried about for my assessment.

My winter mountain leader I approached in a more systematic way than my previous assessments (and there's been many!). 6 months before my assessment, I started going to the gym and doing lots of leg strengthening. I also packed a heavy rucksack and did lots of reps up short hills. This really helped to maximise on time (also if you don't live near the mountains) but also I sustained knee injuries 6 months before my assessment so had to be careful with how much I was doing.


#3 - Navigation

No doubt navigation in winter can be super challenging. So I knew I needed to up my game. I already do lots of navigation day to day which really helps but I found the following things to really benefited and upskilled me:

  • Practising using big gloves to do everything

  • Night navigation

  • Swapping between 1:25, 1:40 & 1:50

  • Going out in the worst conditions possible

  • Finding other people to go out with that were going for assessment at the same time

  • Having your timings and pacings written out.


"Women need opportunity and encouragement. If a girl can climb mountains, she can do anything positive within her field of work."– Samina Baig



#4 - Competence

Am I up to the grade? I found it really hard to understand if I was 'good enough'. Of course, the standard it the standard but in my mind I wanted that to feel doable/within my comfort zone. Before the assessment, I got the syllabus and had a good look through, marked my competency and then made a game plan of the things I needed to work on. That way it's easier to break it down and feel a little more in control.


#5 - Ropework

I know this is something that concerns a lot of people, especially if you don't climb. I'm fortunate enough to climb and be familiar with ropes and knots so finding a buddy that was also going for her assessment at the same time was invaluable. I managed to get lots of specific days of practice in with a pal and that really helped. If you're not a climber get an old piece of rope and practice tying knots in random places, stairs, on the train, and practice tying knots on yourself and on others.


#6 - Failing

Failing of course everyone worries about failing but the question I would ask myself is how much of myself worth is linked to this assessment? And the answer is none. The other thing is I decided how I wanted to feel during my assessment, and I decided I wanted to enjoy it. I also decided it didn't matter if I passed, failed or deferred, as it's not a reflection on my self worth, more a reflection on how much I've learnt/how much I need to learn. Another thing that I often do is fear planning, great talk by Tim Ferriss (trigger warning: suicide) https://www.ted.com/talks/tim_ferriss_why_you_should_define_your_fears_instead_of_your_goals


#7 - Am I ready?

Even after all the above I still didn't feel ready! I felt more like I was on a roller coaster and would have to ride out the week. For those of you that followed me on Instagram I updated daily. I approached each day as a fresh day to keep that clean mindset topped up.


#8 - Kit

Making sure that my kit was working and fitted was essential for winter. And it's essential for all assessments, by this point you will have been using your kit a lot so should have fine tuned the deets. Nothing worse than going on an assessment to find out that boots hurt your feet, or you rucksack straps flap loads in the wind. I did implement a few new 'systems' a few weeks before such as a smaller map case and a pen attached to my phone so I could use it with gloves on.





#9 - Enjoying it

As I previously said I decided to enjoy it. Part of the enjoyment for me is being part of a team in the mountains and making sure that I spoke to everyone on the assessment. I think the general vibe of the assessment is led by the candidates and it's important to go in knowing that it's an assessment but with understanding that everyone is a apprehensive and wants to pass.


#10 - The Assessors

Many people are concerned about the assessors, what they're going to be like and concerned that it'll be some kind of military beasting. Times have moved on fortunately and I found the assessors to be fair, encouraging, open and honest and truly felt that they wanted us to pass at the correct standard.


Lastly, minimising the unknowns such as booking with assessors that have good reputations, or making sure your kit is working correctly can really contribute to the success of your assessment. The little things can really add up. Whatever your assessment I'm cheerleading for you, you're capable and competent.


If you're wanting any private tuition or skills refresher feel free to give me a message. I have spaces throughout the year and regularly have navigation courses, weekend and skills courses on. Get in touch.

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