Emma Atkinson

Mountaineering & Climbing Instructor Training – Glenmore Lodge 27th July 2019

Emma 2

Since graduating university five years ago, I have been working through outdoor instructor qualifications and working on a freelance basis from Aviemore. As a Mountain Leader I have been working primarily with school groups on outdoor trips or Duke of Edinburgh expeditions. The work is exceptionally rewarding and highly enjoyable. However, for some time I have felt ready to take the next step in my career, towards becoming a Mountaineering Instructor.

With the help of the Neil Mackenzie Trust I was able to afford to book a place on the Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor training course at Glenmore Lodge. The nine-day course equips candidates with the skills and knowledge to take clients onto technical mountain terrain such as guided rock climbing or scrambling. Candidates also learn how to teach people to trad climb, including leading and multipitch routes.

I arrived at Glenmore Lodge on the 27th July, notebook in hand, nervous but excited – it was going to be an intense nine days of learning! The course was run by Bill Strachan, a super friendly and highly experienced Glenmore Lodge instructor. Will was the only other candidate on the course with me. A keen climber from Bradford with a similar instructional background to me, we got on well from the start.

The first day was spent mostly in the classroom discussing what we were going to cover on the course, the plan for the week ahead and we learned about the remit and legalities of working as an MCI. In the afternoon we headed into the Cairngorms for a short scramble up Twin Ribs. During this we got to know each other better and discussed risk assessment and decision making with clients.

On the morning of day two we packed our bags and went climbing. Climbing is just absolutely my favourite thing to do. No matter the situation – with friends or on a course, climbing steadies me as a person and brings so much joy. Cummingston on the sunny Moray Coast was our venue of choice. Here, we covered stance management, a bit of teaching and more about risk assessments and decision making.

Back at the Lodge, we had time for a cup of tea before an evening session that would introduce us to some ropework and rescue techniques. Being a bit of a nerd, I love this stuff. This part of the course is learning how to partner several different ropework techniques to form a larger system to safely and efficiently deal with your scenario – which could range from something very serious, to someone dropping a carabiner. Although I enjoy learning how to solve these problems, they do come with their share of confusion and frustration…

I went to sleep dreaming in rope tangles and the next day we headed West, our team of three became four as we were joined by Giles, another Lodge instructor. Based from Inshree Bunk House, the West coast mountains were going to provide us with our venues for multipitch guiding, teaching and scrambling. It was a fantastic few days, with surprisingly good weather. We had a great day in Glen Nevis followed by two days in Glencoe (we even got a post climb swim in the river!). We headed back to Glenmore Lodge after our scrambling day on Buchaille Etive Mor. I felt physically and mentally exhausted at this point. There were lots of new systems regarding ropework, safety and decision making to learn. At this point, the journey beyond the training course – the collection of logbook days, consolidation of your own skills as well as teaching and guiding skills – looked very daunting from my tired eyes!


Thursday provided us with the rest we needed! This was our navigation day. We spent the morning drinking tea and de-briefing about our time on the West before doing a short afternoon on teaching navigation.

Feeling refreshed, we travelled North to Golspie the next day. Here we learned how to teach climbing skills. We focussed on movement and discussed some psychological coaching, but most importantly we got to climb fantastic routes on dry rock in the sunshine! We even had a milkshake café stop on our way home. A course can’t get much better than that!

Day eight…we were almost there! This was rescues day – we would build on the earlier session of ropework techniques and apply them to real climbing situations. At Huntly’s Cave we spent the day climbing ropes with prussiks and hauling “unconscious” climbers up routes. This day was very important to me not just as an MCI trainee but also as a recreational climber. I now feel much more confident in my ability to be able to deal with any sticky situations my partners and I may encounter on our climbing adventures.

The weather turned for the worst on our last day. We drove out to Kingussie crag, a local single pitch venue where we would put together several days of the course into a “mock client” scenario. We took it in turns to be the client and got a feel for what it was like to teach and be taught. This was particularly good practice as it was so wet, making the rock difficult to climb and the conditions hard to manage – a situation that will frequently occur in the future!

A warm shower back at the Lodge, individual de-briefs and several cups of tea later, we were officially MCI trainees!


Completing this course has been such a great process. Thanks to the Neil Mackenzie Trust, I now have the sense of progress and direction that I had been looking for in my work. It has equipped me with new knowledge and confidence as a recreational climber and as an MCI candidate. So now the journey of consolidation begins, over the next year I will take willing friends and volunteers out as “mock clients” where I’ll practice and gain feedback on my teaching and guiding skills and hopefully not get too many rope tangles!