Climbing Qualifications - A UKC Series

© UKC Articles
Nicas Poster  © BMC
Nicas Poster
Do you know your MIA from your SPA? has a new series on mountain instruction awards.

For some people, commuting to work means walking to the foot of a crag, hill, mountain, frozen waterfall or glacier. A day in the office means a day walking or climbing. Sounds good? These are the perks of life as a mountain instructor. Sounds like you? Good on you. It'll be a very rewarding job – everyone remembers a good teacher.

Whether you just want to instruct at an outdoor centre at weekends, have vertical ambitions of fast-tracking up to International Federation of Mountain Guides carnet, or want to be somewhere in between, we've made it simple for you to discover how to launch and develop your outdoor career.

In this new series of articles we will explain each mountain qualification available in the UK. We'll also explain how they all fit together, and how you can get qualified.

Each set of articles will be accompanied by a live Question and Answer session in the UKC Forum, so if you have any questions, you can ask an expert.

Guy Jarvis will be live on UKC on Thursday the 21st of May 2009 to discuss NICAS.

NICAS is a series of certificates achieved through indoor climbing. It is mainly aimed at young people. It is a bit like earning your swimming badges, but for climbing. The rest of our articles focus on instructional qualifications.

Mountain Leader Training UK (MLTUK) is the co-ordinating body for all mountain training schemes in Britain, overseeing the training and assessment of leaders, instructors and guides.

Rachael Hinchliffe (MLTUK) bouldering at the RAC Boulders, North Wales  © Jack Geldard
Rachael Hinchliffe (MLTUK) bouldering at the RAC Boulders, North Wales
© Jack Geldard, May 2009
To introduce the new series, Rachael Hinchliffe from MLTUK explains the process for becoming an outdoor instructor, how you work up the ladder to international guide (if you want to) and why it's important to get a nationally recognised qualification anyway: 

“In the UK there is no legal requirement to have a qualification before coaching people in the outdoors. However, if an accident occurs, one of the first questions raised will be: how can you prove you are a competent instructor and weren't to blame? It would be difficult to get insurance or work without a qualification. Going on a mountain training or assessment course is an incredibly rewarding experience, too, as you'll learn a great deal along the way. 

Mountain Leader Training UK was set up in the 1960s to offer formal training in coaching outdoors. The ML arrived first and, since then, different qualifications have been designed and developed to cater for instructing the different strands of mountaineering. These awards slot together into a hierarchical system and you need to gain some before you can go for others. The Climbing Wall Award is the most recent addition and was introduced to cater for the massive rise in artificial climbing. 

We design the syllabus for each mountain award, approve course providers and maintain quality standards by visiting and moderating courses. When you register for an award you get a log book and a registration number. You must meet certain provisos before registering and, in between the training and assessment courses, you have to gain and record more experience. 

Once you've got one of our awards, you can join the Mountain Leader Training Association. It's a separate organisation that helps instructors keep up-to-date with further training, support and networking. The association focuses primarily on those around the middle ML and SPA level and has around about 1,500 members. For those operating at the MIA/MIC level, their representative body is the Association of Mountaineering Instructors (AMI).

If you want to teach alpinism (or take people skiing) you'll need to apply for the International Federation of Mountain Guides Scheme, it's recognised throughout the world.

At the other end of the scale, the National Indoor Climbing Achievement Scheme (NICAS) is also a separate scheme. It's targeted mainly at young climbers and was recently developed by the Association of British Climbing Walls. The aim is to encourage and accredit development and achievement in artificial climbing. 

One last thing - there is a separate MLT board for each of the four nations in the UK and applicants need to apply to the board for the country they live in. Each board runs the same courses but has its own areas of responsibility, too. Mountain Leader Training Scotland's responsibility, for example, is winter mountaineering. It might seem like a complicated system, but it is one that has evolved. I don't think anyone here realised how big and popular Mountain Leader Training would become. We receive around 7,500 to 10,000 applications a year and are only a small organisation!” 

You can find out more on 

Some small print specific to MLTUK awards: 

  • With a few minor exceptions, MLTUK awards qualify you to teach or guide in the UK only.
  • You need to be a member of a mountaineering council (British Mountaineering Council, Mountaineering Council of Scotland or Mountaineering Ireland) to register for any MLTUK award. 
  • You will need a valid first aid certificate to gain any MLTUK award.
  • You may be allowed to skip a training course and proceed directly to the assessment if you have really, really good experience.
  • If you have generally performed well and demonstrated the necessary experience and skills but weren't completely proficient you might get 'deferred' rather than failed. This means you just need to take a one day re-assessment of the weak area.
  • If you are deferred or failed, you can't take another assessment for three months.

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19 May, 2009
While it is nice to see a series of articles addressing the increasingly complex field of mountaineering qualifications, I would contest Rachael’s statement that the IML is the highest award within the MLTUK framework. Although geographically more limiting, surely the MIC is the highest for technical content. You have to do your Winter ML and MIA just to register for training!
19 May, 2009
Yes I thought that was a very strange and misleading statement too. No mention of the MIC either! IML's can "teach anything bar alpinism".....! See "The highest award we offer is the International Mountain Leader Award, which allows you to lead groups anywhere except on glaciers and teach anything bar alpinism."
19 May, 2009
I may well be prooved wrong in this statement but MLTUK is the governing body of WGL/SPA/ML/WML and IML. AMI is the governing body of MIA/MIC That could possibly what she meant? Or maybe im totally wrong!
19 May, 2009
Afraid so, MIA MIC both registered and run within the MLTUK framework. Shows how complex it is, do we really need a different ML body for each country and not just a UK one?
19 May, 2009
AMI is not the governing body but the representative body of MIA and MIC's! The MLTUK is the governing body ... So if the MLTUK reps and I as a member holding the MIA/MIC and IML qualifications find it all a bit confusing what chance has the general public!!!!! See below taken from the AMI website: "The Association of Mountaineering Instructors is the representative body for professionally qualified Mountaineering Instructors in the UK & Ireland. AMI was formed in 1990 to represent the interests of the highly experienced mountaineers who have undergone rigorous training and assessment to qualify under the Mountain Leader Training UK (MLTUK) Mountaineering Instructor Scheme. All full members of the Association are holders of the Mountaineering Instructor Certificate (MIC) or Mountaineering Instructor Award (MIA)" See about AMI at
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