It’s not just the BMC that’s celebrating a major anniversary this year. Mountain Training, in all its various guises, is half a century old in 2014. Ed Douglas takes a look at its origins, and why the relationship between the two bodies is more important than ever.
If you’ve heard of him at all, it’s most likely you’ll know John Frederick Wolfenden as chair of the committee that looked into the decriminalisation of homosexuality. The Wolfenden report, published in 1957, remains a clarion call for tolerance and liberalism.
But Lord Wolfenden, a former headmaster at Uppingham School and later director of the British Museum, produced another report – less well known but in some ways just as influential – on sport in Britain. This report showed how sport in Britain was changing, the first major re-evaluation since the Victorian era of what sport means and offers participants, spectators and, most importantly, the young.
Wolfenden’s 1960 report Sport and the Community, commissioned by the Central Council for Physical Recreation, is a lucid and surprisingly readable take on this immense social change. It is cool towards the idea so beloved by Victorian headmasters that sport necessarily builds character. (Not surprisingly. Once you know that Wolfenden reported on both homosexuality and sport, prejudice against the former in modern professional football is grimly ironic.)
Sport and the Community did acknowledge sport can build character, but more importantly it challenged traditional ideas of what sport should be, breaking the hegemony of team sports developed on the playing fields of public schools in the nineteenth century: ‘Courage, endurance, self-discipline, determination, self-reliance, are all qualities which the sportsman, in the broadest sense of the term, has at least the opportunity of developing in the pursuit of his sport. They spring as readily from mountaineering as from rowing.’
Wolfenden’s report is full of the outdoors, hardly surprising given that his committee included Jack Longland, 1930s Everest climber and, as director of education in Derbyshire, the first person to open a local authority outdoor centre in Britain, at White Hall in Derbyshire. Its comments about outdoor activities and the bodies that represented them were cogent and well informed:
“Many of [these organisations] have a strong claim (or much need) for some assistance towards strengthening their administrative machine. It must be remembered that virtually none of them has any access at present either to public funds or to any revenue from spectators. Most of them are magnificent examples of the principle of self-help and voluntary service based on personal and long-sustained enthusiasms."
So the value of outdoor education, which had been coming to the boil since the war through initiatives like Outward Bound and the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, was suddenly thrust centre stage, raising the profile of climbing and hill walking not only with politicians but with the public too.
It was not enough to rely only on members clubs and the small number of outdoor centres – including by the early 1960s Plas y Brenin, founded in 1955 – to supply the skills needed to function safely in wild country. ‘Above all,’ John Hunt wrote, ‘we need to develop higher standards of competence among the adults who organise adventure activities among young people, and recruit more such organisers.’
The body charged with that responsibility in 1964 was the Mountain Leader Training Board.
It was inevitably the BMC, together with the CCPR (now the Sport & Recreation Alliance), which took the lead in establishing the new training organisation. Geoffrey Winthrop Young, the BMC’s chief intellectual architect, may have been a starry-eyed alpinist to his fingertips but he was also an educationalist, a friend of Kurt Hahn and the author of the seminal instructional book Mountain Craft. So from its inception the BMC had at its core a remit to provide outdoor instruction. The new MLTB would become the most significant expression of that.
Since 1964, more than 140,000 individuals have registered with the scheme. That’s a significant number of people, even spread over 50 years, but the impact all those instructors have had on how we view the outdoors in Britain is rarely considered – nor, outside professional circles, is the curriculum they absorb.
Some of those joining the scheme now may simply see it as a process of gathering professional qualifications and don’t care much for the philosophical energy that galvanised men like Geoffrey Winthrop Young and Jack Longland. They may not appreciate the links with the BMC either.
But among the reasons that self-reliance and self-discovery are still so strong in the outdoors in Britain, despite the loss of state-funded outdoor centres, is the quality and depth of outdoor instruction – and the fact outdoor instruction is about much more than simply earning a living.
“The connection to the BMC is very natural and obvious,’ says John Cousins, chief executive of Mountain Training UK. ‘Most sports manage training and coaching within one organisation. Climbing, walking and mountaineering need to continue to develop best practice and have the means to train participants at whatever the sport sees fit. The recent funding application to Sport England was a great example of close cooperation in which we were both more successful because of the partnership.”
In 1964 there was just one qualification, but Mountain Training is about to launch its twelfth. “Things might have got more complicated,” Cousins says, “but in my view they’ve also got a lot more harmonious. We’ve a new website for the New Year that focuses on the individual and their chosen activity and makes no immediate mention of the complex management structures that have, at times, dominated Mountain Training.”
Apart from the new website, Mountain Training is also launching a digital logbook to allow candidates to record their experience online. There are moves into e-publishing more support for existing leaders and coaches through the Mountain Training Association, as well as an overhaul of the qualification system.
“Once we’ve launched our Lowland Leader and the Hill and Mountain Skills courses at the end of March, it will be time to turn our attention to climbing. We’ve got two new coaching qualifications, two technical climbing wall awards, the single pitch award and the whole Mountaineering Instructor scheme. We need to ensure these give everyone logical pathways that meet their needs.”
So, what else has Mountain Training got planned for its 50th anniversary year?
Nicola Jasieniecka, Media and IT Development Officer, at Mountain Training explains: “In January we'll be launching our new ‘Leader of the Month’ award sponsored by Sherpa Adventure Gear. This is to celebrate everyone with a Mountain Training coaching, leading or instructing award. We think they do an amazing job and we want to make our 50th a celebration of their hard work.
“We’ll be at the Telegraph Outdoor Adventure and Travel Show in London from 13-16 February where we’ll be sharing more information about our new awards so if you’re interested, come and visit us.
“We’re also going to launch a ‘What’s your 50?’ campaign where people can submit their ‘50’ (e.g. 50 indoor routes in a day / 50 peaks in 50 weeks / passing an award at 50 etc) and be entered into a prize draw. And as the year draws to a close, expect International Mountain Day on 11 December to be quite special too.”
This article is part of a series of articles on the BMC website celebrating Mountain Training’s 50th anniversary year in 2014.