Fiona Chappell - International Mountain Leader

Fiona Chappell sitting in front of an impressive rock formation

We caught up with International Mountain Leader and BAIML member, Fiona Chappell, who has been qualified since 2005 to see what she has made of experiences as a Mountain Leader.

I am a self-employed freelance Summer, Winter and International Mountain Leader based in Scotland and have trekked with groups in France, Spain, Switzerland and Nepal. My home in Aviemore is ideally situated for working in winter in the Cairngorms with the bulk of my winter work being for Glenmore Lodge and Talisman Mountaineering on skills courses and winter journeys.

In recent years, I have been involved with the Summer Mountain Leader Awards working on summer trainings and assessments with support coming from course providers, and I am now a course director myself. Winter is my favourite time of year in Scotland so it is also a pleasure to work on Winter Mountain Leader training courses whatever the weather! I am also becoming more involved with the International Mountain Leader training and assessment process having recently observed an assessment run by Glenmore Lodge in St Luc, Switzerland.


Could you share some reflections and takeways from working as an International Mountain Leader?

Working as a Mountain Leader, we are always there for our clients providing them with an experience that gets the best out of their abilities and out of the conditions on the day. By discussing and planning with our clients, we aim to give them a rewarding experience that exceeds their expectations.

There is such a variety of work that trips can vary from leading a group / clients on a short woodland walk letting them just experience our beautiful scenery to being fully involved in all aspects of a multi-day camping expedition.

Our groups / clients are all important but we also need to look after ourselves and be totally comfortable in the environment we are working in to ensure that we can give our best and make good decisions that contribute to the quality and safety of their experience.


What is the most rewarding part of your work?

This must be the chatter and "buzz" at the end of the day which shows that the group have enjoyed themselves. Also seeing people take on their own challenges and supporting them in a way that they have a safe, enjoyable yet suitably challenging experience.

Fiona Chappell with crampons and an ice axe on a snowy slope

Were there any surprises along the way?

Before working in the outdoors I worked in banking, having been the office junior when I left school to being a qualified Business Banking Manager. Looking back, the whole journey from my office based career to working as self-employed Leader takes me by surprise when I stop and think about it!


Could you highlight a special moment from your work?

On expedition with a summer Mountain Leader training group in the Cairngorms in mid-summer. The trainees planned that we would start off our night navigation session with an ascent of Ben Macdui so we could watch the sunset and the navigation session after was enjoyable too as we made our way back to camp. The sunset was a stunning one shared with a great group of trainees so it stands out as one of my best nights out on the hills.

Fiona Chappell in the Cairngorms in winter with a pair of skis.

Do you have any top tips for aspiring leaders?

Get loads of days out in the hills, explore new areas, experience different conditions before training courses. For assessments, all the same but more and with other experienced leaders and groups too if there is the opportunity. Do try not to let the pressure of an impending assessment take away from the enjoyment of the hills, whether it be in summer or winter, in the UK or abroad.


What are your goals for the near future?

Really to keep doing what I do, to keep enjoying the experience and to see where this journey continues to take me.