Craig McLaren - Winter Mountain Leader

Craig McLaren

What do you do for work?

I’m a full time outdoor instructor with Falkirk Outdoors which is part of Falkirk Community Trust. I deliver a range of outdoor activities to local kids and adults in the community. The bulk of my adult work is in the Scottish hills in summer and winter. I’m also responsible for planning our trips and days out. I also look after the social media side of things.

Have you always been into outdoor activities?

Yeah. Not in a formal way with clubs but with mates heading to the hills since I was a kid. I was in the army cadets at school which got me interested in navigation and expeditions. This led on to a lifelong obsession with maps and planning adventures.

Do you do any other sports?

I climb a bit. I enjoy a bit of coasteering and other rock and water activities. I also paddle, enjoying open boating the most. I like getting out on a mountain bike.

Why did you start pursuing qualifications in the outdoors?

I’ve done many jobs including being in a pop band many years ago but I always ran away to the hills whenever I could. I was at a loose end after that ended so I volunteered with Venture Scotland. I met some professional outdoor instructors there and they convinced me to go and do my Mountain Leader qualification. I did the assessment at Glenmore Lodge. I got the bug and switched career.

Cairn Gorm Summit

What made you want to be a Winter Mountain Leader?

It seemed a natural progression after becoming a Mountain Leader. I was freelancing as an instructor and it was obvious that getting my winter ticket would allow me to work all year round.

What were the best and worst things about working through the Winter Mountain Leader scheme?

I liked the sense of motivation to get out in filthy weather. I knew other instructors who were going through the Winter Mountain Leader or Mountaineering Instructor Certificate scheme and we kept each other focussed. There wasn't really a worst part although the perpetual rain to summit level during the assessment snow-hole expedition was pretty grim.

What are your top tips for anyone thinking about leading in the winter?

Get out loads on the hill. Go on your own whenever you can because that’s when you have to call on the mental reserves required to be at the top of your game. Shadowing an experienced Winter Mountain Leader will pay off too because you’ll learn how to make the day flow and be a positive experience for participants. Develop strategies for dealing with poor weather navigation, especially when under stress. Make sure you’re up to speed on the latest avalanche literature. Go mountaineering, be happy on grade 1 terrain.

Where’s your favourite place for a winter adventure?

I love anywhere on the hill in Scotland in winter but the Cairngorms is my favourite area; probably because it’s remote and comes into winter nick more often. Nothing beats the sense of anticipation on a drive through the snow-clad pinewoods and the sense of space once I’m away from the busy car park and get on the hill.

Craig out walking

What are your leadership plans for the future?

Planning skills days, hill days and trips is a big part of the job for me. Introducing more folk to the joys of winter hill walking or helping them progress from summer walking to being safe on the hill all year round is a privilege I never take for granted. This season I’ll be running lots of winter skills days, walks and trips again. I’m looking forward to it.

What do you find useful about being a member of the Mountain Training Association?

Being a member of the Mountain Training Association allows me to be part of a network of outdoor professionals. It helps keep me in touch with the latest news and best practice within the industry. I believe it’s important to support the MTA. Also, the discounts available as a full member more than pays for the price of membership.

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