Assessments – Be prepared (Pleeeease)

Crib Goch
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I don’t work on assessments for the increased pay – it isn’t.

I don’t work on assessments for the interaction and banter – there isn’t really any.

I don’t work on assessments to teach everything I know and can – it’s not training.

I don’t work on assessments for an easy day out – it isn’t.

I don’t work on assessments for shorter working hours – they’re not.

I don’t work on assessments for egotistical reasons – there is nothing to show.

I don’t like the weather on assessments – it always rains/hails/snows.

So why do I work on them?  Maybe to enjoy using a high level of skill and judgement… Maybe to try and get the absolute best out of people, so they have the greatest chance possible of success.  I enjoy seeing people succeed and get reward from that.

In short

  • Don’t try and rush through the system, ignore your peers and employers
  • Balance ambition with reality in terms of your ability. Get a pro’s opinion and advice. Refresher?
  • Get real life experience of the job you’re being assessed on.
  • Write lists of things to help, and time lines to stick to and revise.
  • Bad ropework, navigation and group management (decisions) can kill people. Be good at these things!
  • Go scrambling.  Your personal performance should be good enough to inspire and enthuse your group, and give confidence in tough times.
  • Don’t refer to kids in a derogatory way… they are usually more able than adults.
  • Experience leads to slickness.  Be fast and efficient at everything. Don’t faff and chitchat
  • Release so much environmental chat that your assessor has to tell you to shut up because he’s bored.
  • Regard your trainers, instructors and assessors… try and copy their ambience.
  • Take ownership of your skills and ability, don’t blame others if you defer/fail. This is a big life skill
Glaslyn

Glaslyn – Snowdon

Deferral: Awarded where the candidate has generally performed well and has shown the necessary
experience and attributes, but where complete proficiency has not been attained in certain aspects of
the syllabus or where a lack of experience has been identified

Why don’t people seem to show up on my assessments prepared?  I don’t know.  Having a lack of experience and trying to rush through the system can be a result of increased pressure from one’s workplace/employer, maybe people try to compete with peers going through the system faster than them.  Ambition is deemed fortuitous in our society, and we’re encouraged to aspire to greater things… this may lead people to hastily book onto exams.

A lack of real experience is going to be par for the course.  By definition, most assessees in a chosen field won’t have real experience behind them, as they’re not qualified to gain it.  I implore that if you are training towards an exam, you do everything in your power to gain experience as close to the real thing as possible.

When I was going through various NGB awards, I set out to cover all possible bases that would help me achieve it.  I am still going through this process at the moment.  One thing that rang true for me was the British cycling team talking about marginal gains.  When considering buying a new map before my MIA, I thought “The old map is only 3 years previous to this one, but, that tiny bit of extra detail or accuracy on the new map IS NOT going to make me worse, it is not going to make life more difficult.”  So as small as the gain may have been, it helped.  Write a timeline, like a training gym plan, of when to do things, tick it off as you go along.  This can help realise the small things to have in place… such as a flawlessly well presented logbook. Then you’ll know if you’re ready.

Real life experience is therefore slightly excusable on an exam, and I as an assessor will account for this.  But rope work for instance can be practised for hours at home on a staircase with a weighted rucksac, whilst watching X-factor if you wish.  It should be absolutely slick on assessment, so slick that even if the candidate has a complete brain-fart in panic and nervousness, with the most dreaded of assessors, they can still run through it with their eyes closed.

Navigating in whiteouts should be easy

Navigating in whiteouts should be easy

Navigation must be to the same level!  I don’t think the standard for ML navigation is unachievable high for 90% of the population, it’s fairly basic, but must be accurate.  When going out getting the 40 odd days required for a logbook, set up on 5-10 minute legs to practise navigation.  Don’t walk for an hour then get the map out for a token check… that’s not setting yourself up for success.  1:25k and 1:50k.  get someone or a GPS to check and give feedback, it’s hard to learn and improve at anything without good feedback.

Please get some decent scrambling in before training, and definitely before assessment.  If you gather experience before training, you will have a point of reference with the instructor on your training course, you’ll know what he’s talking about.  After training is possibly too late.  Buy the book.  There are scrambling guides and ridge walk guides to the Lakes and Snowdonia.  They will help to gain an idea of what the remit of an ML is.  What is too hard for Grade 1, what is definitely easy enough to take a group of people up.  No heroes, and no cop-outs.  A good understanding of the grey area of middle ground is what you need to be a good mountain leader.  This is the hardest part of the syllabus.  JUDGEMENT.  It’s also the hardest part for me to assess, because just about everyone messes up at some point.  Admit it, talk it through with the assessor, go back on decisions if they’re wrong… back yourself.

Don’t think that kids groups are the least able and require the most looking after and cautious route choices in the steep rocky ground.  In my experience the kids with borrowed leaking kit can be far far more able than a bunch of middle aged office-bods wearing patagonia kit, some of whom may have been guided up 6000m peaks.

Flora/Fauna/Geology/Glaciology/Folklore/Local Language/Place names/History/Architecture/Fungi/etc.  a candidate should be able to talk about this stuff for hours.  A lot comes with experience and learning from others. I’ve walked with a few geologists and been out on AMI CPD courses to increase this knowledge.  But a Collins guide or Mike Reine’s book is sufficient to start out and get through an assessment.  If you don’t tell me stuff, I’ll start asking what this fern is and what that rock is … likely result, you’re not going to know.

Heath and Moorland

Navigating, and leadership skills in good weather

I think there must be a fundamental flaw in UK NGB systems… or maybe Brits just think the assessment is going to be easy.  Maybe people are too busy earning a living to train and practise.  Maybe they watch too much television and drink too much alcohol.  I don’t know the solution.  But my patience probably has about another 5 years before it wears out, teaching, training, helping, assisting, facilitating success, etc of people who clearly haven’t prepared well enough.  Well, I don’t think the benefits of assessing outweigh the frustrations of that.

I come from a rugby playing background. I love team sports, but couldn’t take football.  The thing I learned playing rugby, is to take ownership of yourself. If you don’t pass an exam, and get deferred, please take this on board yourself and ask questions of yourself not the assessor or training body.  Placing blame on other people will not help you progress.  It’s like shouting and swearing at a referee. You yourself haven’t met the grade, which is not the end of the world (see definition of deferral at top of page), and trust me, the assessor will have done everything in their power to try and give you the opportunity to pass.

I don’t like deferring or failing people.

Concentration and Writing Complicated Articles

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Just tried to finish Part 2 of my hoisting articles for my website, reasonably complicated and would normally take me 20 minutes to get it right, then bang out the HTML.  But with Jacqui knocking around the house, incoming emails, new North Wales Limestone book at my side, new BASI manual in front of me, French homework for tomorrow and food, I have found the maths slightly tricky to get right first time.  So if there are any mistake in the article, I apologise.  But generally it takes people about 10 minutes to get back to me after first publishing to pick up any bugs.

So, with that done, now need to start thinking about Winter articles with a Ski/Snow/Season type subject.

Hoisting

Trying to bang out an article in 30 minutes.

Best Limestone Scramble in North Wales

TerryJamesWalker.com
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Travelling East on the A55, I’ve always looked at the curving arete of ‘Penmaen Ridge’, and wanted to scramble/climb it.  Below and around the line, there is lots of scree which has always put me off thinking it would be chossy and loose.  I checked it out on ukclimbing, as the route is not in any of the guidebooks I own, and many people recommend it, saying the rock is solid.

Well, on my way to Oxford yesterday, Jacqui and I did the route, and it was fantastic.  Here is a bunch of photos showing the way and the ridge itself.  Enjoy.  T

Scrambling Penmaen RidgeWe parked on Old Mill Road, opposite Ger-Y-Glyn SH741769.  There you cross a small river and head to the end of the houses to follow a footpath into the forest.

Scrambling dwygyfylchiGo up some steps, probably hidden by the summer overgrowth, and follow the path to an awesome rope swing in a tree that’s been rigged up with fairy lights.

climb footpath

 

Rope SwingDon’t gain too much height, as the route starts at SH743780, which is pretty much sea level, at the end corner of the camping field, through a gate and about 150m on the right.

Penmaen Ridge StartAfter 10m of scrambling, you are on the ridge proper and can enjoy the exposure of both side falling away from you.

Penmaen RIdge Scrambling

There are a couple of tricky steps along the way.  You definitely need 3 points of contact for these, and it’s worth checking each of the important holds to see if they’re loose before committing all of your weight to them.  I didn’t find anything too loose, but I’m sure there is if you search around, or are just very unlucky.

Penmaen Face ScrambleThe views in both directions are excellent.  The noise from the road is a bit annoying, but with such a short walk in, you can’t have the solitude of a full on mountain day.

Top of PenmaenFrom the top of the scramble, you can continue up grass, heather and gorse until on the top plateau, heading South-West there is a stone walled area that forms part of the farm… Travelling South along this wall, you will find yourself on the North Wales Path, which leads back to Dwygyfylchi.

TerryJamesWalker.comIf you’re interested in guided grade 1 Scrambles, or want to get involved and learn the ropes for higher graded ones, then check out my website at Terry James Walker

New Bolt in Belay of Solstice and Equinox

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Last night I attended a Bolting Workshop at Bus Stop Quarry, delivered by Chris Parkin.  As part of remaining current and striving to improve our knowledge technically and professionally, us members of the Association of Mountaineering Instructors (AMI), register a certain number of days CPD (continual professional development) per year.  Last nights workshop will count towards 0.5 of a point towards those CPD required.

AMI Bolting Workshop

Chris demonstrating the placement of a stainless steel expansion bolt and hanger

Firstly we talked through the professional ethics and law to do with having a good understanding of bolts and their quality… If a bad one were to fail and an instructor’s client injured, there may be a case for negligence.

Then Chris drilled and put in a 10mm stainless steel expansion bolt, nut and petzl hanger.  Rated to about 25kn, we tested it to 10kn (1 tonne), and it held totally fine.  Should a bolt like this receive excessive use over 5 years in a softish rock like the Slate Quarries, then it may start to wobble and move around.  Recent testing by Mark Reeves showed bolts in this category still hold to about 1kn outward pull.  Which isn’t in my opinion overly dangerous as was reported by BMC etc, but I certainly wouldn’t be top roping groups of clients on those bolts.

He then placed an alternative which is a 6mm rod hanger, held in by resin.  It was a hot day, and after less than 1 hour, the bolt tested to 5kn of outward force (6-7 climbers all hanging directly outwards from it, and it would hold)  These bolts are believed to be slightly more suited to the slate, as long as they are not constantly being loaded sideways to create twisting.  The correct placement by the person doing the drilling and glueing is therefore extremely important.

Bolting Slate

Old bolt circled, New bolt with arrow.

I then asked Chris’ opinion of the single bolt belay that exists above Solstice and Equinox (used last weekend).  It is an 8mm bolt with hanger, the bolt sits inside a barrel in the rock… Both the bolt and barrel looked to be heavily corroded.  There is a sling placement around a big bolder to the right that forms the main part of my belay, but it would be tragic for the bolt to not be backed up by a climber and failure to happen.

So, Liam and Konrad were properly keen to get the drill going and resin in a new bolt for practise and to work the new skills we’d just seen.

There is now a new 6mm resin bolt directed towards the climb which should be good for 20 years at least, and would probably hold 30kn directionally (2 ford fiestas).  Considering the traffic these routes get, I think this new bolt is a good thing.  Shame about some of the old bolts which are there, I think the hangers were taken from them for no good reason (that I know of).

Think I’ll go and have a look at the ‘Gnat Attack’ belay next.  Safe Climbing people.  T

2 day Trad Climbing skills for Alpine Trips

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This weekend, I had the joy of working with Ashok, whom like Geoff from the week before, also has a trip up Mont Blanc planned for August.

The Aims of the course were to take an indoor climber and teach all the necessary skills to be a competent trad climber, skills that will definitely help in the Alpine climbing.

Day one saw some of the worst weather of the whole summer so far, so we immediately retreated to the Beacon climbing centre.  Teaching people indoors, although not as pleasant, is far better set up for understanding the systems.  I’ve never seen an introductory Rope Access course taking place on an oil rig in the North sea!  Yet we strive as hard as possible to teach climbing techniques and skills outdoors where the gear placements and the belays are often awkward.  Well, it is definitely easier to teach some stuff indoors, such as abseiling and all the different methods of attaching oneself to a belay:

2 bits of gear, sling clipped to both, big overhand knot in the sling, clove hitch rope from harness to carabiner on the sling.

2 bits of gear, clove hitch the 2 ropes from harness to each individually

2 bits, run each rope through a carabiner on those bits of gear, then back to a clove hitch on HMS carabiner on harness.

These methods obviously all work for 3 pieces of gear in the rock (or trees etc), with slings, single rope or half ropes.

Beacon Climbing Centre

A keen young audience watching on whilst I was teaching

After talking through and then practising all of these methods, and looking at each of the nuts, hexes, cams and sling placements (The Beacon centre has holds that are designed to take nuts/cams and show this), we did a bit of abseiling in prep for the next day.

Come 3 o’clock the weather had dried up for about 30 minutes. The wind was blowing a breeze from the SW, so with a bit of local knowledge, I thought we could try Bus Stop quarry for a quick hit, and put into practise some of the things we’d seen indoors all day.

Bus Stop Quarry Climbing

Equinox or Solstice at Bus Stop, I can never remember which?

After a route and a half, the rain came again to call an end to a intense learning day.

Sunday, we visited V12 Outdoor shop, where I gave Ashok a 15% off voucher as my client, because I am a member of the Association of Mountaineering Instructors (AMI), so he bought a few sets of nuts and a rope.  Then we headed straight to Cwm Idwal Slabs.

I’ve never really seen the slabs that busy, there were a large contingent from the Peak Climbing Club, two groups from the Aylesbury Climbing Club, another MIA and her two clients and a group in front of me climbing as a 4 (very inefficiently and dangerously too).

We shot up the slabs on the right of the Charity crack, to sort of devise our own route and stay out of everyone’s way.  I placed about 15 runners on each pitch to show as many combinations of trad gear placement as possible, and get some of the shine off Ashok’s new kit for him 😉

Idwal Slabs Rock Climbing

Belay #3 on Charity, Idwal Slabs

After a few pitches, and letting Ashok build belays when he arrived below my belays, I was confident in his ability to determine the difference between a 2/5 marginal placement and a bomber 5/5, and also knew he is a very switched on guy.  Above is the photo of us switching gear and alternating the Lead for Ashok’s first go on the ‘sharp end’ of the rope.  The weather started to come in, with thick cloud rolling over the Glyders onto the slabs.

Lead Climbing Course

Ashok Leading up the final pitch

Once at the top, I thought we’d try a quick 2 pitch route on the Holly Tree Wall… “Original Route“, first done in 1918 which was a massive massive effort back then… The foot hold that you have to use to do the hard moves has been used by just about every person to ever do the route… it is very very polished and slippery!  The rain from the previous days didn’t help either.  Once Ashok arrived at the belay, having done the hardest move of the weekend, we left a bit of gear behind and abseiled down so as not to miss his train.  I then short roped us off the slabs and down the scramble back to the bags.

After a very fast pint of cider in the Fat Cat, I dropped Ashok off at the station, and will hopefully see him again later in the Summer and possibly in the Alps for some skiing.  T