Mountaineering Course – wild camping

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This week just gone I have been working for the Joint Services again, at their mountain training wing in Llanrwst, JSMTW (L).  The course was a Summer Mountaineering Foundation, which lays the foundations and gets some of the pre-requisites for the Mountain Leader Award.  I was joined by members of various Regements, from Royal Gurkha Rifles, to Army Air Core.

Day 1: Navigation basics, including bearings, contours, distances, pacings, timings, etc. For this we headed from Capel Curig, over Crimpiau and Craig Wen.  Perfect terrain with lots of features to attack.

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Crimpiau

Day 2: Mountain day and basic scrambling. We covered Y Gribin ridge from Llyn Idwal, then went over Gylder Fawr and down Devil’s Kitchen.  The day was North Wales tropical, but our friend from Brunei didn’t agree.IMG_0871.jpg

Day 3: A long day on Snowdon, working on more advanced navigation using mainly contour interpretation.  On 1:50k maps.  We travelled up from Pen y Pass, across Lliwedd, and down the Rhyd Ddu path.  I then found out the Gwynedd council had given me a parking fine of £25 at the Pen y Gwryd car park. Cheers

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Carneddau Wild Ponies – Ffynnon Llugwy

Day 4: First day of expedition.  We travelled from Gwern gof uchaf to Carnedd Llewellyn.  Then descended the East side to camp in Cwm Eigiau.  We saw the plane wreck site of Canberra Wk129, a jet that crashed on the Summit in Dec 1957, the debris was spread about a mile across the hillside and on both sides of the impact ridge.  Truely an impressive site.  Many of the parts still remain there.

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Eastern Spur of Carnedd Llewellyn

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Day 5: It was one of the first times I can remember camping on a North East facing cwm, so I pitched my tent so that at 05:30AM, I could unzip my tent door and see sunrise.  A seriously cool way to wake up.  I put a brew on and enjoyed the hazy sunrise then went back to sleep.

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Looking towards Colwyn Bay from 820m on the Carneddau at 05:30AM

 

 

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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.

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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.

Lightning and Thunder, Simultaneously. Mountain Leader Training

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A dull rumble shatters my already broken sleep, my ears prick up to full alert mode before I can say I’m awake. I lay there in my 1 man tunnel tent, like a translucent coffin, listening to the heavy rain starting to bang against the outer sheet, no pitter patter nonsense, each drop makes its own heavy thud.

Mountain Leader Training Ropework Day

Mountain Leader Training Rope work Day

2 days ago, I was on the Gribin ridge with my group, enjoying the role of hopping between each pair on a rope work day, ensuring that they were safe… keeping it simple. There were overhand knots going on left right and center, the sun was blazing, wind howling, the surroundings of Cwm Idwal giving a real mountain milieu, these guys are training to lead their own groups in the mountains, eager to learn, and a strong group. The day finished with with an ice cream, Magnum white. My ice cream being too sickly was the only objective danger of the day. I felt in control and on top of my game, totally comfortable in that environment.

A flash lights up my tent, alerting my eyes to the same sensitivity levels as my ears, before I realise what the sensation is, thunder cracks all around the tent, like a boomerang whooping 360 around you in a state of the art surround sound cinema. It’s close.

Navigating to Lliwedd

Navigating to Lliwedd

The day previous we set off with bags weighing in the region of 12-18 kilos, mine was at the lighter end, the guys with pyjamas and deodorant at the other. After some paperwork and organisation my group took turns to navigate from the Pen y Gwryd, over the horns, down to the lakes in the amphitheatre of the Snowdon horseshoe, up the other side and over the rocky ridge line of Y Lliwedd. My team, slightly different from yesterday were again strong, a few climbers, a few outdoor ed staff, and some more than adequately switched on learners. Finding a flat campsite at 6PM in cwm Tregalan in the shadow of the Snowdon – Lliwedd bwlch, was no drama.

3 or 4 hour Night Navigation

3 or 4 hour Night Navigation

Will’s team camped in the same spot making 14 of us, with about 11 tents forming a hamlet (of aluminium poles) at 450m altitude, surrounded by mountains in their June alpenglow. We readied for night-navigation with an excited anticipation of being out until 02:30, the weather was ideal, a waxing quarter moon shone down.

Quickly getting dressed, opening the tent, peering out at a dark dark sky, this time it is not a flash, but a intracloud luminosity. Lightning above us. The clouds are not far above our heads and the mountains to the sides are fully engulfed. Thoughts extremely rapidly change from how the clouds are earthing their charge separation to; we’re in a tricky situation here… Time to turn on the autocratic tone of voice that the trainees have not yet heard.

Before reaching their tents, which are just 20m away, Will is already bellowing at the top of his voice, “Get out of your tents, now” “Get up”, “….ing move”. I join in to deliver the same message in much the same way, like commanding officers in a war zone coming into contact, concise, accurate, directive information. The tents are wriggling as bodies battle slumber with adrenaline. Will and myself leave the hillock we’re shouting from, it’s been about a minute since the last bolt landed a few hundred meters away, we’re due another. Running low to the middle of a large flat area we all spread out, crouch down, and I think about how it’s impossible for me to directly and actively be in control of protecting my group from the sky.  [info on what to do in a electrical storm]

As I tie up my boots holding sockless feet, zip up my jacket, and watch my open tent and sleeping bag fill with the torrents, another bolt lands very close indeed. The thunder is simultaneous. The lightning stays alight for more than a flash, maybe 0.3 sec, then the scarring on my eyes stays for longer. I look around the group, Will and I unable to communicate with all of them, but just leading by example in what to do. Everyone copies us, our posture and patience.

The sky over Moel Siabod is now looking brighter, just 10 minutes after the first burst of electricity. Another flash goes off, with thunder less than a second or two after, but clearly it’s moved on top of Snowdon and out of our home for the night. As the brighter sky creeps towards us, I can see a smile of relief on Will’s face, I return it with nervous laughter. Still the storm carries on, but always moving North, the lightning to thunder time differential growing.

After a fair while, we pack down our tents with a sense of urgency, and navigate the best way down the hillside. A great course with excellent feedback, and a glitch in the weather on the final day! We head through the old quarry workings. I wonder how many storms the miner’s confronted. T

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A more friendly looking storm – 10 hours after our very rowdy wake up call