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.

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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

Mont Blanc Preparation Course

Tryfan East Face
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A few weeks ago I was contacted by a company that run Mont Blanc trips out of Chamonix.  They generally run a 7 day alpine climbing introduction, which ends in the summiting of Mont Blanc.  One of their potential clients was unsure whether he was fit enough and skilled enough to make the most of the trip in late August or whether to wait a year and put some more time in.  I agreed to take him out and assess his skills and fitness against that required to climb a 4000m European peak, on the basis and experience I have from this Alpine Climbing Course.

After a few phone calls to Geoff, to organise kit and accommodation, we met up in the Bryn Trych the night before to plan a big day out.  As Geoff had not visited Snowdonia before, I wanted to link up a big day involving Llechog or Clogwyn y Person Arete to try and get a summit of Snowdon involved, maybe with Lliwedd etc.  As hard as I tried I couldn’t think of anything on the Snowdon Massif that could compete with a scrambling day in the Glyderau.  (Let me know if you can think of anything)

East Face Tryfan

Nor Nor Buttress grade 2/3, East Face Tryfan

So we met 8.45 in the Siabod Cafe for a quick panad, before embarking on the day.  Starting from Gwern Gof ….. (the one below Tryfan) … we smashed it up to the Heather Terrace on the East Face in about 45 minutes.  Geoff keen to show his fitness, and me keen not to lag behind!  But it showed it’s toll when Geoff ran out of water before we started the first scramble…!  Nor Nor Buttress variant.

I led each pitch with a focus on fast movement and efficiency rather than education of the rope systems I was using.  With a 50m rope, I body coiled all but about 12m, and made short fast pitches mixed with short roping the less serious sections.  We reached the top junction with the North Ridge at about 11 am.  Went over Tryfan summit, then to the south summit, and down along to the start of Bristly Ridge.

I wanted to find the most challenging route up the ridge, so stayed true to the line straight up and found some very challenging steps.  More than grade 1 for sure.

Bristly Ridge Glyder Fach

Steep sustained gully up Bristly Ridge to Glyder Fach

We topped out from the ridge as the clouds were rolling up and over the plateau of Glyder Fach.  It was like arriving at a 1970’s film set of the Moon landing with a trigger happy dry ice operator.

Glyder Fach

The Moon, I’m mean Glyder Fach

With a quick and irresistible photo on the Cantilever Stone:

Cantilever Stone Glyder Fach

Geology Rocks dude!

We then headed with very little visibility over the top of Glyder Fawr, which is a shame because the views of the Carneddau and Snowdon hills are utterly stunning.  Down the horror show scree slope towards Y Garn, then into Cwm Idwal.

We hit the Idwal cafe for an ice cream at about 4.30pm, a lot of terrain covered and the aim of the course (a bit of rope work and generally walking a long way over mountains fast) was accomplished.

Thanks Geoff for the wonderful day out and great chat along the way.  Don’t go back to work too soon, there are many adventures awaiting you.  Good luck on Monte Bianco. T

Rock Climbing Course and Snowdon Marshalling

clogwyn du'r arddu
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Just had an amazing weekend.  The weather was blissful and the work I was involved in was a pleasure to do, so I have no regrets and don’t feel I’ve missed out by working.  North Wales is epic in this weather, spending time and living in Snowdonia is probably the best place in the world when it’s good.

Kicked off Friday morning, I was running a ‘Intro to Lead Trad Climbing’ course for Jez at JBMountainskills.  James, the client for the two days had a fair bit of indoor bouldering experience behind him, and a little indoor lead climbing.  So we focussed on guidebook reading, gear placements, anchor building, belays, rope management, hanging belays, abseil retreats from a multi-pitch crag, amongst other things.  I love trad climbing.

Saturday night was then one of the best parties I’ve ever been too.  Liam and I set off at about 8PM, I was feeling a little tired, so I insisted we stopped off at a petrol station for a coffee.  In my haste I removed the cup after the frothy milk stage, yet before the coffee stage.  Replaced it with a cup for Liam, which proceeded to fill with an espresso.  Only in the van halfway to the party did I realise that Liam had necked the coffee, and I had a warm cup of milk… probably the opposite of the waking up I needed.

There was a 3000watt music and light system run by generators on a beach surrounded by high cliffs.  It was the longest day of the year, the tide was out and we only got 3 hours of darkness.  I left the ravers to keep on going, but needed sleep for the next day at work.  Unfortunately the front seats of Liam Flemming’s van, were surprisingly uncomfortable and didn’t allow me to get more than 30 minutes without cramp.  Still an incredible night.

Sunday was another stonking sunny day… I can’t remember seeing a cloud in the sky.  It was the annual charity 3 peaks for a company called Kier Group.  They managed to raise over £26,000 which is a fantastic effort.  I set off up Snowdon and based myself just past the halfway house, clipboard and radio in hand.  I was there for about 6-7 hours when the final group made it back down to me, and we could all head back to base for chicken curry and chips.  A wonderful day spent sat in the sunshine, chatting to the numerous people walking past, playing with various dogs, eating a lot of food, reading my book and luckily not having to do any rescuing, searching or first aid!

Looks like the weather is set to change Wednesday night, maybe a good thing so I can catch up on all the admin I’ve been putting off, tidy the house a bit, and give my forearms a rest from all the rock climbing!

Until then I have a day out on my Climbing Course to prepare for, enjoy the weather all.  T

clogwyn du'r arddu

View of clogwyn du’r arddu from my seat on Snowdon.

Intro to Outdoor Rock – Trad and Sport Climbing Course

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This weekend I was joined by a keen bunch; Liam, Pralad, Sam and Karl on an Outdoor Rock Climbing Course.  They all had about 6 months indoor experience with some lead climbing.

Day one we headed out in glorious weather to Tremadog upper tier… the walk in nearly killed them, but we were safe once rock climbing.  We hit up a few of the harder VS and HVS routes on the left hand end of the crag.

Rock Climbing Tremadog Upper Tier

Pralad with a lack of colour co-ordinated plastic jugs to hold

Firstly I took the guys up top to show them how I was rigging the ropes to hold them.  Placing a few wires and hexes then backing everything up with the iron stakes that are insitu at the crag.  It really is an SPA climbing paradise.

After a stiff warm up (K.M.A. HS 4a), we got into discussing all the kit that I had along with me for the day.  Dyneema Slings of differing lengths, Wallnuts, Rocks, Hexcentrics, Dragon Cams, 4CUs, quickdraws and extenders.

Quatre Fois, Tremadog Upper Tier

Quatre Fois, Tremadog Upper Tier

Next up, they each climbed the cracks of the VS (Madog VS 4c), with a steep learning curve in the art of toe / foot jamming and embracing the pain.  Except Karl, who lay-backed the whole crack sequence, again!

For lunch, I was entertained watching the guys try and eat yoghurts without spoons, a great crag food!  At least they bought a picnic blanket with them… I’m not sure who lugged that up the walk in, but good effort that man.

Orchid Flowers in Bloom

Orchids, North Wales

Next up was Myomancy (HVS 5b), which is a really good and interesting route.  Whilst a pair of the lads were climbing on this, I was talking through belaying up leaders to stances.  Two point belays with a sling, and with just rope.  Three point belays with ropes all coming back to clove hitches on an HMS carabiner.  It was about this point of complexity that we decided to go sport climbing the next day, and rein it in a little!  Though I could see the minds of the three engineers ticking away watching the shiny kit like magpies.  I don’t think I’ve ever had so much interest in demonstrating a 3to1 mechanical advantage hoist of a climber.

For a warm down to the day and as the light turned fantastic for photos, we headed up Quatre Fois (VS 4c).  Unfortunately the wind dropped, conditions were absolutely still and delightful, BUT for the midges too… they promptly came out and attacked us all.  Most of us fine, with a few little itches, but Liam’s legs suddenly showed signs of chicken-pox and were swelling up.  Time to call it a day. 9.30 meet tomorrow at the service station on the A55 for some Sport Climbing.

More Than This, Castle Inn Quarry

Karl warming up on More Than This, Castle Inn Quarry

Day Two; Castle Inn Quarry.  Another North Wales climbing gem.  This place is an intro to sport heaven. Routes from french 3 through to 7a, with a significant number around 4-5.

Sport Climbing Course

Sam working out his clipping tactics

I kicked off by leading and putting up a rope on Mogadishu and More Than This.  Whilst climbing and simultaneously talking through the safest way to clip the bolts, manage the rope and organise the lower off.

Ffrind Castle Inn Quarry

Steep section at the top of Ffrind, Castle Inn

Then it was for the guys to lead and set up One Fine Day.  This is another fantastic way to Learn to Lead as the route itself is french grade 3, so all concentration can be put into the lead climbing without any worry of falling off.

North Wales Rock Climbing

Hidden Gem, Lost World, Castle Inn, North Wales

After a few plays with the Beta-stick (engineers remember), we headed for Nain, Ffrind, Taid and Hidden Gem.  The team pretty much clean onsight/flashed all of these routes which was a really great effort, especially on such a hot sweaty day.

Sport Climbing Course Crag Castle Inn

Super friendly intro to Sport Climbing Crag.

Nain Castle Inn Quarry, North Wales

Sam pulling through awkward moves on Nain

The top of Hidden Gem is another great site for learning, that I often use.  The bolt belay includes two hangers close together with a ring through each.  As well as this, as the instructor, I can scramble around the side and watch/supervise the cleaning out of the route.  This involves the climber clipping into the belay, pulling through a couple of meters of slack rope, threading it through the bolts, retying their knot, then cleaning out all the quickdraws placed on lead as they come down.  It’s a fairly complicated process, which on the first few times, is great to practice at ground level, then with the eyes of a qualified Mountaineering Instructor (or experienced and knowledgeable climber) watching on.

How to strip a sport climb

Liam cleaning out the anchors / belays and stripping the route

All these routes in the stonking heat had taken their toll.  So I quickly lead and put the draws in Route 2, acting as a bit of a test piece for Liam.  He moved quickly and precisely up the route with never a glimmer of falling.  Good effort, star player.

Nice one guys, pleasure to climb with you.

Rock Climbing and Professional Photography

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Mark: Who’s up for a climb tomorrow

Me: Yes, something easy though as my skins worn out from personal climbing and teaching rock courses.

Mark: Meet in Pete’s Eat cafe at 10:00

[next day in Pete’s]

Mark: Oh, we’ve got David Simmonite coming along too.  He’s taking shots for a few articles coming up in Climber Magazine.

Me: Ah, poor skin.  Oh well…!

Mark Reeves telling a riveting story to Ian Lloyd-Jones and Dave Simmonite

Mark Reeves telling a riveting story to Ian Lloyd-Jones and Dave Simmonite

So, after casually signing up for a few routes in the sun, we ended up doing four or five fantastic climbs and hidden gems.  Often doing the moves 3 or 4 times from different angles and pulling hugely unnecessary shapes to look inspiring for the camera.

The routes will all be described in the article probably out in July… well worth looking up and heading out with them on a ticklist.  T