Last week (14th to 19th October) I travelled to Snowdonia to observe a Mountain Leader Training 6 day course delivered by Rob Johnson & Huw Gilbert of Expedition Guide. I would be observing and helping out with some aspects of the training as I progress to being eligible to become a Mountain Leader Training/Assessment Course Director in the future.
The Mountain Leader Training Course is a step on the way to becoming a Mountain Leader and being recognised as having reached a sufficient level of competence in a number of areas during a 5 day assessment process.
Navigation – the course began with navigation training. Attendees of the training course should have already registered a minimum of 20 ‘Quality Mountain Days’ in their log books with some knowledge of hill & mountain navigation skills being a great benefit to the understanding of skills taught during the training course.
After personal introductions and an introduction and outline of the course the attendees looked at and discussed various maps from differing publishers and of differing scales before heading out onto the mountains.
Whilst out doors the skills the attendees looked at included – using a navigation strategy, recognising map symbols, measuring distance on the map, estimating time, use of ‘Naismith’s Rule’, understanding contours, pacing, taking a bearing, walking on bearings, using ‘back stop’ features, aiming off and more!
My own thought is that a good level of competence in navigation is the foundation of a successful trip into the upland environments. Practicing and keeping up with these techniques helps them become less of a dark art and something that become second nature. It’s important that navigation becomes something that doesn’t take most of the brain function to carry out as other leadership skills are also needed during any trip out!
Mountain Day – the mountain day gives the attendees a solid idea of what is required of a day for it to be considered as a ‘Quality Mountain Day’, having previously being deferred on my Winter Mountain Leader for being considered as not having enough QMD’s despite passing all other aspects of the assessment I think it’s important not to over look any of the requirements…..🤔
Being blessed with excellent though chilly weather was great as we headed into the Carneddau Mountains.
During the day attendees were given leadership legs to do where they gave a briefing to the group, led navigation, looked after the group on any steep ground and were encouraged to speak about any subjects relating to the mountain environments.
Steep Ground/Group Management – whilst working as a Mountain Leader it is highly likely that at some point the leader will have to lead a group up, across or down steep or broken ground. The outline of which is described on Expedition Guides own ‘Security On Steep Gound’ Course page.
During the day the attendees were split into 2 groups with Huw working with the first group and myself the second to monitor, advise and help with any guidance and decision making where/if necessary.
This is an area that is often not practised as much as it should be by Mountain Leader candidates as ideally it requires a small number of willing people to be group members in the candidates care. However with practice comes the ability to make good decisions where needed.
Emergency Use of the Rope – It may be necessary at some time for a Mountain Leader to use a rope in an emergency situation. This could be for a number of reasons such as a person feeling less than confident ascending, descending or crossing steep or broken ground, a situation may arise where a short steep section has to be crossed to allow progress on a route which wasn’t expected or planned for where use of a rope can be used to safeguard overcoming the obstacle. As such it is important that ML candidates know a suitable knot to use, can identify solid anchors to tie to and know how to make themselves safe.
After demonstrations of tying an overhand knot, an overhand on a bite, selecting solid anchors and tying into them, correct belaying techniques the attendees were given time to practice and receive advice before given the task of taking their fellow group members up and down an obstacle safely using the rope plus carrying out an abseil for them selves which would allow them to join group members they had safeguarded to a lower area.
This exercise was followed by ‘confidence roping’. This is a technique by which a nervous client can be assisted across, up or down a section of terrain by using the rope to give them confidence. A rope loop is tied around their waist whilst the leader manages both their progress over the terrain whilst maintaining enough tension on the rope, when having the client directly below them on the fall line, to give the client confidence that they are able to cross the terrain.
Expedition – the final 2 days of the course would be the ‘expedition’ element of the course. During the 2 days the attendees would have the chance to put their existing and new knowledge and skills to practice.
Heading out on the Southern Moelwynion mountains, this is an excellent area for practicing and testing navigational skills as there are many ML standard features available short distances apart, the attendees were given ‘Legs’ to act as leader in charge of all aspects of their leg.
After spending the day navigating towards a suitable site we set up our overnight camp before heading out on a night navigation exercise. Night navigation replicates poor visibility which is regularly encountered when in the mountains and therefore sound navigation skills are required.
After a cold nights sleep we awoke to poor visibility which gave a another and real opportunity to practice poor visibility navigation.
During the six day course subjects such as Emergency Procedures, Water Hazards, Understanding Weather Forecasts and using Synoptic Charts to make a Weather Forecast for that day, Route Planning, Access and Conservation, Legal & Moral obligations of the Leader, discussion of Remote Supervision in a Duke of Edinburgh scheme context.
Summary – the Mountain Leader Training Course holds a special place with me, it is the course that set me off on a path through the Mountain Training schemes and hopefully towards a full time career change.
I only ever intended to do the ML training as a course to improve my own skill base at the time and would highly recommend it anybody seeking to further add to their mountain knowledge even if they do not intend to go on to assessment.
Running over a minimum of 60 hours it is an opportunity to spend time being taught by Mountain Training accredited trainers.
During this observation week I was delighted to be given the chance to also give my own input of my experience and to spend some time teaching skills too. It’s extremely satisfying to be teaching techniques and very nearly be able to physically see when something clicks and the ‘light bulb’ goes on in a trainees eyes.
Big thanks to Rob & Huw for the opportunity to both observe and teach on this Mountain Leader Training and good luck to all those who attended as they progress towards assessment and becoming Mountain Leaders, having completed the number of Quality Mountain Days first of course!