The last two years I seem to have gone from one course to another in a bit of a whirlwind, but it still came as a bit of a surprise to find myself on the Mountain Leader Training course a year ago, and now I am looking my assessment in the eye in 2018 so let's revisit that training week....
Mountains are my first love, I am happiest when walking in the hills. It is my therapy, it is where I feel the most at home and if I could I would spend every day of my life in the hills I would. But this alone is not a pre-requisite to attend an ML Training course, you also need to have logged a minimum of 20 Quality Mountain Days in your ML Logbook and have a basic knowledge of navigation. Ooops. I had neither.
But, I wasn't going to let it phase me, after all I can now officially call myself an Outdoor Instructor! Also, despite not 'officially' having 20 Quality Mountain Days I have been hillwalking for over 30 years. And as for the navigation, well I was relying on my charm offensive and huge willingness to learn to help me through that one.
Luckily Will Kilner of Adventures with Will and his co- instructor Martin were excellent. Will's knowledge and enthusiasm were completely infectious, I could have listened to him for hours. I can quite honestly say that I learnt more in that week than I have since I trained to teach, and that took me 9 months.
We were based in Llanberis for the week at the simply stunning Dol Peris Guesthouse. We arrived on the Friday evening to be greeted by the wonderfully laid back Will and soon settled in to the very welcoming accommodation. Gradually over the course of the evening the rest of the participants arrived and to say that we all clicked immediately is an understatement. We got on like a house on fire and this was truly brilliant as it made the week unforgettable in every way and I could have quite happily stayed there forever!
There were 10 of us in the group, 6 men and 4 women. This was great to see. Currently, only 19% of Mountain Training award holders are female. Women represent a much higher figure when we look at people who participate in these outdoor activities, with 36% of active climbers, walkers and mountaineers being female. But we want to close the gap.
As for the learning, it was intense, fast paced and energetic. We walked, we talked, we listened, we learnt. We learnt about the mountains, the geology, the flora and fauna, how to lead, how to guide, how to enthuse, how to make decisions, how to have fun, how and when to when to be serious. We learnt how to encourage and support one another and we had a great day playing with ropes and abseiling down rocks. Trust played a big part here, but I could have done this day after day.
For me the biggest challenge was the Navigation. Its terrible when my husband is a Hill & Moorland Leader and delivers the NNAS Navigation Training that I had so little knowledge. But, Will and Martin were endlessly patient and able to teach in an inclusive way which made me feel supported. And you know what, by the end of the week I had only gone and nailed it.
But then there was Night Navigation (cue dramatic music)........ We set off on our overnight camp in the sunshine, I even had my sunglasses on, but as the weather forecast had predicted (and we had learnt how to read synoptic charts!!), the wind and the mist soon descended. This made for a very exciting 4.5 hours of night nav'.
The first leg was down to Dan. We were camped on the side of a small lake and needed to walk directly east to our first attack point, for 300m. So, we paced, following east for almost 250m. At which point we were confronted with what looked like a sheer drop and we had another 50m to pace. Gulp. It was night time, there was thick fog, the wind was blowing at 50mph and at this point the reality of the night navigation sunk in for me and I could feel myself go white. I quietly said to Martin (the instructor) that I was feeling just a little scared.
We battled on, Dan resolutely following his plan and we found the small pond we were looking for. The night was tough but we all found all our given points, indeed my leg was particularly good if I don't say so myself. For a novice I led us straight to where we needed to be, safely, quietly and I might add I was the only one who kept checking back on the group when leading....the teacher in me I guess.
The navigation needs work, lots of work for me to feel anywhere ready to go on assessment. But I know I can do it, just practice, practice, practice. Oh, which means I need to do LOTS more Quality Mountain Days....well there's a shame.
What an amazing week, people told me that it would be. Having been on so many courses this year I just nodded politely, but really this is THE BEST thing you can ever do. Roll on assessment.
If anyone wants to join me as I prepare I shall be doing shout outs on Instgram and Twitter so keep an eye out!
A HUGE thank you again to Will Kilner and Martin at Adventures with Will. And an even bigger thank you to my husband Tony at Black Grouse Tours for his support. I could not have done it without him.