Rock Climbing Instructor, the new Single Pitch Award

So the SPA has been around a long time, especially when you consider it was the SPSA before that (the extra S was for supervisor), but it’s days are numbered! In April ’18 the award will be replaced by the Rock Climbing Instructor scheme. We’ll be continuing to provide the SPA until then, after which we will be providing RCI training and assessment courses.

If you’re already registered for the SPA scheme, you’ll have received an email (if you’ve kept your email address up to date!) from Mountain Training explaining the changes.

The first thing is there’s nothing to worry about, change is good!

– If you’re already an SPA, great! You will continue to be an SPA, plus you’ll also be an RCI. Mountain Training will update your details.

– If you’re an SPA trainee, you can either do your assessment before April ’18 and qualify as an SPA, you will then also be an RCI, or you can do your assessment after April ’18 and pass as an RCI.

– If you’re yet to do your SPA training, you can still do it prior to April ’18 and this will count as your training for your RCI.

– If you’re registered for the SPA, but won’t don the training before April, no drama, your registration for SPA is valid as registration for RCI too.

You’ll see that the change won’t alter your timeframe, nor will they alter the scope of the scheme, where you can work or what you can do with the award. You won’t be paying any more registration fees and assessments will be the same price (with us, other providers may alter their prices, who knows), training courses will increase in cost though (our price will be £190) because…..

The new RCI training will differ in that it is an extra day, now three days, to incorporate a full day indoors at a wall. If you already hold your CWA (to be renamed CWI) or are CWA / CWI trained, you’ll be able to attend a two day training, if a provider is running one where all candidates are CWA / CWI trained or assessed.

Rock climbing improver course

More indoor fun times on the RCI, great news!

The scope of the scheme:
– Teach climbing skills.
– Take people climbing, bouldering and abseiling.
– Manage groups safely in these activities.

The pre reqs to do the RCI training course:
– Lead 15 trad routes (as per SPA)
– Lead 15 routes at a climbing wall
– Lead 15 sport routes
– Plus the normal 18 years old, member of a Mountaineering Council etc

The consolidation period stays pretty similar but specifies a minimum of 20 group supervision sessions – 10 indoors, 10 outdoors.

The assessment pre reqs again stay similar to the SPA with the addition of:
– 30 climbing wall leads at F4 or above
– 10 sport routes at F4 or above

You’ll find the syllabus will change slightly, but for the most part this’ll just be wording to clarify the points. The RCI will though look at how to manage other staff (assistants), and also consider the use of fixed gear like lower offs on sport routes.

So I guess put simply, the Rock Climbing Instructor scheme is for the most part the same as the SPA, but better! We’ll have time to cover more and help you become a better instructor.

In addition to the RCI, there will also be a Rock Climbing Development Instructor qualification allowing people to teach leading at single pitch crags, this will be a great award, but expect the pre reqs to be high (rightly so!), maybe 60 VS trad routes, 60 6a sport routes, 20 days as an SPA / RCI and for a 4 day training course and a 3 day assessment. We hope to be providers for that scheme too but we’ll have to wait and see!

If we can be of any help with your qualification journey, or if you have any questions just get in touch!

You can check out the Mountain Training website for further updates.

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Working on ML training and assessment courses is flipping ace!

My brother brought me to N Wales when I was 15 and it has lead to a lifetime of fun filled adventures all over the world, for which I’m extremely grateful. The ML award has been vital to my career, enabling me to take groups out in the mountains and leading on to my Mountaineering Instructor Award and Winter Mountain Leader, so I feel very privileged to help others on their own journey.  

There’s a few steps to being able to work on ML courses and a few specific terms that’ll make more sense if I explain them now…

Provider: In my case this is my company – JB Mountain Skills, the role of the provider is to look after all the admin type stuff. They must be approved by Mountain Training, and briefly, they will have shown they have a market for ML courses and will be beneficial to Mountain Training.

Director: The person who’s in charge of delivering the course, ie. me, Jez Brown. A director must also be approved by Mountain Training and hold their MIA & WML or IML & WML, as well as having worked on at least 6 ML courses. They will also need to have a diverse range of CPD and tick a few other boxes too.

Staff: A second member of staff will be needed to deliver at least part of every ML course and will work under the direction of the course director. Whilst they don’t need to be approved by Mountain Training, they need to be an experienced ML as a minimum and have worked at least 20 days as an ML, most staff will have far in excess of this though.

Now that boring stuff’s out the way….

rock climbing warm up

How I like to start my day…

Before the course even starts I’ll have spoken to everyone on the course, as the provider, dealing with the admin and checking DLogs. The day before the course I’ll have a look at the candidates DLogs and make a few brief notes, are they meeting the minimum requirements, does anything jump out? Sometimes there’ll be something unusual in there like a trip to some far flung place or an epic that provides a good talking point. I can’t say I read every last note on each entry of the DLog as it’s pretty time consuming, but I’ll read some if they look interesting and sometimes I’ll have to hunt around the DLog to find everything – log everything, whether it’s a QMD or a winter climb or a Himalayan exped, it all helps build a picture of you as a candidate.

Day 1, I always meet in Pete’s Eats, it’s a North Walian institution as much as it is a cafe! I don’t like to spend too long indoors so I try to keep things fairly brief, we’ll have some quick introductions and have a chat about the week ahead. We’ll also get straight in to chatting about the weather forecast and analysing a synoptic chart. Because this is an assessment, I expect the candidates to be leading most of the stuff we chat about including telling me what kit we need for the day, group shelters and such like, then we’ll decide where to go for the day. Maybe Cwm Glas and we’ll be on the 1:25k maps.

We try and calm the nerves a bit, we know it’s a stressful time, by giving everyone some pretty straight forward legs to start with, fairly obvious points like stream / footpath / field boundary junctions etc. We’re looking for people to get us to the points and look after the rest of the group on the way there, maybe imparting a bit of knowledge along the way about anything mountain related, whether you’ve spotted a Sundew plant or tell us about the hydro electric developments you can see en route to Cwm Glas, or anything else – I love all this because I’ll usually learn something myself! For those not leading the leg, you still have to concentrate as you may well not know where you’re going and you’ll have to relocate when we get there… Assessors won’t always tell you if you’re correct, not to be a pain in the butt, rather to give you a chance to correct yourself should you realise you’ve made an error- but absolutely do not assume because we haven’t said “yes that’s right” that you’re not on the correct spot. Sometimes we will say yes, sometimes we may say “if we are there, where’s the stream shown on the map” or something similar, to try and elicit some justification points. Following can often be harder, especially when the assessor is chatting away to you, remember we all want to have a nice day out  in the hills too!

When you get to a point, I have no issue with candidates taking their time, having a quick look around etc., to make sure they are 100% sure where they are, I’d rather you do that than rush and give me a wrong answer.

As the day progresses we’ll probably start to navigate to smaller features, re-entrants, spurs and such like. At times I’ll let you just get on with it, other times I might ask you to let the group know what your plan is, along with any timings you’ve worked out. Remember to pick appropriate safe lines through any spicier terrain and keep checking that everyone is doing ok.

At the end of the day we’ll head back to Pete’s for a little review of what we’ve done and run through the home paper which is a pretty chilled affair, it raises some good points for discussions and lets us cover some of the less practical aspects of the syllabus.

mountain leader course

Navigation can be fun!

Day 2, meeting in Pete’s again we’ll have a look at the synoptic chart again and see what the weather has in store for us, we might then compare that to some forecasts such as MWIS to see if they match what has been said. On this day we’ll be going on some more rocky terrain to focus on security on steep ground stuff, group management and there’ll still be some nav involved. Somewhere like Tryfan is ideal for this day and the candidates will be taking a rope between two and a helmet each (the helmet is because we are planning to use the rope, unlike working as an ML when the use of the rope is not planned). As an assessor I won’t be carrying any extra kit than a normal mountain day, but I will make sure I have my camera because I can usually get some nice action shots! You’d also notice me taking notes on this day because there’s a lot going on and I want to be able to refer to everything I’ve seen, in part to make a decision on the candidates performance, but also to help give them feedback on specific things I’ve seen.

Arriving at the bottom of Tryfan’s North Ridge, with slightly heavier packs, the candidates will take it in turns to lead sections of the journey and at this point it’s more about route finding and safeguarding the group than nav with the map. I’m looking for people to pick appropriate lines, spot, shepherd, give good advice and such like, plus I still want people to impart some knowledge, maybe some geological gems as we’re in the Ogwen Valley and there’s so much there to talk about. I might ask some questions to the group at times too, “Why are there not many trees? Should there be?”

mountain leader rope work

Security on steep ground can be fun too!

This day requires a lot of judgement from the candidates, I’m looking for them to make the correct decisions of when to apply the various techniques in their tool box such as when to spot and when to get the rope out and if they do get the rope out, what kind of belay are they going to choose, and then how do they safeguard themselves? At some point they will need to use a rope and I’m not just looking at the setup, I’m wanting to see it used safely and effectively, I sometimes see a perfect setup, used perfectly until right at the end the candidate takes the person off the rope whilst they’re still in a precarious position, where just moving them on a couple of metres would have been much safer. At some point the candidates will probably be doing an abseil as well, and there’ll definitely do some confidence roping, which I often see being done really badly, make sure you practice it! Bent arms, twist in the rope in the lower hand, appropriately tight, good stance etc.

“Right folks, where are we?” A quick relocation somewhere on the ridge often catches people out, I’m careful where I do this, there’s a few good points where it’s not to hard if you think about it, but in some spots it would be super hard. Contours, contours, contours.

We might head down the West side and do some nav on the way down, maybe a leg each. At this point it probably enters my mind we were supposed to have done the 5 minute presentations on the hill that the candidates have been asked to prepare. Oh well, we’re out of time, we’ll do it back at Pete’s…

Scrambling course Tryfan the Canon

Taking a break!

On each day, but especially this day, I’d be giving out bits of feedback along the way and sharing any top tips that I feel may be useful, an assessment must be an extension of the training regardless of how well the candidate is doing.

At Pete’s, after a review of the day, we’ll listen to the presentations and probably have a chat about any salient points, before having a quick chat about the upcoming expedition… I’ll normally ask the candidates to come up with a route plan, having given them some key points that I want to get to. Snowdonia is a big place with so many awesome route choices, one of my favourites though is the Cnicht area of the Moelwyns, check it out on the map, lots of lovely contour features! If I’m happy with what I’ve seen day 2, we may not take ropes on the exped and wouldn’t normally take a helmet, however the exped gives further opportunity to see some rope work if I haven’t yet seen quite enough from anyone.

Day 3, we won’t meet ’til about 1030 so it’s time for a lie in! I wish, despite the best will in the world I won’t have packed ready the day before, so I’ll be up on time and sorting my kit and getting the head torch batteries out of the charger and such like. I’ll also be packing too much food, I usually do, 2018 will be the year of eating more healthily on expeditions I think, it’s too easy to pack junk food, which used to keep me happy but these days it makes me grumpy (and who wants a grumpy assessor!)

Mountain footwear boots shoes

What to wear?

When we meet, guess what? We’ll look at the synoptic charts again, followed by a bit of MWIS, then have a look at the route plan the team has come up with.

I once got to the parking spot at Gelli Lago and one of the team realised they’d left their boots back at Pete’s, don’t let that be you! Check and double check! That said, we all have little mishaps, I’ve eaten my dinner with a compass as a makeshift spoon before and I once took the pole set from a different tent (2 poles instead of 3..!) which made for a flappy tent…

Similarly to the previous day the candidates take it turns to lead legs, on the 1:25k again, while everyone else relocates each time, it’s important to manage the pace, we’ve all got bigger packs on, and it’s a full on few days, so make life easier for everyone, slow & steady! Up and over Cnicht and before you know it we’ll be at the camp spot where before anything else we’ll have a little chat, lead by the candidates about what makes a good camping spot and what considerations there are when taking a group out then we’ll get on with putting our tents up and getting sorted. I normally aim to get in to camp somewhere around 1700, after having a wander around and seeing how everyone is getting on it’s dinner then power nap time for me!

I’ll wake up to the sound of my phone’s alarm going off and reach for my head torch, it’ll be dark now which can only mean one thing, night nav fun times! The time depends on what time of year it is, in the height of summer it could be 2300, this time of year though it would be closer to 1900. Anyway after quickly getting the right layers back on, it’s time to bag up and get back out there for another few hours. Remember why we’re doing night nav, it’s to simulate poor visibility, so if the vis has been really poor already, we might not do shed loads of night nav, but expect to be out for a while. I’m looking for candidates to navigate precisely and with simple, bomb proof tactics, still keeping an eye on the group of course and not taking us on any terrain that’s too spicy. Relocating at night is hard, so make sure you concentrate when following legs too, especially as you’re probably a bit tired and weary. Keep plugging away, try and remember to enjoy it and it’ll soon be bed time, phew!

mountain leader navigation

Night nav fun times

At some point during night nav I’ll try and get some signal to check the weather forecast for the next day, and let’s be honest, I’ll probably get a cheeky update on to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter…!

A review of the day and chat about the next day and that’s day 3 done!

Day 4, I like my sleep so I’ll have asked everyone to be ready to roll at 0900, with their gear all packed and their 1:50k maps at the ready. I’ll make sure I’m packed and ready before that, having had the standard porridge and a hot drink to warm the core and fuel me for the day. I think for a lot of people this could be the toughest day, out for another full day with another camp to come. Did your kit admin pass the test, is everything still dry and organised? That can be hard when the weather is grim, as it often is, but it’s all part of the game so keep on top of it, you need to be able to operate with ease to have the head space and capability to look after your group when working as an ML.

More of the same today but on the 1:50k and with longer legs normally. If anyone needs to redeem themselves in terms of steep ground stuff, I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for those opportunities too.

snowdonia camping, campcraft mountain course

Say cheese!

Into camp around 1600, and it’s time to get the tents up again, hope they’re still dry inside..! Night nav fun times? Well that depends on the previous night’s performances. Did everyone smash it? Great, no night nav. Did some people fall below the standard and need another opportunity to prove themselves? Oh well, out again then I’m afraid, that’s all of us. I absolutely would not say “We’re all going out because Mr/Mrs X didn’t do well enough”, it would just be a case of we’re all going out and everyone will be doing legs. I love night nav, it’s awesome being out in the mountains at night, but I love my sleeping bag too, so I’m happy either way!

Day 5, 0900 and we’re ready to go again, it’s nearly over. I look around, and think how people are looking, we don’t defer people for looking tired so don’t worry about that! It’s just interesting to see how people are coping.

Think back to what we haven’t covered in the week yet. We haven’t mentioned emergency procedures yet, so at some point during the morning we’ll have a chat about that and maybe do some improvised carries. What about river crossings? Who doesn’t love a river crossing? Well, me for a start! We’ll absolutely have a chat about them, mostly about avoiding them, but tactics for crossing them when we need to. Will we do them, sometimes, depends where we are, what the water conditions are and the particular group.

“Right, lets relocate!” “What info will Mountain Rescue need?”…

We finish back at the vehicles around 1200. It’s all over, there’s nothing more to be done save the reviews, debriefs and results.

winter skills course scotland

Winter ML next?

Back at Pete’s again, or maybe the Siabod to mix it up, we’ll review the week and chat about what happens next etc., before having individual debriefs. These can be happy or sad times, that depends entirely on the candidates. As an assessor I think the acid test is whether I’d be happy for them to take my loved ones out in the mountains. Put yourself in the assessors shoes, it’s a massive responsibility to pass someone and we take into account the candidates performance over the whole course, I’ll have chatted to any other course staff to make sure I have all the info possible and give a lot of thought not only to the result, but also to the feedback.

Most people pass, that’s ace, that’s what we want. The ones that pass are the ones that have consolidated well and put in the practice.

Some people defer, take the positives from that though! That means you’ve met the mark in some areas, awesome, just a little more effort and you’ll have passed in no time. You get really constructive feedback and an action plan, and I’m always available after the course after the dust has settled to have a chat whether that’s a day, a week or a month later, it’s not always the time to take on loads of info.

It’s possible to fail, this is rare and only happens when people have not put any effort in.

Done!

Well, not quite! Home time is followed by a well earned shower and then it’s time to sort and dry any kit that needs drying. I might need it again the next day! The course director also has to fill out a course report online with Mountain Training which takes a bit more time, personally I tend to do that the day after. I also have a personal reflection on the course, what went well, what could be better etc., none of us ever stop learning and I strive to never stop improving so reflection is an important part of the process for me.

Well, that was a monster blog so good effort if you made it to the end, your ML will seem easy in comparison!

Good luck to anyone going through the scheme!

As ever, check out the Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds for more of what we’ve been up to!

There are also more blogs on ML top tips etc on our Articles section

Running a Single Pitch Award assessment isn’t all about sitting around with a stern face…!

The day actually starts the evening before the Single Pitch Award (SPA) assessment, with a final check of the candidate’s DLogs on the Mountain Training website when I’ll make a few notes on each person. It’s a good system, if you keep on top of logging your routes and sessions it’s pretty quick to do, it only becomes tiresome if you build up a backlog. From a Course Director’s point of view it’s really easy to use and I can check everyone’s experience very quickly, I’m a fan.

After that I’ll go and get all my kit sorted for the day, I like my extra minutes in bed in the morning! My personal kit all gets packed up along with plenty of warm kit, especially at this time of year, and I’ll put in plenty of other kit in case the candidates need to borrow anything such as extra static ropes, gri gris, abseil fig 8’s and a couple of guide books. It’s good to have plenty available on the day.

As per normal I’ll wake up before my alarm and check any emails, browse Facebook, see what odd thing Donald Trump has done to make the news today… My courses run from Pete’s Eats in Llanberis which is ideal and only five minutes away and when I get there I meet the candidates and have a quick chat.

spa assessor walesOften I’ll know one or two of them from a training course or something else we may have done together which is always nice, it’s equally great to be meeting new people going through the scheme. I still remember exactly what it was like when I was starting my climbing career and we all still go through various assessments so I know that it can be a stressful experience! I try my best to make sure my courses are as relaxed as possible, my feeling is people perform best when they’re comfortable and it’s not my place to be putting unnecessary pressure on people because I’m sure they’re putting enough of that on themselves! I try and set out what’s expected of them, which shouldn’t be anything surprising as they’ve already done a SPA training course.

We run through the rough plan for the couple of days, check that people have the right kit etc, talk about the scheme and Mountain Training, the possible results (Pass, defer, fail) and then we head out to a nearby crag for the bulk of day one, which for me is mainly focused on group work.

single pitch award assessment coursLion Rock is my normal first choice, as it’s super close and ticks all the SPA boxes, knowing it well there’s also some less well travelled parts that mean even if it’s busy I can find us some space. This is where the assessment really starts for the candidates! As much as I’m facilitating a nice chilled environment, I am still assessing so I’m taking in as much info as possible, what kind of harness have they got? Does it look used? Have they put it on correctly without faffing? I start asking some questions too like does this crag meet the SPA requirements, do they know the SPA requirements? What hazards are there here?

Getting things moving along I set the first task, I’d like them to set up something to get a group of novices climbing and I give each candidate a rough area to work in, to which someone will probably ask “do you mean a bottom rope?” I probably won’t answer this directly, not to be awkward, but I’m trying to work out if the candidate is thinking about the right sort of things.

As the candidates get to work, so do I. I’ve got a maximum of four candidates, that I potentially know very little about so although I’m trying to give them breathing space, I also need to keep a close eye on what they’re doing, with a lot of my focus on their personal safety, checking that they’re appropriately attached to something good when they are operating on or near an edge. I’ll wander around checking anchors and just having a general look at what’s going on, I’ll chat to people a bit as well, maybe about what they’re doing, but equally just having a nice chat to get to know them, I always want to enjoy my time at the crag. From an assessor’s point of view there’s loads going on now, so I will make the occasional note, but I’ll be sure to do this out of sight as much as possible, I don’t think it’s very nice to be sat looking at someone’s setup making notes.

Once people have completed their task, I’ll pop over and have a chat about it, ask a few questions and sometimes make a suggestion or two. Normally these are fine tuning points, I’d be gutted if even really slick people didn’t learn something from my assessments! At other times I might not be happy that what they’ve setup is safe to use, in which case we’ll have a chat and I’ll give them the chance to rectify it, ideally working it out themselves – we all make mistakes on assessments, if you do, it’s important to deal with it and move on, you’re unlikely to defer on one error.

single pitch award assessment walesAs the candidates have just set up bottom ropes (hopefully!), we then go and use them, with each candidate running a mini session on their route involving the rest of us, I may throw in the odd problem, if it’s appropriate to the context of the route. At this point I’m looking to see clear demonstrations and instructions, before the safe management of a belay system and climb, hopefully involving all of us. I normally ask the candidates individually what belay system they would use out of choice, but may ask them to do something else so each person is doing something a bit different. This gives us a chance for each candidate to review a system’s pros and cons once we’ve seen some different things going on.

Next! Group abseil time, this is probably the most complicated setup an SPA holder will do, it’s not rocket science but it does have a few different things going on, and people know they’ll probably have to solve a problem when their time comes to send someone down it, usually a stuck hair or stuck on a ledge problem. Today, we’ve moved away from the main part of Lion Rock because it became busy with a couple of other groups running taster sessions. I’ll try my best to move out of other people’s way where possible, because I can probably make things work in places where it might not be as good for them. Whilst setting up the group abseil in the new location (Spotty Walls area of Lion Rock), I find myself a good vantage point to see everyone doing their thing and make a few notes on what people have done so far, if I don’t do it, I forget! As I mentioned earlier, it’s important that people keep learning so if there’s anything I’ve seen that I think the group will benefit from chatting about, I’ll make a note of that too.

learn to lead trad rock climb wye valleyOnce a couple of people are ready to go, I get one candidate to manage another one down their abseil whilst I observe. I’m looking for them to get the abseiler safely to the abseil, give them a good brief and to have positioned themselves in an appropriate spot. Was the abseiler on a safety rope well before the edge? Is the candidate safe and able to see all the way to the bottom? Do they keep hold of the dead rope? Part way down the route I introduce a problem such as hair stuck in the abseil device, I’m looking for the candidate to solve this in a safe manner and fairly slickly, it doesn’t need to be fast, slow and steady is good for me. The candidates have to be on top of their game here and so do I, I’ll have already given the set up the once over, but I’m also watching what they’re tieing off / releasing really closely. It’s usually pretty obvious who has practiced this and who hasn’t! As the next person running an abseil has a ledge halfway down their route, their candidate becomes crag fast on it, so they get a different problem that requires another method to solve it, but again I’m looking for the same things – safe and slick.

SPA climbing course kit dmm dragon camsMust be lunch time! After a good sandwich and a hot drink I’m ready to go again, so it’s time to get the candidates working again! I’ve set a few tasks, so one runs us through harness checks, one runs us through putting our harness on properly, one talks us through a variety of belay devices and the other talks us through how to place a cam well. One of the candidates didn’t quite nail the group abseil setup as well as I’d like so I send them off to do this again in another spot, whilst the others place some gear and equalise these with slings, before I send them off to do another setup for novices (yep, that’s a bottom rope!), each in a different spot to what they’ve used already. One of the candidate’s nut placements weren’t quite what I was after so I send them to a spot that relies on nuts, to try and get them to redeem themselves, which they do. Crag knowledge pays dividends for me to be able to create the scenarios I need to see.

After a bit of chat about the environment and our responsibilities at the crag, it’s time to head to the Beacon climbing wall for the indoor element of the assessment, and I ask the candidates to be ready to deliver a couple of games that have a learning point attached to them. When we get to the Beacon, it’s cafe o’clock first, which gives us a chance to go over the home paper that candidates get sent prior to the assessment.

single pitch award indoors spaAfter a bit of a warm up and the candidates running their games – which I’m looking to be fun, educational and safe, we harness up. The indoor wall gives me a great chance to see lots of belaying, catching falls (just on a top rope), tieing off the belay plate etc. and we’ll use a couple of different belay devices. As with the outdoor stuff there maybe a few problems to solve as well, even though the key is always problem avoidance in the first place!

After a quick debrief and a chat about day two, that’s about it for the day!

I’m usually pretty tired after an SPA day to be honest. You might think the assessor just sits around thinking about what’s for tea, occasionally getting up for a little stroll, but while I may sometimes sit down for a bit if I find a comfy rock, my mind is constantly working. What’s he doing there? Is she safe? Has he got an equal number of strands coming out the back of that knot? Is that krab done up? How we doing for time? What are we doing next? What more do I need to see from each person? Have they met the standards so far?

Whilst my candidates are still learning, the same goes for me, I learn something every day at work and I believe it’s imperative that we all review at the end of each day and put anything appropriate into practice.

Hopefully the waffle above gives you a bit of an idea of what to expect from an SPA assessment, and a little insight into an assessor’s thoughts. Every SPA provider has their own way of doing things, their own styles, their own itineraries, so it goes without saying that these thoughts are only my own ramblings!

To summarise what I’m looking for from candidates…

  • Safety
  • Efficiency rather than speed
  • Appropriate setups
  • An understanding of what they’re doing
  • Thought about the “group”
  • Enthusiasm

And from me…

  • Safety, keeping myself safe and also the candidates
  • Maximising time through efficiency
  • Creating a relaxed, friendly, learning atmosphere
  • A robust, fair assessment
  • Picking appropriate crags, often to make the most of wind direction etc
  • Enthusiasm (that’s easy, I live for climbing!)

If you’re looking for an SPA course, or anything check out the rest of the website for more information and don’t hesitate to get in touch if we can be of any help!

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I was recently sent a couple of bits of kit to test, a jacket and a tent by a relatively new British company called OEX. I didn’t know a huge amount about the brand to be honest other than it is sold through Go Outdoors and a D of E group I worked with last year was using OEX tents, which had performed admirably in some pretty brutal weather.

When the parcel arrived I sort of knew what to expect from the tent as I’d checked it out online, the Lynx EV 1 is a one man tent costing £169.99 (if you’ve got a Go Outdoors card) and perhaps more importantly weighs in at 1.65kgs. The jacket however was a mystery, I can’t say I was expecting great things but I was pleasantly surprised when I got it out, it looks smart!

OEX Lynx EV 1 Tent
Let me start by saying I’m a bit spoilt by currently owning a Terra Nova Laser Comp as my lightweight tent, which retails at over £300, but can be had for significantly less. I’ve written a brief bit about this tent before (kit blog here), even though it’s the tent I love to hate, it’s still the tent I reach for though when I’m camping on my own for work due to the fact it weighs less than 1kg. So, the Lynx costs a lot less, weighs a bit more, but is it any good. Well yes, it’s really good.

Putting the tent up is really straight forward, it’s a one pole affair (decent Yunan T6 aluminium, better than most), but it is a funky pole with four branches which makes quite a stable frame. The inner clips onto the poles with some fairly naff looking plastic clips, I’m a little dubious about how long they’ll last, then you chuck the siliconised outer on which has a few little tie in points to attach it along the pole. The tie in points are pretty fiddly with cold hands after a day out in the cold, as I found out working on a Mountain Leader training. On the same ML training it was pretty windy overnight but the tent wasn’t flappy or unstable so big plus points there. Inner pitching first tents tend to be more stable, with the disadvantage of the inner getting wet if you’re not quick in poor weather but personally I’ve never had a problem with this, just be quick!. A nice touch is that it comes with a proper dry bag which is actually big enough to easily take the tent without a battle.

At 6’3″ I fit in it comfortably, although getting in and out of the entrance is a bit of a squeeze, I can however sit up at the front end of the tent for cooking and eating etc. The porch is a lttle on the small side, once your pack and boots are in there, you’re not left with much room for cooking and the porch has one of those silly door mat type things which I find pretty pointless. Inside the roomy interior you get a pocket to tuck the door into (simple but really good idea) and a couple of other decent sized ones (which is better than my Terra Nova which for some silly reason has none!)

I’d be more than happy to spend more time in this tent, I guess it’s main competition is some thing like the Wild Country Zephyros which costs a bit less and weighs a touch less with more porch space, but it isn’t as stable. I see a lot of candidates with those tents on ML courses.

Mountain Leader Instructor Snowdonia OEX Tent

OEX Hydra Stretch 2.5 Jacket
So in a similar vein to the tent, my normal go to jacket is a Patagonia Super Alpine which retails at, wait for it, £450. Now these jackets are aimed at wildly different markets, but I use my kit year round and all over the world so I expect high standards. And this is why the OEX one has been such a surprise! It retails at £75, yep that’s correct £75, without even considering it’s performance it looks like a jacket costing a lot more.

My test jacket was a medium (weighing 370g) and it was perfect in the body fitting my athletic/skinny frame, but was a little short in the arms, I do often have to compromise somewhere in terms of fit though. Stretchy fabric, two big chest pockets that easily swallow a map and pit zips that do a good job of venting excess heat are great, the hood though wasn’t any good for me as a climber and mountaineer though as firstly it doesn’t fit over a helmet properly and secondly the draw cord adjusters for it are not retained so fling around in windy conditions. When one of those flicks you in the face it feels like your going to die (well, nearly).

I’ve had this jacket out in some honking conditions and it’s done really well, it seems just as waterproof as my Gore Tex Pro kit, but doesn’t seem to breathe quite as well as I expected. For me this is a great, lightweight hill walking jacket or to have stowed in my rucksack when I’m running rock climbing courses, it’s comfortable to wear, looks good and keeps the weather out. Seems like a bargain to me.

OEX jacket mountaineering instructor north wales

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Photos by me, or courtesy of Ilana Miller.

Loads more pictures…

OEX lynx tent snowdonia mountain instructor 5

Neat adjusters, which are glove friendly

OEX lynx tent snowdonia mountain instructor 2

The pole hooks

OEX lynx tent snowdonia mountain instructor 1

Putting it up for the first time in Cwm Glas

OEX lynx tent snowdonia mountain instructor

Organised mess

OEX lynx tent snowdonia mountain instructor 3

Nice streamlined shape

OEX lynx tent snowdonia mountain instructor 5

Mountain Leader expedition

OEX lynx tent snowdonia mountain instructor 4

OEX Stretch jacket snowdonia mountain instructor

Night nav on a Mountain Leader training

12th March 2016

Winter Mountain Leader

I was quite looking forward to my Winter Mountain Leader assessment course, I was super well prepared and I do a lot of navigation and winter mountaineering / climbing so didn’t think I’d struggle. Then I got flu the day I needed to drive up to Scotland, doh!

The drive up was a struggle! Maybe the crux of the whole week.

First things first, I passed with no real drama, other than really struggling with the flu, but I’ll write up what goes on at a WML assessment for those who are interested and for the benefit of those going through the scheme.

The WML qualifies you to lead groups in the mountains when there are winter conditions and is an extension on the Summer ML scheme which you must already have passed, the winter version is a big, big step up – but completely achievable if you put the effort in. There’s a few providers out there, I went with Phill George.

the winter mountain leader train scotland

Day One
Meet and greet type thing at 0815 and chat through the week, then look through the weather / avalanche forecast.
Today was a mountain journey in the Coire Cas area with plenty of nav and the added fun of teaching ice axe braking skills, something you’ll do a lot of as a winter ML. The nav theme was set straight away, making sure tactics were solid, winter proof ones, the first of many contour features! The management of the group is also a constant theme, is the pace right, have you picked a suitably safe slope, are you assessing the snow pack, do they need any new movement skills etc? When you’re teaching the axe skills, make sure you have a good, progressive structure.
We got back to the accommodation after 1700 and reviewed the home paper until about 1900, it felt like a long day.

Day Two
0815 again, weather and avalanche chat.
The format was very similar to day one but instead of axe skills it was security on steep ground skills, using the rope appropriately, picking good lines and appropriate safeguarding tactics. The nav was there throughout the day again, more contours..! We assessed the snow quite a lot this day too. Rope work wise we did bucket seats, horizontal axes, approaching the edge as a team, abseiling on a bollard (I did three… first one another candidate stood in the middle of it, second one I hit a rock and third one was ok!) and some confidence roping. We were operating in the Fiacaill Ridge are and finished about 1700.

Day Three
First day of exped… Later start at 1000. We walked and navigated to many, many contour features until 1800 when we arrived at our snow hole site, cue digging a snow hole until about midnight. Tough day! Digging snow holes is brutal, especially with the remnants of the flu, you get super wet and extra knackered. I was super excited to get into bed that night and we knew we had a slightly later start of 1000 the next day. Admin is key in a snow hole, keeping your kit in order and as dry as humanly possible for another two days.

Winter mountain leder cairngorm

Day Four
I’d slept terribly! But a breakfast of hot chocolate, porridge and Nutragrain helped and the weather was awesome, it was a great place to be. If I thought day three was a long day, day four was super long too. We navigated throughout the day and into the night, by the time we got back to our snow hole it was nearly 2200. Soup, noodles and cous cous never tasted so good! We’d done an epic amount of nav that day, even when it’s not your leg to lead you need to relocate when you get to wherever you’re going, you must concentrate all the time. I’m glad my nav is really good or the stress levels would be mind blowing, one lad in my group was having a meltdown by this point.

 

Day Five.
I slept like a log that night and was super psyched this was the last day, but it wasn’t over yet! More nav of course, this time in the rain and we had to stand around for about an hour while one of our group got some rope work situations, I guess he Inside the snow hole winter mountain leaderhadn’t been up to scratch on day two. More nav down towards the ski centre car park, we must be nearly done. “Right guys, you’ve got 30 mins to dig an emergency shelter.” I consider myself to be pretty fit, but my sense of humour was hard to locate at this point, but what are you going to do?!
Finally we were on our final leg down to the car park.
Boom, done. All that’s left is the debriefs.

 

All in all a great week, it was a shame I was so ill that I couldn’t really enjoy it, but a pass is a pass!

I’d definitely recommend going with Phill George, he and his team of assessors (Dave Kenyon and Steve Spalding) were great, I learnt loads and they created a great atmosphere. It was useful to be on the other side of an assessment again too, I spend a fair bit of time assessing candidates on SPA and ML courses, so it was good to get a reminder of what it’s like being assessed again!

The WML was far more physical than the the SML and whilst less technical than the MIA scheme, it’s more demanding in my opinion. You need to be on top of the whole syllabus of course but nav is the key, you must be able to nav and relocate when you’re knackered and the vis non existent. The nav was pretty much completely on bearings with timings / pacings and always to contour features.

If this sounds like fun (type 2!) and you’ve done your SML, register on the WML scheme: Mountain Training, Winter ML

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