This year has been super busy, which is ace! I’ve had loads of great clients coming and going, we’ve climbed loads of great routes, navigated up misty mountains and covered all sorts of skills from constructing a belay to identifying tiny contour features.
On the climbing side we’ve been running plenty of intro to leading courses, and in the last couple of weeks a few coaching courses for people looking to push on a little bit. As well as the technical skills of placing nuts etc, we pay a lot of attention to movement skills, route reading, tactics and performance preparation, looking at coaching people rather than old fashioned instructing, which is an important difference. We’ve had clients leading all sorts of routes, from their first leads on Diffs at Milestone Buttress through to people leading their first E1’s on the slate and over at Gogarth – which has been amazingly satisfying.
This year has mostly been climbing courses which I’ve loved running as I’m pretty obsessed about climbing… but it’s been nice to have a bit of a mix. I love all things climbing and mountains, it’s an honour to work on Mountain Leader courses helping other people on their path to becoming superstar outdoor leaders, people on ML courses are always enthusiastic and thoroughly nice. When it comes to assessing ML candidates I always try and make the atmosphere as relaxed as possible – they put enough pressure on themselves without me making it any harder! The aim is to further their learning as well, no matter how strong their performance, there’s always more to learn – which goes for all of us, I’ll often learn a new flora fact or something from candidates!
It’s the same with Single Pitch Award courses, of which we are providers. We’ve run many of these this year already and I always have a blast on them, I get to chat about climbing for two days solid, what’s not to like?! The assessments are good fun too, as long as candidates come prepared, they’ll have fun too!
Looking forward to the next couple of months, my diary is full of exciting courses we’ll be delivering, so it’ll be an ace summer, keep your fingers crossed for the sun!
Outside of work the climbing is going well, I’m training down the wall 3 times a week and currently I’m on an endurance phase. This is translating well to the outdoor stuff recently climbing up to E4 on Trad – The Mau Mau in the slate quarries and up to 7b on Sport – The Refrain on the Orme, although I’ve just had to postpone a trip to Portland due to rubbish weather…
Whilst I dislike having to turn the bedroom light on in the mornings when I wake up, it’s quite exciting to notice a little chill in the air!
Although winter is a little way off yet, it’s hard not to start thinking of winter climbing and mountaineering. We are running a few courses up in Scotland this winter and I hope to get lots of personal stuff done too.
Scotland is transformed in the winter to an absolute playground for people who like the white stuff. There are additional challenges to playing in the summer, avalanche risk, different equipment such as crampons and ice axes, even harder navigation, shorter days and the cold. To be self sufficient in the mountains in winter conditions is quite an achievement.
We may even get lucky in Wales this year and have a really cold one, that’d be ace!
But I don’t want to get carried away! I have a couple more months of trad climbing and training to be done before I head off to Spain for a few weeks of sport climbing in the sun, psyched!
Whilst I was still at school I sent a letter off to Mountain Training requesting the scheme booklets for the Mountaineering Instructor Award (MIA) and Mountaineering Instructor Certificate (MIC), I still have them in my mum and dad’s attic somewhere. These slightly confusingly named qualifications are the ones which qualify holders to teach pretty much all things climbing and mountain in the UK, in summer (Award) and winter (Certificate). To me at the age of 16 or so and really only just starting out climbing and hill walking, they seemed almost unobtainable and the people who had these tickets were like mountain gods or something. The instructors I met seemed to have so much experience, with tales and annecdotes to back up the things they were teaching me when I went on a couple of courses at Plas y Brenin, that it sounded like they would take me a lifetime to emulate.
The actual process of how to become a Mountaineering Instructor Award holder is pretty simple:
– Register for the Mountain Leader (ML) scheme, you must be 18, have 20 quality mountain days etc
– Complete a ML training course, 6 days
– Consolidate your learning, making sure you have a bare minimum of 40 quality mountain days
– Pass a ML assessment course, 5 days
(ML assessment blog)
Once you’ve passed your ML you can lead groups hill walking in the UK and can then move forward to the next step:
– Register for the MIA scheme, have 20 days logged working as an ML, have done 30 multi pitch routes of VS 4c or above and 10 sport routes of f6a or above
– Complete an MIA training course, 9 days
– Consolidate your learning, completing 20 more days working as an ML, 20 more multi pitch routes at VS 4c or above and 20 days teaching rock climbing
– Pass an MIA assessment course, 5 days
As the above quantities are all absolute bare minimums, you can assume you’ll be doing more than that, but with those numbers that’s 80 days in the mountains walking / scrambling, 50 multi pitch routes and 10 sport routes, plus the courses themselves.
So that’s all pretty achievable right? Well yes, if you want it enough, it’s achievable by anyone who has the time (and money!) to commit to it. These days anyone that climbs a bit is capable of leading VS, the difference being an MIA is that you need to lead VS and absolutely cruise it, placing gear for the clients benefit rather than your own, whilst looking completely in control. This probably means having a grade or two in hand, so I guess most candidate passing their MIA are operating at HVS or above. You certainly don’t need to be a rock Jedi though, although some are, Calum Muskett had ticked Indian Face before his assessment (doesn’t count though as it’s single pitch..!) Someone said to me on my MIA assessment that “you’re no-one in North Wales unless you climb E5”, I hope that was tongue in cheek although I’m not sure. I’m no one, having just about scrabbled up a few E4’s.
I’ve seen some excellent instruction from MIA’s who “only” operate at a VS level and have been embarrassed to watch some awfully dull instruction from someone who climbs high E grades, and of course the other way around too, high grades don’t make someone a great instructor. But what does? Well, that depends who you ask! For me I think it’s pretty similar to any other sport or activity, the instructor needs to be professional, engaging, enthusiastic (psyched!), knowledgeable, experienced, empathetic, have a sense of humour, be a role model and generally be a people person. I’ve also recently heard they should be clean shaven or have a proper beard, sadly for me I’m somewhere in the middle.. They do need to be operating at a level above their clients too, for me the grade of VS is a little low, many of my clients can progress to VS very quickly, so I do think MIA’s should be climbing at E1 or above, beyond that it becomes a bit more self selecting. For example if I had an enquiry from someone wanting to push on from E3 to climb E4, E5 well I wouldn’t be the MIA for them, but I know others that would be suitable.
It’s easy to get hung up on the climbing side of things, a lot of MIA work is teaching scrambling skills or working on ML courses etc, there’s even other things like film crew safety work or oil industry stuff. Most MIA’s will have a few strings to their bows to keep their mortgage company happy.
Then the winter comes… What do you do, get lucky with some instructor training work, go climbing in Thailand? At some point Scotland calls, the cold, the damp, the speed cameras on the A9.
Winter in Scotland requires some more qualifications…. Once you’ve passed the aforementioned ML you can:
– Register for the Winter ML, 20 winter quality mountain days
– Complete a WML training course, 6 days
– Consolidate your learning, making sure you have a minimum of 40 winter quality mountain days
– Pass a WML assessment course, 5 days (of navigating, digging, digging, digging)
(Winter ML training blog, Winter ML assessment blog)
The WML is a physical award, anyone passing it has shown they can navigate in some testing conditions and can look after themselves really well in the mountains whatever is thrown at them.
At this point you can lead groups hill walking in the mountains in winter conditions and move forward to the next step, if you’ve already passed you MIA:
– Register for the Mountaineering Instructor Certificate, having done 20 days WML work and have logged 20 winter routes (10+ at II, 10+ at III), have your MIA
– Attend an MIC training, 5 days
– Consolidate your learning, making sure you have 5 days climbing III or above and 10 day managing parties in the mountains
– Pass an MIC assessment 5 days
That’s another 60 mountain days, plus all the winter climbing
I haven’t started the MIC process yet so won’t say so much about it, but knowing many MIC’s it is clear that the decent ones operating at that level have a massive amount of experience working and playing in winter conditions, which is a big step up from summer conditions. They have a great level of “local knowledge” too, being able to read the snow pack and be able to make informed decisions based on experience.
I’ve absolutely loved the path I’ve taken so far, although the Winter ML was definitely type 2 fun, and would encourage anyone with a passion for the mountains to get involved. I guess in any industry there are those who may come across as a bit elitist and yes I could probably name a few I’ve crossed path with over the years such as E5 person, but really they are an absolute minority, the people I climb with and work with are super welcoming and keen to share their knowledge, helping other less experienced people.
The real key for me to gaining all the experience that I looked up to so much when I was younger, is to just love what you’re doing. I love climbing, it was never a chore to log days, it’s what I’d have been doing anyway. I consider myself fairly experienced now (as a member of the AMI committee, it still feels odd sitting next to people I’ve looked up to for years!), but there’s so much more to learn and do, it’s never going to stop and never should it. That would make me sad! If you’re keen to start the instructor pathway, but haven’t yet, what are you waiting for? Get on it! It does require a level of commitment and rightly so, as much as my aim is to give my clients an enjoyable and memorable learning experience, safety is always number one and you’re operating in some spicy environments.
Hopefully this has been of a little interest, feel free to comment with any questions or acost me on the hills (or in Maccy D’s near Folkstone like one previous client did this summer when I was coming back from the Alps!)
Happy climbing & mountaineering!
See what we’ve been up to lately on our Facebook Page and you can find us on Instagram too.
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.
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.
Go Outdoors – OEX page
Photos by me, or courtesy of Ilana Miller.
Loads more pictures…
This winter I’m spending quite a bit of time in Scotland logging days towards my Winter Mountain Leader qualification and this means I’m spending a fair bit of my time living in the van with my 7 month old spaniel Oreo. Queue mornings waking up to frost on the inside of the windows! As much as I enjoy van living I can get a bit fed up trying to clean pans full of porridge and it’s a little depressing when the coffee is already cold by the time it has brewed in the cafetiere…
I’ve already made a few improvements to the van and hope to get a few more done before I head back up.
I have been climbing too, but I’m trying to be strict with myself so I’m fully prepared for the upcoming assessment. I followed Stu up a VI, 7 on Aonach Mor called Stirling Bridge (It was absolutely nails! It was super thin for the feet, with slightly rubbish ice, it was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done..), Mynd am Aur which is a 7a sport route in Llanberis with a tough head height rock over and Goose Creature at E3 6a in Llanberis where I got lucky, just beating the rain!
The conditions in Scotland have been a bit mixed so far, currently there is shed loads of powder lying around which makes progress a little slow going and hard work, plus it’s lead to lots of “considerable” avalanche forecast making route choice a bit more limited. It could all do with a bit of a thaw and a refreeze to bring the climbing into really good nick.
I started off in Aviemore with a couple of decent days in the hills, including a really challenging weather circuit on the Cairngorm Plateau where me and Russ practiced what we taught walking accurately on long bearings for a good few legs. After being valley bound for a couple of crap weather days I had a stella day going over to Ben Macdui in almost perfect weather conditions (unfortunately for Russ this was the day he had to head home!)
Oreo has been getting out with me some days, when the routes and weather have played ball, he’s done the traverse of the Grey Corries and even got up the Carn Mor Dearg Arête on Ben Nevis! He loves being out and about on the hills but looks a bit grumpy in this shot ‘cos I made him sit still for more than 30 seconds!
After a couple of weeks away I’ve come home to Llanberis for a week and this weekend was the Association of Mountaineering Instructors AGM which was a great event and I was voted on to the AMI committee too. I’m pretty excited about being able to do my bit for the association and hope I can do the role justice!
I’ve got back into the training already at home, I don’t want to let all the hard work over the last couple of months fade away with all the snow plodding, sadly decent walls are few and far between in Scotland, although there is an awesome project going on in Fort William, so hopefully there’ll be a great facility later this year.