The summer season has been a busy one, my busiest yet, which makes me really happy, but a little tired!
July was a bit mad, only 3 days off – not something I aim for, I normally like to achieve a better work / play balance, but I’ve had an absolute blast at work!
The work numbers:
61 days teaching / coaching lead climbing
15 days working on Mountain Leader courses
14 days directing our Single Pitch Award courses
11 days teaching roped scrambling & alpine preparation
5 days running Mountaineering Instructor Award refreshers
5 days working with a school group
4 days DofE work – I used to shed loads of this!
4 ML refresher days
4 SPA refresher days
2 Self rescue for climbers days
The personal numbers:
89 routes (up to E4 trad, 7b sport)
72 sessions down the wall
6 days of continual professional development courses
It’s not all about the numbers though… All our clients have been flipping ace and made each and everyday a pleasure. We’ve had people from 18 (Lewis getting his first trad leads) to 69 (Jeremy training for the Matterhorn), and courses from the navigation stuff through to people wanting to take their climbing grade to the next level. We’ve had wet days with water running down our arms in the mountains, we’ve had scorching days slapping on the sunscreen whilst climbing on sea cliffs, an amazing variety of weather, location, people and courses.
We’ve had some great feedback too, which it’s a real privilege to receive – check out our testimonials page.
I’ve got another two very busy weeks, and then I’ve got two weeks off for climbing, to try and put some of this training to good use. After that we’re pretty busy right up until the end of November, after which it’s off to Spain for a month or two for some (hopefully) sunny sport climbing.
Massive thanks to everyone who’s been part of this year so far!
We do still have some space for bookings, so check out our courses or give us a shout.
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.
Mountain Leader training fun times!
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!
Single Pitch Award with a view
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…
Well it felt like spring in the run up to this weekend’s Intro to Scrambling Course, but come the weekend it felt very much like winter!
I was joined by Tavish & Colin for this course and it turned out that flexibility was key, as is often the case.
With snow on the ground we packed crampons and ice axes to give us some more options and headed into the Ogwen Valley, after the standard start – coffee in the Siabod Cafe! We went up the side of Clogwyn y Tarw which gave us the opportunity to start thinking about movement and how our boots worked on the slightly damp rock, before continuing on to the False Griben Ridge where we picked out good lines, making the most of the scrambling on it.
Near the top just before it joins the main Griben Ridge we found the perfect snow slope to get the ice axes out and have a play. We looked at how to use them including having fun practising ice axe arrests.
As we topped out on the ridge the weather got really grim so it was decided a hasty retreat was the best plan so we headed back to the cafe at full speed, where we took the rope in and looked at a couple of knots in readiness for day two’s plan.
The second day was supposed to be a grade two scramble on the East Face of Tryfan, using the rope and pushing Tavish and Colin a bit further, but with the face plastered in snow, plan b was enacted! Good delaying tactics in the cafe gave us the opportunity to talk through some map and compass techniques in the warm and dry! We then went over to Tryfan Bach for some roped scrambling which was really good, if a bit damp, and enabled the guys to get used to clipping in to belays with clove hitches and trying some harder moves. At about lunch time we decided to change venue and head over to the Crimpiau area to look at the navigation tactics we’d talked about earlier.
It will probably take me a couple of days now to dry out all my wet kit!
Colin had this to say about the course:
“Thanks a lot for this weekend. I had a really good time, whilst still learning new stuff under top notch instruction!
If you have availability for advanced scrambling in about a months time I will book on the course.
Thanks again for a great weekend!”
Living in North Wales I’m spoilt with crags on which to run learn to lead rock climbing courses, but Milestone Buttress on the side of Tryfan stands out as my favourite.
My first lead climb was the classic Tennis Shoe, HS, on Idwal Slabs during a climbing course when I was about 17, but some of my first independent leads were over on Milestone and eventually I really enjoyed the brilliant Super Direct, with a top pitch that feels a bit cheeky for HVS 5a. It’s not all great though! I’m sure plenty of people have enjoyed climbing the HS Soapgut, but it was green and slimy when I did it years ago and I’ve never revisited it! I also got a bit lucky on Mountaineering Instructor Award assessment, spending a day of it at Milestone teaching multi pitch climbing, which was great as I know every route and pretty much every belay really well!
Superdirect “back in the day!”
So why do I love it? Firstly it’s almost roadside and that’s always a bonus, especially in a work sense, from having coffee at the Siabod Cafe, you can be gearing up at the bottom of the crag within 30 minutes! The climbing on the main face is really good, the rock is solid and positive – even the polished bits don’t really effect the routes too much. The solid rock also provides loads of opportunities for excellent gear placements and comfy belays, which makes it a really friendly place to get your multi pitching skills dialled.
You might think that if friendliness is a factor, then Milestone falls down here. It’s not a simple walk off once you’ve finished to get back to the bottom ready for the next routes, but the descent here is great for teaching abseiling. I will normally skip the very top of the routes when working and traverse off right across the big sloping ledge section to where there is a chimney with great anchor choices (take some tat) and a short abseil into an easy scrambley descent (watch your ropes when you pull them though, there’s a naughty block that likes to snag your ropes). It’s possible to top out and traverse into the main gully and either scramble down or make a longer abseil back down, in a work sense this all takes a bit longer and isn’t of so much value to me.
The bulk of the routes on the main face are Diff – V Diff which are exactly what I’m after for teaching leading or introducing people to multi pitch climbing. Depending on quite what the aim of the day is I’d look to be getting a couple of routes done at these grades, maybe Pulpit Route, V Diff and Direct Route also V Diff (polished first pitch but mega gear). After doing those we’ll probably have done about 8 pitches, as I break them down a bit compared to the guidebook descriptions, and two abseils.
To cap the day off I like to jump on the first pitch of the aforementioned Superdirect which is a good bit of fun at VS 4c and really makes you trust your feet! From there I’ll normally lower my clients back to the ground and I’ll scramble off to the side.
With only a 15 minute walk back to the road, tea & cake isn’t far away!
Pick a book!
There’s plenty of other routes there to to fill a day such as Rowan Route Diff and Ordinary Route Diff, or to make a “proper” mountain day of it you could do a route on here before traversing around to Heather Terrace for one of the awesome long routes there, such as Grooved Arete – but move quickly!
If you want to climb these routes they’re in a few guidebooks, the Ogwen guide by the Climbers Club is the definitive one though.
Rack wise you won’t need anything out of the ordinary, something like: Nuts 1-11, doubled up in the medium sizes, on a couple of snappers (DMM Phantom) Cams 1,2,3,4 (Dragons) or the equivalent hexes (Torque Nuts) on snappers 10 quickdraws of various lengths 3 x 120cm slings with a snapper each 1 x 240cm slings on a snapper Nut key and snapper Prusiks on a snapper Screwgates – DMM Phantom, Boa and a Sentinel Belay plate – BD ATC and DMM Sentinel Ropes, doubles or a single (the abseil I use is fine on a 50m single)
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.
Loving climbing, Quasar E3 in the Pass
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 night navigation, type II fun..
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.
Stirling Bridge, VI, in Scotland, it was hard
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!
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