Solid tactics are the key to successful navigation, putting together the building blocks made up of your various navigation skills.

When assessing Mountain Leader candidates we sometimes see people who have good skills but aren’t able to successfully put together a plan to hit the target feature.

mountain leader navigationWe teach the 4D’s:
Direction – no point going any further if you don’t get this right
Distance – measure it, ACCURATELY
Duration – using the distance work out the timing, and include pacing in this too
Description – the one people forget, but which is absolutely vital, describe the leg and the target

Do you have another system? Great, use it, as long as you’ve got a good system you’re golden.

Some of my favourite navigational methods to achieve a target:
Hand railing – if there’s something to handrail, use it
Attack points – if the feature you’re going to is small, pick something better close by
Catching features – we all switch off on occasion, pick something to wake you up if you’ve overshot

In poor vis, it will make your life harder if you use “woolly” nav. That is not having decent, solid tactics and wandering along hoping you’ll recognise something when you get there. Use bearings, use pacing.

mountain leader skillsWhen you get to your feature, relax. Ignore the map. Look around and milk all the info from the ground that you can see remembering to use everything, but contours are the king. Once you’ve gleaned everything you can, then look at the map. If you do it the other way around it’s too easy to try and make the feature fit the map.

Keep using these tactics, and keep them simple, especially when you’re tired, it’s all too common to see candidates’ performances deteriorating as the tiredness kicks in over the course of the expedition. Look after yourself, eat well, stay hydrated – you will perform better.

There’s a lot more to passing your ML, group management, steep ground skills and camp craft to name a few, but if you’ve already got your building blocks dialled improving your tactics will give you more chance of hitting each and everyone of those features.

Tactics, tactics, tactics!

Need a Mountain Leader training, assessment or refresher from one of North Wales’ leading providers? Get in touch!

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“Say hello to my little friend!”

This pack is a beast. If you’re looking for a lightweight pack for floating up alpine routes or such like, then step away from this one! It’s 2kg in weight and is built like a tank.
Black diamond creek rucksack
It looks a lot like a haul bag at first glance and is designed to be as tough as old boots, but thats not to say it doesn’t have some level of refinement.

The material this is made of is the same sort of thing you’ll find on a haul bag, so you’re not going to have to worry about ripping like you do the thin fabric on your nice light Patagonia Ascentionist / Arcteryx FL / Mountain Equipment Tupilak. It’s ultra durable and waterproof too.

It is however really comfy! Coming in two back lengths you should be able to make it fit and it is designed to carry big loads with nicely padded shoulder straps and a mega hip belt – which is removable leaving a skinny webbing belt, which is what I’ve done.

It’s got a stiffened base so it stands up nicely making it easy to load up without falling over. Sounds like a minor point but my Ascentionist is a right pain, being almost impossible to keep upright. In terms of unpacking it’s flipping awesome having a full length side zip which is a feature I’ve never had on a pack before. The zips, like most elements of this pack are super chunky so I don’t think they’ll prove to be a weak point, I fear I’ll miss this feature when I use other packs from now on!black diamond creek 50

It has another side zip too which reveals a separate section which ideal for those other bits and pieces you don’t want floating around the main compartment, with a couple of smaller zipped pockets in there as well. A good place for wallet / phone / keys / theraband / snacks etc.

I bought the 50 litre and it’s massive which is exactly what I wanted. I was after a cragging bag to swallow all my kit without having to worry about what to leave behind or having to battle to fit things in, chuck it all in ropes and all, give it a shake, job done.

The top strap doubles as a rope strap, not that I envisage using it much and there’s also a little rain cover hood thing which again, I don’t expect to use, but it’s nice to have the option.

I’ve used this bag a bit already and I’m completely converted!

What I’ll use this bag for:
Cragging type work and play with short walk in’s, think Gogarth, crags in the Pass, slate quarries. Rock Climbing Instructor (RCI) courses

What I won’t use this for:
Anything where I’ll have to carry a pack on route, mountain days, Mountain Leader courses etc.

Retail: £140
Shop around: £110

Black Diamond also do smaller versions of this bag which could be good for you, be warned the 50 is a monster, but a monster I really like.

I often see the hashtag “livingthedream” and this winter I’m pretty certain I lived mine. Two months sport climbing in Spain with Laura (and Oreo) and we lost only one day to rain, amazing.

chuliila viewSport climbing has taken centre stage in my personal climbing this last year, although I’m massively psyched for some trad action this summer, and a big reason for that was a trip to Spain last winter. Then I climbed in Margalef, Siurana and Costa Blanca, but also in Chulilla for a couple of awesome weeks, I love that place! Chulilla is such a friendly little place, where the climbing psyche levels are massive, but also not super intimidating like some places, it has a couple of great bars, cheap food shops, and you can walk to the crags. If like us you’re in a van, life couldn’t be easier, there’s even showers there! After the last trip I came back to the UK with a focus on climbing harder, and spoke to a mate about some coaching and trained properly – something which I’d not done before, with the focus being another Spain trip and half an eye on the magic 8a grade.

The most important question, did I climb 8a? No. I got on one though! I had a great year, climbed some mega routes such as Empire of the Sun in Devon, 7b+ and Katana E4 up here in Wales, plus loads of other stuff, but never quite in the volume I wanted. Partly because work really took off last year and I was super busy with that, something for which I’m massively grateful and excited about! The training kept ticking over, but again not quite in the same volume as I had aimed for, but I did maintain focus and structure, the lack of volume though meant 8a was always going to be a massive ask.

After a few days in Siurana, where it was flipping cold we drove further South. Chulilla is awesome! Sport climbing everywhere you look with pitches up to 40m, all vertical or gently overhanging, with the odd exception and it’s such a beautiful place – so much so I asked Laura to marry me there and she said yes! I climbed so many quality routes and eventually the training gains I had made were matched by my movement and confidence on the rock – which took a little while to catch up as my last “hard” route on rock had been in August. I began to onsight 7a routes as warm ups and get 7b+ routes within 2 or 3 goes, which had been my limit previously. So it was time for 7c…

Angus on Tequilla Sunrise 7c+Sex Shop, no not a rest day activity but one of the sectors at Chulilla, lovely climbing and plenty of sun, but some shade later on for when you’re trying hard. Conflicto Territorial is an ace 7a+ (a tricky one with the crux at the top!) that I’d done early on in the trip. Halfway up it there’s a route called Happy End which breaks off right and the clips were already in it so I thought I’d have a play. I found it hard unsurprisingly, but it was 7c so I’m ok with that. The crux section suited me, after a dead point move it has very thin holds and is super sequency, I’d never seen anyone on it so I had to figure it out myself. Over 3 days I worked it on lead, the redpoint crux was the last moves at nearly 40 metres, where I was pretty powered out. I fell off it countless times, which is great for the head, fear of falling off becomes a thing of the past. Attempt number 11 and I’m at the half decent rest before the crux section of about 6 bolts, I tell myself to be like Ben Moon in old videos get some aggression going and it works, two clips to go and I know I can do it but the pump is kicking in, I’ve got no gas to clip from these holds. I don’t care, I’ll just climb on skipping it, the big finishing holds feel small but I made it. Psyched! Mega psyched!

So what comes after 7c, well 7c+! Actually no. I found it quite draining so I spent a few days climbing 7a, 7a+ routes just to chill out and messed around trying to find a 7c+ I liked the look of, plus a quick play on 8a just to get a feel for it (hard!).

Jez climbing chulilla spain

So happy to get Bricopaco!

Bricopaco was the one, over on the shady crag, Oasis, so I have to thank Laura big time for her mega effort belaying me on it in the cold, a lot! I’m not usually much of a top roper, preferring to work stuff on the lead, but this was at my limit so I gave in. It took me a lot of goes to work out the crux sequence, like a lot of Chulilla there’s a lot of movements in it, going again with hands and small foot movements unlocking sections, and some really small holds, sometimes sloping the wrong way, nice to have a bit of core strength. 7 top rope efforts later, it was time to start trying it on the lead. Things were starting to come together but I really didn’t know if I had it in me to do it clean, even clipping was tricky in places and the boulder problem start wasn’t a foregone conclusion! I could talk you through each move of this route, how every hand hold felt, exactly where your foot needed to be, how the climb changed go after go after go, from feeling like I couldn’t even hang the holds, to ok but I can’t link the moves, to ok but how on earth do I clip from here. On that final redpoint I climbed the best I ever have, precise, controlled but flowing. Through the sharp boulder problem start to the good rest on the sloping ledge where I had a massive word with myself, through the pumpy section to the big span that had felt impossible on my first goes, to the undercut that unlocks the crux, going with the right, going again with the right. Wow I’m feeling good, I clip from a different position because I’m feeling stronger. All the time now I’m saying to myself (out loud it turns out!) “You’re not doing this move again!”. The crux went down, but that’s just the start of the sustained sections. The slopey but big side pull latched I can feel my fingers uncurling “You’re not doing this move again!”. I reversed a move to an ok hold and had a quick shake out, although I’ve no idea how before setting off again, last hard move – left hand dead point, slap, I’m a centimetre short, bump it up, it’s in the mini jug and the route is mine! Lots of shouting and then the last couple of easy bolts.chulilla climbing

Bricopaco, 7c+, done. 9 top ropes and ticked on my 9th redpoint attempt.

I learnt so much on this trip, here’s some random points:

-I hadn’t climbed much hard stuff on rock running up to the trip so it took a couple of weeks to get firing properly
-Lack of power was more of an issue than pump (reflected by lots of endurance training in ’17)
-I’m crap on tufas!
-I climb very smoothly and efficiently, but am I too rigid, which uses more energy?
-My strength is routes with medium length cruxes.
-I prefer redpointing to on sighting  (on sport)
-I stayed injury free, I think due to warming up properly for every route
-Felt like I got stronger throughout the trip
-I definitely spot and use rests better now.
-Fear of falling went completely, but it will creep back fast unaddressed
-I’m good at working out sequences when working a route
-Got to want it 100%

So like I said, Chulilla is ace, we’re going back next year! I think you really want to be climbing 7a, or wanting to push in to the 7s to make the most of it. A lot of the easier routes are pretty tough for the grades, where as it feels like a great place to push yourself if 7s (or 8s) are the target. This makes it extra impressive that Laura got her first ever 6b+, then her first ever 6c on the trip – so psyched about that!

If you’re keen to push your grade, get in touch! We’re running a few coaching courses in Wales this year, for various levels of ability and it’s we absolutely love helping others achieve their goals!
Watch this space for a Chulilla coaching trip Jan ’19 too…!

As usual check out our Facebook, Instagram & Twitter pages to see what we’ve been up to lately… There’s also a previous blog about Chulilla here.

I did Business Studies as one of my A-Levels at school and I’m sure somewhere inside my head a few things stuck but it’s hard to say! One thing definitely did though. We were told it’s very poor form (I went to a posh school) to bad mouth other companies to try and sell yourself, and I absolutely agree, it still grates me to this day if I see an advert on TV saying “We’re cheaper than X”.

Living in North Wales there’s a number of other providers and even if I did want to bad mouth any of them, how could I because they’re all really good at what they do! Yep, that’s right, whoever you pick up here to go on a training or assessment with will deliver an amazing course where you’ll learn loads and have a great time. Mountain Training don’t just let anyone be a provider of their courses and those of us that are approved providers get moderated by them as well to make sure we’re doing a good job, and also to help us do an even better job!

mountain leader and climbing instructor I love climbing, read my blogs or social media and that’s pretty clear, you can even look at my UKC logbook to see what I’ve been up to lately. I got in to climbing through hill walking and have been up virtually every hill and mountain round here by virtually every path and scramble, I’ve wild camped in countless amazing spots – but there’s countless more still to be discovered! The mountains are an absolute playground full of exciting adventure potential.

I also love enthusing others about what I love myself and passing on the skills I’ve learnt over the years so people can go off and have their own amazing experiences and perhaps use those to teach and lead others in a chain reaction of promoting our wonderful playground. My experience enables me to do this in a relaxed and confident way, meaning that clients are put at ease, enabling them to learn as much as possible and have fun, even on assessments – which is absolutely fundamental to being out and about in the mountains or on a cliff face. There is no place for being dull in my world!

I spent years enjoying working with my SPA and ML awards, with all sorts of clients from kids to OAPs and climbing taster sessions to mountain expeditions, I still enjoy the occasional bit of that sort of work to keep my hand in. That’s really important, as I don’t want to forget what it’s like to deliver these sort of sessions, so when I’m delivering MT awards I can keep it relevant and draw on real world scenarios. In addition to that I still love learning myself so am up to date with my CPD and also sit on the committee for the Association of Mountaineering Instructors.

Brief extract from the moderation visit on one of our SPA courses in 2017: “Jez is a keen climber and is regularly found cranking at the Beacon. His enthusiasm of climbing comes through as part of his course promotion and delivery, in which candidates feel in the company of a dedicated mountaineering instructor who keeps his skill set fresh along with a strong commitment to cpd.
Jez’s course was being run to a good standard and clearly the candidates were put at ease and enjoying the process, particularly the reviewing of each task with each other. The information flow was good and the syllabus was being covered in a logical way.”

Whilst I direct all our MT courses myself, I am at times joined by various other instructors to help me out and that’s great because it brings another input to our courses. Any extra staff joining us are qualified to the same level as me and very importantly they’re massively psyched for climbing in the mountains just like me plus like me they want you to have an ace time learning loads and having plenty of fun! These are people I climb and mountaineer with myself, I’m extremely particular about who I employ!

If we can help you with a Mountain Leader or Single Pitch Award (of which we ran more than any other company in Wales last year and soon to be Rock Climbing Instructor), feel free to get in touch! We’re always happy to give advice and help so even if you’re not booking a course with us give us a shout or say hi if you see me out and about.

As usual check out our Facebook, Instagram & Twitter pages to see what we’ve been up to lately…

… we’re running loads of ML & SPA’s / RCI’s this year, some still have spaces, for more info on our courses explore the website and take a look at the Mountain Training website for more specific info about the schemes themselves.

I loved the outdoors when I was a kid, playing outside with my friends, making dens in the woods down near Westover Farm and suchlike. I was afforded a lot of freedom when I was growing up in our little village, sometimes I’d disappear for hours, most of the day with a well stocked rucksack, an OS map (more of a Harveys man now) for identifying footpaths and Boswell the dog in tow. My brother took me to North Wales one weekend, while he was getting fit for a trek to Everest base camp in the days before it was quite such a circus, and that was me hooked. The North Ridge of Tryfan and the Glyderau on the Saturday, with dinner in the Stables in Betws, followed by the Snowdon Horseshoe on the Sunday. After that, life really did take a different path.

camping in cwm glas mountain scramblingSometimes with school friends and sometimes on my own I’d head up in to the hills of the Brecon Beacons, Yorkshire Dales, Snowdonia or the Lake District, wild camping with kit borrowed (often stolen to be honest) from my brother. I have so many awesome memories, from clear, sunny, frosty mornings waking up on the col between Pen y Fan and Corn Du, long before I could pronounce their names properly to getting lost on the Glyders before a chance clearing in the cloud gave the game away and I sorted myself out. I can only assume my parents had more faith in my survival instincts than I did!

I’d wanted to join the forces for years, but his changed when my parents sent me on a couple of courses at Plas y Brenin when I was 16 -17. There I learn’t to scramble with a rope for back up and eventually I learn’t the basics of lead climbing, I also realised that people earned a living from teaching beginners like myself, wow. They seemed like gods though, I’d never be as experienced as them! I’d written off to Mountain Training (remember those days before emailing was the norm?!) and they had sent me the prospectus for the Mountaineering Instructor Award and Mountaineering Instructor Certificate, which I still have in the attic at Mum and Dads. Those awards seemed impossible, but what about others like the Mountain Leader or Single Pitch Award, they seemed more attainable. As soon as I turned 18 I was on a Mountain Leader training course, again at the Brenin and to be honest I don’t remember much of it, other than map reading in glasses was a pain (thank god for laser eye surgery!) and that we hunted around for tent peg flags to practice our bearing and pacing skills. Not long after that I did my SPA training too, down in Devon where my first job in the outdoors sent me to do it, staying at a manly bunkhouse that I’ve had the misfortune of going to since too.

Scrambling course Tryfan the Canon

Taking a break!

At that time I would never have believed I would one day be a Mountaineering Instructor who’s an approved Mountain Training course provider for the ML and SPA schemes and also a committee member of the Association of Mountaineering Instructors.

There’s a lot of waffle there, without really addressing the title of the blog!

  1. The ML award really is a gateway award to working in some absolutely amazing places, such as where I call home – Snowdonia. To be leading people on mountains such as Tryfan is absolutely a dream, and even more so now that I get to train and assess other to do my job.
  2. You meet some flipping awesome people. I must say this a thousand times a year, but it’s so rare for me to meet anyone through work that isn’t super keen on the outdoors and an absolute pleasure to spend time with.
  3. You learn a massive amount of skills and self sufficiency. Being able to navigate in virtually zero visibility whilst leading a group of novices becomes fairly normal, as does keeping your kit dry for a second night in a tent!
  4. Knowing what to do when things go wrong, whether using a rope or knowing how to cross a river safely, or even worse how to get outside assistance.
  5. It’s a brilliant excuse to learn more about the environment we love, whether that’s plants, flowers, animal or glaciation, knowledge is power!
  6. I’m a gear geek, like many of us, but clients love this! They want to know what boots to buy, what map they should use and that gives me a chance to spread the geekery!
  7. You get to help other people achieve their goals which could be anything from completing their D of E, doing the Welsh 3000’ers or learning how to navigate well themselves, without a guide.
  8. You won’t be stuck in an office…
  9. I’ve loved the mountains since the first day I was in them, and the ML is an excuse to continue my obsession with them, and get paid to do so.
  10. The memories! Endless.
  11. The variety of work, from spending 3 nights camped on top of Corn Du in whether that trashed my nice Terra Nova tent whilst guarding some film equipment through to working on ML training courses and anything in between.
  12. It opens up more awards such as the Winter ML and the MIA and helped me make a career out of having fun in the outdoors.
  13. It’s taken me on some great adventures and for me lead in to climbing, which takes me on ever more adventures.
Mountain Leader training course Wales

Mountain Leader training fun times!

We’d love to hear what you love about the ML from your experiences and likewise we’re always here to answer any questions you might have, or even if you want to book on to one of our courses which are always fun and relaxed, whilst covering shed loads of information and journeying through some awesome areas – even on assessments!

For more info on the ML scheme visit the Mountain Training site, and for more info on our courses, take a look around the site.

As always, there’s more updates on our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages.