Not how to pass your Mountain Leader
We’re too often guilty of teaching people how to pass exams and qualifications, myself included by writing blogs like “How to pass your ML”. This has even been mooted as one of the reasons the Mountaineering Instructor Award pass rate is so low.
This brief blog therefore isn’t how to pass your ML, it’s how can you be a great ML. I think there’s a difference.
So what does your assessor want to see on your assessment? Who cares?! Of course to be a quality ML you need to pass your assessment first, but honestly, go and have a lovely time being a great ML and you’ll pass. Like a meerkat might say, “simples”.
This might not be the most in depth blog I’ve ever done, and I’m not even touching on the obvious things such as being professional, punctual, presentable etc., but I hope it stimulates some thought.
ML is more than a navigation award, but it is a big part of the scheme. 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.
We 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.
When 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!
Rock Climbing Instructor (the new Single Pitch Award) and Mountain Leader courses.
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!
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.
… 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, qualifying as a Mountain Leader opened up some amazing opportunities.
Sometimes 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.
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!
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.
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…