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.
Nordisk Telemark 1 LW Tent Review: Lightweight tents, they’re always a compromise, they have to sacrifice something. Durability, stability or space? For years I’ve used a Terra Nova Laser Comp when I’ve been camping on Mountain Leader expeditions and it was always a love hate relationship! They’re both priced around £300, but how does the Nordisk Telemark compare?
Firstly, what did I like & not like about the Laser? I liked it’s lightness, it’s sub 1kg and packs nice and small, I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by it’s durability the only things that didn’t last were the guy lines, they all snapped over the years, but I’ll take that! What I don’t like… being slapped in the face by the inner fabric all night long. The inner is very narrow at the ends and I’m very tall, this was a constant source of annoyance. The actual tent proved to be pretty stable in bad weather, but like most one pole tents, it is a bit flappy in windy weather – although I added two guy lines at each end which helped massively. I also did not like Terra Nova’s laziness at not putting those guy lines on themselves, or bothering to put pull tags on the zips and would one pocket inside have been too much to ask for?
How does the Nordisk compare? Well it’s lighter, at 830grams (before I added a couple of guy lines and a couple more pegs) and packs a touch smaller even though it’s actually a little bigger in terms of footprint (a touch lower though 86cm v 95cm of the Laser). It’s similarly flappy in the wind but it has wider ends so, hallelujah, I don’t get slapped in the face like I do in the Terra Nova. Nordisk did bother to put pull tags on the zips and they even put a decent pocket on the inside – woop woop. The little clips that tie back the door and attach the inner to the outer are positive and easy to use with chilly hands and the guy line pegging points are nice metal, durable rings, little points that keep me happy.
It must have some downsides though? It’s too early to comment on the durability of the fabric, but it is pretty thin so we’ll have to see about that, but a lot of users have complained about the amount of condensation that builds up inside over night and I’ve had mixed experiences of this. I’ve had a couple of nights where I’ve had far more condensation than I expected, despite there being a gentle breeze that I thought would move some air through the tent. I’ve had other nights which weren’t wildly different weather where I’ve had virtually zero condensation – the weather must have been a bit different but I’ve not been scientific on this one I’m afraid.
Like the Terra Nova, it’s a doddle to pitch, the single pole slides easily into the sleeve and folds down nice and small for when it’s in your bag, the Nordisk can be pitched with just 4 pegs. You can use the mini end poles to create a pole for the porch, but I’ve not felt the need for this and probably never will. The inner floor is on a slider so you can make the porch a little bigger and the inner a little narrower, or vice versa depending on your preference. Even with the inner at max theres enough space for your pack, boots, and of course a Cocker Spaniel! Whilst the tent feels more spacious when you’re lying down, the ten centimetres less head space is noticeable and I wouldn’t want to spend a long time living in this tent, but that’s not really what it’ll be used for, it’s an arrive late, leave early type tent. There is also a two person version which does give some more height – as well as a bigger footprint of course.
As well as the two person version, there’s also an Ultra Lightweight version, costing £495 ish and weighing in at 770grams, I decided it wasn’t worth the extra cost to me.
At the moment I’m really happy with the Nordisk and it’s my go to tent for Mountain Leader duties, I am slightly concerned about how the condensation will play out and I am considering a slightly bigger tent for when the weather becomes a bit more wintery – something a bit more stable with more space to sit up and have the dog inside, maybe something like a Terra Nova Superlite but I don’t think they make them any more.
For more details on the Nordisk Telemark, take a look at the Nordisk site.
Mountain Leader expeds = light is right, but we have to be sensible…
I’ve written about the contents of my pack before, but thought it was worth an update as a lot of my kit has changed slightly over the last couple of years. I think it’s worth mentioning that you can definitely go lighter than I do, but as a fairly skinny (I say athletic but people just laugh!) person I do feel the cold and I do want my kit to be properly functional.
Everyone has their own preferences, but here’s my take… (some items change depending on weather, mood etc – I’ve got too much kit to choose from!)
Patagonia Ascentionist, 35L. My go to mountain pack. 900 grams, comfy, simple and tougher than the material would suggest. Nothing fancy, one big compartment, one zipped lid pocket. Ideal.
Nordisk Telemark 1 person tent 830 grams (plus a few extra pegs). I’ve only used this for one night so far, but I’m impressed. Would I take it out in a storm, no, but as light weight tents go, I rate this one and prefer it to my Terra Nova Laser Comp. Packs very small (smaller than in the photo).
Mountain Equipment Titan down sleeping bag, 650 grams, no longer made. It’s a sleeping bag, it’s down, it works. This is ok for late Spring to early Autumn for me.
Thermarest Neo Air XLite, 350 grams. I love this thing! Comfy and light it does exactly what it should do and seems to be a lot tougher than you’d think judging the thin material it’s made of.
Alpkit 900 titanium pot, striker, MSR Pocket Rocket 200 grams. Simple, effective and big enough to cook super simple stuff, which is all I do! Lighter and smaller than my Jetboil. I use a striker instead of a lighter. Small gas easily lasts an ML assessment.
Patagonia Cloud Ridge Jacket, 390 grams. Made of H2No rather than Gore Tex. Simple jacket that fits well, has a good hood, keeps me dry, and looks good in selfies(!).
Crux Torq over trousers, 375 grams. Event material – not particularly a fan but they do the job.
Patagonia Ultra Light Down Hoody, 300 grams. Super nice, and super warm for the weight! I’ve got other options too such as a Nano Air Hoody or Nano Puff Hoody.
Patagonia Levitation Hoody softshell, 450 grams. A fairly thin soft-shell that is tough, well fitting and simple.
2 Maps, of different scales. Personally a cut up 1:25k and a full Harveys 1:40k
2 Compass’s, got to have a spare. Both Silva.
2 Head torches. My main one is an LED Lenser SEO7 back up is a Black Diamond something, plus one set of spare batteries.
First Aid kit. It’s got what I want in it, rather than a shop bought option.
1L of water. This is pretty standard whatever the weather. I normally work in N Wales, there’s plenty of water for topping up. Less than 1L is not enough for me.
Bag of bits, buff, whistle, string, zip ties, battery pack, midge spray, small bottle of sun screen, that sort of stuff
Hat and gloves, more in winter!
Spare Merino t shirt, boxers and socks.
Suunto Ambit on my wrist, phone in my pocket, Black Diamond Z Poles in my hands.
Food. Not in picture. Keep it light, keep it tasty, make sure it’s got a decent amount of calories.
You’ll probably notice there’s no group shelter in the photo. Being honest, I’m probably not carrying one as there’ll be a decent sized one within the group. My shelter weighs between 250 and 320 grams depending on size, they’re Summit Supalight shelters and pack super small.
So what’s the weight?!
Without food but with water: 7.5kg
(weighed on the scales today)
So can you go lighter? Yes absolutely. We’ve all got our levels of acceptable comfort.
There’s things I don’t think we should skimp on such as proper water proofs, proper warm kit, 2 compass’s, 2 maps, 2 head torches (I’ve had one break on me). I also like my waterproofs to be a bit on the burly size – it rains a lot in Wales (but not lately!).
As I said at the top, light is right, carrying less weight means you’ll operate better. However I know plenty of people who carry far more weight the me and don’t care – there’s nothing wrong with that is there! Some people prefer a more spacious tent, and yeah I’ll probably look across at their tent with a little jealousy in my eye! You might want to carry more water than me, you might want a flask, you might want to cook up a feast and therefore have a bigger stove. Want a luxury item, like a blow up pillow? Awesome! My luxury item is a pair of headphones.It’s all good, this is just my take on being reasonably light whilst still having the right kit.
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.