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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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.

As a course provider for Mountain Training awards (Single Pitch & Mountain Leader), we sometimes get visits from them to make sure we’re delivering courses that are up to scratch.

Our aim is to always deliver great courses that meet everyone’s aims and objectives. They’re always informative, safe and fun.

We love what we do so it’s never a chore! How could it be, we get to spend time in the mountains and on the rock faces with super excited people, winning!

Here’s a couple of quotes from the moderation report:

“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.”

Jez brown Mountain leader courses

Working on ML training and assessment courses is flipping ace!

My brother brought me to N Wales when I was 15 and it has lead to a lifetime of fun filled adventures all over the world, for which I’m extremely grateful. The ML award has been vital to my career, enabling me to take groups out in the mountains and leading on to my Mountaineering Instructor Award and Winter Mountain Leader, so I feel very privileged to help others on their own journey.  

There’s a few steps to being able to work on ML courses and a few specific terms that’ll make more sense if I explain them now…

Provider: In my case this is my company – JB Mountain Skills, the role of the provider is to look after all the admin type stuff. They must be approved by Mountain Training, and briefly, they will have shown they have a market for ML courses and will be beneficial to Mountain Training.

Director: The person who’s in charge of delivering the course, ie. me, Jez Brown. A director must also be approved by Mountain Training and hold their MIA & WML or IML & WML, as well as having worked on at least 6 ML courses. They will also need to have a diverse range of CPD and tick a few other boxes too.

Staff: A second member of staff will be needed to deliver at least part of every ML course and will work under the direction of the course director. Whilst they don’t need to be approved by Mountain Training, they need to be an experienced ML as a minimum and have worked at least 20 days as an ML, most staff will have far in excess of this though.

Now that boring stuff’s out the way….

rock climbing warm up

How I like to start my day…

Before the course even starts I’ll have spoken to everyone on the course, as the provider, dealing with the admin and checking DLogs. The day before the course I’ll have a look at the candidates DLogs and make a few brief notes, are they meeting the minimum requirements, does anything jump out? Sometimes there’ll be something unusual in there like a trip to some far flung place or an epic that provides a good talking point. I can’t say I read every last note on each entry of the DLog as it’s pretty time consuming, but I’ll read some if they look interesting and sometimes I’ll have to hunt around the DLog to find everything – log everything, whether it’s a QMD or a winter climb or a Himalayan exped, it all helps build a picture of you as a candidate.

Day 1, I always meet in Pete’s Eats, it’s a North Walian institution as much as it is a cafe! I don’t like to spend too long indoors so I try to keep things fairly brief, we’ll have some quick introductions and have a chat about the week ahead. We’ll also get straight in to chatting about the weather forecast and analysing a synoptic chart. Because this is an assessment, I expect the candidates to be leading most of the stuff we chat about including telling me what kit we need for the day, group shelters and such like, then we’ll decide where to go for the day. Maybe Cwm Glas and we’ll be on the 1:25k maps.

We try and calm the nerves a bit, we know it’s a stressful time, by giving everyone some pretty straight forward legs to start with, fairly obvious points like stream / footpath / field boundary junctions etc. We’re looking for people to get us to the points and look after the rest of the group on the way there, maybe imparting a bit of knowledge along the way about anything mountain related, whether you’ve spotted a Sundew plant or tell us about the hydro electric developments you can see en route to Cwm Glas, or anything else – I love all this because I’ll usually learn something myself! For those not leading the leg, you still have to concentrate as you may well not know where you’re going and you’ll have to relocate when we get there… Assessors won’t always tell you if you’re correct, not to be a pain in the butt, rather to give you a chance to correct yourself should you realise you’ve made an error- but absolutely do not assume because we haven’t said “yes that’s right” that you’re not on the correct spot. Sometimes we will say yes, sometimes we may say “if we are there, where’s the stream shown on the map” or something similar, to try and elicit some justification points. Following can often be harder, especially when the assessor is chatting away to you, remember we all want to have a nice day out  in the hills too!

When you get to a point, I have no issue with candidates taking their time, having a quick look around etc., to make sure they are 100% sure where they are, I’d rather you do that than rush and give me a wrong answer.

As the day progresses we’ll probably start to navigate to smaller features, re-entrants, spurs and such like. At times I’ll let you just get on with it, other times I might ask you to let the group know what your plan is, along with any timings you’ve worked out. Remember to pick appropriate safe lines through any spicier terrain and keep checking that everyone is doing ok.

At the end of the day we’ll head back to Pete’s for a little review of what we’ve done and run through the home paper which is a pretty chilled affair, it raises some good points for discussions and lets us cover some of the less practical aspects of the syllabus.

mountain leader course

Navigation can be fun!

Day 2, meeting in Pete’s again we’ll have a look at the synoptic chart again and see what the weather has in store for us, we might then compare that to some forecasts such as MWIS to see if they match what has been said. On this day we’ll be going on some more rocky terrain to focus on security on steep ground stuff, group management and there’ll still be some nav involved. Somewhere like Tryfan is ideal for this day and the candidates will be taking a rope between two and a helmet each (the helmet is because we are planning to use the rope, unlike working as an ML when the use of the rope is not planned). As an assessor I won’t be carrying any extra kit than a normal mountain day, but I will make sure I have my camera because I can usually get some nice action shots! You’d also notice me taking notes on this day because there’s a lot going on and I want to be able to refer to everything I’ve seen, in part to make a decision on the candidates performance, but also to help give them feedback on specific things I’ve seen.

Arriving at the bottom of Tryfan’s North Ridge, with slightly heavier packs, the candidates will take it in turns to lead sections of the journey and at this point it’s more about route finding and safeguarding the group than nav with the map. I’m looking for people to pick appropriate lines, spot, shepherd, give good advice and such like, plus I still want people to impart some knowledge, maybe some geological gems as we’re in the Ogwen Valley and there’s so much there to talk about. I might ask some questions to the group at times too, “Why are there not many trees? Should there be?”

mountain leader rope work

Security on steep ground can be fun too!

This day requires a lot of judgement from the candidates, I’m looking for them to make the correct decisions of when to apply the various techniques in their tool box such as when to spot and when to get the rope out and if they do get the rope out, what kind of belay are they going to choose, and then how do they safeguard themselves? At some point they will need to use a rope and I’m not just looking at the setup, I’m wanting to see it used safely and effectively, I sometimes see a perfect setup, used perfectly until right at the end the candidate takes the person off the rope whilst they’re still in a precarious position, where just moving them on a couple of metres would have been much safer. At some point the candidates will probably be doing an abseil as well, and there’ll definitely do some confidence roping, which I often see being done really badly, make sure you practice it! Bent arms, twist in the rope in the lower hand, appropriately tight, good stance etc.

“Right folks, where are we?” A quick relocation somewhere on the ridge often catches people out, I’m careful where I do this, there’s a few good points where it’s not to hard if you think about it, but in some spots it would be super hard. Contours, contours, contours.

We might head down the West side and do some nav on the way down, maybe a leg each. At this point it probably enters my mind we were supposed to have done the 5 minute presentations on the hill that the candidates have been asked to prepare. Oh well, we’re out of time, we’ll do it back at Pete’s…

Scrambling course Tryfan the Canon

Taking a break!

On each day, but especially this day, I’d be giving out bits of feedback along the way and sharing any top tips that I feel may be useful, an assessment must be an extension of the training regardless of how well the candidate is doing.

At Pete’s, after a review of the day, we’ll listen to the presentations and probably have a chat about any salient points, before having a quick chat about the upcoming expedition… I’ll normally ask the candidates to come up with a route plan, having given them some key points that I want to get to. Snowdonia is a big place with so many awesome route choices, one of my favourites though is the Cnicht area of the Moelwyns, check it out on the map, lots of lovely contour features! If I’m happy with what I’ve seen day 2, we may not take ropes on the exped and wouldn’t normally take a helmet, however the exped gives further opportunity to see some rope work if I haven’t yet seen quite enough from anyone.

Day 3, we won’t meet ’til about 1030 so it’s time for a lie in! I wish, despite the best will in the world I won’t have packed ready the day before, so I’ll be up on time and sorting my kit and getting the head torch batteries out of the charger and such like. I’ll also be packing too much food, I usually do, 2018 will be the year of eating more healthily on expeditions I think, it’s too easy to pack junk food, which used to keep me happy but these days it makes me grumpy (and who wants a grumpy assessor!)

Mountain footwear boots shoes

What to wear?

When we meet, guess what? We’ll look at the synoptic charts again, followed by a bit of MWIS, then have a look at the route plan the team has come up with.

I once got to the parking spot at Gelli Lago and one of the team realised they’d left their boots back at Pete’s, don’t let that be you! Check and double check! That said, we all have little mishaps, I’ve eaten my dinner with a compass as a makeshift spoon before and I once took the pole set from a different tent (2 poles instead of 3..!) which made for a flappy tent…

Similarly to the previous day the candidates take it turns to lead legs, on the 1:25k again, while everyone else relocates each time, it’s important to manage the pace, we’ve all got bigger packs on, and it’s a full on few days, so make life easier for everyone, slow & steady! Up and over Cnicht and before you know it we’ll be at the camp spot where before anything else we’ll have a little chat, lead by the candidates about what makes a good camping spot and what considerations there are when taking a group out then we’ll get on with putting our tents up and getting sorted. I normally aim to get in to camp somewhere around 1700, after having a wander around and seeing how everyone is getting on it’s dinner then power nap time for me!

I’ll wake up to the sound of my phone’s alarm going off and reach for my head torch, it’ll be dark now which can only mean one thing, night nav fun times! The time depends on what time of year it is, in the height of summer it could be 2300, this time of year though it would be closer to 1900. Anyway after quickly getting the right layers back on, it’s time to bag up and get back out there for another few hours. Remember why we’re doing night nav, it’s to simulate poor visibility, so if the vis has been really poor already, we might not do shed loads of night nav, but expect to be out for a while. I’m looking for candidates to navigate precisely and with simple, bomb proof tactics, still keeping an eye on the group of course and not taking us on any terrain that’s too spicy. Relocating at night is hard, so make sure you concentrate when following legs too, especially as you’re probably a bit tired and weary. Keep plugging away, try and remember to enjoy it and it’ll soon be bed time, phew!

mountain leader navigation

Night nav fun times

At some point during night nav I’ll try and get some signal to check the weather forecast for the next day, and let’s be honest, I’ll probably get a cheeky update on to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter…!

A review of the day and chat about the next day and that’s day 3 done!

Day 4, I like my sleep so I’ll have asked everyone to be ready to roll at 0900, with their gear all packed and their 1:50k maps at the ready. I’ll make sure I’m packed and ready before that, having had the standard porridge and a hot drink to warm the core and fuel me for the day. I think for a lot of people this could be the toughest day, out for another full day with another camp to come. Did your kit admin pass the test, is everything still dry and organised? That can be hard when the weather is grim, as it often is, but it’s all part of the game so keep on top of it, you need to be able to operate with ease to have the head space and capability to look after your group when working as an ML.

More of the same today but on the 1:50k and with longer legs normally. If anyone needs to redeem themselves in terms of steep ground stuff, I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for those opportunities too.

snowdonia camping, campcraft mountain course

Say cheese!

Into camp around 1600, and it’s time to get the tents up again, hope they’re still dry inside..! Night nav fun times? Well that depends on the previous night’s performances. Did everyone smash it? Great, no night nav. Did some people fall below the standard and need another opportunity to prove themselves? Oh well, out again then I’m afraid, that’s all of us. I absolutely would not say “We’re all going out because Mr/Mrs X didn’t do well enough”, it would just be a case of we’re all going out and everyone will be doing legs. I love night nav, it’s awesome being out in the mountains at night, but I love my sleeping bag too, so I’m happy either way!

Day 5, 0900 and we’re ready to go again, it’s nearly over. I look around, and think how people are looking, we don’t defer people for looking tired so don’t worry about that! It’s just interesting to see how people are coping.

Think back to what we haven’t covered in the week yet. We haven’t mentioned emergency procedures yet, so at some point during the morning we’ll have a chat about that and maybe do some improvised carries. What about river crossings? Who doesn’t love a river crossing? Well, me for a start! We’ll absolutely have a chat about them, mostly about avoiding them, but tactics for crossing them when we need to. Will we do them, sometimes, depends where we are, what the water conditions are and the particular group.

“Right, lets relocate!” “What info will Mountain Rescue need?”…

We finish back at the vehicles around 1200. It’s all over, there’s nothing more to be done save the reviews, debriefs and results.

winter skills course scotland

Winter ML next?

Back at Pete’s again, or maybe the Siabod to mix it up, we’ll review the week and chat about what happens next etc., before having individual debriefs. These can be happy or sad times, that depends entirely on the candidates. As an assessor I think the acid test is whether I’d be happy for them to take my loved ones out in the mountains. Put yourself in the assessors shoes, it’s a massive responsibility to pass someone and we take into account the candidates performance over the whole course, I’ll have chatted to any other course staff to make sure I have all the info possible and give a lot of thought not only to the result, but also to the feedback.

Most people pass, that’s ace, that’s what we want. The ones that pass are the ones that have consolidated well and put in the practice.

Some people defer, take the positives from that though! That means you’ve met the mark in some areas, awesome, just a little more effort and you’ll have passed in no time. You get really constructive feedback and an action plan, and I’m always available after the course after the dust has settled to have a chat whether that’s a day, a week or a month later, it’s not always the time to take on loads of info.

It’s possible to fail, this is rare and only happens when people have not put any effort in.

Done!

Well, not quite! Home time is followed by a well earned shower and then it’s time to sort and dry any kit that needs drying. I might need it again the next day! The course director also has to fill out a course report online with Mountain Training which takes a bit more time, personally I tend to do that the day after. I also have a personal reflection on the course, what went well, what could be better etc., none of us ever stop learning and I strive to never stop improving so reflection is an important part of the process for me.

Well, that was a monster blog so good effort if you made it to the end, your ML will seem easy in comparison!

Good luck to anyone going through the scheme!

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There are also more blogs on ML top tips etc on our Articles section