Team JMC’s very own wizened mountain man, Pete Wilson, recently proved he’s got what it takes to pass the tough Mountain Leader assessment….
When I was planning the 33 peaks for JMC a couple of years ago, I thought it was about time that I got a mountain qualification, after all, if you lead groups in the mountains you have a responsibility for your groups safety. So I looked up the relevant qualifications and the summer mountain leader was the one that fitted the bill. Looking at the prerequisites it looked like I had covered most and so booked onto the compulsory 1 week training course. I did this course last summer, and to say it was eye opening was an understatement. The detail and accuracy of the mountain navigation required was harder than I expected. Being able to find a small feature from the map on the side of a mountain in day light and in the dark was very hard. So having completed the training I needed to do a lot of practising before my assessment.
So the assessment was booked and leading up to it I spent many days out in the mountains, in some really bad weather, to get my navigation to up to the required standard. Prior to the assessment a home paper was also sent out for me to complete. This had all sorts of questions not only relating to navigation, but also access rights to the mountains, leading groups of children, weather and first aid. After a few long nights I got this complete. As part of the week I also had to prepare a number of presentations. One to present during an evening, and the other 2 to present while out on the hills. Creating a PowerPoint was easy enough as it’s what I do as a day job, but I had to do a reasonable amount of research on all three topics; GPS devices, glaciation and airplane accidents in the mountains.
I arrived at the youth hostel on the Sunday evening and met the 5 other candidates, sitting in the bar we compared notes and got ready for the Monday morning. Monday was a day of introductions and then a day navigating in the mountains around Coniston. It was a cold day with a lot of cloud, but this was above the summits. The navigation went well with only one small error, so I was pleased. We also had a number of discussions during the day around group safety and emergency procedures. That evening we did our presentations. This also went well. The following day was going to be a day of emergency rope work and steep ground, the day I was least looking forward to. To help prepare we again went to the bar and spent a couple of hours tying knots and practising our abseiling. I think other people in the bar thought we were very odd!
The weather was slightly warmer and brighter for the Tuesday and we set out to our steep ground day again near Coniston. We spent most of the day working in on large group climbing and descending some steep rocky ground with each person taking in turn to lead the group. We also had a session out from the group with an instructor to practice confidence roping.
For the final part of the day we had to lower a team member down a near vertical drop, and then follow him down using an abseiling technique. With a full set of climbing equipment this can be quite easy but we only had a rope to work with so this was much harder and the abseil can be quite painful. The cliff I was asked to get a team member down was vertical, but luckily for me had an obvious large boulder at the top that I could use as an anchor so it went very well.
For the last 3 days of the assessment the plan was to go out on an expedition. This involved taking all you need for 3 days out with 2 nights wild camping in the mountains. The weather by this time had improved and the forecast was for clear days, but with cold nights. We started in the Langdale valley, and quickly climbed out up towards Crinkle Crags. Each of the assessed was given a navigation leg, and had to let the instructor know when we had arrived. The rest of the team then had to tell the instructor where we were. The instructor never actually let us know if we were right, so we all needed to focus on where we were all the time. We climbed onto the Crinkles and at this point I was asked to give my second presentation on glaciation. I stood on a small rise with the Langdale valley behind me, pointing out features, one of the best locations I’ve ever done a presenation! We climbed round Bowfell, and to our camp for the first night.
A great spot, high up the mountains. We setup camp, had some food and then got ready for our first night navigation. We waited until it got dark, and then as we had done during the day we were each given a leg of navigation. I was first and with only a small error I found my point a small tarn. The second person was given their leg and off we went. He had a bad navigation leg. We climbed up towards Esk Pike, and reaching a plateau we were guided off the path. Leaving the path we needed to follow the leader, but using our compass and pacing out the legs to make sure we always knew where we were. The leader at this time had some real difficulty in finding his point and it took us possibly an hour to reach it. The next 2 legs, one of which was mine, went without issue, and we then headed back to camp. By the time we reached camp and had some feedback, it was midnight and time to get some sleep. But it was very cold by this point, and so I didn’t have a great night. It was so cold that my water in the tent froze.
The morning dawned and again it was a clear day.
The day was again similar with navigation legs, but also others in the group doing their presentations and the instructors asking more about emergency situations. By this point my navigation was going really well and I found all of my points during the day without issue.
One of the team, however, had really started to struggle, and during the day he asked to stop being assessed and asked the instructor to train him for the remainder of the time on the mountains. We got to our second camp and again pitched the tents and got ready for the second night navigation. This went without issue and by 10 pm we were back at the tents.
The weather had started to change overnight; the wind had started to increase in strength, so much so during that the night I had to get out of tent to put a peg back in as my tent was starting to blow about. The final morning was wet but as we were starting back towards home it didn’t matter.
Our instructor was happy with our navigation and so we simply headed back to the Langdales, only stopping to have a test on river crossing. We arrived back in the valley and had a quick drink as this was the end of the assessment. But had we passed?
We were taken back to the base in Coniston and after a welcome hot shower, we each in turn got feedback. Out of the 6 being assessed 1 had failed, 1 had to return to do another night navigation assessment, one needed to do some more walking to gain some more experience and 3 passed. I was one of those that passed. So what next? Well, I have more mountain marathons planned for the summer and also will take a JMC team out into the mountains on a guided walk. If anyone reading this would also like to be guided in the mountains please just ask.