Fieldwork in the Atacama Desert, Chile

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Mountain Leader Training

I know it's been a few months since my last post but I've been busy writing up my thesis (3 chapters down, about 4 to do) and so very little interesting new science has been occurring. So here's a, once again not science related, post on my attempts of surviving in academia by ensuring I've got plenty of other, non-work related things going on.

Last week I completed my Mountain Leader Training with the Mountain Training Association at Plas-Y-Brenin in Snowdonia. For those who don’t know the MTA provide a series of training and assessment for qualifications for those who want to work as mountain guides, or just need to prove that they’re safe to take groups (often as a volunteer) into the hills (more details can be found here). As I've mentioned numerous times before, I am heavily involved with the University of East Anglia Fell and Mountaineering Club which, due to graduations this summer, is about to lose the majority of its ML trained members, which is why I decided now was the right time to get this training done. I also want to get this qualification as kind of a back-up plan in case I get fed up of academia and decide to just disappear off into the mountains…

Even with the worst weather that Snowdonia could through at us (Plas-Y-Brenin was still running Winter Skills courses and we saw the remains of a recent avalanche) it was a bloody good week. In small groups with qualified instructors, we covered group management while moving over steep scrambly ground around Cwm Idwal, how to waist belay up and down trickier sections of rock and then abseil yourself off, micro- and night navigation (which was particularly interesting in very high wind) and had a good expedition and wild camp into the Carneddau; even if we did have to set the tents up within a sheepfold to stop them blowing away! 

The South African abseil, one of the many useful techniques I learnt this week and am looking forward to practising on a future scramble

On top of this we all benefited greatly from the instructor’s years of experience in the uplands of Snowdonia, pointing out interesting plants and random bits of information which a guide needs to know to keep even the most disinterested child involved: like how if you turn your head 45° Tryfan looks like Homer Simpson and that sphagnum moss makes great toilet paper if you’re caught short on the hill.


The accommodation, food and, somewhat brutal, bouldering wall (I had no skin left after 3 nights) at Plas-Y-Brenin were all spot on and the famous (within the university mountaineering community) cakes were delicious too.

It was a knackering week, especially as I went straight with the club to the Brecon Beacons (where some of the improved navigational skills did happen to come in handy) and was treated to some absolutely amazing conditions on the Pen-Y-Fan, Fan-Y-Big horseshoe on the Saturday.

The approach to Pen-Y-Fan on Saturday morning
I would very much recommend anyone involved in hillwalking/mountaineering activities to do this course, especially if you're part of a university club, taking less experienced friends or family out regularly or actually aspire for a job in the outdoors. Thanks to a bursary from the James Brownhill Memorial Fund I got my training half price, this fund is a charity set up to help members of university climbing clubs get training and increase safety in the mountains. It was set up in memory of James Brownhill who died in a climbing accident in Chamonix, France in 2011 and has also put a lot of my friends in the club through this training. There are many other funds and bursaries available other than the JBMF available to you even if you're not a university student, such as the Future Leaders Fund.

Now I've just got to try to get in plenty of practice and the necessary 40 ‘quality mountain days’ over the next year or so before I book my assessment; shouldn't be too difficult with a few weekends in Snowdonia, The Lakes and a week in Glen Coe already booked…Although it's trad climbing in the Peak District this weekend!

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