Work

Mountain Leader Training in the Lake District

Lucy: Last week I was observing a Summer Mountain Leader Training course with Graham Uney in the Lake District. This was a thrilling opportunity for me, to watch an experienced ML trainer at work, pick up some navigation coaching tips, and excitingly, it was also a bit of an extended job interview. Ever since I passed my own Summer ML eons ago, my life has been defined by my work in the mountains. I’ve been inspired by the excellent training and support that I received at the time and have been waiting for an opportunity like this to become involved with training future mountain leaders.

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Graham runs Graham Uney Mountaineering, based at Bampton near Shap, but ranging all over Snowdonia and Scotland too. We’d never met before but in the small pond of outdoor instructors in the UK he’s a well known figure. He was joined by Charlie, who is working towards his Course Directorship for ML awards, having worked on a number of courses around the UK and who runs his own company Your Mountain Challenge.

The Mountain Leader Training course follows the syllabus as set out by Mountain Training, and although it isn’t possible to cover every minute aspect of the syllabus in six days, a huge amount is covered, plus the core skills of navigation, leadership and dealing with summer mountain hazards are trained in depth. Candidates should have accrued a minimum of 20 Quality Mountain Days before training, giving them the prerequisite experience needed to get the most out of the course.

On Day 1, after some time spent in the classroom looking at the syllabus and scope of the award, we headed out on to the hill to practice some basic navigation skills. Most of this was easy revision for the candidates, and it was great for me to observe Graham using his methodical approach to teaching about the compass and map. As navigation coaches, we all have our little tricks up our sleeve, and we are always happy to borrow other people’s ideas! Day 1 was also a good time to introduce the responsibilities of the leader, and how to manage a group in the hills and around common hazards such as short rocky steps. We were blessed with the failing light of November and even managed to squeeze a bit of “night nav” in before tea.

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Day 2 was a magnificent day to be in the hills so we headed to the big mountains for a circuit of Striding Edge and Swirral Edge and the summit of Helvellyn. This is a classic Lakeland route, but quite serious in places and taking the Mountain Leader in to the”grey area” where a rope may be required in certain situations. It was a good opportunity to discuss a range of thorny issues, such as use of the rope (it’s a tool for emergencies only for MLs), the scope of the award, and managing groups in hazardous terrain. As a quality mountain day it had a bit of everything, including some navigation, despite the excellent visibility. Graham is one of the Fell Top Assessors for Helvellyn in winter, so knows the mountain like the back of his hand. It was pretty cool to be up there with him!

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On Day 3 we headed to Mardale to look at steep ground hazards. On the way, Graham let me loose with his precious candidates and I spent some time with them looking at contour interpretation. We navigated our way up to a boulder field where Graham demoed some emergency rope work before the candidates practised using different types of anchors and body belaying for themselves. Finally, they tried out “Classic” and “South African” emergency abseils. Fun/scary (delete as appropriate) under friendly conditions, useful to remember if an unforeseen problem arises.

Day 4 was a nuts and bolts kind of a day, including emergency procedures, and confidence roping. The weather was pretty brutal so we were happy not to wander too far from base, and even to spend some time in the classroom.

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The final two days of a Mountain leader Training Course usually contain the expedition element. This involves a night out camping, and some night navigation. Last week the weather was very cold, and windy, and with fresh snow high up later in the week, we headed to a relatively low lying area (600m or so) and planned a camp not too far from Mosedale Bothy. Bothies are not for use by organised and commercial groups, but it was good to know that shelter was nearby for the team should the weather become a serious problem. On the first day of the exped we did experience quite a bit of sideways sleet and even snow, but by the time we got down to the valley floor conditions had calmed, and after a hot tea, we headed out again in to a starlit night for night navigation practice. This aspect of the ML syllabus often intimidates candidates (it did me) but these days I see it as a huge adventure. I love being out at night and navigation is a fun challenge. The key is to be methodical in your approach, keep your navigation legs short and use good strategies. Also chocolate and a hot drink help!

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After a cold night, we headed out for a final mission, back to the car park… with lots of navigation in complex terrain, building up to assessment conditions. The candidates were able to put all that they had learned in to practice, completing a two day mountain journey during which our feet barely touched a mapped path. A huge well done to everyone on the course, it’s a full on experience, totally immersive, and a big milestone on their journey to becoming mountain leaders.

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It was also a fantastic learning experience for me. I’m hugely grateful to Graham and Charlie for sharing their knowledge and experience with me, and to the candidates themselves who were great fun and super keen. I loved being part of Graham’s team. Training future leaders is where it is at for me in terms of job satisfaction, and I’m delighted that 2019 is looking to contain lots more of this sort of stuff. Excitingly, there will even be a Summer ML running over split weekends in the Lake District and on Arran!

For more info about Graham’s Summer Mountain Leader Courses: http://www.grahamuneymountaineering.co.uk/Mountain-Leader

To read Graham’s Course Report from last week: http://www.grahamuneymountaineering.co.uk/course-report---mountain-leader-training-nove

To find out more about the Summer Mountain Leader Award: http://www.mountain-training.org/walking/skills-and-awards/mountain-leader

Wintery spring

Lucy

Lucy: I've been back in the UK for a month and I have to say, it's been a bit colder than I expected!  When I left France I was longing for a bit of green and some proper Scottish spring flower after a winter of monochrome but what I got was the Minibeast from the East, and then the Easter Beast. I'm a bit disappointed to say the least!  This is me camping in the peak district last weekend, working for Adventure Expeditions.  It was cold. Very cold.  Amazing work by the young people completing their Gold Practice in these conditions! 

Anyway, today there was a lull in proceedings. Client Carole came over with her camera to enjoy some of the best of Arran's wildlife. As always, it was dramatic, but made us work hard for our sightings.  We got a soaring golden eagle having a bust up with kestrels and buzzards,  and then later a couple of otters braving the rough seas. The icing on the cake for me was a male and female hen harrier quartering the moors above the Ross Road. As usual, I failed to take any photos of the wildlife, but I did get a few of Arran looking spectacular in her wintery spring garb. Just in time to make me feel bad about heading back to France at the weekend! Adieu Arran, see you when spring is a bit more sprung. 

 

Goatfell
Glen Rosa

Work and Play in the Peak District

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Lucy: Things are getting quieter here on Arran and as usual November is the month that we can catch up with ourselves and begin our winter preparation. With less work in the diary and the nights drawing in, it can be hard to keep active at this time of year, and this is one of the few periods when I have to consciously push myself outside to exercise. After a busy year it is of course good to rest, but we also have one eye on winter, a time when we need to be at our fittest! Last weekend I was working on a Lowland Leader Training for Adventure Expeditions all the way down in the Peak District so we both decided to head south and add a bit of rest and relaxation on to the trip in the form of riding bikes and rock climbing as well as spending time with friends.

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With a cold wind forecast on Thursday, we headed to Rivelin Edge for some rock climbing. The crag is sheltered and south facing so it was agood choice. It is also relatively quick to dry, which was a bonus as the day started damp. Some of the greener crack climbs stayed slimey all day, but we enjoyed some delicate face climbing. It's a long time since either of us have played on grit so Wally was very happy with his lead of Left Edge (HVS 4c).

The Peak District is also a great place for road cycling, and we enjoyed a spin amongst the showers, with obligatory cake stops on friday, and Wally who is keen as mustard on the bike,  was out and about on his bike while I was working over the weekend.

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The Lowland Leader Award is a Mountain Training walking and leadership award for people taking groups out in lowland terrain in the UK.  It's part of the Mountain Training leadership pathway and benefits from a structured training and assessment process, with candidate experience consolidated and recorded along the way. Our friends at Adventure Expeditions are providers of this excellent award and this is the first Lowland Leader Training course that I have worked on and I can't wait to do more. Training future leaders is an interesting and rewarding process!

Winter News and 2018 Bookings

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The first snow is dusting the summit of Goatfell, and on the mainland, the hills are starting to look genuinely wintery. With the change of season, it is time to update our clients and friends with our winter availability and accordingly,  announce some big news about our own plans.

In short, we will be spending much of the season in the French Alps!  This is obviously very exciting from a personal perspective, but will have a knock on effect for clients for which we are very sorry. We won't be available for bookings from the 10th December until early March.  Wally is expecting to be staying out in France until the end of April but Lucy will be back to grab some proper Scottish winter fun from the beginning of March. She already has bookings for winter mountain work on the mainland and is taking bookings for mainland winter munros throughout March. However,  if you are keen for Arran wildlife watching or an Arran mountain day in March it is still worth getting in touch to check availability.

Looking ahead to Summer 2018 (May onwards), we will start taking bookings for these dates in the New Year.  We realise that this may be a little frustrating for those of you who wish to get in early with bookings and appreciate that we book up fast, but this is due to the large amount of schools/contract work that we do.  This can block up weeks at a time, and is an important part of our work which we enjoy very much.  Sadly we don't yet have these dates firmed up, and would absolutely hate to take your booking and then cancel you further down the line. We hope you understand that your bookings are just as important to us and would be delighted to hear from you in the mean time to chat about options and ideas for your day out on Arran.

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Finally, we hope you are looking forward to winter as much as we are.  It's a brilliant time for watching wildlife and getting out in to the hills.  Don't forget your head torch as the nights are drawing in, and pop a few extra layers in the bag!

Lucy and Wally.

Two out of Three Aint Bad.

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Lucy: I was out yesterday with Jonathan, who is on Arran prepping for an forthcoming marathon, and who fancied a bit of cross-training in the hills. 

We'd planned to do The Three Beinns, but as is often the case at the moment, the Garbh Allt was a bit high, and we were keen on keeping our feet dry, so came up with an entertaining Plan B.

Plan B involved a short and easy scramble over the top of Beinn a Chliabhainn in a thick pea souper of a mist, followed by a steep trek up on to the summit of Beinn Tarsuinn. The clouds parted briefly for us to admire the sweeping slabs of the Meadow Face of Beinn Tarsuinn, before enclosing us once more.

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We made good time, and so decided to extend our day a little, with a traverse under the forboding cliffs of A'chir, popping out on the bealach between Achir and Cir Mhor just as the clouds lifted away at last,  treating us to incredible views of the Rosa Pinnacle. 

The stroll out of the lovely Glen Rosa, was long but enjoable. We were treated to golden eagles hunting overhead, andthe roaring of the red deer stags in the hills all around us. 

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Trossachs light show

Lucy: We've been working on the big island again... This time in the Trossachs, on a Bronze qualifying Duke of Edinburgh's Award expedition for an Edinburgh boarding school... The boys did well on what was a tough journey, with challenging weather and terrain, as well as a brutal early start on the second morning.  However, the negatives brought their positives. Changeable weather means rainbows, and early starts mean sunrises! Stunning interludes that make it all worthwhile. Thanks to the boys for their hard work and determination.

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Going Wild on Arran

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Lucy: The title of this post, is deliberately, quite similar to the title of my old blog, over on the google platform, that I curated for many years.  It describes perfectly what I spend a lot of my time doing.

The last couple of days I've been out and about with clients, wildlife guiding.  Yesterday we were on a Hotspot Safari- quite literally a tour of the best palces to watch wildlife on Arran.  The day began beautifully, with otters and sunshine.  There were snipe on the beach (who expected that?) and a red throated diver out to sea. Later in the day the weather deteriorated, but we were treated by a show of strength by the stags on the hills above the Newton Shore, who are in full rutting mode just now. Very dramatic.

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This morning was a typical dreich west coast day with strong westerlies. I wondered whether to call it but hoped that we could find a bit of shelter, and some sheltered water for an otter watching session.  Happily when we hit the shore, the rocks along the beach gave a bit of protection and we saw plenty of activity, incluing a female with two cubs, who bounced and flounced amongst the waves while their mother fished for breakfast. Later, we took a stroll along the shore the watch seals and found these lovely otter tracks in the sand.

And the weather gods smiled...

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Lucy: Wally and I have spent the last two days tramping the Galloway hills checkpointing young people on their Bronze Duke of Edinburgh's award qualifying expedition.  They were very lucky, although they possibly didn't appreciate how lucky- it rained heavily during their expedition, but only while they were in their tents.  The rest of the time it was dry and breezy. No midges... The weather gods were certainly smiling on us!

 Lochdoon Castle, an unsual place to be checkpointing kids.

Lochdoon Castle, an unsual place to be checkpointing kids.

 Loch Bradan

Loch Bradan

Goatfell Peasouper

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The view from the summit of Goatfell is, in our humble opinion, the second finest in Scotland (the best one is from the top of Caisteal Abhail...). However, today there was no view!  Npthing at all to be seen, in fact we could hardly see 10m ahead. Massive thumbs up and a pat on the back for the young people from Gosforth who accompanied myself and the staff from the Lochranza Centre to the summit. A good day's work and a well earned icecream and play about at Isle be Wild afterwards!

Feels a bit like Autumn...

 Loch Trool

Loch Trool

Lucy: Wally and I were working together for a couple of days this week, on a Bronze Duke of Edinburgh's training expedition in the Glen Trool hills. The first day of the exped had reasonably pleasant weather, but even in the sunshine, the air was cool and the autumn colours and lack of midges signalled the turning of the season.  After a dry camp, day two saw everyone soaked through and trudging back to the coach in distinctly unpleasant conditions.

Following this, I headed up to Lochaber, for a couple of days working with first year students from UHI.   This was a two day introduction to the essential skills required to enjoy the hills safely, looking at planning a fun, safe day out, weather, kit, navigation and movement skills in the hills. On the first day the weather was really quite benign, good for some introductory map games and a boggy map walk around Torcastle. On day two the wind (and a few red stags) roared and the rain poured, but we still had a fun and adventurous day out on the North ridge of Stob Ban in the Mamores range on the soth side of Glen Nevis.  We looked at movement skills and navigation in the mountain context. It was a great opportunity for the students to experience some real conditions, demonstrating the importance of good gear and route planning when heading out, especially at this time of year. It was ace to be working alongside local professionals,  Mike Pesocd (Abacus) Dave Anderson (Lochaber Guides) and Dennis Harvey, as well as a great gang of students who brought plenty of their own experience. The most interesting work for me is always when I'm learning as well as teaching and I enjoyed the change of venue and working with different colleagues.

This weekend as we hit the equinox,  I'm on a course in the Central Belt, learning about the processes involved in delivering quality Mountain Training Awards. It's a new avenue for me to explore, a different direction, and I'm not sure at this moment where it will lead!

One thing I do know though, the nights are fair drawing in. Time to add the headtorch in to the bag if it isn't there already, and winterise the clothing system...

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