Ulog 24: Training to be a Mountain Leader

November 12, 2018 0 By NatalieM
Ulog 24: Training to be a Mountain Leader

If you haven’t heard much from me over the past couple of weeks, it’s because I’ve been spending most of my time at an outdoor centre, on a Mountain Leader training course.

I’ve been organising hillwalks through a Meetup group for years. This is just for fun, getting people who love hillwalking together to enjoy our hobby. I don’t make any money from it.

I love being in the hills.

However the idea of earning part of my living from leading hillwalks has an increasingly strong appeal. I have basic navigation skills, but I’m keen to learn more. I have virtually no first aid skills, and if someone were to become ill during one of my walks, or to have an accident, I want to be able to do more than just phone for help.

The first step in gaining these recognised professional skills in the UK is to train to be a Summer Mountain Leader. In order to do this, you have to sign up with the Mountain Training Association and start logging your relevant mountain climbing experience. I signed up more than a year ago, but I didn’t have the funds to take a course and buy the required clothing and equipment.

A few months ago I took out a loan through my credit union, and signed up for a course!

The trainer I signed up with didn’t have enough participants in this particular course for it to go ahead, and instead he offered me a place on a course he was running a month later, at The Abernethy Centre in Ardgour. I was happy to accept.

The course was to be held in two three-day sessions, over a couple of weeks. I had to buy new walking boots (as one of my hillwalking boots was leaking), my first proper hillwalking raincoat, and a new tent, as well as smaller items like a map and map holder. The money for these items came from the loan I’d taken out.

The course started two weeks ago. I drove up to Ballachulish and took the 3-minute Corran Ferry over to Ardgour. From there it was a 20-minute drive, partly along a single-track road, to the Abernethy Centre, where the course would be based.

The Abernethy Centre at Ardgour.

The training was tough and challenging at times, but as we were doing the kind of things I love, I felt up to the challenge!

Day 1

…was spent tramping around a heathery moor doing navigation exercises and learning about types of mosses and lichens. My left ankle is still slightly tender after I sprained it at the end of August, and as a result I found the ground a bit tricky to walk on at times.

The navigational exercises exposed weaknesses in my navigation skills. I know how to use a map and compass, but I definitely need to fine tune my abilities. I also discovered that my compass isn’t working as well as it should. It has a bubble in it, probably the result of a few soakings.

Day 2

… was about ropework on steep ground. I go climbing indoors once or twice a week, but this was a different type of ropework using different knots, so it was a bit of a learning curve – but one I enjoyed immensely.

Direct belay technique.

Abseiling or rappelling.

I’m looking forward to practising the techniques we learned.

It was difficult not to get distracted by the spectactular scenery visible from our steep hillside practice ground, looking out over Loch Linnhe towards the mountains of Glencoe and Ben Nevis.

Sun on Loch Linnhe.

L-R: Ben Nevis and the Mamores (just visible at the far left), Beinn a’Beithir, Fraochaidh and the Appin coast.

Day 3

This was a hill day in Glen Nevis. We took the Corran Ferry across Loch Linnhe, to climb a relatively small hill (680m) called Meall Cumhann, or “The Narrow Hill”. Despite its relatively low height, its position gives spectacular views of Ben Nevis and the high mountains surrounding it, the Mamores and the Aonachs. Meall Cumhann is ideal for the role-playing exercises we were practising that day, helping “nervous people” up and down steep, rocky terrain.

At the summit, we erected a group shelter and admired the views.

The “Ring of Steall” (Mamore range).

Aonach Beag

Ben Nevis, flanked at the left by Carn Dearg and at the right by Carn Mor Dearg, Aonach Mor and Aonach Beag, with the group shelter in the foreground.

Days 4-5

The next three days of the course took place the following week, starting with a two-day mountain camping expedition. I had a massive struggle to get all my camping and hillwalking gear into my backpack the night before, despite having already done a mountain camp using the same backpack. The only changes were my slightly larger down sleeping bag and sleeping bag liner.

I ended up transferring some of my food from Tupperware containers into sealed plastic bags in order to fit everything in. Luckily I didn’t find it too heavy to carry! I’ve had a lot of practice carrying heavy backpacks.

Our camping expedition was at two mountains I’ve climbed before, Stob Coire Sgriodain and Chno Dearg, near Loch Treig. I was glad that I’d seen the views from these mountains before, as they were shrouded in mist throughout our expedition. This was actually quite helpful, as we spent most of the time doing navigation practice.

Stob Coire Sgriodain.

We took turns to lead the way up Chno Dearg according to instructions given by our leaders. After reaching the summit, we walked down about 300m into the wide corrie that separates the two mountains to camp on an expanse of flat marshland near a small loch.

Arriving at our camp ground, near the imaginatively-named Lochan Coire an Lochain (“The lochan of the corrie of the lochan”).

Tents in the mist. Mine is the light green one at the left hand side.

We got our tents pitched just before sunset, at about 4.30pm, and then we headed off for three hours of night navigation before dinner. I really enjoyed learning these new navigational techniques, though I think we were all a bit tired.

I was certainly warm enough that night, in my new down sleeping bag, but I was woken up several times by my tent flapping about in the wind.

We spent the following day doing more navigation, climbing our way up Stob Coire Sgriodain, and taking it in turns to lead on our way up and then back down the mountain.

Me at the foot of Stob Coire Sgriodain at the end of the second expedition day. It was quite windy!

Day 6

The last day of the course was spent learning how to safely move an injured person in the morning, and dealing with water hazards in the afternoon. This involved wading into a fast-flowing river and learning various techniques of staying upright as we crossed to the other side. It was pouring with rain at the time, and I decided not to take my camera out!

I was glad to change into dry clothes afterwards, for the final summing up, followed by a private chat for each participant on what areas they did well and what they need to improve on before taking the assessment next year.

I thoroughly enjoyed the course. The challenges showed me what I’m capable of, and I think I managed to hold my own in a group of mainly 18-25 year olds! I’m certainly a “mature student” in this type of training, but I don’t regret not having gone into it at an earlier age, as I think my maturity and experience in other fields is helpful for the type of things I want to do.

There is a lot more for me to learn and practice before I take my assessment next year, but as it’s the kind of thing I love doing, I can’t wait to get started.

Serious Bagging update

Ben Nevis

With 99 Munros under my belt now, I’ve been waiting for decent weather conditions to do my 100th Munro, Ben Nevis – and it looks like those conditions are finally on their way! So this weekend, me and a friend will be heading up to Glen Nevis to do my 100th Munro at last.

I’m not looking for the perfect dry, sunny day – though that would be brilliant of course! But as I’m keen to do the ridge walk between Ben Nevis and Carn Mor Dearg, I really don’t want to do it on a windy day, and there have been a lot of very high winds over the past few weeks.

If the weather forecast deteriorates before this weekend, we will still climb the mountain, but the easier way up, and without doing the ridge walk. So… let’s hope for some sunshine!