What does it takes to get a Mountain Leader (ML) qualification?

by Paul Cummings (Originally posted on uk.rec.walking, and published here with kind permission. His website is here)

PART Five – Expedition day 2 (page 1page 2page 3 page 4 – page 5 – page 6)

After the short night’s sleep, we breakfasted (boil in the bag beefburger and beans for me – yum) and packed.  We were all sat on our rucksacks ready to leave at the 09:00 time given.  A long day then followed as we micro-navigated out of the Molewyns and into the Glyders.  I got lucky again with my first nav point and could actually see it.  Although I lost sight of it on route, it was enough to have seen it to know I was on the right trail. Geoff again cocked up on his first point.  The start of a long day for him. During a break for lunch, we discussed, and were sort of tested on, a number of improvised stretchers and evacuation methods.  I was lucky and got the
> no-kit option.  This means I had to demonstrate all of the non-kit using techniques for carrying a man out.  Surprisingly, I managed to come up with quite a few, depending on the exact injury I was told to prepare for. Jeremy, the lightest of our group, then had to spend ten minutes with me keep picking him up and demonstrating different lifts and assists.  Two others had two men, one casualty and the final person had one man, one casualty, but access to his rucksack and kit (including a rope, survival bag etc).

We continued on micro-navigating until the heavens opened.  I have never seen such big rain drops.  They fell with force (and mixed with hail), so we quickly took a high speed trek down to the Pen-y-Gwryd Hotel for a coffee and warm up.  Those that could, used the facilities, I was pumped full of Imodium, so I was not going to need them.  After half an hour of bliss, it was back out into the wilds and climbing again.  I was instructed to lead us up the hill and then cross the river.  Why was I the one to have to lead the one river crossing!!!

We had a full dry practice with the rope then it was over the river.  We actually mostly climbed over rocks, but it was slippery and the rope was a useful safety aid.  Nobody fell in (although someone from the other group would have without the rope – the rocks were very slippery).  We then set up camp.  I followed this with my familiar routine of taking various doggies for a walk.  Which immediately got me into trouble.  It is confidence roping, not doggie walking. Top Tip #4 – Use the terms they want to hear.There can be a sense of humour failure, especially when everyone is tired.

Around 22:00 it was considered dark enough for another night navigation.  We were split into two groups.  Annoyingly, I was put in what was obviously the weaker of the two groups.  Mark ran things slightly different.  We were all given the location we were going to, but only one person led.  When they said we were there, we had to all say yes or no.  The first two legs were simple, but the guys took forever to get there.  In fact the second leg we never got there.  We were hunting for a huge boulder.  After taking us all around the Glyders, Gary confidently said we were at our spot.  No we weren’t said I immediately, Mark agreed.  After another half an hour or so, Gary was again confident we were there.  Again I disagreed.  In fact, I had seen the boulder we wanted.  It was the size of a house and about 100m away, compared to the one Gary had found which was about six feet in diameter.  I even stood on his boulder and took a very obvious bearing up to the real boulder, but Gary ignored me.  Mark later congratulated me on trying to help out without actually breaking the rules.  Geoff then led off and messed up again.  Finally it was my turn.  After five hours, I was tired and fed up.

For some stupid reason, I paced out on my bearing, came to an area about 20m short that looked roughly right and claimed it.  At the start of the evening I would have gone on and found the real point (around 25m further on), but such is life.  I was well pissed off with myself, thinking I had failed.

I was given the job of walking on a bearing back to the campsite.  What luck!  At the campsite I had noted two hills meeting in the distance were exactly east of the campsite.  I now noticed they were still exactly east. All I had to do was walk straight at them (which I could clearly see with my headtorch off).  It worked fine and we got back to the campsite quickly (I pretended to be following the bearing, but I wasn’t using my compass at all).

In the morning, I was really depressed.  My knee was screaming in agony (I had not slept at all during the four hours we had for sleep).  Was there any point in going on, knowing I had failed?  I went and sat on a rock feeling more than a little sorry for myself.  Some time later, I decided that failed or not, I was going to finish the expedition (I still had a few ibuprofen tablets left).  We packed up and set off.  We all had a simple leg to lead. Geoff came to his leg and made a complete pig’s ear of it.  He picked the hardest route to take, which involved getting the rope out.  Mark then asked me to lead the rope section (belaying as the others climbed down).  When I was alone and left, I had to climb down without a rope as there were no anchor points.  Not something I enjoyed, especially when I shredded my hand on a sharp rock.  With blood covering around a quarter of my palm, I gritted my teeth (how my teeth survived I don’t know) and carried on.  Geoff was confident he had found his ring contour, despite there being a bigger bump less than 100m away.  When asked to go to the location we were seeking, the other three of us turned immediately and walked to the larger hillock.  If Geoff’s hillock was a ring contour, ours certainly would have to be one, yet there was only one ring contour shown.  Guess who was right.

From there, we descended slowly down towards Pen-y-Pass.  At this point, Mark decided that I needed to confidence rope the other guys down the hill. Gavin and Jeremy were no problem.  Geoff was a pain, but I was ready for him and gave short sharp orders to keep him quiet and docile.  I think he was too tired to argue.  Then, on my second trip with Gavin, Mark pulled his rabbit out of the bag by pushing Gavin down the hill.  I dug in and was dragged a couple of inches before I was able to drop to the ground and hold Gavin.  I got a grudging nod from Mark for that.

We half crawled into the Pen-y-Pass café and ordered coffee.  After two days in the wild, we were dirty and stank, but we didn’t care.  We had finished. Eventually we were picked up and driven back to the bunkhouse for showers and debriefs.  Those with experience hung back and let the others shower first. Top Tip #5.  It is only when you are clean again that you realise just how much everyone stinks.

Page 6 – Result!

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