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)
Next morning, it was seriously stiff and sore, but pumped full of ibuprofen, I passed myself fit and gritted my teeth. I didn’t realise quite how much teeth-gritting I would have to do over the last three days, nor quite how much ibuprofen I would get through. Luckily, suffering from arthritis, I always carry plenty of ibuprofen. It was one of the reasons I carried the group’s first aid kit on the expedition. Others carried the rope or emergency shelter. One of the guys got away with carrying nothing extra, but given that I would have carried my first aid kit anyway, I regarded the couple of extra plasters / zinc oxide tape as being a free win too.
The last three days were for the expedition. Before we left, we were issued with two days worth of army rations for the trip. For those that don’t know, these are actually good, but heavy at around 1.7kg per 24 hour pack (4000 or so Calories). We instantly broke them open and started trading. I have a weakness for the fruit biscuits, so I traded my powdered drink to someone for theirs. These trades went on all over the bunkhouse. We then left what we didn’t want and packed what we did.
We again used the Molewyns (it is excellent navigation practice terrain and – I guess – less known then most of northern Snowdonia). The night before the expedition, we had a terrible storm. The storm was visible on our drive in with branches fallen in the roads etc. Once we were walking, it was soon obvious too, as our footpath had been turned into a stream. Just below Cnicht we had some fun crossing a swollen and fast flowing river. We went for the throw rucksacks across then leap for it approach and got everyone over safely. On a timetable, we had to push on to meet Mal Creasey, one of the MLTUK training moderators. He walked with us for a couple of hours as we micro-navigated up the area around Cnicht.
Of the four of us, Geoff, the oldest guy, was clearly having problems with his endurance. On the first few days, he was much quicker than I was (as was everyone), but I was now getting into the swing of things and able to keep up where he was getting drained by the physical demands. Remember we were with RM PTIs, who were setting a fierce pace at times. They warned the two guys who were down for their ML training that they were going to beast us, so to ignore the exhaustion we were suffering, it was not normal on an ML assessment course. In fact, Mal Creasey mentioned that he thought we were being a bit to military for what is a civvie qualification.
I don’t know if it was the tiredness or the I-know-best attitude or the depression from being the only one to fail steep ground, but Geoff started making a few navigation errors.
We set up camp around 19:00 and were stood down until 22:00 (ready for night navigation). For everyone else, that meant time for food and sleep, but for me, with a re-test on rope techniques coming up, I had to practice, and perhaps as importantly, be seen to practice confidence roping, belaying etc. To do this, I had to partner up with different people in my group and lead them around. It meant that my group each got 45 minutes or so less rest, but I got none at all due to the need to practice. Then came the night navigation tests.
The first leg was quite a difficult one with the guy leading it changing direction at lot. Trying to follow on the map was a nightmare. Eventually we arrived at a small lake. Where were we? I guestimated how far we had come. Basically, we had moved between heading north east and north west, with little bits heading east and west. So, call it north on average. There was only one small lake marked on my map roughly north of the lake where I last knew our position for certain. I took a couple of bearings on visible marks in the distance, everything measured up. The assessor took exception to my use of the word think, as in “I think we are here”. Would I bet money on it? Would I bet a month’s salary? I’m a statistician by training with an aversion to gambling, so I struggled to be sure. My position is that you should be confident of where you are, but be aware that, especially at night or in poor visibility, you could be wrong. I feel this is a better approach than being closed minded (“We are here!”). Top Tip #3 – say “We are here”, not “I think we are here”. It’s what they want to hear. Fix your best guess and then state it confidently.
After another leg, it was my turn to lead a couple of legs. I hit pay dirt on the first one. I had a to find the change in direction of a boundary. Earlier we had been past the same area and I remembered that the boundary is actually marked by a fence, so all I had to do was find the fence and then the corner where it changed direction. Simple. I didn’t even bother with aiming off. Once I hit the fence, a bearing down it would tell be if I was north or south of my point. Great for confidence. I brought us to within about 5m of the point where I could then see the fence change of direction. The second leg was much harder. I wanted to follow the fence down for 350m and then head off on a bearing, but I couldn’t as the rocky ground was too hard to follow. Eventually I found the three lakes I was looking for and worked my way around to the ring contour overlooking one that I was after. Then came Geoff’s turn. He actually had an easy leg (you could see the lake we were aiming for), but made a right disaster of it and ended up getting himself lost and the rest of us trapped in boggy ground. That was it for the night. Back to our tents by 03:00. We didn’t even have to get up until 07:30.
Page 5 – Expedition Day 2