ML Training in Sunny Snowdonia

Written by Jono Hawkins on 31 Aug 2016

Mountain Leader training is something I feel I’ve put off for a couple of years, largely as a result of my answer to the question ‘do I enjoy walking more than climbing?’. However, having now completed the week with Paul Poole (Paul Poole Mountaineering), and spending two years with UBES means that I have realised this question was intrinsically biased and I enjoy both.

Driving up to Snowdonia on Saturday afternoon with Declan’s family car packed to the brim, we arrived in Telford services to pick up Catherine, pack the car up some more, and then head off to the Ogwen valley. After a trip down the road to Bethesda for supplies and dinner we all took an early night, ready for the next day. Snowdonia was unusually warm for the entire week we were there, and temperatures poked into the 30’s on a couple of days which meant sleeping in a humid tent wasn’t the most pleasant affair and I think it’s fair to say most of us had a more restless night than we had expected. We drove down the road to meet Paul at the Moel Siabod cafe, our base for the week, and cracked on with introductions and some presentations about the ML scheme.

Following this, we drove to Cwm Idwal for a half-day of micronav. If you haven’t given micronav a go while out on a walk, it can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Paul would point to a contour or feature on the map and we would have to find our way to it using a mixture of bearings, pacings and common sense.

Tip: work out how many steps you take on one leg over 100m. Write this down, and calculate how many paces you would take for 50m, 75m, 150m etc. and you’ll save yourself getting the mental arithmetic wrong on the hill.

It was really enjoyable to walk through Cwm Idwal and have Paul point out the various flora that we were passing by - Bog Asphodel, Bilberries and Butterwort to name but a few - and this continued over the next few days. That evening we made our way to the crag located just at the back of the Gwern Gof Isaf campsite and guessed our way up several different routes.

The next day was our first Quality Mountain Day (QMD) with Kate from RAW Adventures. We drove down to Nant Peris and took a path up the back of Elidir Fawr. This was really enjoyable, especially as soon as we broke onto the main ridge and enjoyed some more scrambly terrain. The day was focused on larger navigation objectives, however this was made particularly easy with the amazing visibility we had for the duration. Day three and we were back with Paul. Tuesday was supposed to be the hottest day of the week and it was. Instead of undertaking a big mountain day we focused on the rope skills aspect of ML training. This overriding message of this was that if you are using these techniques, you’ve done something wrong. It was interesting to see how abseiling, belaying and anchors were still all possible with just a rope, however uncomfortable it was! Taking the heat into account we went in search of a lake and ended up in Llyn Ogwen, only to remember the algal blooms it experiences and swimming past sheep bones… We relocated to the waterfalls by the Ogwen Cottage and had a pleasant time cooling off swollen feet and exploring.

While for the most part, our time spent in the hill is incident free, the ML syllabus contains a section of how to deal with emergencies which was the focus of our fourth day. Back in Cwm Idwal, Emily posed an interesting question to Paul about how to deal with a group that is fitter than you…

Tip: your knowledge of flora and fauna isn’t entirely pointless. By stopping and pointing out interesting land features, flora and fauna you are able to control the groups pace without telling them to slow down directly.

We learned how to carry a casualty over small distances using improvised carrying techniques and stretchers which was interesting to practice and gave us a new idea for an organised fun game… We continued our loop into Cwm Cneifion and down a tricky awkward step on the climbers decent for Clogwyn y Tawr back to the Ogwen Cottage and the campsite, excited for the next day which was the start of our 2-day mini expedition. We woke up later than usual on Thursday and didn’t meet Paul until late morning to plan a route for expedition. We drove into the back of the Carneddau, via Betws y Coed and took an interesting and meandering route into a bowl underneath Carnedd Llwyelyn. While the weather didn’t quite match what we had for the rest of the week, it was still a lovely walk and a beautiful - if a little bit spooky - wild camping spot by an old wrecked aeroplane.

The evening gave us the opportunity to practise some ‘poor visibility navigation’ or ‘night nav’. As before, Paul would pick out a small feature on the map and we would have to navigate to it in the light of our headtorch.

Tip: trust your pacing and bearing! You’re never going to be 100% accurate but as long as you have the correct bearing and rough distance you probably won’t be too far off.

Eventually we returned to camp at about midnight and fell straight asleep. Waking up the next morning, we continued to navigate our way off the mountain and back to the car for a debrief at Moel Siabod cafe, breakfast, and the long journey home!