ML(S) Training, Lake District

Image courtesy of tromig

I have just spent the last week on a Mountain Leader (Summer) Training course run by Carol Emmons of Carolclimb, staying at Wast Water YHA. It has been a very wet and windy week – apparently 87mm of rain fell during the first half of the week alone.

The course was not without drama, as one of the instructors, Richard, slipped and fell off a rock step just above Dore Head during the expedition. Fortunately, he walked away virtually unscathed. However, in contrast, a diver, who could possibly have stayed at the YHA during the ML course, perished in Wast Water during the week. The two incidents emphasised the apparently arbitary division between life and death in the outdoors.

In terms of the course, we covered a whole swathe of the ML syllabus, including, navigation and map reading (of course!), ropework, safety on steep ground, night navigation, weather interpretation, kit and packing, route planning and conservation and access. Much of the content was familiar, but I felt that by the end I had learned to bring together many elements that I had previously treated separately. For example, I began to weave together contour interpretation, pacing and compass work, which made for more accurate navigation overall.

The ropework section was a particular delight. We went back to the ‘old school’, abandoning slings, karabiners and passive protection (nuts, wires and hexes) for the joys of the Marshall and Thompson knots. It was mountaineering as it used to be, although technically ropeworks belongs in the emergency remit of the ML scheme – scrambling is covered under the more advanced Mountain Instructor Award and so the rope remains very much in the first aid kit of an ML.

In fact, I had expected to learn more about soft skills on the course, but in hindsight felt that it was more appropriate that my technical skills had been deepened. Nevertheless, one of the joys of the course was the incredible breadth of backgrounds of attendees: driving instructor, Army officer, mountain bike instructor and prison officers among others. The ML scheme was set up in order that leaders benefit from the diversity of the participants, and this was certainly the case. However, all were feeling the effects of being cooped up in the rather clautrophobic confines of the hostel after a week.

Although I do not share the same passion as some for lightweight outdoor gear, which often becomes obsessive and unhelpful, I kept an eye on my kit to assess how it coped in the adverse weather conditions. In general, I was very impressed. Here are a few selected comments:

  • Scarpa SL M3s boots were as solid and dependable as ever
  • Patagonia Shelter Stone jacket was very good, but to my dismay the front velcro patches on the storm flap began to rip away from their stiching in places
  • Berghaus Storm overtrousers were tough and adaptable with their venting zips
  • Rab Hipar gaiters were generally good, but tended to slip down on my long and slim calves and the under-foot stirrups need either to be trimmed or rethreaded through the ladderlocks

As for routes and tops, we spent most of our time in and around Seatallen and Middle Fell, and on expedition took in Scoat Fell and Red Pike. Much of this area is familiar to me, but with the level of detail of navigation involved, I soon felt intimately acquainted with the ground. I had also written off Middle Fell in the past as insiginificant because of its lowly stature, but on closer inspection it has many hidden scrambles and areas for investigation, and would provide many hours of fun exploration.

So to finish with, I am very grateful to Carol Emmons and Richard Sagar for their tuition and input throughout the course. Funnily enough, I was with Richard for the majority of the week, and was not placed in any of Carol’s small groups! It was a pleasure to be with instructors who have such a deep knowledge, respect and love for the outdoors. As such, I am hoping to return to do my ML Assessment with Carolclimb sometime next year. For the moment, thought I’m excited to be able to implement my new skills with friends when we visit Snowdonia in a couple of weeks. Practise makes perfect, as they say…

Unfortunately, I took no photos, but I am hoping to upload one of the group, courtesy of Carol Emmons.


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