Friday, 5 February 2010

First Aid Course

“Aaaaargh!” You hear the shout from above. Then the world goes silent. Your heart hammers at your rib cage and your mouth goes dry.

Someone is lying at the bottom of a crag, injured, broken, bleeding, you don’t know yet.

You’re already leaping over boulders and crashing through the bracken to investigate, but hang on a second. Do you know what to do?

With some basic first aid you could help save someone’s life in the mountains.

A two-day practical first aid course is a required is part of the Summer Mountain Leader Award syllabus, which I’m currently doing while working as a features writer and gear tester for Trail magazine.

So I’ve been looking into training courses to learn about everything ouch-worthy that you might encounter, from cuts and blisters to burns and broken bones.

I’ve booked a place with Peak Outdoor Training for a course in Edale.

You don’t need any previous first aid experience for the course and you come away with the knowledge to keep you confident for walking solo or in groups where you may be in remote locations and away from help for some time.

Follow the blog for first aid tips after I've done the course.

I've booked my assessment!

I've done it. I've booked my Summer Mountain Leader (ML) assessment for May 17th-21st with Stuart Johnston Mountaineering. Now I need to properly get my ass into gear and clock up some serious mountain miles.

Watch out for some blog busy-ness as I go through all the skills you need to pass the ML.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

How fast do you really walk?

This November I spent a very valuable week with my friend Ian Campbell from Mullach Mountaineering. He passed his assessment in October and had lots of great tips.

Ian's first question to me was "How fast do you really walk?" To which I replied the standard 4km/hr. Then Ian produced a basic Garmin GPS from his backpack so we could get a feel for our speed more accurately.

On a steady track I found that a fit hill-walker is more likely to be walking at 5km/hr, or maybe even 6 if it's down hill and you're in a hurry!

Over rough terrain it completely changes. No matter how fit you are, bog and uneven terrain can slow you down to as much as 3km/hr.

Ian recommended to walk at 4km/hr ongood tracks as this is the pace most people walk at and you wouldn't want to tire your group out too quickly, especially if they are not used to walking day after day.

It's important to get a feel for your pace so you can more accurately judge your distance. I'll be borrowing a GPS from Trail mag and giving this a go in the run up to my assessment, hopfully this Spring.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Youngest British women to climb Everest passes ML

Tori James (pictured centre), the youngest British women to climb Everest when she was 25 back in May 2007, has passed her Mountain Leader summer award. Well done Tori!

I asked her and her two ML trainee friends, Sam (left) and Verity (right), about how their training went. Watch the blog for more on how Tori's Assessment went.

What is your definition of a Mountain Leader (ML)?
T: someone with excellent navigation skills and extensive experience of walking in mountainous areas
S: someone who encourages others to enjoy the mountains
V: a good communicator who can ensure the safety of others in the mountains

Why are you doing your ML training?
T: to enable me to work with Gold D of E Groups and lead expeditions overseas
S: to lead groups on overseas expeditions e.g. for the British Schools Exploring Society
V: to feel confident in my outdoor skills

Which books did you buy to swot up?
Hill Walking (Steve Long)
Mountaincraft & Leadership (Eric Langmuir)
Hostile Habitats – Scotland’s Mountain Environment (Mark Wrightham)

What are your top 3 mountain leader kit essentials?
T: good lightweight waterproofs, group shelter, first aid kit
S: spare hat & gloves, zinc oxide tape, head torch
V: dried apricots & nuts, thermos flask, good map case

Your best advice for Trail readers thinking about doing their ML?
T: consider doing an entry level qualification first e.g. the Basic Expedition Leader Award (BELA) or the Walking Group Leader Award (WGL).
S: get some voluntary experience e.g. with D of E or Scouts
V: book yourself onto the ML training course

Pace counting uphill

Your 100m pace count obviously goes up with increasing gradient, but how do you work out how much it increases by?

Navigating through North Snowdonia as outlined in my last post, I totally messed up getting to my second weird contour because I didn't know how far I had walked. My timing was out as I had kept stopping to look at the map or box round gorse and rocks, so I was relying on my distance being right...and it was wrong...

On my ML training course with Stuart Johnston Mountaineering, Mountain Instructor Derek Bain showed us an ingenious way to work out your 100m pace count for different gradients using a box that you pace out.

First, choose gradient level, say 2x10m contours over 50m. Mark a spot with a stone. Pace 50m up the slope. Turn 90 degrees left and pace 50m along the slope. Turn 90 degrees left again and pace 50m down the slope. Turn 90 degrees left again and pace 50m back along the slope.

If you are now back at your backpack, the slope had no affect on your pacing. If you are now lower down the slope than your backpack then you need to add some more paces on for the uphill section. Count the paces it takes to walk straight up to your backpack and add them on to your uphill count for 50m. Double this for an uphill 100m pace count for your gradient.

Weird Welsh contours

Finding weird-looking contour lines on your map and navigating over to investigate them is a great way to practice for your Mountain Leader summer award.

This weekend I went to find some on the oddly curving hillside near Drum in Northern Snowdonia.

After a quick 100m pace check I started walking on bearings through often impenetrable heather and spiky gorse with a relatively easy prominent spur edged with crags, got lost on an obvious-looking re-entrant and ended with a bowl-shaped feature.

I learned several really useful things:
  • Allow plenty of time - I picked 5 or so features and was out for 3 hours!
  • Aspect of slope is a useful tool for confirming which part of the slope you are on
  • Practice your 100m pace-count on different uphill gradients
  • A knitting counter is useful for remembering how many 100ms you have walked
  • Does anyone know a good place to put your compass if you need to use that hand and don't have a pocket? I slide mine under a backpack strap but it sometimes moves the bezel
  • Know your scale - how big is a 25m feature in real life? Will features even make it on to a 1:25,000 map with 10m contour intervals?
  • Having an ML buddy to confirm you have actually navigated to the right feature is a bonus. My friend couldn't make it in the end and it would definitely have been better with a pal
  • Don't take your non-ML friends unless they really really like you. I don't think any of mine would have followed me through all those gorse bushes!
Two of the above really stand out and I'll go through that in more detail in my next two posts.

Looking at the landscape at this level of detail was really eye-opening. I now use contours to navigate much more of the time, and practice makes you quicker at working out how long it should take you to your next destination, what you should see on the way and what you should arrive at. It needs a lot more practice, but I'm getting there.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Getting outside

Finally, I have two trips planned to practice everything I learnt on my ML training course with Stuart Johnston Mountaineering back in April. I just hope I haven't forgotten it by now!

One tip Stuart gave me to boost your efficiency when practicing is to go with another ML trainee. This way you can both check each other's navigation and test each other on those easily over looked skills like using a rope, river crossings, first aid and your knowledge of the mountain environment.

So my ML trainee friend Sara and I will hit Wales next month to nail our micro navigation on some hills we've never seen before.
Then in Nov I will meet two good friends that I made on Stuart's course, Ian from Mullach Mountaineering and outdoor instructor Sarah. They both live in Scotland so its a sleeper train journey away, but I can't wait because we had a riot on the course and I learnt a great deal from both of them as they have more outdoor experience than me. This is the best way to learn.

If you're looking for an ML trainee mate to hook up with for navigation practice it's worth the £25 to sign up to the MLTA Forum. Here you can arrange to meet people at the same level as you and get more log book days. You can also find a course, discuss legal issues related to outdoor instructing, buy and sell used kit and get help with navigation from other members.