Tuesday, 30 June 2009

It's not just about navigation!

Although navigation skills are an essential part of the Mountain Leader qualification, my training course with Stuart Johnston Mountaineering revealed that the role of an ML isn't just about ferrying people from A-B. Your job as leader is to chat to the group and find out what interests them about the outdoors, sparking off stimulating conversation whenever appropriate.

The idea is to entertain, involve and educate people about what Stuart kept calling 'our office'. Instead of computers, phones and paper clips, MLs must be knowledgeable about little yellow flowers that used to dye ancient people's clothes, soggy moss that made a great wound-packer in wars and weird puff balls that shot out brown sawdust-like spores.

Not everyone likes the plant side of things, so there's the history of the area to research, the big and small animal life you find there, the geology of the strangely-striped rocks to learn about, and some people even regale their clients with ancient folk songs or spooky legends and fairytales about the area.

The best thing is that you don't need to chant the flora and fauna off by heart, simply carry a small book or waterproof, laminated cards around with you, which you can even make yourself.

Monday, 1 June 2009

What's Mountain Leader Training like?

Intense. Plus a lot of fun with a bunch of like-minded people. That's the best way to describe a Mountain Leader (ML) training week with Stuart Johnston Mountaineering. Irene, Sarah, Ian, Gary, James and I were hit with an insane amount of exciting new info, so here's some scary micro navigation to kick off with.

I was in for a bit of a shock here! Before ML training I thought my navigation was pretty ok. However, MLs are expected to know where they are right down to 50m on a 1:50,000 scale map, and then a teeny tiny 25m on a 1:25,000 map.

Stuart had us looking at contour lines more minute detail than I ever had before. I was used to noticing whether the path I'd be following would be going up or down, but MLs have to look for spurs, re-entrants, knolls, flat spaces, steep and gentle slopes. It's more like orienteering.

Added to this zoomed-in look at the world MLs also have to be very aware of their timing, pacing and direction so as to ensure you hit the right spot. It's very much like learning to drive.

At first its you're surrounded by a mass of things to do and caught up in the order or doing them before you can even look out of the front window. Then hopefully, with a great deal of careful practice, you're ready to drive without even thinking, avoiding all the obstacles and even chatting away to the others in the car.

improve your micro nav for your ML, try these:

Find out your 100m pace
Use a rope to measure out 100m of flat ground. Walk along it at your regular walking speed and count the number of double paces you take. MLs will have more 100m pace measurement numbers, for gentle and steep uphill and downhill slopes. Start with flat ground, then increase your pacing measurements to include up and downhills too.

Find out your walking speed and timing for 1km
Walking at 1km takes you 12 mins if you walk at 5km/hour. This is quite quick, and most people walk at 4km/hour or even 3 or 2km/hour if you are carrying a heavy backpack, the terrain is tricky, or you are going at the pace of a slower group member. Test how fast you generally walk over 1km on a flat section, then experiment with different gradients and loads. When walking with groups, use the first 10-30mins to time the group's average pace so you can plan the rest of the route accordingly.

Perfect timing
Get a stopwatch! MLs are expected to know how their timing and pacing works together to within the minute, so its useful to use a stopwatch to time navigation legs. Remember to start and stop it whenever you stop to check the map, have a break or stop for a chat.

Estimate distance
Look across at a distinct, mapped landmark like a house or pylon and try to estimate how far away it is without measuring the distance on your map. You might be surprised at your answers. This is a great help for increasing your navigation accuracy on clear days.

Next blog coming soon, where we find out that there's much more to being an ML than getting people from A-B...