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.