The final stage of the mountain leader training course is a 2 day expedition, with the aim of bringing together all the elements that had been covered into a more realistic scenario. Fortunately for us (not so good as a learning experience) the weather was due to be on our side, with predictions of glorious sunshine and little to no rain.
The next morning after a large fry up in what became a rather smoky kitchen, we sat in Pete’s cafe with large mugs of coffee to present Mat our mountain guru our idea. The place was filled with walkers, climbers, bikers and basically anything else outdoors in a whole assortment of clothing from leggings with flip flops to big puffer jackets. All of us planning, dreaming and thinking of the upcoming days activities.
He made a couple of small alterations to give us more options on the night navigation as with the weather forecast we weren’t going to be able to demonstrate our skills in poor conditions. We drove out to the starting point where despite all the reports we had watched and read it soon began to drizzle. Typical British/ Welsh weather.
With the first point marked on my map case we were off. Slight issue as instantly the point was in a different place due to the case and map shifting in opposite directions, I quickly gave up this approach. We started making our way up into the hills each of us taking it in turns to lead to the next point, choosing the route, checking the time it would take. The aim was to head up towards Carnedd Llewelyn before dropping down into a wee corrie called Ffynnon llyffant. Although we knew this was the plan, after the first few points where everyone knew the direction, the remainder of the day was spent either leading to a random point or following and then trying to work out where we were.
Arriving we soon discovered one of many aircraft wreckages that litter the hillsides in the UK. We later found out that some people go out on walks to try and find these wreckages instead of always aiming for a summit or similar fixed point. After finding a suitable place it was time to set up the tents in this beautiful spot. Wild horses, including a foal and a rather aggressive white horse charged up and down the valley as the sun began to set. With it getting closer to the longest day we were in for a long wait for darkness as food was cooked, eaten, washed up and slowly more clothes were worn as the night began to cool.
Finally dusk was setting in so with head torches at the ready and maps in hand it was time to head off into the darkness for a night navigation session. It was at this point the lack of light coming from my lightweight head torch became more evident as it’s glow just about made it to the ground in front of my feet. Having not done much of this it was a really different challenge working between points on the ground, counting footsteps, timing the route and compass reading all in aid of reaching the right final point. As the night progressed we developed from the specks of light over the hillside as our group dispersed in different directions to more of a single glow as we converged on our destination. As we got closer to camp our thoughts became more wrapped up in the thought of slithering into a warm sleeping bag. The almost full moon certainly helped in taking in our surroundings once the head torches were off, to reveal a crystal clear and starry night.
The sun glowed through the tent as I stumbled out of it for a bit of breakfast, freeze dried curry. What better way to start the day than by a wee corrie loch, sitting on part of the old aeroplane wing and eating curry with the sun rising up. The plan for the day was to take it in turns to navigate point to point out of where we were, heading back towards the cars.
We weaved our way along the side of a cliff face before heading up a gully towards to top of the peak. Passing a variety of plants Matt pointed out the different varieties. Not realising this was part of the assessment I just assumed this was just one of his interests until he started recommending different topics and books that would be worth reading up on. At which point the penny dropped, part of the final assessment is showing your knowledge of the local flora, fauna, history or geology I believe. Probably need to check this out before I finally do it in more detail.
The route took a beautiful stretch along a ridge line where we stopped to take in the views, have a quick stop for a bite to eat and some photos. This area also gave us the chance to test our risk assessing abilities over rockier ground with larger packs on. It was certainly a different challenge when you have a larger weight on your back and feeling a lot more cumbersome.
I did find the experience amazing as compared to a 2 day mountain marathon when speed and light weight are the essential ingredients the slower going meant we spent more time on our feet and ended up carrying more weight despite the journey being the same length as the need for more layers and the odd luxury makes a big difference which soon added up in more weight.
The other big difference I found was moving compared to navigating point to point over large distances and generally to obvious features in my running to much more micro navigating to very specific destinations or features.
The final section for the day was not so much a slog but more a random straight line through bracken, streams and a long sheep tracks before arriving at the final point of a cafe by the car park for biscuits and a coffee. The course had certainly been a success especially in terms of working out what I needed to work on. The next stage is to get more time in the hills in a variety of weather condition, more to come on how this goes.