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A Six Day Mountain Craft Course in Wales : Review by Shaun Johnson

On the 17th of May this year I made my way to Wales - Snowdonia region to be more precise, for a six day mountain craft course with the international mountain leader Rob Johnson (MIC). The course was broken up into three sections for the week. Sunday and Monday were pure navigation days brushing up our naving and bearing skills. Tuesday and Wednesday were based around stage one scrambling and building our confidence up when scrambling mountains. The last two days, Thursday and Friday, were Wild Camping days using the skills that we had honed during the past week to really test what our team was made of!  

Navigation Days:

Sunday started at 9:30 am where I met Rob (MIC) and the people that I would be walking with for the next week. The team itself was small - only five people in total including myself, which to be honest was brilliant, smaller groups mean you can learn more and get to know the people that you are hiking with much better. By the end of the week it felt like we had known each other for years (well that’s what I felt anyway!). We also were joined by another Rob who was training to become a mountain leader - it was really good to have another mountain leader in the group, although Rob (MIC) is a professional, having another person there meant having a different view sometimes, which from a learning aspect was great. sunday1 After all the introductions we sat down to look at the weather for the day… Sunny, Brilliant! We set off to the Watkin Path on Snowdon to introduce our map skills. For the first part of the day we only used an OS 1:25000 map without a compass. Using the five stage system that Rob (MIC) uses, by the end of the day we went from zero to hero when using a map without a compass. Robs (MIC) five stages are as follows:
  1. Where are we? – Look at the area where you are standing and pick out three things that will quite clearly stand out on a map, then get the map out, set it, then see if you are correct.
  2. Where do we want to go? – Now you have established where you are, use the map set a course of where you would like to go and make sure that the route you have picked is walk-able.
  3. What will we see on the way? – Before you head off to your destination, pick some clear landmarks on the map that you will be able to see clearly without the map i.e. waterfalls, boundaries, contours and even woodland.
  4. How long will it take us to get there? – A great method we used was how many steps we had taken in 100 meters. Based on this we could work out how long each trip would take.
  5. What to look for if we go too far? – If we miss our mark, what will we see? or should I say, what will we walk into?
. sunday2 Once we had got used to using the map without the compass, we then used a compass without a map. Just using bearings we played the “let’s hide each other’s rucksacks in the mountains” game (Good thing my Mammut rucksack is bright blue!) Using our steps we all walked 100 meters  in opposite directions off course. Once we had walked this, we took another bearing on the compass and walked a further 100 meters and placed whoever’s rucksack down on the ground. Let’s just say no rucksacks were lost and everyone’s bearings were bang on! sunday3 On Monday we were with Huw Gilbert. We checked the weather - cloudy all day with a small chance of rain (boy was that wrong). Huw took us up Moel Siabod. This was the first time we had to use the navigation skills that we had learnt on Sunday to get up to the summit by ourselves, this was also the first time that the group was introduced to stage one scrambling. monday1 Getting up wasn’t a problem, all our nav skills were spot on and we had great fun getting to the summit without using the main routes and finding our own path up to the mountain. Half of the group used the 1:25000 and the other half used 1:50000 and this showed us how both maps varied on scale, size and also content. It was a great exercise to see how accurate we could be on pin pointing where we were. monday2 What really made the day interesting was the weather! The Met office had said it would be cloudy all day with a chance of rain. Well it started as a lovely sunny day which then turned out to be really muggy, so we were all sweating profusely. Once we had reached the summit, we had a spot of lunch and started planning our route down. Then thunder rumbled in the mountains and we had to get down Moel Siabod quickly….I should really say very quickly, as the thunder and lightning was striking about a mile away. We all said we shouldn't get wet if it rains as it will only be a light shower… the welsh gods must of heard us and sent the thunderous cloud straight over us. Within ten minutes thunder was echoing all around us, the lightning bolts became more intense and it rained… REALLY rained then the rain turned into golf ball sized hail stones and the storm became even more intense. When we got to the bottom of the mountain about 100 meters in front of us, bright light hit the ground and as it faded away there was a massive crack of thunder. The power to the hostel had gone off and about 20 car alarms were sounding. Luckily no one was hurt but it felt like a close call! I wouldn't have changed anything about that day, it great to experience the weather and have an intro into scrambling. monday3

Scrambling Stage One

Tuesday was the first day of our scrambling section of the week, the weather forecast looked pretty bleak - rain and wind speeds up to 40/45 miles an hour on the summit, so we planned the lower scrambles in Cwm Idwal and the would go on from there, weather dependent. The Met office had yet again been bang on getting the weather wrong -the wind on the summit was a light breeze and it was lovely sunshine! Because of this we progressed on to Seniors Ridge and down into Devils Kitchen. tuesday1 tuesday2 tuesday3 During the day Rob (MIC) got us to use our risk assessment skills about how we scramble, what route to take, how to get out of a sticky situation if the route we've taken was to turn sour. Half way down Rob (MIC) showed us why carrying a rope was important when scrambling and showed us the different ways we can get down a mountain side using a rope and nothing else (no pullies, karabiners or harnesses) we then put this into practice for ourselves in the Devils Kitchen and this was defiantly a confidence booster for me. tuesday4 In the evening Rob (MIC) took us to the Snowdonia Mountain Rescue teams “base camp” and showed us what the guy’s and girls have to carry and the processes they go through when some gets stuck up Snowdon or the other mountains in the area. The equipment was heavy, big and bulky but they get the job done. It gave me a new found respect for any MRT, so much so that I have now applied to join the Kent Search & Rescue team so fingers crossed I can help out in my local area when called upon. So I’m very grateful that Rob (MIC) showed us the base that he himself works in. On Wednesday we headed up the north face of Tryfan. This was the first time that we scrambled on our own route using the skills that Rob (MIC) and Huw had taught us. I’m going to say it was the best day of the week! The sun was shining; a cool breeze was in the air and the teams’ confidence was high.We were also joined by the other Rob and Tryfan was his favourite summit, so it was nice to hear his thoughts about his favourite route up to the summit. wednesday1 It started with a long hike up before we started scrambling. We all took turns leading the group and finding a safe path up to the summit that everyone could use. We then reached the famous “cannon” which most of us crawled on and had a lovely picture taken (I thought that was scary, but I didn’t know what to expect when I reached the top) From that point we started finding our own personal route to the summit, which boosted my confidence even more. Getting to the summit of Tryfan is amazing but getting there under your own steam and your own way, nothing else can really beat that. wednesday2 Once we all made it to the top we were introduced to Adam and Eve, these two random upright boulders that stand at the top of the summit. Some might say you haven’t summited Tryfan till you step on Adam and Eve... I was ready to climb to the top of one, then jump. I looked at one side and thought if I fell it wouldn't be too much of a problem but then it was lucky I looked at the other side of Adam and Eve -  it was pretty much a shear drop to the very bottom! As you can imagine when I saw the I pretty much bottled it! I don’t have a fear of heights or vertigo but that wasn’t for me... wednesday3 Rob (MIC) happily jumped from Adam and Eve and back again making it look easy and even Ali, one of the chaps I was hiking and scrambling with all week did it as well. Brave is all I can say. Once We had a spot of lunch we started the scramble down back the mountain. I’m not going to lie, scrambling up a mountain is more fun than scrambling down one. I slipped a couple of times but this didn’t put me off. The day was amazing and the sense of achievement we all got from scrambling up Tryfan,’s now my favourite mountain to summit.  

The Wild Camp Expedition

The past four days have all been about the next two days! On the wild camp we would all navigate without the help of rob (MIC) using the skills that we had been taught all week. Using the scrambling skills to position ourselves better on the mountain, using our pitching skills to put a tent up on a mountain side in the “clouds” and then navigating in the middle of the night -  sounds like fun right? First things first we checked the all-important weather forecast - rain with the chance of thunder and lightning - brilliant let’s hope the met office was wrong this time! The second important question we asked ourselves was where do we want to go? We decided on going to the Carneddau where we would summit Carnedd Llewellyn (Snowdonia’s second highest peak) and it was wild. thursday1 Most of the week we bumped into people climbing and scrambling summits but this time it was different, most of the trails weren’t clear, the terrain was different from what we had previously hiked and scrambled and there was no one about. The only things we had to keep us company (apart from ourselves) were the sheep and wild ponies. Firstly the Met office was wrong, as we walked into Cwm Eigiau in glorious sunshine, my Gregory Pack on my back carrying all of what I needed for my wild camp, I was confident that the weather would hold up. thursday2 We navved all the way up to Carnedd Llewellyn each taking turns leading the way, following our own path yet again giving us all a great sense of achievement. When we reached the summit, the cloud then dropped, we now started to navigate in thick cloud/fog... we couldn't even see a meter in front of us. It was an amazing experience - scary, but amazing and it really put our naving skills to the test! We navigated our way to the Dylan Bothy so we could have a bit to eat then plan our night navigation and find a great spot to pitch our tents. When at the bothy, we bumped into a DofE group that were using the bothy as a place to stay for the night, excited kids, tired kids, loud kids! Let’s just say it was great to talk to them and see what they had been up to for the day, but we did leave pretty quickly after they turned up! thursday3 By chance we found nice flat ground to pitch our tents, luckily I took the new Terra Nova Polar Lite 2 Micro Tent so it was a quick pitch and really easy to put up and peg up. So much so that I had mine up in time to help a couple of other guys in the team pitch up their tents. Once we had pitched up, I made the mistake of getting in to my tent and crawling inside my sleeping bag - at first just to warm up a little…then I fell asleep. Next thing I knew, people are moving about outside and are getting ready to go on our night navigation. So I woke up, put my wet jacket back on and got ready for the night navigation. friday1 friday3 I was first to lead the group, when it was light you could only really see about a meter in front of you - now you couldn’t see anything! We were still in the cloud and now it was dark! For hours (well it seemed like hours) we were navigating up and around the summit and I’m pretty sure we got close to the lower ground as well. Once we got back to our campsite we hit the hay for a well-deserved night’s sleep. I woke up and it was raining like only Welsh rain rains! I cooked my beans and bacon, put my wet jacket on and was ready to (go back to) sleep for the night. friday2 After collapsing the tents, putting our rucksacks back on (feeling a lot heavier than yesterday) we set off back to the café. On the way back down the mountain, we hiked part of the route we took during the night and it looked and felt completely different. I’m so happy that we did some night navigation, it really does open your eyes (and you mind) more and pushes your nav skills to the limit. We slowly made our way back to the cars and drove off back to the café were everyone met and had a massive fry up - apart from me, I had apple pie with warm custard - yummy! The Mountain Craft Course with Rob Johnson fine-tuned my navigation skills, boosted my confidence with scrambling and opened my eyes to wild camping and what the mountain rescue team have to go through when helping people stuck up a mountain. Most importantly it taught me how awesome it is to be a mountain man! I was very lucky to be placed on this course so I would like to thank Rob for the week and a massive thank you to Simply Hike for supporting me.