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A Week of Assessments

Last week I undertook the Summer Mountain Leader and Single Pitch Award assessments. They are often seen as a foundation that then allows you to go out and build a career in the outdoors. Any assessments are scary and for me, doing them back to back piled on the pressure! As a person who is looking to go into a life of instructing I saw these as the start of a long career. You hear tales of brutal weather, constant pressure and sergeant major style assessors. These could not be more wrong!
The SPA came first. After months of standing on crags, often alone and in crap weather, rigging, de-rigging and re-rigging all manner of anchors, it was time to get my assessment head on. From the start it became apparent that the assessor (in this case Stu from Climb 365, based in Kendal) really wanted all the candidates to pass. Both assessments offer you the opportunity to display that you are more than capable to take people out into the hills and onto the crags, they are not designed to push you to the absolute limit and break down in tears dangling helpless half way down a crag! There is a constant manageable pressure applied throughout, which is key, if you can’t deal with pressure when you are by yourself how would you be able to do it with your clients?
We started with a trip to Kendal Wall, we were asked to display different aspects of instructing and safety within indoor walls. This included belay instruction, tying in and harness use, bouldering, warm ups and general wall etiquette.  Although this may sound simple to the regular climbing participant, it is crucial to get these basic aspects right and in fact can be very difficult to teach. Imagine teaching and trusting a group of 12 year old novices to belay each other correctly whilst showing them a good time and how great climbing is.
Early the following morning we headed out to Hutton Roof, a crag I haven’t visited before but will be going back for sure. The bouldering looks great! We were tasked with setting up a variety of different anchors and displaying how we would use them with a group as well as some different rescue situations. I found this really fun and learned a huge amount. Simplicity and safety is definitely the key at this stage. It is easy to over complicate anchors, keep it simple but bomber!
The final day was the best, personal climbing. The candidate must demonstrate their ability to lead safely at severe grade and manage a second safely. We headed up to Long Scar and Black Crag (Wrynose) a great place and one of my favourites! Although it was a great day to climb, cold but dry and not a cloud in the sky, the rock was still coated in a veneer of what appeared to be swarfega! As the day passed this dried and no matter how much you think you know about leading you will definitely learn something that will improve your technique and your safety. That “bomber” nut placement could always be better! My one tip for the personal climbing day is to take your time and place as much good gear as you can!
As soon as SPA finished it was onto ML. Although a week in the hills really excited me I was extra nervous for this one. The Mountain Leader award is the first step on the ladder towards awards such as the Winter ML and MIA (Mountain Instructor Award). Kit washed and prepped in the one day in between the assessments (a miracle for someone as disorganised as me!) it was time to get going.
The first day started with coffee in a cafe, giving us time to get introduced to the rest of the candidates and discuss the home paper. Following this we headed down to Torver common for a spot of navigation. The common is a great spot for anyone looking for nav practice or building on skills for their assessments, its low down so misses most of the weather but featureless enough to be testing. For the whole assessment I used the AA Walker’s Map 2: Central Lakes a great alternative to buying 4 different maps and covers all the popular mountain areas of the lakes.
The rope work day usually comes next, we headed up to Hollin Crag, half way up Wrynose pass. The day is about the use of ropes in situations such as bringing someone up a step or confidence roping a nervous or tired individual up or down a steeper section of ground. As an ML you should not have to get the rope out on a journey through the hills, which emphasises the need for prevention. Much of the day consisted of coaching and teaching your group on techniques and movement skills that give confidence when moving through such terrain.
Finally the exped came around! Three days and two nights on the hill…..awesome! We started out at the Old Dungeon Ghyll hotel in Great Langdale then headed up the Band towards Bowfell. The weather was great, cold but dry. We took turns leading the group up through different types of terrain and finding bumps and lumps in contour lines. When leading these legs it was really important that you did not just put your head in the map and charge ahead, emphasis is being put on the ecology of mountains and taking time to stop, put the map away, and speak about different aspects of flora and fauna, which is a big part of the assessment.
Continuing these legs we headed along the Climber’s Traverse on Bowfell and up steep ground next to Bowfell Buttress (where we found a strange man made stone shelter half way up the crag!). Our destination was a wild camp spot underneath Great End; however with it going dark at 4:30 we headed over Allen crags towards Glaramara to start our first night of Navigation. We were very lucky to have clear nights, although this meant the legs were harder, it was nice to be able to see some features.
The second day we headed back the way we came, this time using 1:50:000 scale maps, over Bowfell and Crinkle Crags towards Pike of Bilsco. Although the route was not very long the constant pressure of re locating and navving with your assessor looking over your shoulder is mentally draining. After a night time journey over Pike of Blisco towards Blea Tarn, it was time to set up camp for the last time and head down in the morning for breakie and a debrief.
I am proud to say I passed both assessments and would highly recommend doing both, even if you just do it for the sheer amount of knowledge you gain on training and assessment that can help you when you are personally journeying through the hills alone or with friends. My top tips would be; to not rush things and think each part though, know your ecology, practice lots (its really fun!) and keep it simple! My assessors where all great and I can highly recommend Stu from Climb 365, its more relaxing with someone who is fun!

Throughout the week and a half I used the Arcteryx Gamma Rock pants which were once again superb, Fizan Trek Poles (which have been through hell and back with me and are still great) and the Osprey Aether 70l rucksack for my exped, a great sack which is simple and comfy to carry and can be adjusted throughout to give a snug fit (I hate flappy bags!).

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