Pastures new…

Posted in Uncategorized on March 3, 2014 by hurricaneharker

This blog is moving!

As I’ve now started my business website, I’m going to continue my blog within that site. The WordPress blog you’re currently reading will still serve as my archive and will be linked from the new one, but to keep up to date with happenings and adventures both personal and Feet in the Clouds related, check out http://www.feetintheclouds.co.uk!

ImageSee you there 🙂

Working in the Outdoors

Posted in Uncategorized on February 26, 2014 by hurricaneharker

I’ve been blogging elsewhere this last week!

The guys at Trail Magazine and Country Walking have launched a new blog on their combined website; named ‘Outdoor Opinion’, it’s a mixture of staff and reader articles. My entry on my journey into outdoor work so far – and how there may be more outdoor opportunities out there than you might think – can be seen here: Could you be an Outdoor Professional?

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With head – and feet – in the clouds

Posted in Uncategorized on February 17, 2014 by hurricaneharker

It’s been three months now since finishing the HF apprenticeship and having to adjust to life without walking every single day (whilst at the same time enjoying the chance to let my weary joints relax!)

Whilst I’ve maybe not been blogging so regularly(!), I’ve been busy planning and preparing to look for freelance leading work and developing my own brand as well. It’s surprising how much time it takes – the more you do, the more you find out you need to do! Volunteering for HF was a great head start though; as well as the obvious leadership experience it gave me the opportunity to see a wider picture in operation, for example safety and risk management, and useful formats for route cards and local interest notes.

I’m still in the planning process but things are starting to come together. I’ve got two potential bookings and hopefully a newspaper feature lined up. It’s only a little so far but it’s a start considering I’ve not actually advertised any walks yet.

In the meantime, alongside walks in the Dales preparing for my guided walks, I’ve also been keeping up the ML logbook. As I’ve written about previously, I completed Mountain Leader training at Plas y Brenin in Wales in October and am in the process of filling up those scrambling days in the logbook to build up that confidence and go for assessment. I’ve been on a few trips to the Lakes recently with a great bunch of mates, including a wild camp at Angle Tarn after walking up the hill in the dark at 10pm, Scafell Pike in a hoolie and a lovely little scramble up Cam Crag Ridge in Langstrathdale which was a great boost to the confidence. We’ve also done Blencathra – and another 4 Wainwrights – all in one day of pretty miserable weather… but not miserable enough to put us off!

The next few weeks should get me out & about all over the Dales. I’m busy plotting route after route to advertise on my website, so of course I’m keen to recce them all… but I also need to photograph them for the website, and that’s been slightly easier said than done with the recent weather! In the meantime there are one or two tasters on my Facebook page and of course the new website for Feet in the Clouds Guided Walking: www.feetintheclouds.co.uk : )

As for the other walks and scrambles, I’ve uploaded a few below, from camping in November, battling gales near Christmas and scrambling in January, to exploring local gems in February.

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Back in the Dales for one last lead

Posted in Uncategorized on November 12, 2013 by hurricaneharker

Finally, my last week with HF was last week, at Newfield Hall, their Malhamdale house. With daylight disappearing before our eyes, the walks on this holiday were wisely slightly lower, but no less wild than the rest of the Dales walks, and it’s that time of year when you could quite well have Malham Cove all to yourself – what a treat. Sadly with atrocious weather forecast every day, my camera remained for the most part securely wrapped up inside my bag, but here’s one or two snapshots. I might have overdone the tweaking of some though for Tweeting purposes so please excuse the variations in colours and contrasts!

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Stunning Snowdonia

Posted in Uncategorized on November 11, 2013 by hurricaneharker

Last week, following a week on ML Training and a few days working for How Stean Gorge, my HF Apprenticeship finished. Before I embark on the obligatory epic six-month round-up, this blog wouldn’t be complete without pictures from the last few leads.

Before heading to Plas y Brenin, I was down the road in Dolgellau: Dolserau Hall to be precise. One of HF’s newer acquisitions, this hotel came with a Savoy-trained chef and I must say, the food was pretty damn good (of course that’s the most important part of a HF holiday. Food first, walk second).

Actually, the walking is pretty spectacular too. The area has long been a favourite of mine and Cadair Idris was the first ‘proper’ (ie. pointy and rocky)  mountain I ever did. As I’ve mentioned previously, the upside of being a ‘moorland’ leader (ie. not mountain) is that you get to experience the hills you’re used to being on top of from a totally new and refreshing perspective, and to really put them in context. I’ve got to know the farms, the parks, the rivers, the lakes, the wildlife; and when the inevitable summit fever kicks in on every perusal of the map, I wouldn’t have thought to visit those locations of my own accord.

So here you go, Southern Snowdonia via the Precipice Walk, the Harlech coastline and the Mawddach Estuary.

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Another PyB review – WGL & scrambling day

Posted in Uncategorized on October 27, 2013 by hurricaneharker

Having completed ML training last week – the culmination of a six month development scheme running alongside the HF Apprenticeship – it’s perhaps time to backtrack once more to my previous visit to Plas y Brenin.

Another award under the same umbrella as the ML is the Walking Group Leader (WGL) Award, covering a very similar level of navigation and leadership in remote terrain but omitting the ropework, steep ground and wild camp sections for those who do not require them. About 5 years ago, wanting to take my hillwalking more seriously but with not so much access to the ‘real’ mountains, I put myself through WGL training for personal skill development and in case the opportunity ever arose to use those skills for commercial reasons.

Finally through my HF training budget I was able to complete my first aid training (via Mountain Sense – highly recommended) and get that WGL certificate – once more at PyB.

In addition to the WGL assessment, and anticipating a few wobbles on the steep ground section of the upcoming ML training, I decided a one to one day focusing on footwork, scrambling techniques and confidence might be a good idea and the visit combined the two.

First up: steep ground. I explained to instructor Kathryn that I needed to gain confidence on Grade 1 (easy scrambling) terrain and scree – basically anything where I wasn’t fixed to something and had nothing to stop a surely inevitable fall (in my mind). Expecting maybe Tryfan or the dreaded Y Gribin, I wasn’t anticipating my first Grade 2 (where most people would cope without ropes but some of us don’t stand a chance in hell!). The psychology that even if roped up, completing something more difficult than expected might increase confidence in the easier situations did make sense, and I was quite happy to go up something with that extra bit of security even if I did have to be hauled up like a sack of potatoes. (I’m pretty sure that did happen on at least one move.)

Well – I say ‘quite happy’… pity poor instructor Kathryn when jelly leg syndrome kicked in nonetheless. Five days before her wedding with much more important things to think about, and the poor lass is up a mountain in the rain trying to convince me that yes you CAN get round that pinnacle and yes there IS a way up that rock face. And yes, feel free to swear all you like even though I’m also assessing your WGL tomorrow. Haha – much appreciated and somewhat necessary!

Anyway: WGL assessment. What we were really there for.

We’d covered a lot of subjects in training (as with ML) and all were discussed on assessment with leadership being a crucial element of our hill days but the biggest focus was clear: navigation, navigation, navigation. Despite what might be assumed, assessment of navigation isn’t purely about having every step spot on (every leader has their moments, trust me); just as important is your ability to ‘relocate’ (work out where you are given the clues around and set yourself back on track). In fact that’s one of the biggest things I’ve learnt with HF too. Anyway, we spent three days in various lovely parts of the Snowdonian foothills using both 1:25,000 and 1:50,000 maps but the real test was night navigation. The small hill opposite the Pen y Gwryd and above the Roman camp is soggy and rather featureless and that’s where we went – all four of us afterwards agreed it was the hardest nav we’d ever done including two ML trainees. Having done mine now, I’ll second that. I don’t want to know what ML assessment is like! We all agreed we’d been hopelessly lost at least once but what we all managed to do was identify small clues eg. a change in slope or a tiny stream running on a particular bearing… and thus relocate successfully. Phew! I made a total booboo by walking on a bearing then veering totally off around a rock for some reason which let me down, but must have redeemed myself as ultimately all four of us got the news we’d been after.

On the subject of PyB and the quality of its staff, it struck all of us how well both the instructors – Kathryn and our final assessor Steve – handled the situation in terms of calming any assessment jitters and removing any element of stress (particularly as we were rarely told if we were correct or not) without introducing any false sense of security.  The patience, confidence and encouragement common to all the PyB instructors I’ve come across might be part of an everyday job for them but makes the world of difference to us clients during important moments in our careers. So thanks all of you and well done to PyB for such an outstanding team.

I didn’t really take any photos during assessment as my attention was quite firmly planted on the map, but I have a few from the scrambling day. Either they don’t quite capture the scales and angles involved, or it just wasn’t as terrifying as it felt…

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Scramble-phobia and ML Training, always a great combination

Posted in Uncategorized on October 26, 2013 by hurricaneharker

Nausea, fear and a slight threat of tears…

“We’re heading up this Y Gribin ridge onto the Glyders”.

A psychological punch in the guts on day two of Mountain Leader Training. Now ML Training is of course going to include some scrambly stuff – which I can handle to an extent – but I’d seen that particular ridge before and swore never to return. My mind conjured long-nurtured images of towering rock steps twice as tall as myself, leaning in over the abyss, one slip and you’re dead. Last time I went there, it was my second ever scramble, I’d been told it was a fairly easy one, but I was nearly in tears before we’d even got to the real stuff. Just couldn’t handle the exposure. And I was convinced that if anything I’d got worse. So of course we had to go up it in howling gusts of wind and driving rain. How could I shout up at ML training, to our supremely experienced instructor, and say ‘No! It’s impossible! We’re gonna dieeee!!’

Grit your teeth and get on with it, Ang. You chose to do this.

Two hours later and my insides are still knotting, worrying about what’s to come, and that I’m going to be knocked off my feet with every gust… and then we’re nearly at the top. I’m so busy worrying about what’s coming that I never even noticed I’d been scrambling over that same terrifying ground as before without even batting an eyelid at the exposure. I hadn’t actually felt nervous at anything I’d done to that point – how did that happen? Is the corner being turned…?

Still, there was relief when Cath, our instructor, turned us back when the weather hit so hard communication became difficult – but relief only from fear of the unknown ahead. Alleviating that small bit of anxiety really helped to feel the confidence building as the day went on… and a sneaking suspicion that I might even be enjoying this rocky descent.

There are some physical factors which make scrambling more difficult. Being a short arse is a disadvantage, but my fitness, flexibility and balance are low at the moment and that’s my responsibility. I do know the reality is simply confidence and psychological approach. I learnt a lot from a roped-up Grade 2 scrambling day I did in September (more on which later) and that coupled with Cath’s quiet confidence in us all even though I was becoming obviously jittery at that stage have made some serious headway for me. Thanks Cath : ) And dare I say it, I’m starting to feel good about scrambling!*

Anyway, needless to say there was much more to the ML experience than that. Plas y Brenin, the National Mountain Centre for Wales is an experience in itself – if you’re going to do a course there, definitely do it residentially; the accommodation, food, bar, facilities etc. are all fantastic and it really facilitates great bonding within groups. Speaking of which, what a great team we had!

On the first four days of the six day course we covered navigation, emergency ropework, DIY evacuation techniques, conservation & access, leadership techniques… and more besides.

The culmination is the two day, one night wild camping expedition. When the skies suddenly clear after four days of pissing rain it becomes a real treat so with thoroughly roused spirits we set off under the leadership/entertainment of our new wonderfully potty-mouthed instructor Stuart. If I’m honest I’d been pretty quiet and antisocial for the first few days, partly from just being worn out from a summer of leading and partly because it was my first chance to switch off and not be the central figure in a group. I felt myself coming through the other side on expedition through finally remembering to relax into something I love doing and from having a leader who really knew how to engage his group. Even if it did involve repetitive piss-taking of the Nidderdale accent. Thanks Stu!

I’d pretty much decided during training that assessment wasn’t for me as there wasn’t a chance in hell I’d ever be able to lead a group up a scramble without being pushed and pulled up myself. I still can’t see it being humanly possible, but the biggest thing I’ve learnt this week is that I’ve got better. And it’s possible that might continue. My feedback on the other aspects of leadership was good, and I was encouraged to work towards assessment in the next 18 months. I don’t intend to ever lead on that kind of terrain, but the ML is so important for the CV that if I only ever lead one scramble on assessment, then I guess it’s worth a try.

Onwards and upwards…

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*You’re still not getting me on Crib Goch though. Yet.

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