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