Saturday 18 March 2017

Winter ML Assessment in time for Spring

The hills of the UK, and in particular Scotland, take on a different aspect in winter. Unpredictable weather, tricky navigation and a constantly changing avalanche conditions mean that they are infinitely more serious than in summer. Of course, such challenges mean that the rewards can be equally high. Having climbed, skied and trekked in many mountainous parts of the world I do think there is a lot in the old adage that “...if you can mountaineer in Scotland, you can mountaineer anyway....”.   Of course, we don’t have the altitude of other areas to contend with, but I have yet to come across anywhere that is any more challenging in terms of survival and navigation than the Cairngorm Mountains in the teeth of a winter storm.  Many higher and more dramatic mountains seem tame by comparison. For this reason working as a leader or instructor in Scotland in winter is a serious job that requires folk to know what they are doing. Recently I was assessed for and passed the UK Winter Mountain Leader award. For the reasons described above, this award has a significant reputation in the outdoor industry, and is very well respected. It allows the leader to take others on winter walking journeys into this wonderful, challenging environment, as well as introduce others to the basic winter skills, including ice axe and crampon use, that are required to thrive in winter. The standards required are high, and rightly so, and require competence, confidence and fluidity in leadership, navigation, management of steep ground including winter belays, teaching of basic winter skills, as well as understanding of how to minimise avalanche risk and relate this to snow science. The Scottish Qualifications Authority has assessed the Winter Mountain Leader award at Level 9 in their framework, which they equate to an “ordinary” Bachelors University degree. Having done several degrees in my time, I wouldn’t disagree with this in the slightest.  Different of course but equally challenging---the amount of time that one needs to have spent in the winter hills to feel “at home” in them, with enough spare capacity to look after others, is considerable. I'm now looking forward to introducing others to the joys and challenges of Scottish Winter!  But first Spring is almost here, and it's time to dust off the rock-climbing kit.......

All photos today courtesy of Sam Wainwright.