I arrived at Plas y Brenin late Friday afternoon. The weather was pleasant enough and I was filled with a sense of anticipation, nerves and excitement. I had no idea what the next 6 days would hold. There was something quite pure about having absolutely no rigid plan. No work, no emails, no clients. Just the unknown and the mountains of Snowdonia.
I spent the evening reading the Schwarzenegger autobiography with a couple of local ales looking around and wondering if anyone else in the bar was going to be on the course. Eventually I met my roommate. Had a beer and then went to bed. Eager to see what the week would hold.
Day 1 consisted of an introduction to the week and the course overall. We were split in to our two groups and headed out on to the hills. The first day took us up and nearly onto the summit of Moel Siabod. The weather was mixed but mainly cloudy with a touch of rain and sun. It was a day of micro nav. Lots of pacing, timing and relocating ourselves and of course finding the odd ring contour. It was great fun and very relaxing. A lot different from the assessment I would imagine!
That evening we had a chat about the weather and learnt how to read a surface level pressure chart. After that it was free time but a few of us headed to a talk on climbing in the Dolomites and some backcountry skiing.
The next day was more of the same only this time we were more focused on what makes a Quality Mountain Day and how we can be effective leaders. We headed up to the Ogwen Valley and had a day of stunning weather, much to the instructors disappointment! This was a real eye opening day. I have done a bit of micro nav in my time but have never really led a group. We learnt what it was like to have a group of potentially nervous, rookie hikers in bad weather on steep ground. These are the kind of things that can happen and we needed to know how to cope and what tricks we can do to help.
Days 3 and 4 were spent working with confidence ropes and steep ground as well as practicing improvised carries and what we should do in an emergency. We also touched on things like the environment and covered insurance, access and other less fun mountain type things. To be honest though they were extremely useful. The instructors have a vast amount of knowledge and experience and were very helpful with some of the harder to know information.
One evening we had a talk from the man, the legend, the one and only Mr Mike Raine. He gave an inspirational introduction to a part of the course and lifestyle of which I have no knowledge. Fauna and flora were just low scoring scrabble words to me before but now I have turned full circle in to a bit of a flower geek. I have a wild flower app so I can check them as I go on my hikes. I’ve learnt that the environment is not only very interesting it is also a key part of what we want to do and looking after it and giving it the space to be natural will enhance not only our time in the mountains but the time spent by those we lead.
The penultimate day was day 1 of our expedition. Our route took us up a long the Nantle Ridge and then down to our wild camp for the night. We had to borrow a stove as ours wasn’t working for dinner but once we had eaten and watched the sun go down we set off on our night navigation exercise. The weather turned a bit grim and it was quite a different vibe to the usual day time japes and antics of the previous days. We did about 2 or 3 hours before we got back to the campsite and then it was straight to bed for an awful night’s sleep!
This is where life with a J Pouch becomes quite interesting. I think I ended up having to go for 4 or 5 wild toilets. For me it’s not a bad number given the time frame but in comparison to some who didn’t go at all it is not ideal. It’s weird as usually I don’t care about it but when I got away from the facilities of modern life the fact that I needed to go got me down a bit. It actually annoyed me and makes me genuinely worry how I will cope on a multi day expedition. I’m sure most people understand and we all have the same needs but it just was a pretty negative part of my experience and I genuinely fear that it will affect my career in the outdoors. It’s something I need to get over and get used to but in all honesty it did knock my confidence a little. And don’t get me wrong it’s not the act of pooping in the wild that I don’t enjoy, it’s just the fact I have to do it so bloody often.
The final morning was a walk up and over the Hebogs before a long down hill to the minibus and back to base. Not forgetting ice cream of course as it was sweltering by this point.
It was a great experience. I met some awesome people and the instructors and facilities at Plas y Brenin were both amazing. We learnt so much about navigation, group management and all other aspects of mountain leadership. It has made me want to push myself to get in to this industry more than ever. I have 10 weeks in Canada next Winter and when I return I want to to be in a position to give this a go full time. What that means I don’t know. I don’t know where I’ll live or what I’ll do but I know for sure I want to give it a try.