During May half-term, I travelled to Snowdonia for my Mountain Leader assessment at Plas Y Brenin: the culmination of over two years of trips in mountainous terrain within Scouting and independently, with the aim of gaining this professional qualification in mountain leadership.
After being picked up by the shuttle at Llandudno Junction on the Sunday night, I met my roommate (Pete), then turned in.
The assessment is split into two distinct sections: Monday and Tuesday are centre-based, with Wednesday to Friday forming the expedition. On Monday, we met our instructor for the centre-based days (Helen) and talked through some qualities that an ML should have before heading up Moel Siabod for a day of point-to-point micronavigation.
On Tuesday, we headed up Garnedd Ugain – a peak in the Snowdon massif 20m shorter than the main summit – via some steep and scrambly ground to practise our leadership in more technical terrain, before descending back to the road via Cwm Uchaf.
Hill Tip #72: When travelling over steeper ground or scrambling, always be aware of where the greatest consequence is (the worst that could happen if someone were to fall off in a particular direction) and what you could do to minimise that risk.
It was a windy but fairly warm day and we had some fantastic views of the enormous queue for the Snowdon summit from our definitely more enjoyable yet practically deserted perch nearby!
Panic set in as soon as I disembarked from the bus to set off across the Carneddau as I realised I had forgotten my compass! Luckily, a spare was available and our expedition leader (Lou) reassured me that anyone is capable of a silly mistake and it wouldn’t be held against me as a one-off. Still though, talk about a facepalm moment…
Hill Tip #14: You don’t have to have the best and most expensive gear in the world, but have gear that is tried-and-tested and can be relied upon in all weathers, and know how to use it.
We set off into the drizzle and fog, each group member taking a turn to navigate to a given point on our route. We arrived at Ffynnon Llyffant, our campsite high up in a cwm surrounded by plane wreckage, in 40mph winds and driving rain. Once camp was laboriously set up,we had but a few hours to rest before getting out on the hill from 10pm to 3am for night-nav – thankfully the weather was kinder to us at that point.
Hill Tip #304: Get some practice on 1:50,000-scale maps; they’re a great way to encourage you to focus on broader contour features without over-relying on smaller man-made features.
We continued in very mixed weather and high winds the next day over the peaks of the Carneddau, stopping at craggy sections to demonstrate emergency use of a rope, before heading down to our second camp near Bethesda. Once more we trotted out for night-nav, and had a surprisingly pleasant 3 hours navigating over the lower hills in the area before retiring.
A quick walk out the next day followed before we settled down with lunch back at Plas Y Brenin to await our results. The great news was that we all passed! This was one of the most draining (yet enjoyable) weeks of my life, spending 5 days consistently under test conditions in a physically challenging environment that can throw anything at you.
Huge thanks to Greater London North for providing funding for my ML training and assessment, and to Wild Wolf ESU for both matching that funding and ensuring I’ve had many opportunities to get out in the hills and develop the skills needed for ML. I can’t wait to put my new qualification into practice doing so many more awesome things with Wild Wolf! – John