Monday, 23 January 2012

ML Training

As grim as it looks

After much deliberation about whether to start down the MLTA route, I booked my ML Training for November. Having progressed through the ranks to PADI Divemaster at university and then not have been diving for nearly two years I was afraid it might be just going through the motions of getting another qualification. However, due to the consolidation time needed between courses I decided if I started now, then maybe in four or five years time I might be at the stage of progressing to MIA or further (yea right). I just didn't want to get to 30 and wish I'd done it earlier! 

So, I booked with Mountain Sense in the Lake District as i've spent least time in that area of the country. Having gone climbing in Clova on the Saturday with the course starting at 10am on the Sunday I ended driving down late that night and 'sleeping' in the car. Fortunately an early arrival at the youth hostel gave me plenty of time to shower and eat breakfast before we begun.

Chris and Chris were to be our instructors for the week. We started off with some navigation exercises and went up to some rough terrain to nav between ring contours. As someone who has previously been all too quick to pull out the compass, even in fine weather, the revelation of primarily using the shape of the ground to navigate was something i'd never been taught before. It was amazing how effective it can be.

The next day was ropework. I knew i'd feel comfortable with this, but had heard that climbers can often over think the ropework required for ML and was cautious not to rush in and start making 3 point belays with slings. I never believe that I have learnt everything and ropework day was testament to that as I learnt the Thompson Knot which is the most bizarre and uncomfortable way of making a harness that anyone has ever devised. Mixed in with the ropework (and was a recurring theme throughout the week) was negotiating steep ground. The remit of the ML precludes the planned use of the rope, however short rocky steps can be overcome with the correct choice of route and group management.

Abseil options were equally as painful as 'Thompson's Crusher Knot', but we had some cracking views!

The bit we'd all been waiting for (or dreading) was the overnight exped. Now before coming I thought i'd been super clever, but oh how I was wrong. I'd borrowed a friends lightweight one-man MSR Hubba thinking 'light and fast' (or light and mediocre pace when you're unfit!). I'd ditched the bivi, packed the lightweight down bag, and skimped on the creature comforts which got personal and group kit plus rope into my Crux 47 litre pack.

The initial steep trek up behind Honister mine in the clag set the scene for the two days. As is typical for any activity, the weather knows when you are most vunerable. Not below the contrast between day one of the overnight and the previous day doing group management:

t-shirt weather


None the less, we cracked on taking navigational legs heading for Chris and Chris's secret wild camp spot. Battling the wind was quite something and rucksack covers were all over the place. But nothing as bad as what was to come. A slight respite in the weather saw us around the lake and to the secret spot just as it started raining again. For some strange reason Steve had carried the inner, flysheet and poles of his tent but given the pegs to someone else in the other group. So with his tent erected and standing there holding it, I said "put your bag in there, it won't fly away". 30 seconds later I look around to see Chris sprinting up the hill after Steve's tent. Whoops.

Karma eventually found me when the constantly flattening by the wind was too much for the Hubba and the pole snapped and tore right through the flysheet. With what was now amounting to a wet pile of torn nylon I decided to pack it up and beg to share. With another tent broken, space was becoming limited and my only option of shelter was with Beth in her single skin, one-man racer tent. Oh dear! It just got worse and worse. Dinner was inedible because pasta doesn't cook just sat in boiled water. Getting outside to do night nav was a welcome change.

Paradise compared to the tent

What followed was the worst night i've ever endured. What I was lying on was, in this order; groundsheet; puddle; thermarest; more puddle; saturated down bag; soaked fleece. Oh, and every time the wind blew (every 10 secs) I got a free shower. I spent the last 2 hours of the night sat upright huddled in a ball shivering. 

To say that this sums up my feelings about the ML training would be incorrect. Admittedly I felt horrible walking back down, but I was pleased to know that I had relatively safely tested the limits of my resolve and come back with a smile on my face, ready to go again. In addition, I learnt more than I thought I would and feel better prepared to be responsible for groups in the hills. A course worthwhile doing just for that if nothing else! 

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