I thought about doing my Mountain Leader training 25 years ago when I was at university but I didn’t get round to it, the world moved on and I became an accountant instead. It took a chance trip to Morocco in March 2019 to knock some sense back into me and I finally did the training in August 2019. Now it’s time for the assessment.
Sunday: I’m camped on the field behind Llanberis Youth Hostel where I stayed on my last trip to North Wales at New Year. Only 7 months ago, yet it might as well be a different world for all that has happened since then. I’m nervous but I know I’ll relax once we get walking tomorrow.
Monday: I meet Steve, my assessor, in a layby near Capel Curig in the rain, together with Tom and Clare who are also being assessed. Meg, Steve’s gorgeous collie dog, is also with us. It rained all day. We did our rope work first, which went fine, then wandered up Foel Goch taking it in turns to lead the way. Nothing too challenging. Clare is a Latin teacher and knows the Latin name for all the plants. Tom knows a story about all the plants. I feel a bit useless and talk to Steve about Scotland. He tells me about Rum where he usually does the assessments. It sounds amazing, I must go one day. Still raining when we get back to the layby. Steve very kindly takes my wet boots home to dry them out. Tom and Clare are staying in hotels, just me camping.
Monday night: Heavy rain all night, tent leaks despite me reproofing it a few months ago. I spend the night in the car trying to stay dry.
Tuesday morning: Still raining. I dry out my stove on the hot air vents of the car before it will work. I can’t live without my morning cup of tea. Everything else will have to wait until later.
Tuesday: A good day. We meet Steve’s wife Helen under Tryfan and wander up under the East Face taking it in turns to navigate, then do a bit of group management on steep ground. All very straightforward. Tom and Clare talk about Latin and plants again. They are both in their early 30s and they make me feel old for the first time in my life. I keep quiet about my night in the car, not wanting to appear completely mad. The rain eases after lunch and the afternoon is dry.
Tuesday evening: Get back to the campsite and dry out my tent. Not forecast to rain tonight so I can catch up on some sleep. Weather for the next few days is heavy rain and gales. I have my single man tent for the expedition, I hope it can cope with the weather.
Wednesday: Stays dry long enough for me to pack away my valley tent and pack my expedition sack. Then the rain starts again. We meet Charlie, our assessor for the next 3 days, in the Nantmor valley and head off into the Moelwyns. Charlie is a rough and ready northerner from Leeds and I immediately like him, especially when he tells us he doesn’t want to know the Latin names of plants and that he usually spends the night sleeping in the car on these trips. From that point on I relax and enjoy the assessment. We spend the day wandering around the wet and windy Moelwyns doing the more difficult micro navigation that I love and then camp out of the wind in a sheepfold.
Wednesday night: We head out for our night nav session at 8pm. This is my weak spot and I’m nervous. No need though as I hold it all together and somehow get my navigation spot on. We get back to camp at midnight in heavy rain and strong winds. Nothing like a struggle against wild weather to feel exhilarated and alive. A quick whisky then some sleep as the rain and wind lash the tent.
Thursday: Rain has stopped but wind had strengthened. My tent is coping well with the weather and I was warm and dry all night. We spend another day wandering round the Moelwyns taking it in turns to navigate to tiny features on the map. My navigation continues to be spot on and I relax and enjoy the day. We camp near Llyn Llegi with an appalling weather forecast for the night of heavy rain and strong gales.
Friday: The storm starts around midnight and rages on until dawn with some particularly impressive thunder and lightning around 2am. Not sure my tent has ever taken such a battering before but it keeps me warm and dry all night even if the wind does almost flatten it at times. We leave camp at 7.30am and do more navigation legs back to the cars, then onto the Gwynant cafe to meet Steve and Helen and be told the verdict.
I passed. I am delighted. I knew I was quite capable of passing but nothing is certain until it happens. Clare and Tom pass too so there’s smiles all round. I’m tired and wet and I need a shower, and I have a lot of wet and smelly gear to dry and repair. Despite all this I am reluctant to leave. I could have wandered round the wild and beautiful Moelwyns forever.
Thanks to Steve, Helen and Charlie from Snowdonia Mountain Skills for such an enjoyable week. They are genuinely nice people who just wanted us all to pass and gave us every opportunity to show what we were capable of.
I couldn’t have done this alone and there’s a few other people to thank. Kirsty for the inspiration and for inviting me on that trip to Morocco. Steve for helping me with night nav and for believing in me on the occasions when I stopped believing in myself. And finally my daughter Hannah for encouraging me and for cheerfully following me up so many mountains.