Peter Nelson

Summer Mountain Leader Assessment, Glenmore Lodge, July 2021

With the help of The Neil Mackenzie Trust I was fortunate enough to attend a Summer Mountain Leader (SML) Assessment at Glenmore Lodge.My first experience of Glenmore lodge was two years ago for the SML training course. During both the training and assessment, the lodge provided outstanding hospitality. The facilities leave you wanting for nothing and the food is certainly worth mentioning due to its quality. I would highly recommend Glenmore lodge.

The SML award allows successful candidates to lead others on walks in the lowlands, hills and mountains of the UK and Ireland. Throughout the week, candidates are assessed on their ability to lead, safely manage groups across a variety of terrain, inspire and educate others about the mountain environment and much more.

Monday – Introductions and Steep Ground. Initial introductions and discussion of why we wanted the award. Personally, I want to inspire adventure. I had the privilege of being involved with outdoor learning when I was young and I feel it is important for me to provide these same opportunities. I have had an excellent time learning more about the mountain environment during my two year consolidation period between training and assessment. From learning details of moss campion, weather fronts, leadership skills and beyond, each aspect of the syllabus has entertained me, enhanced my skill set and increased my passion for wanting to share it with others.  After the instructors had made expectations clear we drove to Coire Cas car park and ascended Fiacaill Ridge via Twin Ribs. I had the opportunity to demonstrate how I would lead a group on steep terrain, teach appropriate foot movements and safe guard group members with a rope in an emergency.

Tuesday – Emergency procedures, river crossings and a walk up Meall a’ Bhuachaille.A saunter up Meall a’ Bhuacaille, stopping every so often to discuss emergency procedures, flora and fauna etc. A portion of the day was also spent using a variety of techniques to cross a river while ensuring the safety of a group.  In the evening we were asked to plan a three day expedition and create a short presentation detailing what advice we would give to a novice who was looking to go camping (tents, sleeping bags, stoves etc).

Wednesday – Final weather checks and start of the three day, two night expedition.  Presentations were given first thing followed by each candidate explaining their chosen route. Each route was taken into consideration and the instructor pondered what location would best suit. The forecast suggested wet and windy conditions in the Cairngorms. The occluded front did not look likely to move much over the three days. It was decided that we would centre our expedition around the cloudy but dry area surrounding Aonach Beag. After a short drive we began the walk from the west end of Loch Laggan. There were three candidates on the course and we rotated who led each leg. During the day, sections were becoming varied and as we headed off track into the wilderness, navigational tasks became more demanding. We walked up Creag Pitridh and along to Geal Charn before descending towards Allt Cam.Camp was reached around 1700 and I was able to sigh with relief as the instructor said we had finished for the day and we were not going to go out for night navigation.

Thursday – Day 2 of expedition and night navigation. It was an 0830 start and straight into more complex navigation. Throughout the day I relied heavily on contours and a variety of strategies to relocate. On the journey we crossed over Carn Dearg, Geal-Charn, Aonach Beag and Beinn Eibhinn before descending north toward camp two around 1630.At 2300 my alarm clock woke me from a deep sleep and I emerged from my sleeping bag for our night navigation test. We began around 2330. The weather had been favourable until then. The odd shower and passing of low cloud hadn’t caused too much difficulty. But as we emerged from the tents, the surrounding area was soakedin low lying cloud and persistent drizzle. We returned around 0230 after finding some knolls, spurs and re entrants under torch light.

Friday – Back to the lodge, shower, food and an intense wait for the result. At 0900 we began our walk from the base of Meall Cos Charnan back to the van. We each took a final leg to get the group back to the car park.  Back at the lodge, I was greeted with a warm shower and a great plate (once more) of food. It was a nerve-racking wait. Eventually I was called into the instructors office. A big handshake and ‘well done’ confirmed my pass of the award. I was immediately hit with immense relief and happiness. I cannot wait to put my new skills into practice and begin the journey of educating, providing opportunities and inspiring others in the wonderful mountains of Britain.

A huge thanks to The Neil Mackenzie Trust for your support.