Ian McDougall

Summer Mountain Leader training

It was an early start for me for a Monday morning sitting in my haar surrounded flat in Fife. The excitement and anticipation of a week’s training in the mountains however kept my spirits high. The forecast for my week ahead looked varied and unpredictable, which I took as a positive sign as I wanted to complete my training in a plethora of conditions! Driving north up the A9 the weather continually varied between lovely sunshine and short showers. On arrival to Badaguish Training Centre within the Cairngorms National Park I was greeted by my tall and hugely experienced course leader Johannes. Our training group consisted of six very keen individuals from all walks of life. However we all strangely came up from the Edinburgh area.

Our First day started with a briefing of how our week ahead would look and also some questions from around the group finding out what we all wanted to get out of the training. After getting to know each other a little and sharing past mountain experiences it was time for a little walk up Creag Gorm and Meall a’ Bhuachaille for some laid back nav practice and working out our timings and pacing. After a good 4 hours on the hill we returned back to the centre full of energy so our guide Johannes decided we would get in some basic rope work before the day ended. Having had indoor climbing experience, myself and some others found this section of training pretty straightforward and even after 10 minutes or so the whole group knew what they were doing!

Day two consisted of a proper hill day up Ben Rinnes with Mr Pete Hill, our course director. We meet Pete at the base of the mountain and readied ourselves for a day of navigation techniques, rope work and practicing the techniques required when dealing with difficult terrain. Pete’s teaching methods made this whole day fun and relaxed even though the weather consistently blew us about the hill. On our walk back down to the vehicles Pete taught us some amazing games which could be played with a group facing the prospect of a long slog back from a hike.

Day 3 was a day for getting wet! The weather was forecast to be terribly wet all day so Johannes decided this was a day to practice nav, first aid, emergency situations and since wewere wet already, river crossings! The day started at the upper car park near the Cairngorm Ski Centre. From here we all threw on our waterproofs and headed for the hills. The fact that a lot of the burns were currently in spate provided some very good conversation on risk and back up plans. After a while each member of the group was given a navigation leg in which only themselves and the course leader knew of. Correctly getting the group to the given location was nerve racking but fun and I’m happy to say each member of our group managed no problem! For much of the day we practiced using a verity of safey equipment such as bivvy bags, group shelters and making stretchers from rope. It was reaching 4pm when we got back to our vehicles and Johannes had one more thing for us to practice, river crossings! Johannes had a place in mind for us to practice however he took us up and down the river and sparked some healthy debate on what qualifies as a safe place to cross. After we chose a safe place to cross the inevitable nervousness and giggly throughout the group started! We all each took a turn in different positions within the group crossing the river and by the end of it no one could feel anything from the knees down! In happy and rejuvenated spirits though we all sat by the river for a briefing of the day.

Day 4 was a half day for us. A day of planning and preparation for the 2 day, 1 night hike and wild camp up in the Monadhliath Mountains. Fortunately our group was well prepared and decided that since we had a half day on day 4 we would all go into Aviemore for some pizza and a bit of group bonding.

Day 5-6 was the big one. The expedition. The weather was largely on our side with light winds, a little cloud and for our second day sunshine. We all met at a small car park just north of Newtonmore ready for our big day. It was good to see people with a variety of different sized backpacks and equipment. Mine being on the slightly larger side of things had me thinking id maybe brought too much! I always like plenty of layers! We set off sharp after a quick briefing and weather check. As in previous days each of us took a leg of the navigation and kept conversation flowing throughout. The day consisted of spotting a golden eagle, identifying flora and fauna, identifying distant peaks, bagging 2 munros (A’ Chailleach & Carn Sgulain) and finally setting up camp just below the summit of Geal Charn. After a brief stint in our tents we had a little dinner and waited till the light faded for the all-important night navigation. This consisted of finely tuning our navigation techniques and putting them to use in the pitch black of the night to properly simulate poor visibility. I was nervous about this section having never really done it before but when we got started I loved the logic and technicality of it! After some hours we got ourselves back to camp and threw ourselves in our beds after an exhausting day. The following morning we were greeted with calm and sunshine. We packed our bags and began the 3 hour stroll back to the cars. This was time of reflection, review and looking at the next step for each of us. Johannes completed our day with a bit of group and individual feedback which set each of our future goals!

This training was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had. It filled me with nothing but confidence in that what I was doing was the right thing for me. I met some wonderful people with whom I still have a Whatsapp group called the Monadhliath Moles (Inside joke) and cannot wait until I book my assessment.