Gemma Hendry

Winter Mountain Leader Assessment
Prep day       ready to go

This winter I booked myself on the winter mountain leader assessment at Glenmore Lodge at the beginning of March. I’ve been wanting to complete this assessment for a while now, as I am keen to take disabled people out in the winter environment. This would mean using a combination of approaches from adaptive walking aids, off road wheelchairs, delivering sessions in sign language and the use of sighted guides for visually impaired people.

The winter of 2018/2019 started early in November with some of my first logged days of the season. Unfortunately this wasn’t a sign of things to come, as the season progressed, the snow would dump and then quickly melt away the next week. I squeezed in winter hill days when I could between work and when possible depending on the snow conditions. As it got closer to assessment time the courses were having to be cancelled nationally, by all providers, due to a lack of winter conditions. I didn’t even know if it would go ahead. Then by good fortune, the snow came the week before my assessment along with the winter storms…

The first day of the assessment I met all the other candidates at Glenmore Lodge where we were introduced to our assessors. Everyone knew we were in for a tough week with high winds, cold temperatures and more snow fall forecast for the week. This was going to be hard!

The first couple of days we covered skills/ movement and group management. Yes, we were being assessed but at the same time the assessors were great at providing extra guidance and information to encourage you to be the best you could be. It was a windy couple of days with extreme winter conditions making the headlines across the country. We were witness to a ski-ier who lost his dog on the Cairngorm plateau who we saw with his dog midday and then without his dog back at the car park. This story continued to unfold during our course and we were all pleased to see the dog arrive back at Glenmore by Cairngorms Mountain Rescue after two nights out in those cold conditions.

No sooner had the dog arrived than we headed out on our own expedition for two nights in a snow hole. We had a great group to hang out with in the snow hole keeping morale high whilst being tested to our limits navigating around the Cairngorms plateau. We all agreed one of the most challenging parts was trying to go toilet outside the snow hole with high winds and spindrift.

Misty gullies     navigation

Five days later, our assessment came to an end. For me, the journey is not complete yet. The assessors were fantastic and provided me with so much guidance and advice. The main focus being improving my navigation and based on that being deferred until next season for this. The great news is that I have passed the majority of the assessment. Strangely my navigation is normally my strong point and one friends and family often comment on. On reflection being complacent about this meant I focused on everything else in the preparation for assessment and neglected this element. I’m excited to continue to prepare and book my re-assessment for navigation as soon as possible next winter.

I know that this is just the beginning and I can’t wait to take disabled people out in the winter hills. Having the support of the Neil Mckenzie trust has been fantastic, as it’s often hard to find the funds required to participate in training and assessments. I’m ready and raring to go for the next phase and look forward to where this will all lead…