Dog walker to Mountain Leader

In midlife I unexpectedly found myself with time on my hands. Wondering what to do with this unwanted and unappreciated turn of fortune, I considered the options. I looked into getting back into sailing but Bristol’s a bit far from good sailing locations, I thought about horse riding but couldn’t afford it and decided that a mountaineering club could be a good way to get out more, explore new places and meet people. I’d always enjoyed the outdoors and as a child had lived in Scotland, the Lake District and Dartmoor. So, five years ago with skills that didn’t go much beyond putting on a dog lead and getting up Crook Peak and back in one piece, an idle evening’s googling lead to an email to the club secretary which led to an invite to the monthly pub meet, which led to years of adventures and a major upgrade to my dog walking skills.

Over the first few months with the club I enjoyed many trips. On my first to the Peak District I learned that food is taken seriously and everyone packs lunch for the first day the night before. I ended up sadly eating my emergency jelly babies while watching others tuck into salmon salads, mountains of sandwiches and other delights.

First trip to the Peak District

In the Lakes I learned the wisdom of identifying the snorer and in Brecons the smart trick of bagging the bunk nearest the chimney from the furnace below. On the Scotland winter trip I learned not to fall flat on my face in crampons and the critical importance of making sure the car key is securely packed away and not dropped somewhere on the mountainside during a fast, wild but ill-advised decent using survival bags as toboggans (not dropped by me….) After a few trips I realised that although my navigation was OK (I knew how to head north) and I was reasonably fit (I could put one foot in front of another for a few hours), I felt uneasily dependant on others in the club with much better skills than I had. Furthermore my mountaineering skills were limited to tracks and trails and I watched and listened with growing interest to other’s tales of scrambling and climbing adventures in more remote areas of the mountains.

Sowing the seeds – “scrambling” many, many, many years ago!

I’d never climbed anything with a rope in my life although as I child I had probably scrambled up far higher and steeper ground than was wise. At the time Redpoint were offering club members free taster climbing sessions. The first session left me hooked. I started going to weekly climbing meets at the wall climbing with other club members. On trips members were very generous with advice and sharing their skills. I learned practical navigating on Stanage Edge with Phil, got a second hand harness from Omar, led my first trad route with Helen in the Gower and learned more mountaineering and climbing skills than I could possible list with Baz.

I continued enjoying club trips and became more confident in my abilities. Over a couple of summers I volunteered to help DofE expeditions and decided to get a qualification to focus improving my skills and so I could get paid. In 2016, with over 20 quality mountain days in the log book, many done with the AMC, I spent a week on the Plas-Y-Brenin Mountain Leader training course. Over the next year I built up the log book to over 40 quality mountain days, with many more AMC trips, including trips to the Lakes, Scotland and Lundy with other club members and trips to the Alps.

In November 2017 I took my ML assessment with Phil Green in North Wales. The assessment is a weeklong rigorous practical assessment of navigation, rope and mountain skills with three days out in the mountains wild camping. I managed to choose the worst week of weather of the year with strong winds, early snow, sleet, rain, cold… typical North Wales conditions. As long as you don’t mind the weather, early winter is a good time to do the assessment as early sunset means that the night navigation stages can be done before it gets too late and we were snuggly tucked up in our tents out of the weather by 10:00. Top tips – waterproof socks and copious pre-trip use of Nikwax!

I’m now a Mountain Leader and working on my winter skills, particularly ice-climbing. I joined the AMC as a dog walker never dreaming where it would take me.

Ice cave