With the pack filled and ready for a little two day expedition with an overnight wild camp the excitement is always there. However, with the amazing weather it was vital to pack extra fluids which pushed my pack weight up to 17kg. I was less than happy about it with all the thought beforehand about weight saving.
We were whisked up to Wrynose Pass on the fantastic Mountain Goat minibus service to begin our expedition. The first few hours were taken up with everyone taking different legs to practise ‘micro-nav’ towards Great Knot and over to Crinkle Crags where we had lunch. The physical demand on a day like this with full packs and cloudless skies (and being full of cold!) was more than obvious. A couple of the group felt the strain of this and we all started to understand the additional difficulties when navigating and the same time. This is obviously the point of ML training, to push people and ensure they are prepared for how difficult it can be in mountainous terrain. The navigation itself was quite full on as you constantly question your pacing, timing, distances and bearings with the group quietly judging you as you go! This is the same for everyone and some people coped better than others.
We eventually dropped down to make camp at Green Hole with views of Bow Fell behind us. The amazing weather made the whole experience so much better and the location was fantastic. There was enough time to sort out tents, meals and rest for a while before it was dark enough to go out for the night navigation exercise. The meal choices in the group really surprised me. My experience of walks/expeditions with overnight stays have prepared me for the types of food to ensure my body stays well fuelled but some of the food on offer was pretty terrible to be honest. I realise that people have different tastes and appetites so you need to make sure you have something to suit this but the lack of carbs and protein on show shocked me a bit.
I slipped into my tent for a quick rest as the temperature was falling to try and prepare myself for the night and the effects of the cold were seriously hindering me. At around 8pm we started to gather with maps, compasses and head torches at the ready. I had been warned about the night navigation but nothing actually prepares you for it. We spent the next few hours practising the all the navigation techniques from earlier in the day, in the dark. We were given points to locate, instructions to follow and we ended up covering a huge area from Long Pike up to Pike de Bield Moss (which was only apparent the following morning in daylight). As a first experience doing this kind of navigation the problems you expect to have were more than apparent! We eventually crawled back into our tents just after 1am. Exhausted.
After our night time excursion we set off and immediately encountered a brutal climb to start the day, heading straight up the back of Bow Fell to Ore Gap. We then headed down to Angle Tarn before continuing with the navigation legs again. We headed out and were constantly tested, needing to relocate ourselves or locate small features en route. At this point I realised the effects of the night navigation when locating myself a whole kilometre away from where we actually were. It was simply tiredness meaning that I was not concentrating for too long. It is a big hit on your confidence when you are caught out like that. I was certainly more focussed after this and managed to nail my next leg which involved pacing, bearings and locating a point over 800m away to within 10m which I allowed me to regain some of that confidence.
On the way down to Great Langdale fitness became a big factor as there was a sense of heading home and since we were following the Cumbrian Way by this point there was little to concentrate on. A couple of slips and trips were inevitable with a very tired group. I totally understand why you are pushed so hard, both mentally and physically, if you are going to be able to lead groups who depend on your skill and ability to enjoy difficult environments. That doesn’t mean that whilst you are being pushed it is all enjoyable.
When we finally arrived back at the Coppermine’s YHA there was a feedback period where the assessment group were given their pass or fail judgements and our training group were given advice on which areas we would need to work on before going in for assessment. This was particularly useful for me and allowed me to reflect on my own abilities and my areas of strength and weakness. Some of the group had already decided they would not be attempting to do their assessment as they had found their level while others were told they would not be recommended for ML assessment. This all sounds full on but we had been tested so the instructors could not be questioned. After my feedback I was simply looking forward to a hot relaxing bath and a good sleep but not long after I started to get excited about what I needed to do, where I needed to go in order to be ready for assessment next year.