Getting out of bed at 0500 is never a fun thing to do, especially on a Saturday morning, even more so when you have a 150 mile drive ahead of you. However, that blow is softened somewhat when the trip is to meet up with friends, my fellow #GetOutside Champs to learn new skills and add to the ones we already have. The destination was the 'Windy Harbour' hotel in Glossop where we would meet to begin a Navigation Instruction Weekend with Ultimate Navigation School, a prospect I was absolutely sh***** myself about!
Before going on the course we were asked to conduct a self-assessment to determine which course we should go on. There would be Intermediate and Advanced courses running over the course of the weekend with a Night Nav Ex thrown in for the Advanced. When I went through the assessment I felt like I fell between the two and I was convinced that I didn't want to be assessed.
It's weird because in the hills I'm pretty comfortable with my skill set but even now panic under test conditions and thought that to be honest I didn't really want to go through the anxiety of an assessment. I've navigated around some pretty horrible terrain and through just about every sort of conditions possible in the Brecon Beacons (including at night) and of course we had to do a fair bit of nav on The 100 Peaks, but still the idea of having to form route selection and be supremely confident at the head of the group and assessor, filled me with dread.
The journey up was going pretty smoothly until I hit the A628 about 20 miles from Glossop, those last 20 miles due to diversions took me 90 mins and I arrived literally at the stroke of 0900. I hate being late and I'm a terrible faffer so being late only adds to the anxiety for me. However, that's short lived when I'm greeted by some of my fellow champs and Instructors. I also bump into Martin in the car park, who's one of the instructors and we have a chat and I find myself quickly relaxing in to the day ahead.
Over coffee and biscuits we're given a briefing and the itinerary for the weekend, Saturday is syllabus day with Night Nav Ex for the Advanced Group with assessment on the Sunday for those wishing to be assessed. Obviously, we'd all still be going out if we wanted to, even if we didn't want to be assessed. During the briefing we're given our map for the weekend, OS Explorer OL1 (The Peak District - Dark Peak Area) and some 'Serious Navigator' goodies by Shaven Raspberry - Timing Card, Map Romer, Pacing Beads, Slope Angle Tool and Emergency Call Card, such simple tools (that I now wonder who I managed previously without). We're also divided up in to groups and given our instructions for the day to begin properly.
We get in the cars to head out to our start point for the day, and assemble together, check our maps for our location and begin the day properly. The first few hundred yards are filled with chit chat and catching up. Our first exercise is to check our pacing, it's a skill I often use, but probably in the past never attached as much importance to it as I would this weekend.
Paul, Martin & Aide stop regularly to give us skill drills and instruction on the little bag of goodies they gave us in the briefing, that's where the title of this post originates from! We're asked to have a play with Slope Angle Tool and are given another little nugget for the memory...
If I was to write about everything we were taught and the skills we developed then I'd be here all Easter writing this post so for the main part I'm going to concentrate on the weekend as a confidence boost. After an hour or so we broke up into our smaller groups and began working on the skills we'd be assessed on the following day (if of course we were planning on doing the assessment). I'll say for the main part, the idea of being in the hills and that being your learning environment is pretty special and whilst the process was pretty intense, Martin passed on his skills and knowledge in such an easy way that I think we all found it so easy to learn and feel confident and comfortable in what we were practising.
The weather in truth was kind to us and probably the one time we're wishing for absolute shite conditions, we get to see where we're going! I actually can't remember the last time I was in the hills and it wasn't awful, so I guess we should be thankful, but weirdly we're not! With a quick 90 minute turnaround we're back out again. The conditions for the Night Nav Ex are very similar but obviously being out in the hills in the dead of night adds an extra dimension to the task and add to that there's still a fair bit of snow about, it makes for some hilarity as much as it does give us a chance to work on pacing an other group nav skills. We're not out for long, but long enough to have a lot of fun and learn an enormous amount and add to the ever growing confidence in what we're learning.
We get back about 11pm and with a quick bite to eat, some swatting and panicking about trying to devise a route plan for the following morning I think I eventually crawl in to bed about 1am, which is now 2 because the clocks have gone forward. The alarm is set for 0700 just in case my phone forgets to update itself!
Highlights from Day 1
Saturday Day Route
UNS - Advanced Navigation Course
Saturday Night Route
UNS - Advanced Navigation Course
We all pretty much get to the hotel for the meet at 0900 and we find out the route legs we'd been given the day before have had to be changed, at this moment in time I'm not too worried because I'm convinced I'm not doing the assessment, but as Paul makes his way around the room, enquiring as to whether we doing it or not, I look at Lisa with a fair bit of doubt I guess, because she just looks at me and says "what have you got to lose?" Next thing I know, I'm getting my ID out to sign up to be assessed. So really I have Lisa to thank for giving me that nudge and to the rest of the group and Martin for the confidence to go through with it.
Eli kicked things off effortlessly before Lisa and then Scott took over and then it's my turn, a bumpy start with my pacing, had me doubting myself but a few encouraging words from Martin settled me down and I managed to get the guys to the end of my leg without any mishaps. Rob then finished off the route before Martin walked us off the hill.
When we arrived back, Martin sat us down for a debrief, and all of us that had decided to be assessed were informed that we'd passed. It felt great to have an assurance in what was a decent basic skill set before I rocked up, which had somehow enabled me to become a proficient and confident navigator in such a short space of time.
As I said I'm not going to cover the specifics of the skills we learnt, I'll leave that for the next time I'm in the hills using them, however if you're thinking you know what I would like to improve my hill skills, maybe you should treat yourself to a trip up to the guys at UNS or start with the book below!
A special shout out to Martin's Biatches and my partners in crime for the weekend, Eli, Lisa, Barbara, Rob & Scott, and of course our awesome instructor Martin Wardroper. We had such a fun weekend in an incredible environment, laughed a lot and learnt so much. We worked so well together and it still amazes me how well a small group of people with a common interest, bond and form friendships in such a way that teamwork becomes effortless. The feelgood factor convinced me to do the assessment and I'm glad I did.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM DAY 2
Sunday Assessment Day
UNS - Advanced Course
Remember life is about experiences and some experiences mean you need to step out of your comfort zone. I'm now qualified in Advanced Navigation which means I can lead people in the hills in all conditions, night and day and be supremely confident that not only are we going to be safe, that we will have a fantastic adventure. That couldn't and wouldn't have been possible without firstly the support I received and the comfort I felt in the company of the friends and the instructors I was with and of course secondly me thinking, you know what "I have nothing to lose!"
So next time you're umming and ahhing and that decision you need to make means you grow yourself, take it, because life is a great big adventure made up of little adventures and those little adventures make the big one even richer.