By the time I reached the outskirts of the town I was really cold and wet. It was all my own fault, of course; yet another triumph of hope over experience; I had not expected the gentle drizzle to turn into a freezing deluge and had not put on my waterproof trousers.
The map I had memorised, told me to turn left over the bridge and onto a path; only there was no path, just a sea of mud and tarns of standing water illuminated by the feeble glow of my depleted headtorch. At least my feet were warm and dry in my waterproof boots. Then my right foot sank into the mire and cold mud oozed over the top of my boot. I felt I had now done my penance for not attending the Association of Mountaineering Instructors (AMI) AGM for the previous two years.
The river Greta almost encircles Keswick like a partially completed moat and I knew that if I followed its sinuous tail, using it like a handrail, it would take me close to my destination. It would be a much longer walk than following the path but at least I would know where I was. The swollen river was level with its banks and I had to weave my way through trees and clamber over brambles but within an hour I had crossed the tiny suspension bridge and reached the centre. It had taken me nine hours door to door.
Derwent Hill is, like many outdoor education centres, a rambling old building assaulted by piecemeal, brutalist modernisation so that warm, dark oak panels endure uneasily alongside cold, white plastic. At least the unheated rooms had not succumbed to the usual institutional habit of making it too hot to sleep.
In the morning I was greeted with a beautiful view across Derwentwater to the snow dusted fells beyond.
As an added incentive to attend the AGM, AMI had put on about 30 workshops which would give delegates Continuing Professional Development (CPD) points. From this menu I chose the two most useful for Craggers.
Teaching Leading Indoors
We took a minibus to Keswick climbing wall and as I am unemployed, AMI paid for my wall entry (which was nice). The wall has been built in an old cow shed and it was colder inside than out; our breath condensed into clouds looking like empty, cartoon, speech bubbles.
The other people on the workshop were either providers of Climbing Wall Award (CWA) training and assessment looking to move on to providing Climbing Wall Leader Award (CWLA) or existing CWLA providers wanting to ensure current best practice in their courses.
Under Mark’s guidance we assessed the facilities and performed a risk assessment before discussing the position of the CWLA award within climbing, its remit and legal requirements etc. We went through various ways of party management and communication and then moved on to the wall fixtures and fittings before going into various ways to teach the mechanics of leading, starting with the four directions of clipping runners and how we teach it. We then did problem avoidance including back clipping, z clipping, missed runner, poor rope position etc.
We covered; equipment and uses, Site Specific Schemes, Training the Trainer, participant equipment and experience and the difference from CWA and Single Pitch Award (SPA) in terms of falling, knots and rope recovery etc. We then went on to progressions from top rope to leading with traverse clipping, left hand right hand, clipping efficiency and movement, ghost rope drag, ghost rope clipping, slack top rope and finally leading. The most important person in the system is, of course, the belayer so we looked at the various belay devices with different ropes, safety etc. We then did top rope belaying, down climbing, lead belaying, belay games/techniques and holding falls. We carried on the discussions as we ate out lunch and then went straight into spotting and clipping and demoed the scary fall distances which can be achieved and clip heights. Moving onto actual falling we identified appropriate fall locations and fell from various heights. We demonstrated various types of dynamic belaying. We were running out of time and did some visualisation, route planning, movement and judgement stuff. It was a really full day.
We emerged to a glorious Lakeland evening. The sun had already set but its legacy was in evidence as if a child using fat wax crayons had been let loose on the sky. Splodges of red, yellow and orange were smeared on the watery horizon. While above were forbidding bands of black on a purple backdrop.
Before the AGM I attended one of the five focus groups (mine was about trainees). It was a really good turn out with 150 delegates from an 800 membership. It was all incredibly professional with all the presentations, often accompanied by Powerpoint presentations, delivered clearly. There was feedback from the focus groups before the elections and reports got going. After the AGM we had dinner – I was sitting at the right table, apparently, and was offered a few glasses of executive wine.
A brilliant talk by Lakes legend Dave Birkett left us all convulsed with laughter until he was finally allowed to leave at 10.30.
Climbing for All
Our slogan is “Adventure for All” and in the last 15 years we have tried to live up to that expectation as well as we can and in many areas I think we have succeeded. The only area where we have not had much of an impact is with people with profound disabilities.
The workshop was a revelation in many ways. We looked at various types of disability ranging from serious learning difficulties through to wheelchair users. We were soon out of the classroom and on the crag. It was a bright clear day and very cold. We started in the Bowderstone area, first rigging climbs so that an instructor could accompany and help a disabled climber who was being belayed from below. We moved venue and set up a top anchor and lowered down a semi static rope. Next we practiced getting a wheelchair user into a harness and then using various types of hoist, hauling them up the crag. We then drove out to St. Johns crag where we set up abseil anchors and practiced accompanied abseils with people in wheelchairs.
It was a really good day. I was inspired and motivated to really provide Adventure for All.
I woke up in the middle of the night thinking we don’t have to stop with climbing and abseiling; we can do zip wires and lots of other exciting things. Watch this space.