BMC Student Seminar

I have never seen Plas y Brenin so crowded; registration for the Snowdon Triathlon, a rescue exercise, the Brenins own courses and the reason I was there, the British Mountaineering Council's (BMC) student safety seminar weekend. I was to be one of their four Association of Mountaineering Instructors (AMI) volunteers. The BMC had paid for food and accommodation and for some inexplicable reason I had a four bedded bunk room to myself for the whole weekend. The first day was something of a trip down memory lane for me, the destination was Craig y Gesail where I led my first route, a multi pitch called Bramble Buttress, about 18 years ago. And guess what I got to lead it again – fantastic. It is still as good as I remember. We made a couple of abseils back to the ground and then moved onto a far more serious VS route, Acropolis. The first pitch was horribly greasy, vegetated and lacking in protection. The second pitch was not much better but the route itself was made worthwhile by the fantastic third pitch; bold airy, exposed and very exciting. The views across the bay towards Porthmadog were stunning and although the tang of rain on the air had been with us for much of the afternoon we remained dry all day, and arrived back very tired and hungry to join the dinner queue at 7p.m. We didn’t have much time to savour the meal though as we had to meet the students we would be taking out the next day which gave us fifteen minutes to eat dinner. My two students were very affable second years, the representatives from Swansea University. The weather forecast for Sunday was not good and sure enough it was wet and windy when I went in for breakfast. The rain soon abated but the bruised sky, squatting over the lake behind the Centre, looked really menacing. After collecting kit from the Brenin stores I met with my students at the Milestone Buttress but as that venue was really busy we relocated to Tryfan Bach, which although quite crowded itself really lends itself to teaching. Tryfan, I think, is by far the most imposing and aesthetically pleasing mountain in Wales and Tryfan Bach is its small but perfectly formed little brother. I only had the students for a day so I proposed to make the most of it and pass on as many skills as possible so that they could safeguard the new members of their university mountaineering club. Good practice is often demonstrated by example and no words are needed, so on arrival at the crag I immediately put on my helmet at the base of the crag and they followed suit. There is very little chance of them being around when a chunk of mountain falls off at Tryfan Bach but on a busy day with plenty of novices about there is a very real possibility that they could have a belay plate, karabiner or sundry other bits of climbing gear dropped on their heads. Watching people gear up always tells a story; how efficiently do they fit their harness, how do they rack their gear, how do they tie on etc gives pointers to their competence. There is very little point spending a long time giving a lecture at the base of the crag but that does mean that you do not know for sure if they can belay safely, this is something you have to judge through observation during the course of the climb. Climbing in parallel for the first ascent of the crag gave them both the opportunity to build lots of different types of anchor and we climbed five pitches before scrambling to the summit and then walking down into sunshine. Next, I soloed 40 meters, trailing a rope which was tied onto one of the students allowing him to lead while being on a slack top rope. He led very well, built an anchor and then bought up his partner. When they were both at the top I showed them how to set up an abseil station and they both abseiled down using a prussic while being on a safety rope. The other guy then led the climb and after asking him if he was happy with the last piece of gear he had placed and getting an affirmative I told him to fall. The gear held. Which was nice. I talked them through how to set up a stacked abseils and then as time was running short, the wind was picking up and there were a few drops of rain I decided to solo up to the top and bring them up in parallel. When they got to the top they asked me to explain the principals of using a magic plate and as that was what they both carried as belay devices I showed them how I had just brought them up. Then it was back to the Centre for closing ceremonies presentations etc. I was given a few climbing and hill walking publications and DVD’s which I will pass on to Craggers. A great weekend. Three cheers have to go to Jon Garside of the BMC who organised the whole thing.