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Training Mode

It has been a busy couple of weeks here at Ardeonaig, although, when is it not busy?

Whilst we’ve had a few groups in over that time, my over-riding memory has been of the training that has been going on. Some of it has been run by me and some with me as a participant. All of it good, challenging and beneficial to all those involved.

We started off on the land with me as the trainer and Jess as the trainee. Jess is working towards her Summer Mountain Leader (SML) qualification and as such is racking up quality mountain days (QMDs). Abernethy is also sending her on days out with instructors who already have their SML, to give her some pre-training training!

I was honoured to have been scheduled in for one of these training days. We set off in a 16 seater minibus, my first time driving the big bus since passing my D1 a few weeks previously, and proceeded towards Aberfeldy. The roads were icy so progress was slow and sometimes unstoppable!

There is a particular hill on the Loch side road that is rather steep and so I approached it slowly but as I braked we kept going. I steered to put the off-side wheels on the verge to find some traction, applied the hand brake to spread some grit which I knew was in a pile just around the corner, but we kept on sliding down and round the corner! I tried reversing and that just spun the wheels, to which Jess said “I think you’re just going to have to commit!”

She was right: I wished for more control but with the wheels just off the edge of the road we managed to slowly creep to the bottom of the hill without incident. Phew!

Moments later, we passed the gritter going the other way. At least we’d be able to get home at the end of the day.

On the hill, we practiced and discussed the usual navigation techniques until lunch time.

After lunch I set Jess a longer navigational journey with the focus being on the journey and route choice to make it interesting and enjoyable for a group. Part of this is picking features on the map to tick off as you walk past them. I had mentioned in the car park before we set off that a map is out of date as soon as it is printed and this became particularly relevant as Jess planned her route.

Whilst man-made features can be more obvious, they can also change, whereas contours are harder to interpret but far less likely to change.

As we scanned the ground ahead our eyes were drawn to a line of pylons: the massive, national grid, six cable beasts. The map said they should be in front of the mound we could see, but actually the top of a pylon was poking out the back of the hill.

During our journey we discovered that on our map they were between 500m and 2km out of line, in completely the wrong place!

Perfect example of a learning point: I couldn’t have asked for anything better. Fortunately there was a service track running alongside the pylons which made progress much easier in the snow.

We had a good stomp around the hills and were treated to some gorgeous light, but with it came significant wind chill! Thankfully we had enough warm layers to keep the heat in. The journey home was a much less demanding drive. We live to see another day!

Next up was taking Jess and Greg out canoeing to learn and develop skills towards their 2* paddling qualification. Greg is the newest member of the Ardeonaig team and is joining us as an instructor. He has some great stories and is super enthusiastic to learn.

We started off in solo canoes in the morning and moved into tandem canoes after lunch. When you paddle in tandem, communication is important if you wish to get anywhere and still like the other person in your boat after a few hours with them!

To practice communicating, the natural course of action was to take it in turns to be blindfolded and hunt for ducks. This produced a mix of amusement and frustration but ultimately lead to a fun way of recognising the importance of communication and being able to select the right paddle stroke to manoeuvre the canoe to where you want it to be.

“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing” – The Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Just so you know, I take great joy in being able to tell you that I found the above quote in a hardback version of the quoted book that I picked out of my bookshelf!

It was a productive and cold day on the water. We now had a two-day break before resuming the learning on the water.

In this time I attend Mountain Rescue (MR) Training and ended up volunteering to act as leader of the scenario that evening. With some wise counsel from more experienced members of the team, I got the ball rolling to find Nat who had hidden himself.

The brief: a man had been for walk and had been descending via a known route, down Ben Vorlich, but hadn’t returned. A flashing light had been spotted in the area of his proposed route and he had no known medical issues.

We trudged up through some thick woods, and once we had emerged from the top it was into search mode.

I learnt some new techniques such as drawing “lazy 8s” in the sky with our torches (think search lights during the blitz) for ten seconds and then turning all lights off and watching for a response.

Also, sometimes shouting is very effective. The biggest lesson I learnt was that as a leader you need to take control and give direct and firm orders to make sure all the team members aid, rather than hinder, your search efforts! We soon found Nat hiding behind a rock. My designated first aider set to work to find out what was wrong, whilst others assembled the stretcher and two chaps looked for a suitable extraction route.

Our casualty had severe hypothermia and weak vitals to the point that when we had put him on the stretcher, he suddenly became revived and was swapped out with a Resusci Anne – a CPR training manikin.

The seriousness of the scenario just took a step up. Our current training is five minutes of CPR and then five minutes of moving time and to repeat this until we reach an ambulance.

I started a cycling timer on my watch. Five minutes to move seemed to fly by, as we had to stop on level-ish ground, to continue CPR, which often cuts movement time short by up to a minute. Conversely, five minutes of CPR seemingly goes on forever.

After half an hour of this cycle, we packed up and headed down the road to debrief. I was encouraged to hear that people thought it went well, especially for a first timer and I was pleased to learn in the deep end. The learning points for me were many and all of great importance and I look forward to another scenario to try leading again, but will wait a while before the real thing!

On Wednesday I took myself off to bag a new Munro. It was a clear sunny morning, excellent. After a good breakfast and a casual start I parked at the Ben Lawers car park and set out for Meall Corranaich.

You might be able to see five metres or 50, but the sky and ground all look the same. You try to pick out rocks or bits of grass poking through the snow which show you that it is indeed ground, but it is nigh on impossible to tell how far away they are or if it is uphill or indeed even downhill from where you are!

They were times I thought I was at the top of a tall, steep and dangerous slope and it turned out to be a 2 metre tall gentle slope.

And there were times I thought I was at the top of a tall, steep and dangerous slope and I was!

Fortunately I know better than to just push on forwards and eventually made it down and out of the clag by winding my way all over the ridge to find the shallowest and safest route off.

It was great practice but I was happy to be off and heading for a bath, when I received a call-out. By the time we all got to the spot, the casualty had made their own way off the hill and to the awaiting ambulance. We were stood down, returned all the equipment to the stores and went home. Now for a bath!

The next two days were more canoe and kayak training with Greg, Jess and Alice. We had mixed weather but the two days culminated in a corker of an afternoon with Greg and I exploring the rivers that flow into the top of Loch Tay.

Finally my last day at work for the week was Saturday. I had been looking forward to this for a while. On the rota my square usually contains one of the following: C, I, Day Off. C means a centre day, I is instructing and the last one is self-explanatory.

However, Saturday’s box contained “photo”. When I enquired as to what this meant, I was told that I’d been assigned a day to take photos of the group for the marketing department to use in the future.

YIPEE! What an honour and a privilege.

I had a most fantastic day darting around and being creative, taking pictures of kayaking, bushcraft and high ropes. Some of the pictures came out great and I hope they make their way into the public soon, but this was only possible due to kindness and generosity of Mr Derek Petrie, who very graciously let me borrow his camera for my assignment.

Thanks for continuing to follow my adventures.

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