Chris Kula-Przezwanski - Hill and Moorland Leader


Chris Kula-Przezwanski

What do you do for work?

I am a Project Director for an International Clinical Research Organisation, which conducts clinical trials on behalf of companies in the pharmaceutical industry. So my day to day routine is very much focused on trying to ensure the global study teams deliver the trials on time and within budget. Once finished, we then all wait with "baited breathe" for the results and hope that the product under investigation proves beneficial to the patients it was intended for.

How did you get started walking in the hills?

I guess I was always the occasional walker, taking the opportunity whenever it arose, which was usually when on holiday somewhere. However, the most recent motivation is a mixture of "planning for retirement" and dare I say....a "Bucket List"!

When I was at school a teacher proposed a winter climbing expedition to Scotland and for various reasons I could not make it and was hugely disappointed. So in the coming years, I intend to put that right and so tick off an item on my Bucket List!

In terms of the "retirement plan", the original goal was to complete the CTC British Cycling Quest, basically a navigation exercise on bike visiting 402 locations around the UK (6 per county) and answer the question posed for each location based on a grid reference. It seemed a pity to rush past beautiful landscapes on a bike, when I could take a little longer and do some walking too. So the plan now is to cycle and walk round the UK, taking in the views as I go along.

Navigation on HML cClimbSouthWest

Where’s your favourite place to go walking?

That's really difficult to answer, as I am still exploring. I like Dartmoor for the sheer remoteness and North Wales is dramatic, but I guess for now I would say the Brecon Beacons, only because they are just over an hours' drive away and so relatively easy to get to. There is then the huge choice of where to go for a walk, for example, the long ridges of the Black Mountains, with scenic Llanthony Abbey as a starting point in the east. The Pen-y-Fan horseshoe in the central part of the Brecons and the challenging, almost lung bursting climb to Craig Cerrig-Gleisiad in Forest Fawr, if you chose the footpath going left from the lay-by! Finally to the west and Black Mountain, where you have the stunning views from the top of Fan Brycheiniog with the two glacial lakes of Llyn y Fan Fach and Llyn y Fan Fawr below.

I have been told I need to get Scotland in my DLOG for my Mountain Leader, so I might change my view by the end of this year, when I have ventured further afield.

Who do you enjoy walking with?

Strangely myself! For me, walking gives me that peace and quiet not achieved during the working week, as I can start with a teleconference with Asia Pacific in the early hours through to West Coast USA or even Australia in the very late evening. The job is virtually 24hrs, so being able to escape for a solo walk is what helps keep me sane!

I'd probably be pretty miserable company anyway, as I am always looking at the map to see how I can challenge myself further!

But I guess I am not alone (no pun intended) as I see lots of solitary walkers, doing exactly what I am doing.

Why did you decide to embark on the Hill and Moorland Leader scheme?

In some ways it comes back to my day job, as we have to do a lot of training to keep up to date and tend to progress from one level to the next, so I applied the same logic to the Mountain Training qualifications.

I originally did the Hills Skills and Mountain Skills courses with Baz Thomas of Crag 2 Mountain to become more competent. It was whilst on one of those courses I got talking to a Mountain Training moderator, I think it was Jon Garside and he outlined the possibilities of what being a leader could offer. So after some considerable thought, I decided to give it a go.

I did the Lowland Leader qualification in Charnwood Forest with Adam Haynes of Leicestershire County Council, both to get the qualification and to experience an assessment, in what I thought would be less challenging terrain....got that wrong! If I learnt anything, lowland terrain offers some very different navigational challenges to the more hilly areas we walk.

Then I moved onto the Hill and Moorland Leader with Pete Goldsmith Mountaineering. One more step up the ladder. With Exmoor and Dartmoor close-by and the Malvern Hills just to the north, I had perfect terrain to practice on. Thankfully I passed the Hill and Moorland Leader assessment too! So once again I improved my level of competence.

Next goals: Expedition Skills Module in June and then Mountain Leader assessment in October, both with Pete. So I guess you can really say I am a product of the Mountain Training scheme. Who knows, I might even go for Winter Mountain Leader once I have ticked off an item on my Bucket List!

Brecon Beacons cChris Kula-Przezwanski

Are any of the skills from your day job helpful to you as a leader?

Clearly planning. I have to plan studies from start to finish, with key milestones, as well as mitigation plans, so very much like a route plan, with points of interest, rest and escape options if required.

Dynamic management would be another, because invariably in a clinical trial things change so you need to look for alternatives all the time. No different to finding the weather is making your intended route trickier than it should be and needing to find a more sheltered, possibly longer route, in order to minimise the effects of the inclement weather.

Finally I would say accountability. For the day job I am accountable for delivering the study on time and within budget as mentioned previously.

I recently read an article about the difference of opinion between a client and a leader, which went along these lines: "I have paid you to ....." and you can imagine the picture; bad weather, major summit, client possibly with inappropriate kit, a far from perfect situation. Leader's response: "No, you have paid me to get you off the mountain safely". That really resonated for me.

As leaders we have a responsibility to provide a good walking experience for ourselves, friends or clients, but we have an accountability to get home safely.

How do you plan to use the qualification?

The original plan was to do the qualification so that I knew I had the requisite skills and competencies to go for walks on my own or with friends in terrain that would fall under the remit of the Hill and Moorland Leader. However I have found so many doors have opened as a consequence of gaining the qualification. For example, I am now a qualified Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Gold Expedition Assessor and a local school has asked me to help with their navigation training for their DofE expeditions.

I am even thinking about embarking on a second career! I am thinking about becoming a freelance leader to supplement my pension and keep me occupied! That's on top of walking for myself and doing voluntary DofE work using the Mountain Training qualifications I achieve.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about becoming a leader?

Go for it! The worst that can happen is that you improve your own skills. The best that can happen, as I found out, is that doors open to a world you had not even previously considered.

Hill Skills course cCrag2Mountain