ML nav

ML Refreshers in the Peak District

Chris Harling has been running some brilliant Mountain Leader refresher weekends this spring and summer in the Peak District and we're looking forward to him hosting more for members in the coming months. Here's a little review of the sessions so far:

A summary from Chris himself:

Until I had been asked to run a Mountain Leader refresher workshop in The Peak District, I had not really looked at the possibilities for coaching mountain navigation in what essentially is moorland terrain. But there are a few good areas and the SW slopes of the Bleaklow 'massive' provide a surprisingly wide range of slopes, features and aspects in quite a compact area. 8 keen trainee/qualified Mountain Leaders and myself enthusiastically set off in the drizzle just after lunch to return to the cars at around 10pm. The aim was to create a clear navigation strategy for each leg which was simple, vivid, foolproof and easy to memorise.

The participants worked collaboratively, allowing the sharing of ideas and debating alternative strategies. The key skills of relocating were practised by those not leading and we soon learned to simplify the terrain information and continuously use reliable ‘reference points’ to keep track of position as we moved. I explained how underestimated and under practised this skill set generally is when candidates are preparing for Mountain Leader assessment - around 75% of the time you are going to be following the leader whilst maintaining track of your location.

We discussed the essentials of night navigation, foolproof strategies for dealing with uncrossable obstacles on the bearing and ways to not forget your pacing count! We completed demanding legs, checking each other’s bearings and any tendency to ‘drift’, and reinforced the need to feel confident whilst operating on the dark.
ML steep ground

The Ropework and Steep Ground workshop took place the next day at Hamper’s Hang near Stanage Edge, which proved an excellent venue for covering all aspects of ML ropework in a relaxed setting and only 5 minutes from the car! Progress made by the participants was excellent and many polished performances were demonstrated during the ‘mock’ assessment at the end of the day. We also looked at risk assessing steep ground, a hierarchy of safeguarding methods and how to lead in loose terrain.

Summary: Two very enjoyable days with keen participants, refreshing crucial Mountain Leader skills in an accessible area for those living away from the mountains. Look out for more workshops this summer!

Workshop feedback - Words by Mark Swift (MTA member)

Chris runs a fantastic course very relaxed and informative. We practiced our navigation techniques on both 1:25 and 1:50 making us work in small groups and then solo with the convidence that the information we learned on our initial Mountain Leader training course was securely in our heads.

He addressed areas of concern that each of us had and came up with a simplified solution to help us practice and remember the techniques in question. Chris managed (how... i don't know) to refresh more or less 90% of the Mountain Leader training course into 2 days.

Being able to practice these skills has made me feel more confident about my Mountain Leader assessment in September. Lastly I wouldn't hesitate to go on any off Chris's course in the future as I learned so much from him, and I would certainly recommend his courses to others along the way.
ML steep ground refresher

Workshop feedback - Words by Brett Dennis (MTA member)

I really enjoyed the workshop. I’ve attended a number of courses over the years – all of them good – but this was the most practically-orientated course I have attended. More importantly, I shall certainly be coming back to this area of the Peak and will definitely join another of your courses!

Personal objectives

I attended the course because I wanted to practice my micro-navigation skills and emergency rope work – building confidence in two areas where I felt I could “do better” based on my November Mountain Leader assessment.

Design and layout of the workshop

As it turned-out, this was a much more practical workshop than some I have attended. Working in a collaborative environment with other group members, allowed the sharing of ideas. The night navigation constructively exposed the fallibility and potential inaccuracies in some of the techniques we have all come to love but don’t often practice in a pressure environment:
  • Lapses in concentration
  • Variations between individuals in the accuracy of “walking on a bearing”
  • Experiencing “drift” on steep hillside
  • Estimating time and distance – and the vagaries of pace-counting within the group
  • Staying focused under pressure
The emphasis on lots of practice was a real benefit and enabled skills to be honed and refined in a safe but real environment. This is especially true of the rope work


As always, I try to learn from those around me; copying good techniques, whilst trying to eradicate my own bad habits. I particularly enjoyed “guesstimation” of time and distance without over-reliance on the compass and pacing. This course has given me more confidence in navigating by-map-alone – a skill I wish to develop further.

Personal learning points

  • Look at the environment before getting the rope out – what is the safest option? Where are the anchors? Is it far safer to detour off without getting the rope out?
  • ABC – all in line
  • Simplify the knot-work
  • I like the idea of using a “shortening knot” to tighten up the anchor to the belayer
  • Make it “safe and fun” not “terrifying and dangerous”
  • What does the land look like? Read the contours
  • What is the general direction I’m travelling?
  • How far is it – roughly?
  • What do I think it will look like when I get there?
  • Take a sneaky bearing – just to be sure
  • Do get too hung-up if we arrive “short”(especially if the leg is >250m) – go a little bit further and take a look.


Chris is planning to another weekend of refresher workshops soon. Browse the workshop programme for regular updates.

ML Refreshers in the Peaks