Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Completing British Mountain Guides' pre requirements.

Hamish Dunn and our assessor Adrian Nelhams climbing Gogarth on Gogarth Main Cliff, during our British Mountain Guides Rock Induction. 
Earlier this year - coincidentally on the same day as Britain voted to leave the EU - an email landed in my inbox informing me that I had been accepted onto the British Mountain Guides' training scheme. Over the previous eighteen months I had focused all of my free time in ticking through the remaining prerequisites. The post below explains my journey and is hopefully of interest to those contemplating following the same path. I have written it because I would have found something similar really helpful eighteen months ago. Completing the Guides' pre requirements has been a really satisfying and enjoyable process. Having now undertaken the first three days of rock training I have been really impressed by the quality of the training and am really looking forward to the journey ahead, though I imagine the assessments will be a little bit stressful. 


A little over two years ago, my wife and I stood in the Llanberis Pass looking up at the stars. We'd first met in North Wales and had spent the first three years of our relationship living there. A year previously Nikki's work had taken us both to Sheffield, by no means a bad place for a climber to live but it wasn't North Wales. We'd both grown accustomed to living in the mountains and our lives felt empty without them. Sheffield has a number of advantages over North Wales. First it rains a lot less and second it has more normality, plus conventional jobs are easier to come by. At the time I had a conventional job, working in the sales office of a major outdoor brand. I was rubbish at it - administration and spread sheets are not my strong suits - and the hour long commute, in stop start traffic, down the M1, was making me miserable. 

Looking up in the darkness Nikki said she missed being able to see the stars. She proposed that we move back to North Wales once she had completed her training. Eagerly I agreed but pointed out that there wasn't much employment in my line of work over here. Tentatively I suggested that I could train to become a Mountain Guide; expecting the usual negative I'd gotten whenever I'd previously made the suggestion. Much to my surprise Nikki asked what it involved. I found a pad of paper in the car, uploaded the pre requirements page on the BMG website onto my phone. I spent the rest of the evening scribbling down the routes I had done and working out the gaps in my experience.

The BMG's pre requirements are roughly as follows:
  • 50 multi pitch E1 rock climbs
  • 50 British winter climbs. At least 35 of which are in Scotland and 20 grade Vs.
  • 20 major alpine summits.
  • 10 easier alpine routes
  • 10 alpine routes grades TD or harder, 5 of which needed to be mixed and over 800m long.
  • 30 days of ski touring, 15 of which need to be multi day ski tours consisting of 3 consecutive nights in alpine huts.
At the time my experience was a long the lines of:

  • UK rock climbs. Having spent much of my life living in either the Lake District or North Wales I had climbed stacks of multi pitch E1s and E2s and I had done a bunch of long rock routes abroad. I'd not done many in Scotland however. 
  • Winter climbing. I had just over 50 routes; but quite a lot of them were in England; and Wales and much of my Scottish experience was on Ben Nevis. 
  • Major Summits. I had climbed 15, plus a few smaller ones.
  • Easier Alpine Routes. On paper I had more than what was required but quite a few of them were high altitude rock routes. My list was also very Chamonix-centric.
  • Harder Alpine Routes. I had about 8, 5 of which were long enough. However most of them were quite rocky and once again were Chamonix-centric. I also had a handful of routes in Patagonia, Peru, and Alaska which would hopefully count. 
  • Ski touring. This was major area of weakness. I'd been on a few ski holidays with my parents and vaguely knew how to ski. However I'd not done a single day of touring.

Next week at work, in between answering 'what jacket should I buy to walk up Mount Snowdon emails' and making mistakes on key accounts' forward orders I discreetly typed out the BMG application form. I then emailed the form off to a Guide I knew asking for feedback. He got back to me telling me to do more Scottish winter routes and to climb in remoter coires; do a few more alpine routes, making the effort to visit areas other than Chamonix and hardest of all learn to ski properly. Nikki and I sat down together and  made a plan. We calculated that it would probably take 18 months for me to finish the pre-requirements. We decided that over the following year I'd focus all my weekends in getting my Scottish winter climbing up to scratch and that I'd use my holidays to bolster  my alpine experience. We also decided to save up as much money as we could and both take six months of work. We'd spend six months living in Chamonix. This would allow me to get my skiing up to standard, complete the ski touring pre requirements and to do a few extra alpine routes. 

That winter I went to Scotland every weekend from mid-January to Easter. Regardless of the weather forecast Friday afternoon would see me driving North on the M1. I made the effort to get some remoter venues and by the end of the winter I'd managed to boost my list to just shy of fifty Scottish routes. 

Rock climbing was pretty straightforward. I just continued as normal, going climbing in the Peak after work and heading away at the weekends. Rather than heading for the usual suspects (Gogarth and Pembroke) I made a special effort to head up to Scotland a couple of times. Climbing the Old Man of Hoy with Nikki, Heather and Jonny and The Needle with Dad were two of my best days climbing in 2015. 

I used my three remaining weeks of holiday in 2015 to head to the Alps. Short Alpine trips are always a bit of a gamble with weather, acclimatisation and conditions. However I was relatively productive and managed to climb some extra alpine summits, do a couple of shorter TDs and the S Ridge of the Aiguille Noire de Peuterey. 

Crunch time came in November when I handed in my notice. By this time I was working as a sales representative for a smaller outdoor firm and was actually enjoying my job. I finished work just before Christmas and headed to Scotland with my friend Hamish (who had also decided to apply for the Guides' Scheme) to get a few extra climbs done.

On Boxing Day I flew to Patagonia with my friend Matt and Polly for a five week climbing trip. In early February I got back from South America after a successful trip. I managed to squeeze in four days work doing boot demos, before Nikki and I packed up all our possessions into the car, and started the long drive to Chamonix. Arriving to rain was less than ideal but we soon got into the swing of things, piste skiing every day through a stormy February. I had a few ski lessons too, which although expensive were well worth the money and helped improve my technique big time. I also did my first day tours on the occasional sunny days. As the season progressed so did my skiing. Thankfully 2016 was a very snowy season and skiing was possible well into June. Although it wasn't a great winter for alpine climbing I was still able to get a few shorter mixed routes done. 

My first multi day tour was in late March. Together with Will Harris and Rich Howells we skied the Verbier to Zermatt Haute Route over four days. As well as doing a host of one and two days tours I also skied the Bernese Oberland West with my Dad and sister, and did a bunch of Monte Rosa 4000ers with Hamish Dunn. These multi day journeys were really valuable experiences and far more challenging than single days tours. They were also a great way to bag a few summits. I found them one of the most enjoyable parts of the pre requirements. 

The deadline for applications is the 31st of May. A few day prior to that I gave my application a final proof read, and after ringing the BMG office to pay the £75 application fee, emailed my form across. It seemed an age until I heard anything back and towards the end of June I was getting pretty tetchy. Finally an email landed in my inbox telling me I'd been accepted with no proviso. 

Hopefully this post is helpful to anyone thinking of becoming a guide. 

To summarise:
  • If you have a partner make sure they are fully on board regarding what is involved with the Guides' training scheming. The pre requirements alone are quite time consuming and costly. Once you are six months into the scheme it is pretty much a full time commitment. 
  • Fill out the application form early and treat it as a working documents. That was you can see any gaps in your experience and work to eliminate them.
  • Speak to any Guides you know and ask them about the job and what it involves. Every British Guide I have come across has been approachable and friendly. They are just psyched climbers after all.
  • Try and find some reasonably flexible work that you can do whilst on the training the scheme.
  • Make sure you have done your five long TD routes before you apply. In my view these are the hardest section of the pre requirements to complete, as you need good weather, good conditions and a good partner. I think I would have found doing them to a provisional deadline really quite stressful and not at all enjoyable.
  • Enjoy it. Don't too much pressure on yourself. Going climbing and skiing is really good fun. 
A massive thank you to everyone who has climbed and skied with me; all the Guides who kindly looked at my application and offered their advice; and most of all to Nikki for being the most supportive wife ever. Hopefully the training scheme itself will be as rewarding as getting there. 

1 comment:

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