Different tracking solutions for DofE groups

tracker screenshot

So you have decided that you want to be able to track your DofE groups to help with your supervision plan or to comply with your risk assessments (we have a blog post on that too). Which one do you go for? This is an attempt to break it down for you so that you know what are the available options. Types of tech, rent or buy?

 

This article was written in February 2018. We will try and keep it up to date.

 

The first big difference between trackers is how the location information is transmitted from the tracker device to the supervisor. Most use mobile phone sims with the obvious drawback that they will only transmit when in signal. There are a few that use satellites to transmit this information so we'll start with them.

Trackers that transmit using satellite technology

All trackers use satellite technology to get their position via the Global Positioning System (GPS) but there are few that also use satellites (different satellites to the GPS) to then transmit that data. We are only going to focus on the 'Spot Gen3' here (but look at 2 permutations for DofE use). There are many more options open to you that you may wish to consider if you are going very remote but we are moving into the '2 way satellite messenger' or 'satellite phone' area using the Iridium satellite system which would probably be considered an overkill for UK based expeditions. Some examples of these can be bought from here https://www.globaltelesat.co.uk/trackers/satellite-trackers-beacons/satellite-personal-trackers or hired for £50 a week + some messaging costs from Beyond Marathon

The Spot Gen3

Cost of unit  £100
Annual Fee £200
Key Features
  • 3 custom message buttons and a SOS button direct to the emergency services.
  • App for Android and Apple Phones.
  • 5 minute interval tracking as standard (but can be set to 2.5 minutes for an extra £50 a year).
Advantages
  • Satellite communication so will work pretty much anywhere in the world (but can be a bit flaky around the poles and the African equator (best use a Iridium based system for those areas). Spot Coverage.
  • Long battery life.
Disadvantages
  • No option to use OS maps.
  • Location information send in latitude and longitude rather than OS grid references.

gen3 productThe Spot Gen 3 is a great bit of kit. You switch it on, activate tracking, then stick it in the top pocket of a rucksack and forget about it (it does need to be right at the top of the bag, preferably facing the sky). If it isn't moving then it goes to sleep to save battery power. It comes with an app that shows the location using google maps. There is the option to switch between the very basic google map and the satellite photo which makes transferring working out where they are on your OS map pretty easy. You can't have an OS map overlay unfortunately and if a message button is pushed location data is sent in latitude and longitude so you need an app on your phone to convert to the national grid (or access to a website to do the conversion, unless you can do it manually).

It has other less known features in that you can set it to send an alert when it moves if it hasn't moved for a number of hours. You could use this to give you a wake up call when their bag is moved for the first time in the morning :-). You can re-programme the buttons to send alerts to multiple email addresses and mobile phones. I think that you get 100 text messages a year included in the fee and if you do ending up using them all you simply buy another package of 100.

If you want to buy a spot then the cheapest way is usually to buy the unit and then register it when it arrives.

Spot Gen3 with Mapyx additions

Cost of unit  £100 + £60 setup fee
Annual Fee

This will depend on how many of their services you want to subscribe to. If you go for the bare minimum then it will only cost a little more than the standard Spot fee. If you go for all the whistles and bells it could cost you a lot more.

Over £200 .

To use OS mapping there is an additional cost that is vastly different between school and commercial users.

Key Features
  • 3 message buttons and a SOS button direct to the emergency services.
  • 5 minute interval tracking as standard.
Advantages
  • Satellite communication so will work pretty much anywhere in the world (but can be a bit flaky around the poles and the African equator (best use a Iridium based system for those areas). Spot Coverage
  • Long battery life.
  • Option to have it integrate with OS maps.
  • Locations can be given in OS Grid references.
  • You can send an SMS text to the Mapxy server and it will reply with the last known location.
  • 24 hour support.
Disadvantages
  • You don't have control over the device configuration, that is done by Mapyx.
  • More expensive than the standard Spot system.

Mapyx have developed a system that integrates with the Spot system. They register the unit for you and then route all the tracking information via their servers. You then run their software on your laptops, tablets and phones, which you can use with OS maps for route planning as well as tracking (there are many different features that you can opt in or out of). It also means that they have been able to develop extra features such as the ability to text a request for the last known location of a unit. The downside is that they can't give you configuration access to the device as you would then have access to ALL their clients devices. This means that you need to set it up once and keep to that system (you probably need a dedicated mobile phone to receive messages). It may be that they will do a set number of re-programmes a year but I doubt they would be happy to do a re-programme every time you use them. If you want a bit more support then Mapyx could be your best bet, but you do pay for that.

Mapyx will also hire out their Gen3 Trackers for £66 per week.

Trackers that transmit data over mobile phone technology

There is a massive array of this type of tracker. They range from purpose built units designed specifically for outdoor pursuits to little units to stick in your car in case it is stolen or to attach to your pet in case they go AWOL. You can even just use a smart phone with an app that is designed to help you find it if you lose it running in the background. I will only detail a purpose built solution before listing some other bits of kit and apps that could be used for this purpose.

 Beyond Marathon GSM trackers

Cost of unit  £125
Annual Fee £19-£96  (£8 per month when active but you can drop it down to £1 when you are not going to use it).
Key Features
  • 15 second update interval.
  • App for Android and Apple Phones.
Advantages
  • Small and light.
  • Built in rechargeable (usb cable) battery that should last a whole expedition.
Disadvantages
  • Relies on mobile phone signal.

gsm trackerBeyond Marathon sell and hire out these trackers. They each have an “emergency SIM card” in, that works all the mobile networks in the world, combing the coverage of all the networks, not just one. They can be put inside a rucksack, they don’t need line of sight to satellites to transmit the location. They can be set to update as fast as every 15 seconds if desired, but generally it is best to set them at 60-120 second updates so you get 4-7 days of life, 10 days or longer from the bigger model (90g).

 

Beyond Marathon hire these out for £15 per unit for silver and bronze expeditions and £30 per unit for a week long hire for gold expeditions. If you hire them then you get access to OS mapping as well for an extra £1.50.

 

Other Trackers and mobile phone ideas

The above list are all that I have researched in detail so far. There are many more on the market and many that I was aware of seem to be out of use these days. There are other ways that you can track groups or at least find out their location by using text messages. The following methods are not really designed for the outdoor education purpose and are therefore not really recommended but they include.

  • Vodaphone V-pet. Small vodaphone tracker for £55 + £4 a month
  • Pebbell 2. Small mobile phone based tracker with a 2 way speech function so can act as an emergency phone £150 + £12 a year subscription +£1.50 a month + text and call costs
  • Squanto. GPS £40-£50 for unit. No monthly cost works on Giffgaff SIM. £10 credit lasts several expeditions. Lasts 36h tracking with app, 5 days on sleep mode and text to get location. Or mix of two. Works well and affordable, but relies on cellular.
  • Android phones - Wheres My Droid. Buy a cheap android phone for £30 and install Wheres My Droid. Simply text it a code and it texts it's location back. (This is very cheap as it uses no data, the only cost is the price of the phone and a text message but has no 'tracking ability'.
  • Android phones - Real-Time GPS tracker from Green Alp. This is free for up to 4 groups. It does require a data tarrif but doesn't cost that much and you can set 'geo fences' alerts if your tracker strays outside of a designated area.
  • Apple Phones: 'Find My iPhone.
  • Any smart phone: Google location sharing. This does use data but is more of a track than simply using 'Wheres My Droid'.

 

Anything to contribute?

If you see any inaccuracies in the above or use any of these devices (or anything else) and think people would benefit from your experience then get in touch and we can add to this page.

 

 

 

How and why we track groups on DofE expeditions

tracker screenshotOver the last few years the number of different tracking options for DofE has exploded. From the high tech Spot Gen 3's with satellite communication (so not relying on mobile phone signal), to small devices designed for hiding in your car, to free downloads that you can put on any smart phone. This is not going to be an article about what tracker to get (you can find that here) but more to document the discussions that we had within Lupine Adventure Co-op about the benefits and pitfalls of their use.

 

At Lupine we all started off, like most outdoor education professionals, very much against their use. We'd not needed them before, they were just new and expensive kit that would probably detract from the young people's feelings of independence and achievement. 

 

In 2016 we noticed a change in the way that people on DofE and outdoor education Facebook forums were referring to trackers. Some people were still very much against them but the tide was turning. A few years before negative comments on posts about their use would out number positive comments buy more than 10:1 and in just a couple of years positive comments were starting to outnumber the negative ones. It became apparent to us that with the reducing cost of the technology, and the increasing number of organisations using them, being able to track groups and giving groups the ability to ask for help in remote situations was becoming the norm. 

 

plbWe found ourselves in the interesting position that we were considering the purchase and use of trackers and / or personal locator beacons (PLB) even though we had not identified a need for them in our risk assessments. To put it another way we felt that while there is always an element of risk in remotely supervising groups in remote situations the risks are not so great (if done well) and the presence of a tracker or PLB does not reduce them considerably (and could even increase the likelihood of some incidents). However, society (parents, schools, youth groups) were beginning to expect that we would be offering this facility.

Our 2 big problems with trackers

1) When we are supervising a group they know that we are in the area but they generally really do not realise just how closely we are supervising them. By giving them a tracker it might totally destroy that feeling of independence. 

 

2) We are concerned that the ability to track a group could mean that we start to do a less than thorough job of supervising them. There is no doubt that having a tracker on a group can change the way that you supervise that group and we are concerned that that will have a negative effect on the quality of our supervision.

But on the other hand

1) If your group have a tracker then you can supervise much more efficiently. For instance, you may be planning to meet a group on a hill top or even just to view them at a specific point to ensure they go the right way (and if necessary stop them heading into the wrong valley). With the use of a tracker you can time your ascent of the hill better thus using your time more efficiently (4th rule of remote supervision: work smart not hard) and you will also not have the stress of worrying if they have already passed through (which I am sure you can relate to).

 

2) Finding a group that you have lost will take up a lot of time and fuel (possibly of quite a few members of staff). With a working tracker this can be reduced.

 

3) If a group are off route and injured then you will find them a lot quicker with a tracker thus saving you, them, their parents and mountain rescue a lot of time and worry.

 

4) With a tracker and help button you are in a much better position to insist they leave their phones at home.

 

5) There is the posibility of telling groups that they can go off route on adhoc exploration if they wish by sending an OK message when doing so to let us know where they are and that they know they are not following the plan but everything is fine (this is not something that we have worked out how we may incorporate but is a posibility).

 

So how will we deploy trackers to mitigate our issues and use the advantages?

We tested the use of Spot trackers in 2017 and on the back of that have purchased more for use in 2018. We therefore have a fledgling policy of how they will be deployed and how we might brief the staff and groups on their use.

 

gen3 product1) We intend to explain to the group that their primary use is as an emergency button to call for help from the emergency services or their supervisor should they need it (Spot devices have two help buttons use of either will send a text to their supervisor giving their location). We can tell them that yes it has a tracking function but that it not it's main purpose and it is not 100% reliable or useable 'in the field' (which is true but to be honest it is pretty good).

 

2) We ask our staff to produce supervision plans as if they don't have trackers as we don't think that is should make any difference to the actual plan. Our remote supervision policy covers the times when we want our staff to remain close to the group and having a tracker will make no difference to this. All it will do is mean that staff have a bit more information of when they have to be where they have to be.

 

In Summary

Trackers are great bits of kit that massively reduce stress for the supervisor and can provide a means for calling for help in areas without mobile phone signal. Ironically the tracking function is often more use in Bronze terrain as all the hedges, and buildings get in the way of spotting your group in contrast to the mountains when on a good day you can position yourself on a hill top and watch your group for a couple of hours from one spot. We don't focus on their use as trackers and genuinely do tend to not use them as such on a minute by minute or even hour by hour basis.

 

Want to borrow our trackers?

We use our 4 spot trackers extensively from April to September. Outside of this time we are happy to lend them out. We particularly encourage their use by winter mountaineers heading off into the snowy wilds (they are all out on lone at the moment as I type in Februray). Between April and September we may be able to lend you one if we are not busy just get in touch to give them a go.

 

DofE Expedition Leader's Tips, Tricks and Hacks

1. Pipe cutters.

Pipe cutters for aluminium tent poles. If you buy replacement tent poles then you generally buy by the width and have to trim them down to the right length. A couple of quid on one of these is a lot quicker, easier and neater than a Hacksaw, it is also easier to transport as has no blade to snag on things.

 B Pipe cutters

 


2. Binoculars.

You possibly know this but if you are conducting remote supervision in a hilly area then you really need a pair of Binoculars. It can take a lot of the guess work out of identifying your group from a distance. I bought a pair of Bushnells for about £20 and they seem pretty decent for a budget binocular. The 16x32 number means that things will appear 16 times bigger and the big end lens is 32mm across (the bigger the lens the more light and clearer the image). Feel free to put links to good specific binoculars you have discovered in the links below.

b bushnell


3. Uni Posca pens.

Uni Posca paint pens are great for marking up tents, boots anything really. It is paint in a pen. We bought the PC-5m nib size in 'White' and 'Metallic Blue' which seems to work well with most things.

 b Posca


4. Dash for it maps.

Dash for it maps are OS map wholesalers. Their maps are generally about 1/3 price than you would find on the high street. It is staggering how much cash we have saved since they were brought to our attention.

b dash


5. Crochet hook.

At the join of aluminium tent poles there is a short smaller tube of aluminium that slots into the next pole (the silver bit in the photo below). Sometimes groups accidentally force the silver bit into pole 2 when trying to slot pole 1 over it. When this happens your first reaction may be to assume that it has snapped off in pole 1 but no it is just pushed in to pole 2. You can use a crochet hook to put it back out again then simply squeeze the end of the pole (where you can see the 2 dimples in pole 2) with pliers to make it stay in place again. We use a 3mm crochet hook but it looks like you can buy a whole set for the same price then you can choose the one that fits your poles best.

b crochet2


6. JC040.

We wanted some branded T-shirts but wanted them to be half decent wicking shirts. JC040 seems to be some sort of product number for these shirts and we think they are great. Some (cheap) wicking t-shirts smell really bad quickly but these don't. If you or your group want dirt cheap wicking polo shirts to get embroidered (or just to wear as they come) then ask your embroider for JC040 and they will probably be able to sort you out for under £8 each.

b JC040


7. Tag your kit in stores.

We bought a load of these red and green blank credit card sized tags. When something comes in it is checked, and if all is well a green tag is signed and dated and attached to the kit before the kit is put on the shelf. If there is a problem with it then it is red tagged and the problem is written on the tag with a sharpie. When the kit goes out the tag is removed and put in a tub by the door for cleaning before being returned to the box. If the links above have expired then searching for '100 green pvc cards' on ebay or amazon should bring them up.

b tags b tags2

8. Waterproof notepad

I usually carry two of these. One lives in my first aid kit should the worst happen and the other in a dry bag. The one in my dry bag gets used mainly for debriefs. When I debrief I usually conduct individual debriefs on the move in the last 2 or 3 km of the expedition. When doing this I make notes in my waterproof notepad that I can refer to in the group debrief near the end or in my assessor report (depending on my role and the expedition) I usually use my red Staedtler pen but a biro works just as well. There are a few brands available. The one shown below, Lomo, Rite in the rain.

 b waterproof notepad


9. Cable ties.

Cable ties are great for fixing boots, rucksacks, tents and more 'in the field'. I started carrying them as advised on Winter Mountian leader training as a crampon fixing tool but they have made the move over to my summer kit and get used more than you would imagine (though never for fixing crampons).

b cable ties


10. Red Staedtler Pens.

I guess I don't really need to put this here but they are great. The red one cleans off (with meths) better than most colours, get the superfine point.

 b staedtler


11. Protractor.

There are lots of different ways to teach compass use and taking bearings, you often need to take different approaches for different students. One day a student said something along the lines of 'so you are using the compass like a protractor'. Since then I have found that the following process works really well.

 

1) Asking students to guess the bearing first then turning the dial on that compass to that bearing.

2) Then saying that you can be more accurate by using a protractor to read the bearing and again manually turning the dial on the compass to that bearing.

3) Then saying you can be even more accurate using the compass as a protractor to read the bearing and demonstrating how to do that.

 

This method is lost on older people as they probably haven't seen a protractor for 50 years.

b protractor


12. Banana boxes

You need boxes to put things in. In our opinion banana boxes are ideal.

  • They are a good size, big enough to get big things in but not so big that they become very heavy.
  • They are free, we pick ours up from Morrisons
  • They are breathable, if something is slightly damp it doesn't really matter.
  • They are pretty robust and when one gets a bit battered you just replace it.

b bananaboxes


13. Fulton Stormshield Umbrella.

I know it isn't really the image for the outdoor professional but a decent umbrella is great for remote supervision. Most waterproof systems work best with a nice big heat gradient between you and the outside. Fine if you are walking, not so great if you are sat still. Life sat in the rain is so much better under an umbrella. This type has wind vents so you can use it in a wider range of weathers.

b stormshield


14. 12 litre really useful boxes.

The 12 litre 'Really Useful' box is just the right size for storing and transporting maps.

12litre


If you have any further suggestions then add them in the comments

 

And lastly...

 

I'm just going to leave this here.

 

 

b briefcase

 


The Shepherd’s Life, by James Rebanks - Book Review

- While I've been working away from home this season, on outdoor jobs, I’ve usually had a book on the go. For tent-based reading matter I tend to choose titles that span the territory between education and enjoyment and given that I spend a good deal of my work and leisure time in the Lake District, this seemed a promising read. I was hopeful it’d inform my work, enabling me to give deeper responses to the questions that young people often ask me about, “What’re all these sheep doing here?”
 
Shepherds Life
 
This memoir recounts the life, to date, of James Rebanks whose family have farmed the Lake District fells and its environs for generations. It recounts a robust childhood, accompanying his grandfather on the farm, but also a good deal of bitterness at a secondary education that failed to recognise the richness of his ambitions to continue the “family business” in farming. As the book progresses Rebanks recounts some youthful grappling with identity, a determination to prove himself, both as “a bright lad” and within the community of hill farmers where commitment to hard work and honouring traditional values and practices is held high. Finally Rebanks describes how adaptability, underpinned by these values, has sustained his livelihood and identity, in what might seem “the hardest job in the world”, through the season’s changes.
 
The book is full of humility and mature reflection and gives valuable insight into the commitments that sustain the landscape and culture that many Lake District visitors enjoy. In particular it led me to re-evaluate the practice of re-wilding that ultimately means “de-stocking” the hills of the Herdwick sheep that are so emblematic of the landscape and the generational culture that has put them there. I’m now not so sure where the balance of cost and benefit lies.
 
In short, I think this is a great book for anyone with affection for and interest in the Lake District. It sheds an unromantic, though far from soulless, light on the practices that sustain it and it’ll help me to answer those questions with considerably more knowledge, objectivity and understanding. Although a regular visitor to the Lakes I realise I’ve far to go before I’m as hefted to the landscape as Rebank’s and his colleagues’ flocks.
 
You can buy this lovely book, here.

Mountain Rescue Call Out

After 10 years of providing DofE expeditions we had our first mountain rescue call out in July this year. Obviously after such an event we conducted a review of the incident to see if any changes to our procedures or advice to staff should be made. We had 2 Mountain Leader (ML) qualified staff and 2 groups out on the expedition that ran into trouble and to their credit they performed well. Lupine always have a minimum of one suitably qualified member of staff per DofE group on practice expeditions and on all expeditions in 'wild country'. When things are going well it sometimes seems like an overkill (especially with the advent of affordable tracking) but the fact is that when things go wrong you need people on the ground. Additionally, while not the case with this incident, when things go wrong they tend to go wrong for a reason that may affect other groups (poor weather, poor training, poor kit, limited hours of day light etc.). So if things are going to go wrong with one group there is an increased risk of things going wrong with multiple groups at the same time. We generated a more detailed, procedure specific report for all our freelancers but I thought I would write something here as it may be of use to others.

What happened

the bellAs stated above we had 2 groups out (one group of boys and one groups of girls) and two instructors on a practice expedition in the Lakes. We had conducted a day of acclimatisation with the groups and the two groups were to start their practice expedition being remotely supervised as our staff assessed that they were sufficiently competent and thus were ready for remote supervision. The groups were starting from Coniston and due to go north over Furness Fells before dropping down into Tilberthwaite and taking a fairly low level route round to Great Langdale (via Little Langdale and Elterwater). The boys had a late start and the ML with that group checked them up the copper mines valley and onto the fell before heading back to his vehicle and going round to Tilberthwaite. From there his intention was to climb the hill and shadow them across the top and down the Tilberthwaite valley.

 

At about noon we received a call in the office from some accompanying school staff to let us know that one of the boys had sustained a lower leg injury (a sprain or strain rather than a break) and that they were still on the tops. As the girls group were already over the top and on a low level route by now, both members of staff worked together to try and find the boys. After an hour or so they had re-traced the complete route and had not found them. The group were obviously both injured and lost. The ML's then reported in to the office to update us on this turn of events. We took the decision at this point to notify mountain rescue even though it was still only 2 pm in early July. Calling Mountain Rescue can take a lot of time so getting all that information over early can help and they can then make the decision as to whether to wait a bit or to start a search. They took the decision to start assembling a team.

 

conitson rescueThe ML's who were already on the top decided on the next areas that they should search and started putting their plan into action. The boys at this point managed to send their location via WhatsApp to some of the support staff from the school (AKA teachers). The teachers then sent that link to us in the office and we converted it from latitude and longitude location into a UK grid reference and updated our staff and the mountain rescue team control. At this point our ML's were about 500m away and heading in their direction so found them in about 15 minutes. They then gave the mountain rescue team a slightly more accurate grid reference and waited for help. Upon arrival the Mountain Rescue team decided that it was a stretcher off job so all the kit was left on the tops and the casualty was taken down to the base before going off to hospital for a check-up. 

 

In the meantime we in the office contacted other staff that we had out in the Lakes whose duties had finished for the day and asked them to help by locating the girls group and ensuring that they were OK. The other group were located, a well-being check was performed and they continued on their way to their campsite where they met with their supervisor and some school staff.

 

Learning points

As stated above our ML's did very well, our procedures were followed and were found to be robust.

 

1) Calling the office early. Office support can offer clear detached thinking that isn't so easy when out searching for a group yourself. We were also able to arrange extra support for the girl's group. As well as this we were able to be a point of contact for the accompanying teachers. Calling mountain rescue can feel like a bit step. Having the support of a director in the office instructing staff on the ground that that is what they should do probably reduced some of the stress in doing so.

 

2) Calling Mountain Rescue early. Mountain rescue teams can take time to assembly and deploy in non-life threatening situations. By calling them early they were able to assess the situation and decide whether they could deploy early. No one wants to be searching for a group in the dark and a call out just 3 hours later if the group were still not found could have resulted in this.

 

3) Our staff contact information. The first our staff heard that the group were lost was when we were called by the school staff. We have changed our procedures to ensure that groups know to call us first. We are also instructing our staff to write their number on the groups map as well as route card rather than our previous procedure which was on the route card and a credit card sized piece of card. We feel that the map is more readily available than a small piece of card.

 

4) Phone battery power. This incident resulted in a lot of mobile phone use. One leader phone died during the event. Modern smart phones do not hold a charge for a long time but they are also very useful to have for access to some of the apps. We now recommend that all staff carry a fully charged phone (like the Nokia 100) as an emergency phone to save their smart phone charge.

 

gen3 product5) Trackers. We have a number of trackers that we deploy on some (but not all expeditions). They are becoming cheaper all the time and we expect they will become a standard piece of kit in time. There are issues with giving groups trackers and so we don't routinely do so but if they had one it would have reduced the time taken to find them. At Lupine we have put lot of thought into tracking groups and how to do so without negatively impacting on the expedition experience and reducing safety (as mentioned above we would not reduce our staffing ratio just because we can track a group). Another blog post maybe.

 

6) Familiarisation with mobile phone apps. Do you have an app that can translate Latitude and Longitude into a grid reference on your phone? they are free to download. Most groups will have smartphones on them. We could advise that participants download OS locate but would they then use that to navigate? We’d prefer not to but would advise that staff familiarise themselves with getting info from smart phone in other ways.

 

whatsappa) Whatsapp. – quick , easy , simple, not much data needed, most participants have Whatsapp installed
Send a message to group asking them to carry out the following
i) Tap the paperclip (android) or + (on iPhone) where you normally type a message. ii) Tap ‘location’ iii) Tap ‘send current location.’

b) iPhones - no data needed, information is sent by text message
iPhones have a compass app built in that shows latitude and longitude.

c) Android – this is not a very good way and is quite data intensive
i) Go to google maps ii) Tap on the 3 lines for menu iii) Tap ‘share location’ iv) Tap the add person logo + and little person. v) Choose time frame. vi) Choose to send by SMS. vii) Put number in

d) Website – medium amount of data needed
There are a number of websites such as www.whereamirightnow.com with easy instructions on how to share your current location.

 

We have updated our guide to remote supervision and searches booket to reflect some of these points.

 

We are of course indebted to the Coniston Mountain Rescue team and have made a donation to their funds, if you would like to donate to them as well you can do so here.

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/charity-web/charity/finalCharityHomepage.action?uniqueVmgCharityUrl=ConistonMountainRescueTeam

 

Peak Rock

Eight days of climbing in the Peak District.

Mark Valentine

During the summer I ran two, four day, ‘Introduction To Rock’ climbing courses for Lupine Outdoor Adventure, four days in July and four days in August. ‘Katy’, who was the client and organizer, would be bringing a group of young people and adults, from the South-East of England to the Peak District to sample outdoor climbing for the first time having previously climbed only at indoor walls.

 

stanage1I began each course with a brief introduction of myself and of my climbing experience (mainly how I done most things much less than efficiently and therefore was in a position to help them avoid making the same mistakes!), before asking the group members to introduce themselves and what they expected during their stay, before I moved on to tell them what I would try to cover over the following days. This was then followed by a safety briefing. I find making everyone ‘safety aware’ by explaining any potential dangers and setting a few clear and definite rules before approaching the climbing venue is most effective as people can be easily distracted when first arriving at the crag. When the “do we have to wear a helmet?” question arose I confirmed a definite “YES” and explained that I always wear a helmet when climbing outdoors mainly due to the possibility of others knocking something from the top of the crag on to me, which was understood and accepted by all.

 

Then onto the actual climbing!
It was fortunate during both courses that the groups and I could be flexible with our timings, in fact it was a blessing due to the ‘changeable’ Peak District summer weather we experienced. Both course started the first day mid morning to lunchtime due to wet overnight conditions, but we managed to climb until the evening so we had a full day. If flexibility allows I don’t feel it benefits anyone having a normal 9am to 5pm day if it means spending periods of time with both myself and the clients getting wet and cold or sheltering from the elements! I chose ‘Birchen Edge’ and ‘Yarncliffe Quarry’ respectively for each of the courses first day. This allowed us to make the best of their quick drying or sheltered properties and also meant the clients were introduced to the outdoor rock in venues that were fairly ‘friendly’ for a first day. ‘Yarncliffe’ also offers an easily set up abseil next to number of possible climbing lines, which we used, on both courses.

 

Over the following days on both courses we dodged the weather through either starting late or early and including an extended day followed by a shorter day, we managed to only get the waterproofs out once - result!

 

laybackEach course consisted of a first day of me watching everyone belay to check safe practice before I would allow them to belay unsupervised. We made a rule of doing a ‘buddy check’ before every climb to check harnesses were fitted correctly, karabiners were fastened and climbers knot was tied correctly. The group members were all well trained and showed excellent belay practice, younger more ‘slight’ individuals being tailed if belaying. After gaining an insight to general ability and group crag behavior (which was excellent) I could then explore ideas for suitable inclusive crag venues. Venues we visited were Birchen Edge, Yarncliffe Quarry, Lawrencefield and Stanage Popular during the July course, and Yarncliffe Quarry, Birchen Edge, Horseshoe Quarry and Burbage North during the August course.

 

Early in the courses it was apparent that a number of the climbers were attempting to ‘sprint’ up the routes as they may be able to do at an indoor wall facility, the artificial holds at in indoor wall mark the route of a climb and dictate the necessary placement so a large amount of decision making is taken away from the climber.
As the courses progressed I encouraged some of the climbers to slow their movement and also to make a conscious effort of including their eyes (for more than just a glance) in a ‘movement process’.

 

topOne ‘drill/exercise’ involved having the climber look for their next ‘hold’ then keep their eyes focused on it for a couple of seconds before making a hand/foot placement. This promotes the idea of making the best use of a selection of possible ‘holds’, making precise accurate placements whilst also resulting in controlled efficient climbing.
It was very satisfying to have the climbers listen to (what were to them) new and different climbing techniques, be willing to spend some of their trip practicing ‘drills’ and then (hopefully!) go away having added something to their climbing ‘toolbox’.

 

During the second course we visited Horseshoe Quarry which is a bolted sport climbing venue, making use of the bolted ‘top rings’ allowed me to set up ‘bottom ropes’ and get the group climbing quickly. We were also able set up a ‘ghost rope’ where the climbers would climb and practice clipping a ‘ghost’ lead rope whist being belayed with the safety of a top rope.

 

Whilst at ‘Burbage’ I was able to set up a top rope belay on a route which enabled me to belay each climber up the full climb before being able to ‘top out’ and walk off safely, this was the first time the majority had ‘topped out’ on a route and was well worth the effort of belaying a dozen climbers!

 

With varying ages from 8 years to adult there was a range of ability throughout both groups but everyone showed a great enthusiasm to climb and a willingness to listen to any advice that would help them improve.

 

Overall I was extremely impressed by both groups passion for their climbing, and also their impeccable behavior whilst at the crag.

 

Mark is one of our Regular Freelancers and is an International Mountain Leader (as well as a single pitch climbing instructor). You can follow his adventures via his instagram account www.instagram.com/yourmountainhq

lean back

YMCA Charity Walk for ‘Children in Need’

Saturday 9th September 2017

group on track Autumn 2017 seems to have arrived in Snowdonia National Park as I lead a small charity group up to the Summit of Snowdon on a rather wet and windy day. The group of 4 young people (aged 15/16 years) and accompanying 2 adults who are all part of YMCA meet me at Llanberis Youth Hostel on a very blustery Friday evening as they have travelled all the way from Cardiff. There was little time for a chat on the evening of arrival as everyone shuffles off for some well needed sleep arriving after 10pm.

 

I am informed that the 4 young people are excited about their summit up Snowdon the next day as they are all young carers many who are not only busy with school /college studies but balancing this with caring for family with varying different medical needs/disabilities. Their lives for sure are busy and demanding but through the YMCA is good to know they can take part in a range of other activities different to their everyday lives. The 4 young people had the idea themselves planned to challenge themselves to climb Snowdon and raise money for Children in Need at the same time after having previously climbed Pen y Fan in the Beacons the year before and wanting something more challenging.

 

After a hearty breakfast at the Youth Hostel we head up to Pen-y-pass in their minibus and Julie one of the staff members on minibus duties waves us all bye for the next few hours. I give them all a short briefing about the length of the day, route plans and how the walk will differ from their previous experiences. The cloud cover with drizzle is low and the wind is moderate so I make sure they all are in full waterproofs and inform them how changeable the weather will be throughout the day. We set of in high spirits with a few pictures being taken and it is not long after we ascend the PYG track we are greeted by a magnificent full rainbow.

 

rainbow

We continue to climb the PYG track and all are coping well but very quiet and I can tell they are unsure of what lies ahead. As we cross into the next valley the mist lifts for a little but is clear summer has gone in Snowdonia and autumnal weather is arrived but is certainly a wet /changeable day. At this point I also wonder how the Snowdonia ultra-runners who were running 58 miles around the mountains the same day are getting on in these wet / blustery conditions.

 

The group are in group spirits as we continue with few breaks giving the windy and wet condition I keep people moving with occasional breaks for food /water. One of the group pipes up that they are enjoying the walk which was pleasing to hear given the conditions. The mountain is fairly busy for a typical Saturday summit but everyone is looking rather wet. As we approach the summit the usual question of ‘how far yet’ are raised but I push them on and we arrive at the summit in good time although the last ridge from Bwlch Glas was pretty blustery. The usual group photo is taken along with a reminder who that they are raising money for Children in Need. We have a short lunch in the warmth of the summit café before descending via the Llanberis path.

 

hands summit

 

As we descend I can tell they are pleased to have made it and completed their challenge, they mention they were surprised by the rocky terrain and found some of this tricky but in general they were a determined bunch of young people on a mission. We descend fairly quick and chatter amongst the group emerges and they seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed their day out. There is also brief mention that they would like to do other mountains even Ben Nevis so despite the poor conditions their spirits hopefully I have gone someway to inspire some more young people to get out and enjoy the mountains.

 

A great effort and an enjoyable day out had by all, good to see lots of aims met on this summit. Well done all.

 

Claire Goodman-Jones (Mountain Leader)
10th September 2017

 

pudsey at top

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