Pre-season preparation ideas for MIC Candidates
by Keith Ball, Mountaineering Instructor at Plas y Brenin
If you have an MIC assessment booked this winter, or are thinking of booking one, then making best use of your time is essential. Thinking and planning ahead, so that you arrive at your assessment feeling fit, confident and on top of your game is important. Getting to a stage where you feel prepared and confident takes time and effort. Below are some ideas to help you start preparing now rather than waiting for the first snows to arrive. Autumn time can provide many opportunities for pre-season preparation that will see you in the best possible position for when winter arrives.
Being on top of your summer climbing and mountaineering skills and experience is important before transferring them to a winter context. Winter instruction should be seen as a progression from summer instruction rather than a different activity.
Get out as much as possible rock climbing in a team of three and ensure your ropework is slick and efficient. Work towards eliminating tangles on stances; particularly when climbing in parallel. Develop a system that allows you to easily change from climbing in series to parallel and visa versa and spend time looking after two people on one rope for descents or easy pitches. Climbing rock routes wearing mountaineering boots rather than rock shoes can hone some of those winter movement skills and get you moving fluidly over easy ground. Do this on ground you are comfortable on, remember, this is about building confidence not being stressed. Getting out in sub-optimal conditions, wearing gloves and climbing with a rucksack on can all help.
Consolidate your summer mountaineering skills. Autumn is a great time of year to get out scrambling, whenever possible get out on routes that are new to you so you are developing your ability to read the terrain and route find.
If you are looking after people with a rope, work on your efficiency and decision making. When short roping, aim to carry your hand coils in your downhill ‘load’ hand, in preparation for carrying an axe in your uphill hand. Work at keeping the rope snug between you and your ‘clients’ even on easy ground. This is in preparation for looking after people on easy but exposed ground in winter, when maybe the chance and consequences of a trip are increased due to wearing crampons. Get out in sub optimal conditions.
As well as continuing to develop your ability to manage and safeguard people make sure you review and develop your teaching ability. Shorter days, serious terrain and harsh weather can mean your teaching approach needs to be even more considered in winter than summer. Making the most of opportunities as they arise, being flexible in your approach and ensuring what you teach is in context are all things to consider. Developing a clear and concise method of presenting information and being able to create opportunities for your clients to get practical hands-on experience is essential.
Do some! Don't neglect this aspect of the syllabus because you have a WML. Get out at night and in poor visibility; focus on pacing and bearing legs in featureless terrain.
The fitter you are, the easier it is to operate, think and make good decisions. The main aim is for a very good level of hill fitness rather than an ability to do pull ups. Long, consecutive mountain days can take their toll on the body and mind, whether during your assessment or in the run up to it. Lots of aerobic exercise is key, ideally big hill days with a large height gain, start with a light pack and gradually increase the load. If hills are not easily available to you lots of running, swimming and cycling is the next best thing.
Check for any additions needed to your rack, particularly winter specific items such as pegs and ice screws. Sharpen axes and crampons and ice screws. Look at, and improve, your clothing systems, particularly gloves. Cut down maps to a user friendly size and laminate them. Is it time to upgrade your headtorch?
Management of your diary may be the most important aspect of preparation for your MIC! Book time in that you will be able to get into the hills, be realistic rather than optimistic about this. Arrange reliable and experienced climbing partners as well as people who are interested in having their skills progressed by you. Organise time off work. Ensure family and work are aware of the commitments you are making. It seems to be a theme amongst assessment candidates that they do not manage to get out climbing and preparing prior to their assessment as much as they planned due to x,y and z. Expect this to happen and plan for it.
Several shorter visits to the mountains, whilst not being efficient financially, may give a better chance of hitting good conditions and a variety of areas. If nothing else you are more likely to encounter a variety of mountain conditions that will prove useful for your decision making. If possible use your Winter Mountain Leader Award to get some mountaineering work booked in; don't underestimate the value of this in terms of evaluating conditions and developing your decision making. Fully consolidated your ability to manage and safeguard clients on easy mountaineering terrain as well as the teaching of fundamental winter skills. Are you able to set up some opportunities to observe or work along an experienced and current MIC?
Get some weather websites on your favorites bar, ones that are useful for short and long-term forecasts. Get into the habit of following how weather systems develop and the weather and conditions they bring. There is lots of useful background reading on the Scottish Avalanche Information Service website that could improve your ability to use their reports and make good decisions. As soon as winter conditions arrive, start following some of the many conditions blogs, particularly those that post photos of crags and routes, to build a good view of how things are developing.
Background reading is a great way to supplement your practical preparation. This could include everything from mountaineering history to snow and avalanche knowledge. Make sure you are up to date with the latest technical books, magazines and online information. Studying guidebooks will develop your knowledge of route options and potential objectives once winter arrives.
Hopefully these ideas will help your preparation for your MIC assessment and get you even more motivated for the coming winter. Keep a lookout for a follow up article that will focus on ideas to maximize on your preparation out on the hill in winter.