The marathon that is…MIA training.

So it’s Easter time and a twist of fate means I have been put onto my MIA training, Mountaineering Instructor Award, one of the more professional climbing awards which allows you teach leading, climb multi-pitch routes with clients and protect longer harder scrambles. When I first started out in the industry my aim was to be able to take people climbing on multi-pitch, get them immersed in the sport that makes my life more fulfilled. MIA is that standard, after training, consolidation and a successful assessment, that will at long last be able. The MIA training is split into 9 days, it’s a long course where you are totally immersed into the world of climbing and teaching climbing via long days out and evening sessions that run up until dinner. Each day on the course has been given a heading, the main learning goal of that day. It has taken me a few years in the industry to work up to MIA, to have enough belief that I might actually be good enough and people may actually trust me enough as a professional mountaineer and climber. I spent the first 7 months at Plas Y Brenin hesitant weather or not to even put in an application, self-doubt and gremlins in my head where telling me that I was not a good enough climber to even contemplate MIA, but I was pleasantly up lifted when the board approved my application. The first hurdle over with.

Phantom Rib on the Grochan

Phantom Rib on the Grochan

Day 1- SPA syllabus and re-cap Everyone meets in the morning, slightly nervous. Dave Rudkin gives an introduction to the course and sets out the plan for the day. We where heading to Carreg Y Foel Gron a bottom roping venue that will be quiet on a bank holiday weekend. We spent the day looking at rigging and teaching set ups on the SPA syllabus. Looking at progression for newbies into warm ups, placing gear and rigging from the top. We finished by looking at jumaring on a set rope, walked out in the sunshine and into our evening session in the climbing wall.

Day 2- Problem Solving Part 1 This day was mainly around the centre, we used the canopy, training wall and abseil tower to simulate crags. The idea is that we learn the nuts and bolts so that on Wednesday we take them cliffs and practice in a more realistic setting. This day was full on, by 4pm our brains had stopped functioning and all you could see was a tangle of rope and knots, prussiks, slings, clove hitches and attachment points. You have absorbed so many new techniques and practiced them over and over that for the last scenario peoples brains where visibly dribbling out of their ears. With that aside, an amazing day, learning loads of new techniques. After dinner my brain was still working overtime, I decided to walk down to  small beach on the lake. I sat and watched the bats dancing and the soft orange glow slowly hide behind the horseshoe, I found myself twirling my headphone cord around in my hands, tying clove and Italian hitches imitating what I’d been doing all day. I was buzzing, walked home and tried to settle into bed with a film.

Kate and Claire getting to grips with  prussiking.

Kate and Claire getting to grips with prussiking.

Day 3- Personal Climbing and Stance Management a spectacular day. I started with a walk to the lake before breakfast. The cars where frosted and silent bubbles where being pushed down a still and misty lake. I watched the sun peek over the hills and walked into breakfast. For this day we split into a 1:2 ratio, and headed to the Grochan. We looked at stance management and climbing in series and parallel. We managed to get Brant Direct and Nea climbed, before walking back down to the buses and an evening session sat
outside. The midges have descended on Wales already.

Dave Evans on the finial pitch of Nea.

Dave Evans on the finial pitch of Nea.

Day 4- Second Day Personal Climbing and Teaching Leading- For this we headed to the slabs and continued looking at climbing in parallel and series. We climbed up Charity and scrambled off the top. When back at the bottom we looked at re-blaying a rope to jumar next to someone on the lead and finished the day with a wonderful pitch of slab padding VS. Unfortunately at the top, I took a slip, not doing anything out of the ordinary just a wet hold sent me sliding. At the time having just had a conversation about how dangerous a slip would be on the scramble off the top of the slabs I thought I was going over the edge. It was a slow motion slabby slide towards a ledge which left me scrabbling for any hold or piece of grass I could grab. I hit the ledge and stood up with nothing more than scrapes, bruises and some lost skin, my head had taken the biggest hit. My initial thoughts where ‘if I’m falling off the first grade after walking then I probably shouldn’t be on an MIA training course’ my mind went into slight overdrive, cursing and over analysing the slip. I was not a happy bunny. Dave assured me slips can happen to anyone, although my main thought was ‘well I’ve never seen a rock climbing instructor fall off slightly hard walking’ maybe this MIA stuff is still beyond my grasp.

Day 5- Problem Solving Part 2 (at the crag)- Another glorious day in Snowdonia, we headed to Tremadog although the previous days slip was still on my mind and I was not in the mood. We spent the day prussiking up and ‘falling off’ Oakover a VS 4c. Again the day was a blur of knots, prussiks and slings. We covered abseiling past a knot, prussiking past a knot, a fall from a traverse, lowering past a knot, multi-pitch Y hang abseil and counterbalanced abseil along with assisted and unassisted hoists. The day ended on a more positive note and my brain had started telling me ‘maybe you aren’t so shite at this climbing stuff’.

Myself on Oakover, Tremadog.

Myself on Oakover, Tremadog.

Day 6 and 7- Mountain Craft and Scrambling Days- One day was spent at the Cromlech and one on the East Face of Tryfan. We looked at short roping, first with one, then two clients. These days were focused less on showing us brand new techniques and getting us immersed in the fine art of ‘judgement’. Bringing 2 people on a rope up potentially tricky, steep and dangerous ground means your judgement has to be spot on. When do you sit down and brace versus building a belay for everyone in case of a slip. We climbed up Nor Nor Variation down the North Tower and the descend via Bastow Variation. It showed us how being slick in the mountains is imperative. We where bumbling around and descending something as small as North Tower on Tryfan seemed to take an age. Being efficient and slick at short roping is going to be something to work on!

Tom having topped out on Nor Nor Variation.

Tom having topped out on Nor Nor Variation.

Day 8- Other MIA work- To the seaside! We packed up buoyancy aids and ice cream money and headed out to the Ranges. This was our ‘other day’ which could be gorge walking, high ropes, sea level traversing etc. We started the day with a wet foot and a clip line while being led around the coast. The afternoon was spent rigging clip lines and tyrolean ourselves. This was a great day in terms of showing us how varied the work as a MIA could potentially be. We ended with a blustery ice cream on the sea front.

Sea Level Traversing at The Ranges.

Sea Level Traversing at The Ranges.

Day 9- Teaching ML and Navigation- The weather finally turned. After 8 days of near perfect sunshine the classic sideways razor rain returned. We headed straight from the Brenin onto the flanks of Moel Siabod. The rain quickly hit and then the wind had us being blasted around the hillside. We worked first on teaching and the progression within Navigation, how you might use that with a variety of groups. Then we where each given a leg and asked to describe and then take us to the point. If it wasn’t your leg you where blind and had to relocate on the move. After walking into the wind for one leg Kath decided that all the other legs would be facing away from the biting wind. We headed off the hillside and into the debrief with tea and cakes.

Enjoying a quick lunch stop in the shelter of a sheepfold.

Enjoying a quick lunch stop in the shelter of a sheepfold.

That was it, the 9 day MIA marathon was over. We had a great group and it has only made me more psyched to get out climbing. Apart from a confidence crisis mid way this was a fantastic course that has challenged me to make my personal climbing more like ‘best practice’ and to get everyone I know out into the hills!

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