About a dozen times per year we get asked to provide some private outdoor skills training for a group or an individual. It might be survival or wilderness skills, or maybe foraging. Often navigation training is requested – all of which is great, working on a 1:1 basis is very rewarding for an outdoor instructor, and really tests your skills as a coach and tutor.
On Sunday I had the pleasure of working with Hernan, who came to us via a referral from a client who had used our services for private guided walks in Snowdonia. He is competing in the 2015 Tromso SkyRace, and wanted to work on his movement skills on steep rock, when scrambling and also to look at some technniques for moving quickly over rough ground. General fitness (even to the super-human level of SkyRunners) can be worked on and developed pretty much anywhere, but to train for running in the mountains you need to step away from the streets and gyms of London and come to somewhere a little more… rugged.

To give me an idea of the type of ground Hernan would be tackling, he sent me this video from SkyRunning legend Kilian Jornet:

Blimey. That is some serious terrain! We need to sort out a plan..

After a few phone conversations and email exchanges we agreed that a day of scrambling and coaching would be perfect. To replicate the kind of exposure that the race entails we pencilled in a plan for a day on Crib Goch, which has rocky steps, short technical vertical sections and a sustained narrow ridge.

Unfortunately, the weather was against us, with a forecast for heavy rain, windspeeds of up to 55mph and even hail, lightning and other hazards. So standing on top of a 3,000′ ridge that is narrower than a narrow thing wasn’t the best of ideas! However, we had a backup plan…

As heading to the summits and exposed ridges was off the cards we chose to work in the shadow of Tryfan, on Tryfan Bach, the North Ridge and the outlying ridges. This gave me the chance to not only teach some movement skills and a few techniques for scrambling in running shoes but to also demonstrate their limitations – the angle at which they will no longer grip, the difference between edging and smearing and so on. This is very important for scrambling and easy mountaineering; knowing the point at which your feet are likely to slip off gives you more confidence in placements whilst you are in the ‘zone’ before that point.

We gradually ascended the lower slopes of the eastern face of Tryfan, cutting across the Heather Terrace on a scree slope before gaining the North Ridge via a narrow gap. Here we met a couple of Summer Mountain Leader training groups practicing their ropework. Apparently we were not the only ones hiding from the wind!

We climbed as high as the famous Tryfan landmark known as the ‘Cannon Stone’ before turning around to look at some techniques on descent, and comparing various tactics and techniques for overcoming obstacles.

Eventually we found our way back to the valley floor and the A5 and retired to the nearby Moel Siabod Cafe for coffee and cake, and to talk through some of the psychological aspects of exposure, heights and ‘target fixation’.

Although it was a relatively short session, we manage to cover:

– Footwork and relative friction
– Handholds and other body placements
– Body orientation and adjustment
– Centre of gravity and proprioception
– Moving quickly and micro route-finding
– Downclimbing tactics
– Moving over rough ground
– Anxiety management

As for fitness… It was quickly established that I would never be able to keep up with Hernan, so I just kept throwing him at steep bits of rock to slow him down!

Good luck with the race Hernan 🙂

I caught up with Hernan in London a couple of weeks after the race – not only did he successfully make it through the race at a good pace, but he had a great time. The terrain was tough, as tough as we had both expected, but the time on Tryfan had really helped apparently.

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