I am in the ideal location to improve on my navigational and mountain walking skills although today I’m inside TRYING to continue with my action research project… or actively avoiding it by writing blog posts… anyhoo, I’m preparing and trying to improve on my knowledge and skills for the summer Mountain Leader assessment. One of the areas of improvement is interpreting contours on the hillside, so when a post within an Outdoor Course Facebook group announced an upcoming Contour Masterclass run by Paul Poole Mountaineering came up I had a decision to purchase new shoes or attend this (thanks to Terry for his financial and encouraging support with this). I made the best decision.
What s a contour line? On an Ordnance Survey map, they are the brown lines that cover the majority of the ground and they join points of equal height above or below sea level and indicate the shape and gradient of the ground. The navigator has to interpret their 2D shape into 3D to understand the ground they are standing on. Example:
There is a lot you can learn from contours lines for safe travel across hills, moorlands and mountains and I find it all very fascinating; so I booked on to this course.
It started at Moel Siabod cafe where we met with Paul and discussed the day’s objectives. Paul has been involved with the outdoors for over 25 years and lived within North Wales for over 20 years – so he is very knowledgable about the area and mountain leading and when you meet him you’ll find his relaxed, easy manner reassuring. Terry, my other half, went on his Mountain Leader Training last year and returned home enthused and rated him, his staff and the course very highly, so I knew I’d learn a lot from this masterclass.
We walked up to the Clogwyn Mawr area behind the cafe and begun our training. Paul had an easy to remember the way of describing the basic contour shapes (which I will pass on to DofE students in the future as it’s that easy to remember!) and throughout the day would explain things very clearly and concisely. He has unique maps, which I’ve never seen before, where all the linear, area and spot features were removed and just the contours remaining.
At first, this was difficult to interpret; I am someone who does rely on linear features a lot to navigate with (sometimes arriving at a destination and discovering that expected field boundary to no longer be there! That’s happened more than once…). To give you some context, below are two different map supplies and the typical information you will find on a map:
Firstly, Paul took us to a couple of ring contours and explained a few great tips to help us when trying to locate our area. I am not going to give much information, as this course is part of his business, but what I will say is that I wrote down so much throughout the day. He pointed at parts of contours which I would have not thought to consider when navigating – by adding in these points throughout the day it just made it all so much easier. You can see from my scribblings on his map I was keen to capture as much of this useful information as possible. I certainly learnt far more in this day’s session than I did on my ML training!
At certain points, he gave us areas/spots to navigate towards as a group or individuals – he increased the level of challenge throughout the day, opportunities to practise techniques and apply the information we learnt and ask any questions we might have had.
At the end of the day we were all pleased with ourselves, what we’ve learnt and our progress. Paul was open and honest about the expectations on ML assessments and how contour interpretation in used within it, so we all felt reassured that it is not as scary as we’ve first thought.
To top this all off, we had a wonderful day outside in a fantastic area in the lovely sun shine.
I thoroughly felt the day was worth it one hundred percent. I never felt rushed, afraid to ask questions, misunderstood nor felt I couldn’t manage any of the tasks set. I’ve come away with more confidence in my navigational skills and great techniques that will help.
I would highly recommend this course if you are struggling with contour interpretation and applying map to the ground but also Paul. There are some big names in mountaineering and training in North Wales but I’ve been with some of those big names and didn’t feel as involved nor that the training was individualised and in-depth as this. A huge thanks to Paul, I will be considering his other courses in the future.
Now to get out and practice it all!