At the start of September I joined two other instructors from Plas y Brenin, the UK's National Mountain Centre, at Samoens in the Haute Savoie for a four day assessment of trainee International Mountain Leaders. The group was split into three groups.
The first day concentrated on looking at protecting clients on steep rocky sections and using fixed equipment like thick ropes or steel cables. I then asked my four candidates to lead me to points I indicated to them on the map. During each candidates navigational “leg” I asked them to identify flowers, trees and talk about the countryside we were passing through. One of the candidates gave one of their 10 minute talks on an environmental subject of their choice.
The following morning we set off on a three day expedition in the mountains spending two nights in mountain huts. We set off from the Col de Joux Plane above Samoens and headed up on to a narrow ridge protected in places by a cable. After a break on the Pointe d'Angolon we descended a steep grassy ridge watching a herd of sheep and their shepherd below. Soon we were amongst alpine pastures with cows grazing on the late summer grass. The final part of the day saw us pass deep gaping holes in the limestone. The area is famous for one of the biggest cave systems in France, the “Gouffre Jean-Bernard” with over 23km of passages and reaching a depth of 1602m.
We spent our first night at the Refuge Bostan nestled in a dry valley. The following morning we swapped groups, to ensure that each candidate was seen by another assessor and headed off. After a couple of navigation “legs” I stopped the group and asked two candidates to set up an “indirect” belay. I wanted to see them safeguard a short rock step both in descent and ascent. I left the candidates to it until they said they were ready.
Moving off once more we came to the Col de Bostan and the Swiss frontier. Here we looked down to the Rhone valley. Our next objective was the Pas au Taureau, a col, giving access to Combe au Puaires and the Lac de Vogealle. The path became steep and rocky. Part the way up I asked another candidate to take over the leadership of the group. We were now on steep scree with a smattering of fresh snow that had fallen in the last week. The route took a sharp turn left onto scree covered rocks protected by a steel cable that led us close to the top and easier ground. We arrived on the narrow crest of a ridge. It was so narrow that you could sit astride it like a horse (à cheval)! We stopped for lunch in the sunshine looking down on the Lac de Vogealle and the mountains above the Cirque de Sixt-Fer-a-Cheval.
The path down on steep grass led to more scree before climbing once more to the Col de Pointe Droite. Time for a drink and for one candidate to deliver their 10 minute talk to the group. Our onward route continued through tortuous limestone karst requiring concentration. Finally we arrived at the Refuge de Folly. A quick shower and a welcome beer! After dinner I joined the other assessors to compare notes and update the “matrix” with notes about each candidate. This enabled us to ensure that all points of the syllabus were covered and any remaining “question marks” about candidates could be addressed on the final day.
The morning started with rain falling steadily but this soon cleared up. The path led down through woods before a traverse brought us to the base of a limestone cliff equipped for rock climbing. Time to eat and drink. The next section of path was protected by a mixture of chains and cables. This gave me the opportunity to test two of the candidates. This done we headed for the car park and a short drive to Samoens.
After lunch I got together for a final meeting with the other assessors. Each candidate was discussed with reference to the “matrix” and the notes we had made over the last four days. The strong candidates were easy but those whose performance was below or close to the standard were more difficult. Decisions made we called the candidates in individually to give them the result and individual feedback.
It was a very interesting four days for me. I have previously trained and assessed for the Summer and Winter Mountain Leader Awards (UK) and the Single Pitch Award. However this was my first time assessing for a number of years so felt a degree of apprehension. I wanted to ensure that I gave the candidates a fair assessment and to be seen to be doing a “good job” by Plas y Brenin.
I'm now looking forward to being part of the team delivering IML Winter Training in Le Grand Bornand in January and assessing in Morzine in March.