In September this year, I set about completing the Mountaineering Instructor Award. A long standing goal since I started working in the outdoors 6 years ago. This is how it went...
Mountain Training list three possible results for the completion of an assessment; Pass, Defer or Fail. I started this process with no intention of coming away with anything other than a pass. Deferring on my assessment felt like a fail to me.
We were informed on the training course how low the pass rate for the award was and still is (30%) and how important it is to put the time in to develop the skills and judgement to pass the assessment.
With this in mind, I booked my assessment eight months in advance; having a date to work to helped to prioritise my time and focus on the job in hand.
I put a lot of time in from Spring through to September, taking unpaid time off from work, missing holidays and time with family to be in North Wales and immersing myself in life as a mountaineering instructor.
About two weeks before my assessment, having spent just over a month living in Llanberis, North Wales, I hit a real low in confidence. I didn’t feel I was good enough, I didn’t feel I had done enough practice and I looked at canceling my assessment. This coincided with a trip home, a friends wedding and a weekend to relax, be around friends and family and forget about the assessment for a few days. I returned to Wales with a new sense of purpose, re-motivated to succeed.
The assessment is by far the most intense 5 days I have experienced. Each day, waking up nervous, completing the day’s assessment and returning to the centre relieved and pleased. But then you immediately start thinking about the next day and the nerves begin all over again. Physically tiring, mentally draining and not enough sleep... by the last day the pressure was on.
Day 5: 4 hours of navigation.
Everything for me was riding on today. The four other days had gone well, so everything was riding on these last few hours.
It was a real eye opener, not technically but mentally. If I was asked how I deal in stressful high pressure situations I would say I’m pretty good; I stay cool, I focus and I deal with the situation. This is not what happened on this day.
The pressure I felt on Friday morning was massive. I struggled to eat breakfast and throughout the assessment I had to consciously slow down, control my breathing and force myself to relax as much as possible.
The pressure was completely self-imposed, the assessors all week had created as stress free an environment as they could. I was practiced and knew that I was capable of the things I would be asked to do. The conditions weren’t optimal but they also weren’t bad or hazardous. I had no direct pressure from work but I knew the doors it would open when I passed. My friends and family had been nothing but supportive but I felt I would be letting them down if I didn’t pass. The stress and anxiety were all mine to control and I did a bad job.
I made an error in my first Navigation leg of the day and I felt then that I had blown it, a 15 minute walk turned into 45 minutes. Not ideal. For the next relocation, I was out by about 75 meters, again not ideal. The assessor gave me a verbal kick up the ass to concentrate and sort it out. From that point on I relocated correctly and executed the rest of my navigation legs to “the standard”. Despite this, I was deferred.
I felt like I had failed. I hadn’t passed. It had been there for the taking but my head got the better of me and on reflection was the reason I didn’t pass. It was the longest 6 hour drive home alone playing the decisions I had made over in my head. I continued to relive the experience in every moment my mind had space to let it in. Talking about it helped to the point I think people got tired of hearing about it. I started to focus on the positives from the assessment, the other four days I had passed and actually enjoyed. I stopped thinking about it as failure and started to think about reassessment.
I booked my reassessment and started to try and manage my anxiety. I told less people when I was doing it, I booked a day with Jez Brown (JBmountainskills) to put me through my paces and I tried to think about it as one day rather than the whole award riding on another 4 hours. I thought I had a handle on it until the morning of assessment came and the same feelings came back. This time I was able to hold it together and get the job done, I passed.
Talking to the assessor on the way off the hill, we discussed the assessment process and he asked if I thought it was too hard. I don’t think it is. I had prepared well for it. Of course I could’ve done more; I think you can always do more to be prepared. What I hadn’t prepared for, however, was the mental side and now it’s done I can look at it as a learning experience. I don’t like assessments, I don’t like being watched even by my peers. I feel a self imposed pressure to perform, yet when I teach I have absolute confidence in what I’m doing and I don’t feel that pressure.
There are more assessments to come.
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Paul Taylor is the Activities Manager at Land & Wave. He completed his M.I.A in November 2018. Read more about Paul's adventures on his blog HERE and follow his climbing journey on Instagram @paultaylorclimbing