So begins Peter Cliff’s final chapter of his definitive book Mountain Navigation.
I first read this as an impressionable teenager and I’ve been reinterpreting it with my companions in the hills ever since. The point is, no two of us ever share the same preferences or learning style.
Read it, got it, PRACTICE , screw up, read it again. And repeat.
That’s me: happy as a pig in straw.
Fortunately, I’ve spent the last four decades tramping the hills with companions who might have picked up these skills but didn’t retain their confidence to measure the errors and learn from them.*
I understand why we don’t often manage to practice anything enough as we might like: without personal coaching there are always distractions.
I also understand why many of us resent time spent with aspirant leaders in the hills. Just because I don’t share your preferred learning style doesn’t mean I can’t change the way I teach… sometimes we run out of time… if we’d only swapped waterproofs at the start of the day maybe, just maybe, your eyes wouldn’t have cried enough!
Obviously there are many more skills to develop confident and safe winter mountaineering than just navigation training.
But haven’t we all listened to a novice instructor droning on?
And what happened to the idea that you introduce novices with your most experienced staff?
Surely joining a small mixed ability group doesn’t mean you surrender any expectation of personalised teaching? Fortunately, beyond introducing a few tricks, improving your existing dead reckonning to winter levels of precision and accuracy is largely a matter of targetted feedback over a range of different terrain.
The beauty of our base here in Fort William is that by driving for up to thirty minutes in any direction we have four vastly contrasting rock types, landforms and scenery. Added to that an ascent of Ben Nevis makes our five day course the best value training you will find.
*For the last two decades we have used GPS receivers as well as the altimeters and stopwatches of previous generations. With the help of some focus on their basic functions, everyone’s basic map and compass work improves radically, and the range of errors rapidly decreases.