Cardiff based International Mountain Leader Alan Ward is in lockdown in Cardiff whilst he should be providing mountain training in the Brecon Beacons National Park and have summitted the highest mountain on the Indonesian island of Sumatra in May. We asked him how he was occupying himself during these challenging times.
I returned home from Indonesia in February just as the Covid-19 pandemic was starting to change the world. People in airports were continuing to go about their normal lives and few were seen wearing masks. Four months later, who could possibly have predicted how we’d be now? June is the peak of my normally busy year from April onwards, I had to cancel a wide range of UK mountain training courses and an expedition to Sumatra to climb Mt Kerinci (3805m) with a small group from South Wales. Do airlines offer refunds – not in my experience and I seem to be accumulating travel vouchers from airlines, hotels and airport car parks…………
I’m a Type 2 Diabetic so have been in “Shielding” for so long now, I wonder if I’ll even remember how to get to the Brecon Beacons when all these restrictions are lifted. I read stories of how the police have stopped over 1,000 cars from trying to invade the Waterfalls Area in the south of the Brecon Beacons National Park and of scenic spots in England where the amounts of litter left have been appalling. Thankfully I and my family live in Cardiff where things seem to be more under control and the general public in compliance with Covid-19 guidelines.
My garden is looking better than it has done for years and I have to confess to now actually enjoying some gardening which I never thought I’d confess to. Being in “Shielding” I haven’t left my house in over ten weeks so how am I exercising? I have a long patio so have been doing a brisk 1km walk every day but changes in guidelines advise I can get off my property now and go for longer walks which I’ll start now. I work from home and my office has never been tidier!
I’m really hoping to be able to get back to work in September but most of my mountain training courses involve being within the 2m social distancing zones with trainees – I can’t teach navigation and mapwork skills from 2m away so, like many other outdoor professionals and many people in Wales, I’m wondering what the future holds.
Next February I’m supposed to be in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco training local mountain guides and in March I’m supposed to be leading a trekking adventure in the Indian Himalayas of Ladakh at altitudes up to 4000m. I have dozens of clients on hold for mountain training and expedition first aid courses in the Brecon Beacons, Cambrian Mountains and Snowdonia and they are patiently waiting to see me.
I’ve been editing a large photographic library and selections of my worldwide travel can be seen on Facebook/Bigfoot Services Limited or in the Galleries section of my website (www.bigfootservices.co.uk) and these albums feature worldwide destinations and can help others planning similar trips to far off destinations.
So, for now all we can be doing is to stay safe by following current Covid-19 guidelines and plan for the future…………………………
Visit the Bigfoot Services Limited website (www.bigfootservices.co.uk) to view the range of Alan’s activities, future events, galleries, testimonials and how his Corporate Social Responsibility Policy helps to train mountain guides in the developing world where he donates his time free of charge to provide mountain training to those who have no access to this. You can also follow Alan on the following social media sites.
Cardiff based International Mountain Leader Alan Ward regularly travels to long haul destinations for trekking and expeditions. However, Alan has a Corporate Social Responsibility policy with his company – Bigfoot Services Limited. Through this policy, Alan gives his time freely to working with and training local mountain guides in far off destinations as they don’t have access to the training and certification we have here in the UK. Today we look at two recent adventure and training achievements in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco based at the fabulous Kasbah du Toubkal (1800m) which lies between Imlil and Around, gateway to Mt Toubkal (4167m).
I’ve led several groups to Mt Toubkal (4167m) the third highest mountain in Africa and the highest mountain in North Africa and sometimes taken the opportunity to travel to other areas in Morocco. The Atlantic coastal fortified city of Essaouira is a favourite place of mine and ideal for a couple of nights in a traditional Moroccan riad after climbing Mt Toubkal.
Climbing Mt Toubkal should be achievable for anyone with a reasonable level of fitness and who is a keen hill and mountain walker in the UK. It’s always best to go with an experienced local leader and support crew and having a nice place to stay before and after the climb is essential. For my last climb I was accompanied by 7 friends. This was an ideal size group for such an adventure. We used the Kasbah du Toubkal to look after all our arrangements including providing our excellent guide Mohammed, mule support and accommodation at the high lodge located at 3200m from where the summit climb begins. There are two high lodges, I chose the newer Mouflons Lodge in preference to the Club Alpine Francais Lodge where I’d stayed previously. Typically, Mt Toubkal can be achieved on a 5-night itinerary:
Day 1: I flew out with British Airways but there is a choice of airlines for the 4 hour flight and on arrival in Marrakech we were met on arrival for the two hour drive up into the foothills of the Atlas Mountains to Imlil. Mules were waiting for us and our luggage was soon loaded onto these as we walked up to the Kasbah du Toubkal where a warm welcome waited for us. I’ve used the Kasbah du Toubkal for several of my Mt Toubkal trips and wouldn’t use anywhere else.
Day 2: After a leisurely roof top breakfast overlooking the surrounding area we set off on our acclimatisation trek to the Tizi-n-Mezzik (2489m). It’s an easy trail to follow but slow and steady is the way to gain altitude successfully. On this acclimatisation day, a mule and cook usually pass the group so a fabulous lunch awaits us when we reach the top of the pass. After descending to the Kasbah du Toubkal, the rooftop terraces are usually the best place to relax for the rest of the day and prepare our clothing and equipment for our departure the next morning for the high lodges.
Day 3: After breakfast we met Mohammed our mountain guide who briefed us for the day. Our mules were then loaded with our kit-bags. We then left the Kasbah du Toubkal and set off on the trail towards higher ground. Initially the trail zig zags up to the highest village in the area which is around (1920m). Continuing onwards we crossed the wide Mizane Valley to reach the shrine at Sidi Chamharouch (2320m) where there were shops and a picnic lunch waiting for us. After lunch we climbed the zig zags before the trail became less steep and a couple of hours later we arrived at our high lodge (3207m). High lodges in mountainous areas can be cold so we were appropriately clothed. We were well looked after and given a private dining area with our own log stove which made us very comfortable. I’ve always found that the food on trekking trips in Morocco is always excellent and have never had cause to doubt the catering arrangements.
Day 4: An early start is always required for the steep climb up to some large boulders which are reached after about an hour and a half, although this can take longer during the winter months when snow covered ground might be crossed all the way to the summit. From the large boulders we trekked up the main valley to reach the Tizi-n-Toubkal (3940m) pass where we rested. At these altitudes, frequent rest stops are required and it’s very important to stay hydrated as well. The summit is generally reached in 5 to 6hrs from the lodges. 360° all round views can be expected in fine weather. The Saharan plateau with the extinct volcano of Siroua can usually be seen to the south.
After descending to the lodge for a well earned breakfast and rest, my groups normally continue the descent back to Imlil and the Kasbab du Toubkal for a well earned time in the private hamman, and a farewell dinner to celebrate our summit success.
Day 5: The day to travel home with evening flights booked so we could enjoy a half day sightseeing tour of Marrakech.
I’ve always enjoyed working with the staff at the Kasbah du Toubkal and Mohammed our mountain guide asked me if I could return to provide some training for the mountain guides working at the Kasbah du Toubkal. This seemed a worthy cause and after discussion with the owner of the Kasbah du Toubkal, I returned to deliver a three day Mountain First Aid course and a one day British Heart Foundation Heartstart ELS course for the staff at the Kasbah du Toubkal. The Kasbah du Toubkal covered my expenses but I gave my time freely for the group of hard working mountain guides who really have no access to training in that area.
I’ve agreed to return to the Kasbah du Toubkal in February 2021 to deliver mountain training – UIAA Mountain Skills: Good Practice and Safety. This is a three day practical course with an overnight stay in a remote mountain lodge in the Azzaden Valley. Two refresher one-day First Aid courses will also be delivered. The partnership I have with the Kasbah du Toubkal ensures the local mountain guides receive free training which they might not otherwise receive.
The International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA) was founded in 1932 and has a global presence on six continents representing 89 member associations and federations in 66 countries. The UIAA has been recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) since 1995.
Further details of the Kasbah du Toubkal can be viewed on their website https://www.kasbahdutoubkal.com or contact Alan (firstname.lastname@example.org) for further details of trekking adventures in this area. Opportunities exist for a wide range of treks from easy graded day treks to multi-day summit treks.
February 2021 sees the introduction of a trekking programme for women at the Kasbah du Toubkal with Helen Menhinick (www.brynwalking.co.uk) and Latifa, one of the few female mountain guides in the area. “Trekking in Style” is an introductory itinerary for women keen to experience the Atlas Mountains of Morocco without exceeding 2500m.
Visit the Bigfoot Services Limited website (www.bigfootservices.co.uk) to view the range of Alan’s activities, future events, galleries, testimonials and how his Corporate Social Responsibility Policy helps to train mountain guides in the developing world where he donates his time free of charge to provide mountain training to those who have no access to this.
WE ASKED CARDIFF BASED INTERNATIONAL MOUNTAIN LEADER ALAN WARD HOW PEOPLE MIGHT WANT TO IMPROVE THEIR HILL AND MOUNTAIN WALKING SKILLS NOW THAT RESTRICTIONS ON TRAVEL AND COUNTRYSIDE ACCESS HAVE BEEN LIFTED. THE HILLS AND MOUNTAINS ARE NOW OPEN SO WHAT DO WE NEED TO DO NEXT?
The upland areas in the United Kingdom are areas of outstanding natural beauty and journeying into and through these areas can be a wonderful experience. These opportunities can be more safely enjoyed by having appropriate knowledge and skills to venture out onto unfamiliar terrain but with the ability to return home safely at the end of the day.
Contact Alan for details of any of the courses outlined below – www.bigfootservices.co.uk or email email@example.com
There are various schemes, with different levels available, but the two I’m involved with, and a training provider for are Mountain Training (MT) and the National Navigation Award Scheme (NNAS)
MOUNTAIN TRAINING is the national awarding body for qualifications in walking, climbing and mountaineering with schemes available for everyone to choose from. Let’s review the walking qualifications:
Hill Skills: A Hill Skills course is your key to getting started in countryside and moorland walking. No previous hill walking experience is required because the content of the course is aimed at beginners. If you do have some experience of hill walking but aren’t confident about planning walks, navigating and understanding the equipment required, then a Hill Skills course is an ideal way to learn.
Mountain Skills: A Mountain Skills course is an ideal choice for walkers interested in transferring their walking skills to more mountainous terrain. Ideally, participants would have some basic hill walking experience and have a reasonable level of fitness. Courses are run in the higher mountain areas of the UK and Ireland.
Lowland Leader Award: The Lowland Leader qualification has been designed for people who wish to lead groups on day walks in lowland countryside and woodland in summer conditions. The majority of the UK and Ireland is made up of this type of terrain so you’ll never be short of places to go walking.
The leadership opportunities for Lowland Leaders are varied and far reaching, from the South West Coast Path to the Great Glen Way; walking in lowland areas can be no less spectacular than walking high up in the mountains. And with campaigns such as Britain on Foot and Walking for Health proving really popular, there’s never been a better time to be a walking leader.
Hill and Moorland Leader Award: Get away from the paths and enjoy our wild places as a Hill and Moorland Leader. This qualification is ideal for walkers who want to learn the skills required for effective group leadership in the hill and moorland areas of the UK and Ireland.
Hill and Moorland Leaders operate in terrain that is generally more remote than that used by Lowland Leaders and not as steep or rocky as ground covered by Mountain Leaders.
Expedition Skills Module: The Expedition Skills Module is an optional module available to walking leaders. It’s an opportunity to increase your skills where you will be trained and assessed to lead groups on multi day camping expeditions.
The flexibility of the module makes it useful for Lowland Leaders, Hill and Moorland Leaders and Mountain Leaders in terrain and conditions within the scope of their respective qualification.
The Expedition Skills Module is ideal for those involved with the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and/or Ten Tors training (among other things) because the skills covered apply to expeditions using commercial campsites as well as wild camping.
Mountain Leader Award: The Mountain Leader scheme is designed for people who want to lead groups in the mountains, hills and moorlands of the UK and Ireland. If you love being out in the mountains and want to share your enthusiasm with others, become a Mountain Leader and you’ll never look back.
Mountain Leaders operate the length and breadth of the country with all sorts of groups of people; from Scouts and schoolchildren to outdoor instructors and OAPs. The qualification is what you make it and there are countless opportunities for passionate Mountain Leaders.
National Navigation Award Scheme offers navigational training courses and awards to suit the terrain found across the United Kingdom:
Bronze Navigator Award – The Bronze National Navigation Award is a practical hands-on award. It is aimed at people with no navigation experience whether you are new to the outdoors or have been relying on others, guidebooks or easy well-defined routes.
Silver Navigator Award – The Silver National Navigation Award develops the navigation skills acquired at the Bronze level. It adds skills required to navigate to features and places some distance from paths and tracks. It teaches accurate compass work. It will also teach how to select the suitable navigational techniques to cross open country.
Gold Navigator Award – The Gold Navigator Award builds on the skills acquired at the Bronze and Silver levels and adds techniques and skills for dealing with complex contour features both large and small.
Tutor Award – In 2016 the NNAS launched the NNAS Tutor Award, a course for NNAS Providers and their Course Directors who teach navigation. It is a recognition that just because one can personally navigate it doesn’t follow that one can teach it! The course is open to anyone wishing to learn skills to teach navigation.
The course is a mixture of indoor and outdoor practical sessions and offers the opportunity for candidates to discuss their own methodology as well as learning new techniques from others.
Following on from retirement, more time will be available for hill and mountain walking on a personal basis with friends.