How to Get into Mountaineering
Mountaineering can sometimes be seen as an expensive and inaccessible hobby that most people can only dream of trying out. The Jonathan Conville Course seeks to break those boundaries and ensure that young people aged 18-30 can take their first steps in this exhilarating sport at an affordable price in easily accessible locations.
Mountaineering is essentially the sport of simply climbing mountains. This can be a summer hike or a more adventurous winter climb involving ice axes and more complex ropework. Whatever you choose to climb, there are always important elements to consider such as the terrain, the weather, avalanche risk, your skills, and the navigation work required etc. The Jonathan Conville Trust runs three different types of courses each year to help people under the age of 30 to build the skills, knowledge and experience to stay as safe as possible in the mountains. Their courses are:
- Alpine Preparation Weekend Course at Plas Y Brenin
- Scottish Winter Mountaineering Course in the Cairngorms
- Alpine Mountaineering Course in Chamonix
Having now completed two of their courses myself (the Alpine Preparation Course and the Winter Mountaineering course), I can say that these courses truly give you a hunger for taking your hiking to the next level!
What is the Jonathan Conville Alpine Preparation Course?
The Alpine Prep Course serves as an introduction to mountaineering in a safe environment. There are, of course, no glaciers in Wales but does not stop you practising the essential skills required to traverse a glacier and the dangers to watch out for. If your ropework is a little rusty, this course is an excellent starting point before going out to Chamonix. You get the opportunity to practice how you would walk over a glacier in a small group of people (1:3 instructor ratio) and how you would go out about route finding. The course covers a crevasse rescue scenario – we practiced being the person who had fallen in and how to climb back up the rope, and similarly if you’re the one still on the surface, how to help your friend up in case they’re unconscious and can’t climb back up the rope.
How it felt being on this course
Some of the ropework felt quite technical at the start, but by the end of the 2 days, taking coils became surprisingly second nature. It was lovely to have talks in the evening from instructors about some of the hikes they have done and what routes you can aspire to in the future.
What did I learn of most importance?
One of the most prevalent topics emphasised was the importance of decision making.
To turn back is always the correct decision if there is any sliver of doubt about the route ahead.
What is the Jonathan Conville Scottish Winter Mountaineering Course?
The Winter Mountaineering course focuses more on the use of crampons and getting out into the cold! We touched on factors such as avalanche awareness, wind chill, weather and above all what are the safest decisions to make in these circumstances. Unfortunately for us, our weekend away was during a weekend with a lot of wind and not a huge amount of snow. However we still found a gully to practice the different style of using crampons and ice axe arrests. The next day, due to the extent of the wind at the altitude we wanted to be at, we practiced some navigations skills lower down.
It was great to have the instructors adapting to the circumstances, as it enabled us to realise that yes, in the future we may have a particular goal we want to achieve and we may have booked annual leave specifically for it, but if the weather is against you, or another factor, you have to adapt to the situation. There were about 12 of us during this course, with 2 great instructors. We all stayed at a bunkhouse in Grantown-on-Spey which meant we could all debrief at the end of day.
More about the Jonathan Conville Trust
These courses would not be possible without the effort and subsidisation provided by the Jonathan Conville Trust. The Trust has been set up in honour of Jonathan Conville, a keen mountaineer who sadly died in an accident on the Matterhorn aged 27, by his family. I believe this legacy will continue to inspire many future mountaineers to take up new challenges and explore what the world of mountaineering has to offer.