SPA Prep Day on the Gower with Outdoor Matters.
Discussing our Abseil set-up with  Matt.

Discussing our Abseil set-up with Matt.

Over the last couple of months I have been thinking about my next steps for CPD and which qualifications to aim for.  I have been seriously considering my Winter ML, International Mountain Leader and my SPA in various orders and combinations.  I am a keen climber and have been gradually progressing towards leading more outside and learning to lead trad. With so many wonderful spots to choose from on my doorstep in South Wales, the SPA feels like the most logical progression, alongside building quality days that can count towards my IML and WML for the future.

After such a constructive experience in Scotland with Alan Halewood I was inspired to buy my first lot of trad gear, and since then I have been itching to get out and try some of it and start the ball rolling towards my SPA training.  So, last weekend I eagerly gathered my kit and headed out with Matt Woodfield from Outdoor Matters on an SPA prep day.

My aspirations for the day were to get to know the qualification and practice some of the key skills involved with taking groups out climbing.  Straight away Matt got us thinking about the landscape as we walked towards our crag at Devils Truck.  I have lived in South Wales for 10 years now and regularly visit the Gower for mini-adventures but even in the first 10 minutes on the cliffs, I was already learning exciting new histories and facts about somewhere that I considered familiar.  For example, I hadn't been aware that there was a bronze age hillfort right under our feet or that the Gorse along the coast, that feels so characterful of Wales, is in fact Spanish - introduced as a clean-burning fuel for industry.

Scurvy Grass -  Cochlearia Officinalis  in bloom.

Scurvy Grass - Cochlearia Officinalis in bloom.

As we scrambled down more treasures were soon revealed, conjuring images of sailors chewing on Scurvy Grass to ward off its namesake illness.  I love sharing these kinds of stories with my groups and so eagerly listened on.  Just to the right of our Sea Scurvy we came across some beautiful examples of Crinoid and Fan Coral fossils and the more we looked the more we saw.  Examining the rocks in this way before any equipment comes out seems the perfect introduction for a group heading out for a day's adventure to really anchor them (excuse the pun) to the rocks before they get climbing.

The circular shapes are Crinoid fossils and the central dashed pattern is a Fan Coral fossil.

The circular shapes are Crinoid fossils and the central dashed pattern is a Fan Coral fossil.

This led nicely into kit checking.  Given that a lot of freelance work may involve using centre equipment Matt talked us through what to look for and why when you are checking ropes, carabiners and slings.  We examined the ropes for soft or bulging areas, frayed points and discolouring and did a similar check with the slings.  It turned out that some of my new secondhand extenders had hidden salt corrosion behind the sling retainers, reinforcing the importance of knowing what to look for and the potential risks that may arise from worn or corroded equipment.

Evidence of Salt Corrosion. Photo:  Matt Woodfield

Evidence of Salt Corrosion. Photo: Matt Woodfield

 Putting aside the kit that did not pass our inspections we set off to look for anchor points and discussed distance, angle and equalising as we placed gear to prepare for a bottom-roping group.  We considered the pros and cons of different methods and tested out using 2 and 3 points with a different mix of ropes and slings and rated the placement quality of our gear.

Much of the day was spent rigging but this was constantly brought back to a group context and we explored different solutions for scenarios such as stuck climbers and what to do if something gets caught in the system during belaying and during abseiling.  I haven't had much experience setting up top ropes, bottom ropes and abseils and Matt paced the day accordingly, making sure to demonstrate new knots (such as the Bunny Ears knot) multiple times and providing useful tips to improve my own practice.

Matt  demonstrates one method of rescuing a stuck climber.

Matt demonstrates one method of rescuing a stuck climber.

On the walk out we continued reflecting on different scenarios and group dynamics, discussing options and opportunities for individuals with disabilities and catering for those with physical impairments.  I spent a number of years teaching groups with complex additional needs and hope to provide accessible adventures for everyone in my work outdoors.  As reflective professionals what can we all do to ensure we provide exciting, diverse and inclusive learning experiences in the great outdoors?

If you are considering starting your SPA, would like a refresher before your assessment, or simply want to head out on the Gower Peninsula for a fun day of climbing then you can get in touch with Matt via his Website or over on Facebook.

Happy faces as the sun comes out for a classic Gower day.

Happy faces as the sun comes out for a classic Gower day.