Speed Navigation (It's not about speed!)

We all have a lot of reasons not to do something and I have had a number of excellent discussions with friends and peers about motivation and excuses over the past few weeks. I have been putting off registering for the International Mountain Leader Award for about a year, with a whole host of reasons why I probably wouldn’t do it. It turns out those reasons were all rubbish and it was only a post looking for more participants on the Glenmore Lodge summer training course that prompted me to suck it up and apply. The course was the last summer training of the year and I would already be halfway there having just finished a week of work in the Lake District. Both fairly mediocre reasons for embarking on such a huge new endeavour but perhaps just thinking in practical terms made it easier to take the first steps.

Anyway, it was only after I had my DLOG accepted and I was about to book my place on the course that I saw the speed navigation assessment was actually part of the training week and not part of the assessment. That word slapped me across the face… Assessment! I was going to be assessed, and not only that, I was going to be assessed on my speed… and my navigation. I felt a bit sick, didn’t book it, but then told myself not to be so ridiculous and booked it through gritted teeth.

Teaching navigation in the Lake District a few days before my IML training.

Teaching navigation in the Lake District a few days before my IML training.

I navigate with a map and a compass almost every day with work and teach navigation to groups on a weekly basis. I have navigated in whiteout conditions, walking using just bearings and doglegs for hours at a time. I also run regularly up into the hills and I like to think that I am reasonably speedy when I want to be. However, now I was going to be assessed!

My face after some tough navigation across the Cairngorm Plateau in a whiteout back in March.

My face after some tough navigation across the Cairngorm Plateau in a whiteout back in March.

The night before, we got together for our briefing and were told that the snow might be an issue but that an agreement had been made that we could come back another time to complete the speed navigation assessment, or we could crack on and give it a go. For a brief moment I was disappointed and then anxious and then excited. Before this moment I forgot that I actually like navigation and I enjoy trying to be a bit speedy, maybe it will be fun and if I fail I can try again another time.

In the morning we all nervously bundled ourselves into the mini-bus and up into the Cairngorms. We were set off with 1 minute intervals and had 1 minute to look at our routes before our time started. We all had different routes with different checkpoints and different lengths of time so we really were on our own. My name meant I was second from last (thanks name!) and so I had to wait my turn. I told myself that once my time started I would stand my ground to come up with a good plan before setting off, which seemed pretty sensible.

My time came and I was handed my map with a 2hour and 20 minute time limit and my minute to look at the map:

“What happened to my minute to look at it?!”


“Ok, go!”

“have I got a plan? Yes, it is definitely a good plan. Approach from the top, contour along and drop in on the checkpoint.”

“It is a good plan”

“It was probably a good plan.”

“Shit, what were my timings?”

“Ok, keep going”

“F*&K, where did that hole come from”

“Pay attention”

“If you don’t find it soon you are definitely going to fail”

“That would be really embarrassing to fail before you’ve even found one checkpoint”

“How could you make such a stupid plan”

“Start again!”

“OK, new plan. It is probably a good plan.”

“Where is the f*&^ing checkpoint!”

“f*&k another hole!”

“phew there it is!”

“see, there was nothing to worry about.”

“it was a good plan.”

“you can do this.”

“make a plan. No more silly mistakes”

This is a verbatim script of the conversation I had with myself, out loud, on the way to my first checkpoint. I spent a stupidly large amount of time on my way to the first checkpoint worrying and berating myself. It was only once I took a deep breath, stopped, remembered that I enjoy navigation and that I do it every day that I got back on track. After the first checkpoint I needed to make up some time and I did that by slowing down. You actually have loads of time to complete your course and by slowing it down I didn’t make any more mistakes, and I really started to enjoy it (I did still run down a couple of hills though). I made it back to the van with 20 minutes to spare, albeit pretty puffed out after some serious heather-bashing on my way back.

The pressure from the speed navigation assessment pretty much all came from my own misconceptions about the idea of it and not the reality. In reality, if you navigate regularly using a map and a compass and you are hill fit then it shouldn’t be an issue to walk the course. Perhaps thinking of it as a timed navigation activity would have helped take some of the nerves away for me. But then again being able to navigate under pressure is an important skill if we hope to keep our groups safe in remote areas and it was a good reminder that more haste often equals less speed. Slow it down, do things right the first time, trust your skills, enjoy it!

Chrissy looks out over the Monadhliath mountains on one of our group walks.

Chrissy looks out over the Monadhliath mountains on one of our group walks.