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DEPARTURE LOCATION: Laragh Village, Wicklow 

Dates 2020 :

21st March



HIGHLIGHTS : Map reading - Mountain safety and hazards -  Equipment - Navigation 


The Mountain Skills (MS) scheme plays a number of roles within the structure of MCI/BOS mountain training. One of its primary functions is to provide a general introduction to hill walking in Ireland and to impart the necessary skills in navigation and knowledge of hazards, equipment etc., so that a person finishing the course may be in a position to safely pursue hill walking as a hobby.


The MS scheme also provides foundation training for those who wish to progress on to the national and internationally recognised leadership qualifications. This is reflected in the third block of the scheme - the MS Assessment. Successful completion is a prerequisite for registration on the BOS ML training scheme.



The complete MS training course is to be run over a minimum of four days with at least two evening/night sessions to allow for talks and night navigation exercises. A longer period may be desirable and necessary depending on students’ individual skill levels. For those students attending the Mountain Skills assessment, an overall period of eight weeks (minimum) must elapse between commencement of training and the Mountain Skills test.

Day 1:

MS Scheme Introduction (Talk – 30 mins)

Objective: To introduce MS scheme and roles of various organisations.

  • The roles of the following organisations: MCI, BOS, trainer.
  • Scope of the Mountain Skills course and how it relates to Mountain Leader course. Introduce (weekends) programme, instructors etc. 

Maps: Suitability of OS Maps (Talk - 1 hour)

Objective: To explore some concepts of maps and the history and current suitability of OS maps for hillwalking.

  • Properties of maps: aerial view, scale, symbols.
  • Scales and their effect on map detail.
  • Conventional symbols including contours on walking maps – what they represent on the ground.
  • Suitability/reliability of OS and other production walking maps.
  • Refer to scale, age and content: contour interval, crags, forests and tracks, building in isolated areas, rivers/streams.
  • A brief history of OS mapping in Ireland: early 1800s, six–inch survey, for taxation purposes, mostly accurate for land below 1000 ft.
  • Early 1:50000 – based on 1970s photography
  • Rest of series – based on 1995 photography.
  • Other production maps now available.
  • Digital maps.

A variety of maps will be utilised to illustrate general points (eg. OS large scale maps, orienteering maps, walking maps, regional/atlas maps etc.) A selection of walking maps of different scales, style and production available in Ireland should also be shown.


HILL WALK (5 hours)

Objective: To develop map reading skills, understanding of symbols and basic contour patterns. Navigation should be done using map only techniques when suitable.

  • Conventional symbols and what they represent.
  • Map-setting.
  • Contour features: flat/steep ground, spur, valley, top, col/saddle, ridge, plateaus, re-entrants.
  • Distance estimation – on map and ground. We do not introduce measuring scales or Naismith calculations at this stage, but encourage estimation by eye, feel, and experience.
  • Simple navigation technique – following handrail features, easy line features to start, then graduating to easy contour features – spurs/ridges etc.
  • Direction estimation/map setting.
  • Terrain/maps – this exercise should be conducted on easy, moderate terrain. Use 1:50000 or 1:25000 maps most applicable to the area. Clearly identifiable points, both on the map and ground, should be chosen for navigation legs.


Mountain Hazards (Talk – 1 hour)

Objective: To explore and illustrate some objective and subjective hazards of walking in the Irish mountains. It can be beneficial to allow candidates time to produce their own list of suggested hazards under the following headings.

  • Weather: rain, cloud, cold, etc.
  • Topographic: cliffs, vegetation, loose rock, etc.
  • Human: health, fitness, attitude, etc.

A group discussion may then take place about formulating the chances and consequences of individual hazards or when combined with others.

Personal Equipment (Talk – 1 hour)

Objective: To discuss and show possibilities for hill-walking gear.

Demonstrate examples of essential gear. Show possibilities for various options. Supplement with hand-out. Discuss the extra equipment needed for hill-walking in winter.

Depiction of Relief (Talk – 30 mins)

Objective: To illustrate different methods of showing relief in the mountains, with emphasis on contour features. Include how corries, spurs, ridges, valleys, peaks etc. are depicted.

  • Discuss and show examples (if possible) of hill shading and contours and their relative merits.
  • Concentrate on contour information – variation in basic patterns of shape, slope, and size of various features. The role of spot heights and crag symbols. A 3-D model or 3-D digital mapping example could be useful.

Day 2:

Pacing and Timing (Talk/Practical – 1 hour)

Objective: To elaborate on rough distance estimation of previous day and introduce more accurate methods.

  • Pacing exercise – determine number of double paces per 100 metres.
  • Pacing – discuss variance in stride and how ground type and inclination alter number of paces taken, both up and down.
  • Measuring distances on maps.
  • Basic Naismith’s Rule: Allow 1 hour for every 3 miles (5 km) forward, plus 1⁄2 hour for every 1000 feet (300 metres) of ascent.
  • Breaking basic Naismith’s Rule down into smaller units e.g. 100 metres, etc.
  • Some timing calculations.
  • Limitations over short distance, broken and steep ground.


Hill walk (5.5 hours)

Objective: To develop map reading and more accurate means of measuring distance from the map and on the ground.

Pacing: more direct and easier to understand than timing. Include a practical session and discuss how students can further refine their own double pace.

  • Timing (Naismith’s Rule)
  • Feature recognition.
  • Terrain/maps – same as Day 1.
  • Advice on individual student training needs.

Route Card (Talk – 30 mins) 

Objective: To demonstrate the importance of route planning and preparation.

  • Simple photocopy of map with marked route.
  • Detailed route card showing times etc.
  • Use of route card in emergencies for assistance information.

Debrief (Talk – 30 mins) 

Objective: To offer general advice on course, answer queries, get feedback, etc.

  • Course comments – student and instructor.
  • Need for practice in navigation.
  • Details of next course, etc.
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