UIAA and Petzl Foundation host joint training program in Nepal
17 Apr 2012
Philippe Descamps of Petzl Foundation (right) signs contract for joint course in Nepal with Pierre Humblet (glasses), president of Mountaineering Commission while officials of Nepal Mountaineering Association look on.
Steve Long, chair of the UIAA's Training Standards Working Group of the Mountaineering Commission was in Nepal last September and again in early 2012 as part of a joint UIAA - Petzl Foundation program to train trek leaders.
The Petzl Foundation provided a trainer for each of the courses to help mentor the initial education of administrators and tutors and requested assistance from the UIAA to conduct the program.
Long described the accelerated learning program that took place in two phases as a good first step for the Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) to develop its own program that could lead to accreditation by UIAA Training Standards.
The course aimed to deliver a short intense “sandwich” course wrapped around a trekking season and took place near Kathmandu. It came about because of an agreement at the 2011 UIAA General Assembly with the Nepal Mountaineering Association and Petzl Foundation to develop a self-sustaining course that would provide a suitable level of technical and practical knowledge and benefit from thefor hill-walking activities to complement the longstanding Basic Mountaineering course developed in partnership with the Alpine Association of Slovenia (PZS).
The Petzl Foundation’s original goal of training professional trek leaders has evolved into a mixed-ability training program to help young mountaineers gain basic hill craft, more experienced mountaineers to gain practical leadership skills and work as a cooperative team.
Photos by Steve Long
“It would be naive to suggest that this accelerated learning programme could replace a formal teaching programme, nor would I normally advocate putting trainee teachers into such a responsible position so soon after learning new skills for themselves," said Long.
"The assessment focussed on technical skills rather than judgement of application, and therefore I would expect to see a longer consolidation period and stricter requirement for logged experience,” said Long.
The course, however, was a step in the right direction and will also provide stronger candidates for the NMA’s basic mountaineering course, said Long.
He added that by the end of the course local instructors had expressed an interest in contacting the Union of International Mountaineering Leader Associations (UIMLA) for advice on adding professional modules, with the long-term aim of developing their own member association. There was also talk of potential staff exchanges with instructors in India.
"I sincerely hope that the seed we have planted will prosper and grow. Hopefully the NMA will feel ready to apply for UIAA accreditation in the not too distant future," said Long. "This will require commitment to further develop the programme infra-structure, particularly the teaching facilities and prospectus."
A summary of Long’s report follows:
Background: Various training initiatives have been running in Nepal since as early as 1979 that offer training in mountaineering skills to local climbers affiliated with the Nepalese Mountaineering Association, the federation set up in 1973 in recognition of Nepal’s reputation for producing strong Himalayan mountaineers. They include an ambitious French program to help train talented climbers up to International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA) standards through its National Training Centre ENSA. In 2009 SunarGurung became Nepal’s first IFMGA member. For a country that lacks much solid rock under 5000 metres this was no mean feat. The Nepal Mountain Guides Association now runs its own training programmes within Nepal, and is seeking IFMGA accreditation.
In 2005 another French initiative was started by ex-pat Henri Sigayret, culminating in the construction of a training centre at the new Mountaineering Memorial Centre at a hill station called Kakani in the foothills just north of Kathmandu. Henri persuaded veteran Guide and teacher Patrick Magnier to lead a basic trek leader training programme and soon after a charitable sponsor, the Petzl Foundation, came on board.
Because various private training ventures began to spring up there was considerable risk that this could lead to confusion and lack of credibility. However, the General Secretary of the charity recognised the value of the UIAA’s international standards as beneficial for the NMA and initiated negotiations to train Nepalese teachers and instructors to deliver courses that would aspire to meet the UIAA’s training standards for a walking leader qualification.
Location and Staffing: The theory components of the course were taught at the NMA’s headquarters and practical sessions immediately before or afterwards at a nearby hill station. After an interval of three months, students had the opportunity to return for a week of revision and assessment overseen by instructors Lakpa Sherpa and JamchangBhote from the Nepal Mountain Guides Association. A flexible approach was required from all of the facilitators and Long said he was indebted to the good humour and professionalism of his French co-volunteers, Eric Lescarcelle (UIMLA) and Patrick Magnier (IFMGA), as well as assistance and advice from Ngawang Ngima Sherpa (president of NMIA) and the organisational support from NMA President ZimbaZangbu Sherpa.
Basic Training (September 2011): The initial course was attended by 16 candidates from a wide range of backgrounds including those with substantial guiding experience and others with little practical experience. A significant proportion of the students had steady jobs in the city and clearly regarded mountaineering as a leisure pursuit. Despite bleeding ankles from leeches and torrential rain, team spirit was strong and the candidates proved to be willing and able students. The course culminated in a 16km trek to Budhanilkantha with students taking turns to lead and put many of the skills suchas navigation into practice.
Second Phase (January to February 2012): The second phase of the course was “exceptional.” Eleven former students who had grown in confidence returned. Some of them bought their own high-quality compass and map; others brought their own practice rope and climbing books. They had practiced their skills and added to their repertoire and the leeches had vanished. Over the next week, the students extended their skills with night navigation exercises, rescue scenarios, climbing sessions on the artificial climbing wall and more trek leadership training. Tutors, from among the students, were chosen under the direct supervision of the four instructors. They were joined by a small selection of former trainees from earlier Petzl Foundation courses, now seasoned leaders and instructors. The underlying teaching principle of maximum practice, minimum intervention by coaches gradually proved to be an effective teaching style. Long said the spirit of co-operation and diligence shown by the students was a career high point as a coach.