Aloft a wild peak in Argyll, Scotland, I came unstuck - I remember the day vividly - the fear still palpable. I had taken my eldest daughter away on holiday with my best friend and her young son. We decided to go on a spontaneous adventure - unprepared and inexperienced - we headed out to roam the stormy landscapes of Scotland in August.
The wrong way to discover you need a guide specialist
A sports journalist and a social worker whose only experience of lofty ascents was incline mode at the gym. We were eager for wilderness but not naive enough to feel secure exploring on foot. From the comfort of the car, we took a narrow slip of road that journeyed to the summit of an enormous hill – we had no idea that a peak was where the thin winding ascent would lead. We felt secure enough – absorbing the highlands through the rain-spotted windscreen.
At 15 miles per hour - the landscapes shifted and blended – silver lakes, forested hillsides, and great, thick trees - rocky giants forming tight circles around our vehicle. We passed road signs for falling boulders – and how exciting it was - just like Crash Bandicoot! The more miles the car clocked up, the more qualified we felt – misplaced confidence in our command of the outdoors began to develop; a lesson to punish the Ego in the making!
Looking out of the passenger window at the vast landscapes, I exploded in my daughter’s direction, “Lilly, just look at this – all of this wilderness”. Her (almost) teenage eyeballs never left the 12-inch screen in her hand. I rolled my eyes, “She isn’t an outdoors person like me”, I so foolishly boasted to my friend. “Kids these days”, she tutted – we would come to regret those preposterous quotes on the other side of the peak.
The car was climbing – ears were popping, and the lakes were getting more distant. The ‘adventure’ felt epic. We had no idea where we were, how we had got there, or where we were heading, but none of that mattered. After all, we were ‘outdoors’ people, remember?
The power of the landscapes took hold of my spirit, and nothing else mattered, not the rest of the world, nor experience or skill – until the car rolled over the top of the peak and began on an unsteady descent.
Dear, God – send me a guide, Amen.
The other side was a whole new world – to summarise our decline – both literally and figuratively; the car got stuck on a bend, the road disappeared, and there was no sign of life outside vegetation. There were plenty of signs warning us not to turn back on the one-way system, but no sight of a way out. We were stuck (really stuck), and with no knowledge of what to do, we did what any inexperienced people would propose – we started to walk.
“Let’s have a look around that corner and find help” - turned into a long-distance trek that got us more lost than we had been on the bend. The afternoon was drawing in, and the atmosphere was growing darker in parallel with the setting sun.
My panic was rapidly morphing into anxiety because I had my daughter in tow – who was side-eyeing me with an “oh your such an ‘outdoors’ person, mum’ smirk and an ‘I will never let you forget this’ pledge in her sneer.
The GPS in the car had ceased to aid us back on the bend – we had no signal on our phones to Google maps our way out – not that we could have read that map even if we did have a connection! My daughter thought it was funny – and it was, at first. I had been a fool, no doubt about that! However, the further we got from the car, the deeper I travelled into genuine fear.
"Sophie, you are a sports journalist!” - I reprimanded myself in a last stitched attempt to force a useful thought to materialise in my brain - “You write about Ultramarathons and mountains, day in - day out. Pull yourself together and think, Woman."
Alas, gel bars, bladder packs and FKTs were a world away from navigation – writing about mountains and actually navigating them were two different worlds altogether. Cold, hungry, tired, and lost, I gave up and cried. Then my daughter got her new Nike Air Jordans stuck in a bog, and all hell broke loose – now, she was big mad!
Dear, God – thank you!
Suddenly, and seemingly out of nowhere, a Scottish angel appeared – a ‘gift from the Air Jordan God’s’, as my daughter proclaimed. This was definitely not the first time he had happened upon a novice along this mountain side. I could tell by the way he sighed in despair, and no wonder...
“Where did you park”
“Somewhere an hour ago”
"Which route brought you here?"
"We don't know."
"Have you got GPS?"
"No, our internet is down, and we don't really know how to use it."
"Have you got a map?"
"No, I can't read a real one."
“A real one?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
"Have you got a compass?"
"No, I can't use one."
"What have you got?" …
Reluctantly, I handed him my novelty tourist map. I had pulled this out a few times among the shrubbery – looking to see if I could spot any of the pictures in my surroundings. A useless and desperate attempt to navigate. I knew it was entirely ridiculous - and my bright red cheeks narrated that story without a word uttered.
It was a cute leaflet - with little cartoon depictions of attractions that tourists should visit - I was going to put it in a box when I got back to England – but it had no place on this trail … unless on fire as a source of heat.
He signed a final time, then he laughed ... and that hurt a bit … but then he stuck his pole in the ground like a great wizard and led us like lambs along the trail and back to our car!
55 minutes later, from the warmth of the car, I breathed pure relief. We would not die after all!
"Keep going until you reach this pretty picture, turn at that pretty picture, go left at this pretty picture, and after that, you will be home” - he said, before handing me my pathetic map, and heading off to do more magical things … probably.
Hire a guide or meet your peril
In the years that followed, I reflected on that situation – rather a lot! After licking my wounds, I collected some of the valuable lessons from that trip, and I made myself some ‘post it’ notes to stick on my fridge …
1. Never show a man who is serious about his orienteering a novelty map.
2. Check your hubris before boasting about your ‘outdoor skills’ to your cheeky child, with a sturdy memory.
3. If you want to explore a mountain, hire a guide, or you’ll likely never see another day.
Hey, Siri - take me to a leader
Needless to say - when I decided I wanted to take on a new challenge and hike Scafell Pike, a mountain guide was at the forefront of my mind. Immediately, I sought after a training a guide specialist.
“Siri – find me a mountain guide." - the results ... extensive and exhausting. Artificial intelligence is just that; artificial. Old Siri could conjure a list of hundreds in nanoseconds – but the search engine couldn't tell me who had the skills to teach a complete novice. Understanding a subject and being able to teach a subject to someone with zero knowledge or experience - are two very different things; parents who home-schooled during the COVID-19 pandemic know this well enough!
Anyone with a passion can take courses to gain the proper qualifications to guide people safely through the mountains, but I wanted more than that. The experience in Scotland had highlighted just how much guidance and support I needed – I wanted someone with deep knowledge and extensive experience in their field, in addition to the relevant qualifications.
I needed an expert – so expert – that they could convert understanding to my level of ‘non-expert-ed-ness’ – In English; someone so highly qualified and experienced that they could teach a child – or an adult sized halfwit.
I spoke with friends in the Ultrarunning community, researched like I was working for the CIA, and listened carefully to the experiences of others, eventually (and methodically) selecting the perfect mountain training and guide specialists.
Let’s explore into why I chose no-mad Adventures … and why you should too!
no-mad Adventures – who are they, and what do they do
no-mad adventures hold an extensive list of qualifications, and the seal of approval from multiple organisations that set the bar in mountain training and guiding. Their credentials are reliable and wide-ranging, but the attributes behind no-mad Adventures go much further than academics and courses alone – it incorporates over thirty years of working outdoor experience and a long history in wild adventures.
no-mad Adventures began as a pure non-competitive trail running company, and off-road, running remains at the core of no-mads identity. However, along the way, taking people into the hills (fast and slow), learning skills and preparing for new routes, there has been an evolution, and no-mad has become a broader training provider.
There are many faces of no-mad Adventures - each contributor is a specialist in their field – instructors, nutritionists, coaches, guides, leaders, first aid responders, and much more. It is an impressive directory, topped by the lead guide, Ash - whose knowledge and expertise are second to none in Meirionnydd!
Ash is the Health and Safety Advisor to UK Athletics and is responsible for the overall Health & Safety strategy for British Athletics. Ash is also an Associate Fellow of the Royal Institute of Navigation, a full member of the Mountain Training and a qualified First Aider (registered as advanced p[provider with the Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh in Pre-Hospital Emergency Medicine and associate trainer for REAL first Aid. His background in outdoor adventure is extensive and includes a self-supported challenge through the Sahara Desert (Marathon des Sables). Ash has an extensive background in offshore sailing, hot air ballooning and overland trips on foot or bike. no-mad Adventures are also registered course providers for the National Navigation Awards Scheme and Mountain Training hills and mountain skills, in addition to being the only registered OMM training providers in Wales!
Further than an impressive list of qualifications and extraordinary experiences – no-mad are renowned for their passion for people, and equipping individuals with the skill set and confidence for independent adventure – whether you are beginner or an expert. no-mad have spent a number of years successfully crafting a supportive and progressive learning environment that enables and empowers people at a friendly pace. And that is why no-mad Adventures have been dubbed THE training and guide specialists in South Snowdonia.
Let’s look at some of services on offer through no-mad Adventures.
Guiding – planning – logistics
no-mad Adventures enables people to get the very best out of their time in the mountains through progressive and supported learning programs, that have been crafted by thirty years of adventure (and people) experience. The training and guide specialists, have guided groups and individuals through the mountains and trails for many years, equipping people with the correct skill set for safe, and enjoyable outdoor adventure.
Navigation – Mountain Craft – Bushcraft
Enabling people to learn new skills is a core passion among the guides at no-mad Adventures. Personal development and independence score high on the list of things that are integral to the heart of no-mad.
no-mad put passionate emphasis on independence in the hills and mountains, whatever level of experience or fitness background you come from. No question too silly, no question asked too many times, with course content delivered to meet your level of understanding.
There are a number of courses on offer through no-mad Adventures, designed to build confidence and skills in the hills and mountains:
Event support – event planning – film crew support
no-mad Adventures provide event first aid cover to a number of wild events.
"Having no-mad on board meant we didn't get diverted from what we were out to achieve, another amazing edition of the Pen Llyn Ultra race event. Listening to the feedback from runners, even having someone to have a quick look at blisters, and giving advice and reassurance from a knowledgeable point of view was a serious value add for the event." – Race Director, Pen Lyn Ultra.
With a blend of technical clinical skill and being highly competent in a wild environment, no-mad work with organisers to ensure that the service they provide is seamless and of the highest quality.
You'll not see Ash at Trail Marathon Wales, or Winter Trail Wales, or Ultra Trail Wales or Ras yr Wyddfa (but somewhere behind the scenes he's there as "race control" supporting the race director, co-oridnating volunteers or response teams as needed.
Preparation – Exploration – Motivation
Starting as ‘no-mad running’ and evolving over the years into a broader service provider, no-mad Adventures still carry an incurable passion for off road running. no-mad offer comprehensive support for runners, with services that cover all aspects of mountain and trail running. Whether that is guiding, event preparation or good old motivation, no-mad have the relevant qualifications and experience to support you on your journey.
Don’t just take my word for it!
no-mad Adventure reviews
"I achieved something I never thought I could. I reached the summit of Cadair Idris with my work colleagues fundraising for medical research for children. This was my first ever experience of a mountain climb and I have to say personally this was very tough and at times I thought impossible. I could not have achieved this without the guys from no-mad. Ash in particular as he was at the back of the group got me to the summit and back down again. He was so supportive and motivated me all the way even when I felt scared and that I would not make it. They are wonderful and would recommend them to anyone without a doubt. One off the list.”
"Ashley really helped me to get an excellent preparation for The OMM Alps!! The training weekend in Wales was great fun and I learned a lot. Highly recommend No-Mad!"
"Very informative and interesting without it being complicated (map reading morning)"
"I had a great weekend with Ashley from No-Mad. The group were all lovely, interesting people and the course itself was the right mix of challenging, thought-provoking, and supportive. It's really easy for someone as knowledgeable on a subject as Ashley to take for granted the little things, but his people skills and passion for the subject make him a great guide and instructor. Needless to say, we all passed the course, and I only got the group lost twice"
To find out more information about how no-mad Adventures can support you, contact lead guide, Ash using the contact form here