Every prospective member volunteering for hill duties will demonstrate their mountaineering competence to the team in a formal pre-assessment. There are no exceptions to this rule, professional instructors like the casual hill walker must pass a pre-assessment before basic training can start. For the experienced hill walker or mountaineer the pre-assessment will be straightforward and uncomplicated, yet the casual hill walker may find it more challenging. The objective of the pre-assessment is to demonstrate to the team that the prospective member is not a liability on the hill. Accordingly, the assessment is not a difficult challenge but a combination of hill skills that are appropriate to the work that we do.The outcome of the assessment could be a pass (which is rare), a fail (which is also rare) or a conditional pass, where the candidate’s skill is adequate for training though not for operations. Under these circumstances the candidate is given guidance on improving skill areas prior to a further assessment upon completion of the basic training.The pre-assessment starts with candidates signing a disclaimer, certifying that they consider themselves adequately skilled to participate in the assessment. After an examination of personal equipment and a review of past experience the assessment starts with a short rock scramble. Having ascended the quarry the course then evaluates steep ground capability, which is far more relevant to our work in S Wales than rock climbing. Traverses are made on very steep grassy hillsides, as well as ascents and descents. Movement over steep ground is of fundamental importance in our work.
With the ascent climbed, the second part of the assessment focuses on mountain navigation. We would expect candidates to have a good hill walker level of navigation skill, being familiar with 1:25,000 scale maps and being able to position themselves to within 150m at all times. The navigation part of the assessment lasts approximately 2 hours during which time the candidate will navigate around a course using both compass work and distance measuring. This is the principal skill area leading to a fail or a conditional pass, yet it underpins everything we do as a rescue team.
Pre-assessments are held two to three times a year, with the navigation part always being carried out at night. The test finishes with a debrief when the scores for each skill area are revealed. At this stage the candidates are informed of the outcome. Those passing or receiving a conditional pass are invited to commence basic training whilst those failing are given guidance in skill areas requiring improvement. There is no bar on failed candidates re-submitting for assessment at a later date.