Local Cave And Mine Leader Course

orange square Some areas of the UK are better than other for caves, though you should not have to go too far from home to find a cave system. The main recognised areas for caving are The Yorkshire Dales, Derbyshire, South Wales, Forest of Dean, Mendip Hills and Devon. Quite a specialist job to put it mildly, though opportunities do exist for people wishing to find employment in caving, but only if you have the right qualifications. The main route into instructing in this adventure activity is Local Cave and Mine Leader Levels 1 and 2, then there is a big step up to the Cave Instructor Certificate. You have to have quite a lot of experience and ability for even the Level 1 Leader qualification as you will be responsible for the safety of the novice groups you are leading. As rewarding and exciting as it is to show people the wonders of cave systems, being underground is not without its risks and dangers.

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Local Cave and Mine Leader Assessment (LCMLA)

The scheme is the qualification to obtain if you want to take charge of groups of novice cavers. Safety is by far the most important aspect of the scheme, though conservation is also covered. To take part in the scheme and to gain the award, you should already have some experience of exploring caves, mines or potholes. Training courses will generally include management of groups, emergency situations, safety equipment, as well as conservation and basic geology. It is worth noting that because all cave systems are different, the assessment course you take is designed to be relevant to the local area so you should undertake the training in the area in which you wish to take groups. Level 1 is for people who have experience of, and will be leading, groups in non vertical systems, that is to say your passage through the pot hole, mine or cave does not include the need for siginficant ladders or ropes. Level 2 would be for a leader who has experience of rope techniques and vertical systems. The LCMLA is valid for three years, is areas specific, and you must have a current first aid certificate. To find out more, we spoke to Alan Braybrooke about his experience of the LCMLA.

How did you first get interested in caving?

Al: I think there may have always been an interest, in stories caves and tunnels were always places where adventures happened in stories or films, so I was always fascinated by old bunkers, railway tunnels etc. I didn't really think about caving as a thing until I was at university, and decided to join some clubs and get a bit more out of the life. The cavers were the most welcoming and I ended spending too much time caving to get a degree!

What level of experience did you have before you considered instructing?

Al: I was already an experienced club caver, capable of looking after myself and novices with me, instructing was a career I drifted into, I hadn't considered it before I met some instructors and sitting by the beach belaying in the sun seemed a good way of passing the time.

Why did you decide you wanted to progress and do the LCMLA?

Al: Starting as an instructor there are a daunting number of certificates and qualifications ahead of you and many highly qualified instructors to deal with, caving was what I could do and what I had the most experience in so it was my first 'pass' and got me from an assistant to an instructor.

Are we right in thinking the award is location specific?

Al: Each cave is different in its nature and feel, but also in its specific hazards, the award ensures that you are familiar with each cave and can give your clients a good trip. Though as you gain experience visiting more and more caves you gain the knowledge to identify and reduce hazards before they become problems so by the time the Cave Instructor Certificate is gained there is no location limitation.

And the assessment has to be done at each location you wish to lead people

Al: If you have a varied log book of experience it is not necessary to be assessed at each location you want to take a group. If you have visited it a number of times and are familiar with its hazards or venue specific details, eg. How to avoid upsetting locals by parking sensibly, then an assessor can add a site to your 'approved' list.

And how difficult was the assessment itself, what was involved?

Al: As a caver the assessment was not too hard, though you always want to do your best and not let yourself down. For Level 1or2 of the LCMLA there are two assessments at each level. The first is a personal, technical day, in a small group, often just people on assessment a cave trip is undertaken where technical skills and safety is looked at. Though while this is going on your personal abilities will probably be looked at, do you look comfortable in the environment, do you move well and inspire confidence? On the second day it's about your group management skills, can you keep them safe and give them a good experience, a different day with each different group. But being underground has its own difficulties not faced so often aboveground in terms of moving through the group, being seen and heard by everyone and not just playing 'Chinese whispers' down a line of people in a narrow passage.

Once you achieved the award, did it open up new opportunities?

Al: Getting this award meant that though most of the time I was still only an Assistant instructor or apprentice, sometimes I was a 'real' instructor and could do real paid work. As I gained a wider variety of qualifications I could look at a wider variety of potential jobs.

You went on to do the CIC. How much of a step up from the LCMLA is the CIC?

Al: It is a big step up, though having caving as my main activity, the one I do on my expeditions, I felt ready for the step, you do have to have an extensive log book, caving across the country and ideally abroad as well. I learnt loads in the training, making me think about or change things which I'd always just done having learnt bad habits from other cavers along the way. The remit of the award is massive, being happy and able to navigate and manage in any underground environment, teach SRT, climbing and descending through caves on single ropes, providing advice to cavers or acting as technical experts to Centres wanting to take groups caving. The assessment is five days with a day on each element.

What is the best thing about having the highest caving award?

Al: It still feels great to have made it to this point, I do remember the start of my instructor career when I had nothing, I could have finished, but I perhaps should keep progressing and become qualified to teach and assess LCMLA too.

And finally, we have to ask about your favourite cave/mine/pothole and why?

Al: It's hard to answer this one as I've had so many great trips, each trip is different depending on the weather, who I'm with, how I feel etc. One that often makes me happy is Swildons Hole, in the Mendips, it's a popular introductory caving trip, but doing one of the round trips there is a bit of everything, underground gorge walking down the river, heights and ladders, climbing, sumps and a nice amount of suffering and grimness through the mud. Good fun, helped by some fine caving clubs and pubs on the surface.

Cave Instructor Certificate (CIC)

The top qualification you can hold, for those who want to be able to instruct other cavers without restriction in any part of the UK and internationally, is the Cave Instructor Certificate (CIC). Training courses will equip you with the knowledge and skills to lead groups of cavers in both horizontal and vertical systems. This is not a quickly attained qualification as you will see in our interview below. You are required to have the LCMLA Level 2 qualification described above as a pre-requisite and your log book of climbing experience needs to be significant. The training and consolidation include a series of modules which must be completed before you can be put forward for the award assessment. Once achieved however, you will join a select group of professionals.

In order to find out more and get a first hand account of what it is like to gain the ultimate qualification, we spoke to Christopher Binding FRGS, CIC, ACI who runs undergroundadventures.co.uk about his caving experience and how he got the Cave Instructors Certificate.

Hello Chris, please can you start by telling us how you first got interested in caving?

Chris: I started caving around the age of 10, living in a caving region this meant easy access to many various venues, subsequently caving with an after school club of around six pupils and then later on, after a break while various jobs "got in the way", returning to it and bumping into a caving chum one evening who was working with an outdoor pursuits company; when he mentioned that it was possible to do a qualification in caving there was a lightbulb moment and from that point onward I knew it was what I wanted to do for a living.

So what level of experience did you have before you considered instructing?

Chris: There is a significant difference between being a caving leader (entry level qualifcation) and an instructor (higher award) and to progress to the latter from the former it is necessary to submit your logbook so that a judgement can be made whether to grant a green light for training and subsequent assessments (after yet more consolidation experience). Around the time of my instructor assessments the logbook notes that over 1,500 consolidation trips had been amassed.

OK, so that entry level qualification people would achieve is the LCMLA, how much of a step up from that one is the CIC?

Chris: "Major" would be an understatement - I think it's fair to say that working at instructor, as opposed to leader, level is a whole different world. For example, a holder of the instructor award is expected to be able to professionally lead, observe and simultaneously train experienced cavers in caves with no prior knowledge of the venue - in reality this is a rare thing but on overseas expeditions into unexplored sites this becomes quite a commonplace occurrence.

Why did you decide you wanted to progress and do the CIC?

Chris: It was a logical progression from the original "lightbulb moment" mentioned earlier; I didn't know at the time that this is where things would lead - it was always a possibility that I'd simply gain the leadership qualification and work at centres or freelancing running introductory caving trips for decades!

But you wanted to take it further. Tell us how the training part of the CIC award works - being a national award did you have to get experience outside your local area?

Chris: Yes, it is a prerequisite for assessment to have experience in all the major (and even minor!) caving regions in the UK, plus (ideally) a good amount of overseas experience, too, covering vertical and horizontal progression techniques (including free diving sumped passages), rescue, group management etc. Prior to assessment I spent a LOT of time driving up and down the UK getting my logged trips topped up with some classic sites.

And once you had got all those trips under your belt, how difficult was the actual assessment?

Chris: I lost four and a half stone and the assessments took a year to complete but I was the fittest I'd been since childhood on completion.

Yikes, quite a commitment then! Once you achieved the certificate, did having that open up new opportunities for you?

Chris: Yes, but not from outdoor centres where I worked simply because they tend to do beginners' trips and rarely, if ever, offer progression or top-end trips on a small client/instructor ratio: most instructor work is bespoke and augments leadership sessions - and most of it is in rope training, be it introductory, rigging or rescue - the internet has helped significantly in enabling instructors to provide services to fellow cavers and members of the public so things have definitely progressed in the last decade in terms of opportunities to use the skills gained.

Can we ask you what is the best thing about having the highest caving award?

Chris: Flexibility to engage in "missions" of any flavour, anywhere in the country.

Caving missions, we like that. We also have to ask about your favourite cave/mine/pothole and why?

Chris: In the UK it's probably the splendid underground "amphitheatre" of Alum Pot in the Dales - my first view of the emerald-like moss set amid waterfalls and the variety of the vertical obstacles was on a solo exploration trip and has stayed with me ever since - it's a trip I like to introduce to others just for the look on their face when they see how majestic it is!

We also understand you have just got back from an overseas caving expedition, what was that like?

Chris: Ah, yes; just flew in this morning - that was quite an easy fortnight as it was pretty much just guiding for about ten highly experienced cavers so didn't require much in the way of group management, other than keeping everyone happy and occupied! - earlier 2012 expeditionary stuff has been fabulous with some significant new passages found in Northern Spain and an enjoyable opportunity to join a major sporting trip in France, visiting what used to be the world's deepest cave (when first found) - the pre-trip training for that was quite intense as I thought it wise to get used to descending (and ascending, obviously!) a vertical mile in a day so that I could fine-tune my calorie and water intake requirements. It only took four weeks to get it sussed!

Thanks Chris, really interesting. If you'd like to find out more about any of the qualifications discussed above, contact the British Caving Association, or the Association of Caving Instructors. Or check our site for current courses using the link below.

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