We’re proud of our expert crew and the incredible work they do at our outdoor activity centres. Their love for the great outdoors has steered them into a career like no other. This passion not only makes them exceptional at what they do, it also leads them on their own adventures. So, we’re sharing our crew’s inspirational stories; from tales of travels near and far, to the epic moments and challenges faced during a life dedicated to the outdoors.
We recently caught up with Jon, our Lead Instructor at Argoed Lwyd, whose love for climbing began at Calshot Activities Centre. His personal adventures and work as an outdoor instructor have taken him all over the globe. As an avid photographer, he’s captured his adventures along the way, bringing his two passions together.
Turning a love for the outdoors into a career
“I’ve always loved being outside. I was fortunate to grow up on the edge of the New Forest, and many weekends were spent building ‘dens’ in the woods, climbing trees and exploring on my mountain bike.
“My first taste of adventure activities was on a school residential at Calshot Activities Centre. I found climbing exciting but scary. By the time I was 18, I had ambitions to climb high alpine ridges and summits like the Matterhorn. I joined the adventure club at my college and we took a trip to the Verdon. I had an amazing time, learning to lead climb on bolts, sleeping under the stars, and making some new friends. I left thinking ‘this is what I want to do with my life.’
“One thing that helped me in those early years, was knowing that I had a lot to learn, but not caring what other people thought about my abilities. I was willing to try anything, but also happy to ask more experienced people for help or advice when I needed it.”
From the south coast to Argoed Lwyd
“My initial focus was on gaining my instructor qualifications and getting out climbing as much as possible. After the course finished, I applied for every outdoor instructor job I could find. I ended up being offered two jobs, one in Wales and one in Switzerland… I cheekily asked at my interview in Wales if I could have 6 weeks unpaid leave during early summer to work in Switzerland. Amazingly the answer was yes! I loved Switzerland so much, that I ended up staying there until winter."
“As my climbing ambitions got bigger, I planned my work around the trips. This usually involved working as a freelance instructor and part-time in an outdoor shop. Eventually, my girlfriend and I decided to put some roots down. She found a job in Cardiff, which worked well for me as there is lots of great climbing in South Wales. When a vacancy came up for a full-time position at Argoed Lwyd, an outdoor education centre in a stunning position in the Brecon Beacons, I jumped at the chance.”
“My first big adventure was a trip to the Cairngorms with a friend from college in February 1996. We camped and stayed in a bothy hut. The temperature dropped to minus 25 degrees C. I found that a 3-season sleeping bag I bought for £20 wasn’t really up to the job!
“My first big solo trip was two months in Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada after graduating from Uni. I was fortunate to meet and climb with some people who came to be very well known in the climbing world. Climbing the ‘easy’ routes on El Capitan and Half Dome were experiences I will never forget.”
Jon’s adventures have also led him to Africa, Greenland, the Alps, Pyrenees, Atlas Mountains, Southern Alps, the Andes, and the Himalayas. And in more recent years, he’s been introducing young people to expeditions in Malawi, Tanzania and Argentina (but those stories are best left for another blog!).
Capturing a life outdoors
“I think photography is primarily about showing and sharing. When I started doing more adventurous activities, I took photographs for this reason. It felt amazing to be doing activities in some stunning locations and I wanted to show people 'look how beautiful this place is'."
“Most of my early photographs failed to convey the beauty of the places I had been to or how they had made me feel. But I kept at it, developing my skills with an MA in Documentary Photography at USW, Cardiff. This gave me an in-depth understanding of the visual language of photography and reignited my interest in analogue photography."
“For my MA, I wanted to do a project on the U.K. National Parks. I was inspired by the work of Carleton Watkins, a 19th century photographer whose work was pivotal in the creation of the world’s first National Parks in the U.S.A. Watkins used wagon trains to carry all his equipment. This wasn’t a practical or economic approach for me! I settled on using a special panoramic medium format film camera. It was big, heavy, and extremely basic by modern standards, but surprisingly liberating to use."
“The thing I enjoyed most about using it was the mindfulness of the routine. I could only take four photographs on one roll of film, so I had to be disciplined and go through the same checks each time. It taught me to be more patient with my photography. I was taking much more time with each photograph, which gave me more time to appreciate the moment and pay attention to small details and changes in the light. I now find, that rather than merely recording my adventures or the spectacular things I see, I use photography to explore my surroundings in more detail.”