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Working at a single pitch crag as a Rock Climbing Instructor...

Updated: Feb 20

I gained my Single Pitch Supervisors Award (SPSA) over 20 years ago and have seen the changes and transition to the Single Pitch Award (SPA) to the better titled Rock Climbing Instructor (RCI).

My current work is not geared towards group climbing and a good part of it is now focused at delivering climbing courses at a ratio of 1:1 / 1:2

However I have worked at a lot of centres and delivered a signifiant amount of outdoor single pitch sessions across different centres and throughout the UK. Additionally I’ve run indoor sessions throughout that time and it was really climbing at my local indoor wall that provided me with my first instructor role.

Now I’ve have been a SPA / RCI provider for about 10 years now.

I’ve seen the award evolve very much from

Go to a crag

Do a bit of bouldering

Run a couple of bottom rope lines

Do an abseil and then go home….

That could even be a half day session mixed in with paddling in the afternoon

You had to be slick at working the crag to fit it all in! It was a fast paced environment and interestingly when you had more time you still seemed to only achieve the same!

Now we have an award that is similar in some respects but different in others - so for example it has a requirement to understand some basic movement skills and to teach it - amongst several other great changes.

So what can you do with a Rock Climbing Instructor Award

Visit a sport crag

Rock Climbing Instructor

Visit a trad crag

Rock Climbing Instructor

Teach movement skills

climbing shoe

Teach gear placements / anchor building - ground based

Rock Climbing Instructor

Along with

Abseiling and bouldering

Rock Climbing Instructor

We’re often an introduction to the sport for folk so maximising their time doing something climbing related is important to me and its paced around the client.

I’m going to mention the word groups a fair bit - so this would be in reference to an average group - a mini bus size - so around 12 persons and they could be adults or little people.

A few years ago a colleague did a crude survey of a group going climbing for 4 hours, the walk in was about 5 mins and the crag about 10-15 m high. So from car park, to the crag and back was a total time of approximately 4 hours and with that timeframe they estimated that the actual climbing related activity that each person did was about 15mins!

One of the many things to consider is that as soon as you put a rope on someone everything has to slow down and whilst folk are engaged in belaying (a climbing activity that is one fo the key safety components) for some it’s not the exciting bit!

In the group you could do a lot of belaying related activity but not much physical climbing activity…..

How do we get folk more engaged within a climbing session……

These are just some ideas, it needs imagination , creativity sometimes,

I’m rubbish at remembering lots of ideas of what we could do do so I’ve always got lists of what I could teach / coach / games I could play and so on - either in a notebook on on my phone - I use it a lot to help me work out what would be best for my clients next.

I’ll often create a broad plan about what and how we are going to do and then let it evolve against what happens at the crag.

So I’m going to focus on these areas

Crag choice - What can you do at the crag - space / location

Getting Active

Movement Skills

Efficient rigging

Crag choice

Rock Climbing Instructor

This is part of the Fachwen crags near Llanberis, a few minutes from Lion Rock, 5 min driven from Llanberis, 5 min walk in, not ideal for complete beginners and it’s quite steep and requires rock shoes really.

So the group arrives at the base and then essentially we offer the group the rules for the session, a safety brief- where they can go / can’t / helmets and so.

Your Knowledge of the crag is important - the access to it - routes that work for the clients, access to the top, gear placements - any considerations for rigging and so on.

This particular crag needs long rigging ropes - there is not much change out of a 50m rope depending on what lines you’re rigging and how you’re rigging them.

The top though is uncomplicated terrain, it’s easy to move around on but steep at the edge so personal safety is only needed nearer that bit - so it’s fairly straight forward to rig here on trees, boulders and trad gear - consequently it can be rigged quickly

Now I’ve chosen this crag because the client is perhaps ‘ indoors / moving outdoors”

group - ideal for this crag, a short drive a short walk in, easy access around the crag and reasonably uncomplicated for us to rig it. There are some fantastic crags around Snowdonia, but they may take up to an hour to access with traveling and walking to them, so you could lose up to 2 hours a day! The weather is often the determining factor here!

So straight away the ‘local’ crag is giving ourselves the best opportunity to maximise time climbing and minimising the peripheral things. So crag choice is important in my mind.

Bear in mind even with the best of intentions, you may arrive to find another group there! But with your extensive knowledge of the crag / area and your prior consideration of this you will have several other plans up your sleeves!

In this instance at this crag it could be tricky to run any further lines, depending on what the other team is doing….however there are several other crags in the area and an abundance of rock everywhere, so with your local knowledge and some thinking on your feet you can still maximise the outcomes of the day.

Other things that could have an impact on your crag choice

Kit limitations - rock boots versus trainers / other footwear

Car parking- will there be space?

Knowledge of other users - like ‘centres’ and wether it’s a good public crag.

Question yourself, Why do you use that crag

Have you checked your local guidebook for what is in the area?

Around here in North Wales there are a lot of single pitch venues that aren’t traditional group venues, you don’t see many folk there at all, (there’s some good reason for some of these - the climbings awful!) but others offer the right group the right experience - have a look!

Getting Active

In a traditional sense this is warming up

Maybe you have a walk in that’s helped!

Tremadog Upper Tier is a good example with a good steep walk that can take any where from 20mins to 40mins.

Personally as an introduction to the sport I like to make this fun and energetic (again my lists come in handy) - for more experienced climbers I would tailor it accordingly.

Some folk like to relate their warm up ‘games’ to climbing and I agree with this in principle - there are some great activities that work really well with some groups - for example baby shark type high energy run arounds that are fantastic for some - maybe little people, but some other client groups may not react so well to them. .

We all know the reason for warming up

  • warm up the muscles and soft tissue -raise the pulse

  • prevent injury -mobilise the joints

  • allow folk to perform at their best

  • prolong a session

  • Get the the mind activated and co-ordinating all the bits of the body!

Rock Climbing Instructor

So a good traditional way could be to look warm up all these body parts using various exercises…

  • Neck

  • Shoulders

  • Shoulders

  • Hips

  • Legs

  • Ankles

  • Fingers

Or you could

Its fun, engaging, warms your body up and gets your mind engaged and coordinated…

You obviously need some suitable space and the terrain underfoot needs to be appropriate too. Being mindful of who else is around may be prudent, this could involve a lot of laugher and raised voices!

There are many types of brilliant routines like this and interestingly this video is from a gymnastic coach, which has parallels in what we are about to ask the body to do!

Have you seen the triangle dance? Another absolute gem!

Have a hunt around on the internet, watch other instructors, ask your friends, family, you’ll be amazed what you find!

Remember all the group at this stage have been actively engaged, warming up laughing - it’s a good start to your session

Now we can get on the rock (still just getting active)

Rock Climbing Instructor

This is a little wall literally 30 secs from the car park - its about 8m high in places ( you could even put a rope up on the tree anchors above for little people) and about 20m in length.

It needs some consideration how to manage the further you go along as you can see. However quite a bit of it can be done in trainers too

What you can do here is only limited by any safety considerations and your creativity…

Get the group

Moving left to right / right to left

Follow my leader

Must have 3 points o contact at all times

1 hand only

Minimal amount holds used between 2 points

And so on

Again we’ve all been active, this time climbing - depending on the time factors, weather, other bits of rock around and so on, I think you could engage folk for as long as you want to….

Movement Skills

And now we can start looking at movement skills of which balance and footwork are basic principals that easy to introduce for everyone.

This is just a simple angled boulder that allows folk to move around around on it using different parts of the trainer / rock shoe and in different body positions. You can focus on slowing movement down, moving their weight correctly between their feet to maintain their balance. There are many exercise you could do here!

These photos are of folk with trainers on, a lot of groups may not have access to rock shoes, either way your exercises just need to be catered accordingly.

Rock Climbing Instructor
Rock Climbing Instructor

Putting it all together on a little journey builds their confidence with their footwear and also their connection with the rock.

This is the type of exercise you could use later once you’ve rigged some lines! Add in the extra elements of small steps rather than large steps which affects balance and control,

also pushing with your legs rather than pulling with your arms.

Beyond all that, I could then transfer these type of new skills folk are learning back to my ‘bouldering wall’ for another round of climbing coaching on the traverse and adding in the other bit of your body - your hands!

Again up unit this stage you offer maximum opportunities to be engaged, lots of climbing activity, lots of learning and we haven’t touched a rope yet!

With this input as soon as you put some lines up you’ll get better outcomes because folk will be more comfortable with moving on the rock and so on.

Efficient rigging

YOU need to be quick - knowledge of the crag is essential - you can lose a lot of time here….

Now quick does not mean you have to be speedy in this situation, it means you need to be efficient, your knowledge of the crag will help, making sure you have the right length of ropes, work in a logical manner, flaking ropes in the right place and so on.

Folk want to climb not sit around and wait a long period of time.

There are lots of ways to rig, knowing several efficient ways is a good thing - no 1 size fits all!

I guess the BFK is one the main common ways..

Rock Climbing Instructor

It can take a bit of skill to get the knot equalised in the right place, here’s another option….

Rock Climbing Instructor

It requires getting weight onto half the anchor which comes from the climbing rope being attached (coiled in this photo just for demo purposes) half of it is then equalised and you can then feel the tension as you clove hitch off the 2nd part of the anchor. It’s easier if you can do a 1 handed clove hitch.

The secret is to only have 2 lines coming to the edge so gear needs to be linked

Rock Climbing Instructor

If you wanted to reduce things like slings then the overhand knot is ace in this situation

Rock Climbing Instructor

And then after you’ve rigged go climbing….

Think about appropriate lines for the client…..

Teaching belay takes time -whatever strategy you choose and you can lose a lot of time here - so clear concise demonstrations need to be given - it’s an area that we can all work on - is it to much information / am I waffling / what do they actually need to know and so on.

If this had been run over 4 hours then the group would have been climbing well beyond the 15 mins that I mentioned earlier, you would have run a fantastic session and the clients would have gone home happy, inspired, exhausted, engaged and motivated to carry on with the sport! Real value for money too!

A small range of ideas, there are plenty of other ideas / options around the subject.

Incidentally we get bored doing the same thing regularly as well and we all know where that could lead, so be creative, explore your local crags, try new things, no climbing day will ever be the same

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