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Training for the Climbing Wall Award

Posted on March 22, 2015

On Saturday and Sunday I attended a training course for the Climbing Wall Award*. It was run by Joby Maw-Davis**, who is not just an MIC qualified climbing instructor but also a Technical Advisor and safety consultant working with a range of climbing facilities in the UK.

The course kicked off at 10am on Saturday at Bear Rock climbing wall on the campus of Warwick university. There were 12 people on the course, and all were either hoping to work at a climbing wall or were already doing so.

After a general briefing about identifying appropriate equipment, we began by taking part in a warm-up activity to raise the pulse level and cleverly incorporated a fundamental climbing skill of balance. Two groups of six ran around turning over plastic cones until Lee (Joby’s assistant) shouted either ‘left/right star’ or ‘left/right plane’, at which point we all attempted to stand on one leg and balance in the star or plane shape.

We moved on to ‘climbing golf’ where one hold was designated the ‘Tee’ and another the ‘hole’. In pairs our task was to traverse from tee to hole using the least number of footholds. Another exercise involved pairs on one section of wall trying to touch as many holds as possible without moving from their start position, first with feet and then with hands. This was a good way to warm up ‘proprioception’ or the sense of how our bodies are positioned. All three of the activities were fun and adaptable ways to get any group warmed up at the beginning of a climbing or bouldering session.

Katie and Christen Buddy check

Katie and Christen Buddy check

We moved on to using the climbing wall and the focus was on perfecting tying in, the ‘buddy check’ and belaying. Everyone had areas that could be improved. Joby then demonstrated the dangers of ‘back-clipping’ and ‘z-clipping’. We had the opportunity to use a variety of belay devices, and I learnt the correct way to use a grigri when lowering off.

After lunch we all got our climbing shoes on and had a briefing on the role of dynamic belaying when lead-climbing.  Christen, a climber from Hungary, was used to model good technique, and then we paired up and got to climb to our limit and practice providing a ‘gentle catch’ using dynamic belaying, where once the climber is above the third clip a little more slack is allowed into the system. This reduces the danger of the climber slamming into the wall if they fall off. I led a couple of routes at the limit of my grade, then tried a third and had a good long ‘whipper’ from the final clip when my finger strength deserted me. At around 4:30 Joby brought the group together to sum up the day and preview the activities for the next day.

Lead climbing at Bear Rock

Lead climbing at Bear Rock

Redpoint was the venue on Sunday. We assembled in the bouldering room and did another warm-up which involved pretending to be sea creatures until the appearance of the ‘shark’ (Joby) who called out a type of climbing hold we had to use to keep off the ground. Those caught by the shark had to continue minus an arm or a leg. The holds went from ‘jug’ (easy) to ‘guppy’ (which nobody understood) to ‘crimp’. This activity increased heart rate and also incorporated some climbing skills.

We moved on to discussing centre of gravity and the importance of moving the body so that it was above the foot used to push up on. In pairs we practiced identifying our centre of body mass when bouldering, and keeping it over the appropriate foot. We then discussed footwork and the parts of the shoe that are used. We did ‘silent traversing’, then made a traverse course marked out with wine corks. Things became more challenging when we limited usable holds by marking them with tape.

A climbing ‘pub quiz’ was the lunchtime entertainment, which highlighted the importance of CWA holders having some background knowledge of climbing and its history. Do you know where the first climbing wall opened in the UK?  Which famous climber is associated with the postcode S7?  

The afternoon was use to practice rigging an abseil session in a climbing wall. The ‘bunny ears’ knot (figure of eight on a bight) and the tied-off Italian hitch were used to create a releasable abseil system and we role-played the situation of a client getting something stuck in their belay device as they abseil.

The final part of the day was spent with Joby summing up the next actions for us to take before going for assessment. It was stressed that the minimums stated in the course guide (number of sessions shadowed, number of climbs led) should be doubled to ensure success in the assessment.

We all had a one-to-one feedback session so that everyone had a good idea of their strengths and weaknesses. I am looking forward to shadowing as many climbing sessions as possible with as many different groups as possible, and will be reading ‘Climbing Games’ to give me more ideas on delivering fun and useful sessions to all age groups and abilities. I feel I have come away from the course a better, safer climber.

My thanks to Joby for the photographs of the weekend – I ended up so absorbed in the course that I completely forgot to take any.

*Find out more about the CWA http://www.mountain-training.org/climbing/awards/climbing-wall-award

**Find out more about Joby http://www.jobymawdavis.co.uk/about-me/

©Phil Layton 2015