Experimenting with a lay back

Basic Rock Climbing Course

I seem to be having a season of climbing at the moment, and this week saw me running a basic rock climbing course based out of Lancaster. The course was run through CCAT (Cadet Centre for Adventurous Training), which offers courses for cadets and for adult volunteers within the cadet forces.

There were 12 participants on the course in all. We soon realised that there was a natural split in the group, with half having had a fair amount of indoor climbing experience, while the other half were complete novices. I teamed up with Esther to take the more experienced group which turned out to be all male, with 5 cadets and 1 adult.

Monday – Introduction to Outdoor Rock (Limestone)

Experimenting with a lay back
Experimenting with a lay back

There had been a fair amount of rain overnight, so we were looking for an exposed crag that would get the benefit of a drying wind. Twistleton Scar was ideal, with a long exposed escarpment of limestone. The main objective was get everyone on real rock and start thinking differently to an indoor wall. Indoor climbers are used to coloured holds identifying where they should be looking to place their hands and feet, but there are less clues on real rock. We must have set up 7 or 8 bottom ropes through the day, and a couple of folk were looking fairly worn out by the end.

Tuesday – Gritstone Climbing and an Introduction to Set-Ups

With a drier but blustery day forecast, we headed down to the Wilton Quarries to get a bit of shelter and experience a different rock type. Wilton is a great, if a little odd, venue. The quarries have shooting ranges in them, and some of the climbs have plenty of ricochet marks on them!

A corner climb on gritstone
A corner climb on gritstone

We used another 8 climbs during the day, which provided a very different test for the group. The gritstone provides much more grip for climbing shoes, but the holds are generally less blocky. Some of the routes followed a chimney fault line, or a smooth slab, but most followed crack lines.

To finish the day off, we spent some time looking at the basic principles of setting up anchor systems to secure bottom rope climbs. Using the uprights for the firing point shelter, we ran through a two anchor system to create a stable vector off which secure a climbing rope. The bottom of the greg was the ideal venue to explore these new ideas.

Wednesday – Set-Ups and Slate

With the weather likely to break the following day, it seemed like this was our last opportunity to head into the Lake District and the birthplace of British climbing. It was my first visit to Tilberthwaite Quarry, but a fantastic day for it with wonderful views.

Setting up a bottom rope system
Setting up a bottom rope system

The main focus for the day was to look in more detail at setting up climbs, and to give the group the chance to set up and climb routes that they had picked out. We started implementing the bottom rope principles that we introduced the day before. This was a first time for everyone in the group, so there was a lot for them to think about. Not only selecting anchors and setting things up properly, but also protecting themselves from a potential fall while moving around at the top of the crag.

Getting used to belaying on a lead set up
Getting used to belaying on a lead set up

In the afternoon, we moved on to setting up top rope systems, and belaying from the top of a climb. Although the belaying principles are the same, it has a very different feel to it and took a little while for some to get the hang of it. Finally, after a quick lesson and practice on firm ground, we simulated setting up a belay system in a lead climbing situation. This was a big day for learning technical skills, but everyone came away very proud of the fact that they’d gone through the whole process of identifying routes and setting them up before actually climbing them.

Thursday – Indoor Wall Day

With the weather turning, we retreated indoors and took advantage of having Kendal Climbing Wall not too far away. After a few skills based exercises, we got stuck into a few bottom roped climbs. Although we’d advised the group to pace themselves, they couldn’t resist pushing their own boundaries and where looking pretty tired by late morning.

However, the guys stuck at it and kept their strength up well, and we finished off with a session on one of the bouldering walls.

Friday – Abseil Day

We’d saved the abseiling until today as, with everyone trying to get trains home in the afternoon, it really  only left half a day for the course. A short drive to Warton meant that we could maximise training time and we ran through a number of different abseiling methods.

We started off with the classic group abseil set up, using a figure of 8 and a safety rope, before moving on to more common methods employed in real climbing situations. We swapped the figure of 8 for a belay device and introduced the prussic as a personal safety backup, before moving on to a twin rope abseil, a stacked abseil and finished off with abseilers descending beside each other.

I always enjoy running a basic rock climbing course, and this week was no exception. Having a group with a keen interest in moving their existing skills onto the outdoor crags was fantastic. They were great to work and full of enthusiasm. Thanks guys for making it such a good course

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