It was an interesting day at Bristol Undercover Rock, which started badly for me when I got blocked in my garage by a Polish fisherman for 2 hours. I did get to the climbing centre late morning, still in time to run the Climbing Wall Lead Award.
This is a prestigious award and for those of you who have done it know you have to apply for it the same as you do for the Mountain Instructor Award.
The quality of climbing experience of the candidates was phenomenal; all in their early twenties but with years of experience, much of it indoor and at competition level.
There was an air of confidence within the group, and they were all good friends, but the CWLA isn’t about your own climbing prowess but an instructor’s ability to recognise and meet the needs of their clients. Many climbers who want to learn to lead climb have very little experience and don’t foresee climbing to competition standard but need the essential elements to keep themselves and others safe, the technical basics to build upon and confidence in their instructor to meet these needs. Clients learn in different ways and at different paces and experience in life skills and an understanding of people is an essential part of being an instructor.
There were opportunities to share ideas, knowledge and experience, to learn how to break down techniques so development was always progressive and attainable.
Lead climbing itself is the easiest part as there are ways of making it safe and yet slowly moving the comfort zone. Lead belaying, however and learning to fall are more complex skills. Lead belaying takes years of experience to master, and always requires vigilance. It is something you must never get complacent about.
Falling has to be well taught, and again needs to be progressive and safe so that clients can build up their confidence in this potentially fatal activity. It is a huge trust issue, as the belayer never knows when the climber may fall – although with experience you can recognise the signs. Instructors must never push their clients to fall and some climbers are never comfortable with it. The candidates, however, had no qualms about taking falls.
A good day, and a lot of ground was covered. I wish Max, Rosie, Alex and Claudia all the best for the future as CWLA instructors. Ali Taylor