‘You have been asked by your line manager to start a Rock Climbing club for your local youngsters. Detail and justify the choice of equipment that you would recommend.’
by its very nature covers a plethora of skill levels and fields of
operation from basic indoor wall climbing to highly technical alpine
ascents and with this comes an abundance of potential equipment for the
climbing’s humble beginnings using only standard Victorian clothing,
Hawser-laid rope and little or no protection apart from the occasional
body or direct belay it has developed into a cutting edge sport. (The
Edge. 1997) Much of the equipment having been developed as a result of
the 2nd World War at least in terms of karabiners, pitons and
ropes, the latter moving to a Hawser-laid Nylon which was more dynamic.
During this time the Commando Cliff Assault Wing (CCAW) had been set up
opening up climbing to what could be suggested a different section of
society and to a certain extent at a higher climbing standard.
present day technology has made such advances in terms of textiles,
materials and practices that safety is uppermost in the manufacture and
use of equipment. At this point it is important to note that no rope or
harness for example is completely safe, that is the nature of adventure,
it is the risk that drives the climber and the management of such risks
that determines the relative safety of the adventure (climbing). It is
with safety in mind that the task of starting a Rock Climbing club
should be approached; the providers and instructors of which have a
‘duty of care’ to the club members (youngsters).
in the West Country near Plymouth facilitates a plethora of climbing
especially for the novice with many climbs at the lower end of the
grading system and top-rope possibilities, depending on the weather and
outbreaks of ‘foot and mouth’ of course. Various indoor walls are
relatively close to hand such as Lipson Community College, The Kittow
Centre and Stoke Damerell School all of which have supervised climbing
or hire the facility to groups including the ropes. Outdoor crags are
particularly good with Dartmoor so close at hand encompassing the
climbing areas of the Dewerstone, Haytor rocks, Bench Tor and Sheeps Tor
to name but a few. The surrounding area forms pillows of granite to
crack-laden limestone incorporating inland and sea cliff climbing in
places such as Chudleigh, Torquay, North Devon and Cornwall (Alston, C
in White, N .1995:19).
the outset all of the equipment must carry the mandatory seal of
approval from the Community European (CE). Although an extra seal in the
form of the Union Des Internationale Association A’Apinisme (UIAA) may
be present which, is often of a higher standard, both however prove the
adequate testing and passing of such equipment. This piece of work
details the basic requirements for top roping which caters for the
beginners as well as more experienced climbers incorporating indoor
walls and outdoor natural crags. Leading or seconding equipment is the
logical progression from top roping but requires a great deal of
experience, cost and is very much dictated by the area or type of rock
that is climbed on. For instance Dartmoor with its distinctive pillows
of granite and flared cracks lends itself to the need for camming
devices or large Hexes/Rockcentrics as opposed to the finer, often
crack-laden limestone which neccessitates RPs and Wires. Therefore a
general recommendation will be given on the grounds of introduction or
cost leaving the subtle nuances of differing equipment to personal
choice and climbing style/experience. For the purposes of starting a
rock-climbing club the following considerations should be taken into
account, a definitive list of recommended equipment can be found at the
end of the piece.
the single most important piece of equipment is the climbing rope
itself. Unlike the static Hawser-laid rope used by earlier climbers like
Collie and Murray modern ropes are Dynamic, i.e. they stretch, and if it
carries the UIAA seal will have to exhibit less than 12 kN impact force
(the amount of force transferred to the climber in a fall), static
stretch no more than 8% and hold a least five test falls without
breaking just to meet the minimum UIAA standards (Bluewater. 1996).
Due to such rigorous testing the choice of ropes must take into
account other considerations such as length, durability, single or
double. For use indoor on a climbing wall only a 50m rope could be
halved to facilitate two 12.5m climbs, whilst this initially saves on
cost it negates the progression onto longer single and multi-pitch
routes therefore it would seem prudent to buy full length ropes and
adapt their use to suit the situation, although most climbing walls
provide ropes and inclusive of the cost.
Single ropes are less complicated to operate with the belayer
only having to concentrate on the one rope, which lends itself to the
novice. Mammut make a 10mm rope but whilst cheap it is not so hard
wearing therefore until a complete climbing season has elapsed it is
recommended that half the ropes are the Edelweiss Emotion 10.5mm which
is very hard wearing and much more water resistant. The Mammut is
relatively inexpensive but is mass-produced and comes in all colours as
long as they are black and white. (Needle Sports.2001) This rope is also
not waterproof which therefore requires a rope bag for protection
however it is recommended that all ropes be used in conjunction with a
rope bag to stop the degradation of the equipment by dirt and grit. A
note of caution is needed at this juncture, in light of cheaper mass
manufactured ropes. Although initially less expensive these cheaper
ropes are often much less durable and are prone to chaffing on course
rock such as gritstone. Rope such as the Edelweiss Emotion (£100) is
much more hardwearing but more expensive therefore the terrain and type
of use should be a major consideration before purchase.
helmets are an essential part of a climber’s kit especially in the
outdoors with loose or overhanging rock and it is good practice to get
youngsters in the habit of wearing them. At this point it is important
to note that because this is a youth group and not a school it therefore
comes under the remit of the Activity License as well as the County
Council, which requires the use of helmets by minors. Helmets come in
two main types, fibreglass and polycarbonate/plastic all of which are
acceptable although experience shows that fibreglass can be prone to
chipping at the rim of the helmet once the plastic protector wares out.
Keeping helmet colours the same allows for the ease of identification of
not only the helmets but also the youngsters wearing them, especially at
a busy crag or wall. Prices are relatively similar at around £44.99
with the Petzl Ecrin coming with an alternative replaceable liner for
smaller heads ideal for youngsters. However deals can be found and Rock
and Run offer the Kong Magic UIAA approved helmet for only £29.99
come in many forms that cater for simple indoor wall climbing to alpine
mountaineering. Above all the harness should be comfortable and simple
to use, for the purposes of starting a climbing club it would seem
prudent to have a selection of harnesses that encompasses the novice and
the more experienced climber. The Petzl Club fits from 22” to 49”
but has no gear loops but does have adjustable leg loops which does
therefore lend itself to the novice (Needle Sports. 2001) as modern kids
come in various shapes and sizes. It is also recommended that a small
number of full body harnesses be purchased for smaller children. The
Petzl Club has a high tie on point which lowers the centre of gravity
thus tipping is less likely to occur. It also has only one simple tie on
point which whilst simple and easy to use sits the knot of the tie on
point rather high. Care should be taken when tying on the beginner in
order to stop the knot hitting them in the face if they slip or fall.
Cheaper options catering for the more experienced climber comes with the
Wild Country PLJ from Rock and Run, which at £27.50 is value for money.
Another very good budget harness is the Rock Empire from Needle Sports
at £36.50 however it suffers from the lack of adjustable leg loops
which is only a problem if you are on the rock possibly in winter or the
back end of the summer and require the harness to be worn over
waterproofs or Salopettes. Harnesses that cater for the latter are
expensive at around £50-£60 and it is suggested that they are confined
to the SPA trained or instructional members of the club. The cheapest
available at the time of writing this was the Petzl Corax at £50.00.
(Rock and Run. 2001)
shoes or Rock boots are an immensely personal item not only in size but
also in terms of hygiene and therefore it is strongly suggested that the
purchase of such items is left to the individuals. Climbing in trainers
is acceptable on rock especially at the novice grades but some indoor
walls may not allow them in which case a hire facility is usually
available. Rock boots as opposed to shoes are built higher to cover the
ankle, which is more comfortable and protects the ankle when climbing on
granite or grit stone, especially cracks. Depending on your style of
climbing and the type of rock you climb on will dictate to an extent the
equipment you purchase. Generally a firmer sole is better for edging
than a soft sole that is better suited for smearing, therefore it may be
wise to buy a cheaper all round shoe until you become more experienced.
The Mammut Tusk is a good beginner shoe and relatively inexpensive at £39.99
(Needle Sports. 2001). As technology advances new materials and designs
appear as seen with the Five Ten Ascent all day shoes. These are built
to be used walking to and from the crag and give better grip when
descending after the climb, usually via a goat track. Extra suckers and
dimples cover the heel designed to give grip on wet grass something that
dedicated climbing shoes/boots do not. The price as with all cutting
edge technology is often the draw back and the Five Ten Ascents are no
different at £73.99 (Needle Sports. 2001).
a belay device must take into account the ability of the user and the
equipment it is to be used with.
is possible to end up with an incompatible rope and belay device,
compounded by the incorrect choice of karabiner.”
Mountaineering Council – ‘Don’t let your partner down.’)
devices work in two ways, those that use friction and those that pinch
all of which have degrees of difficulty in use especially when
transferring from holding to lowering. Slick devices (ATC and Wild
Country VR); those that transfer easily; maybe considered a little to
advanced for the complete novice as they require the belayer to apply
force to hold and lower the climber which may feel a little uneasy.
Grabbing devices however such as the Stitch plate, the Tubu and Cassin
provide greater friction and whilst lowering may feel a little safer and
give greater confidence to the novice. Other belay devices such as the
Grigri and the Single Rope Controller (SRC) are known as locking or semi
locking and whilst making holding the climber relatively easy the
transfer to lowering requires ‘skill and judgement’ (BMC-Don’t let
your partner down). All belay devices have an obvious use for climbing
but the way and when they are introduced is important to offer climbers
the experience of working and understanding different devices. Many
devices have dual uses such as abseiling and climbing, single and double
ropes with the most basic set up involving a stitch plate, a single rope
and the new ‘Screwgate Belaymaster’ karabiner (Needle Sports.2001).
karabiner that is used with the belay device is vitally important, too
small and it will not operate with double ropes or Italian Hitch, too
large and it has the possibility of turning and effectively
cross-loading the gate, which drastically decreases the strength of the
equipment. The ‘Belaymaster has a plastic gate that closes across both
bars of the karabiner effectively stopping the possibility of
cross-loading, however this also detracts from the multi-purpose aspect
of the karabiner by effectively halving the space available for rope and
equipment. It is suggested that the Belaymaster should be used as a
training device for the novice but should not detract from learning
experience of using other karabiners and set-ups, after all the closable
sleeve on the Belaymaster is plastic and likely to break at some point.
Anchoring the belayer to a fixed point could require the use of slings
especially for the novice who may not understand the rope work needed.
This is an important point made equally by the BMC who suggest that ‘
Many preventable accidents occur due to inattentive belayers, often
combined with poor rope management skills.’ (BMC-Don’t let your
partner down.) Slings are reasonably cheap and come in many lengths and
are nearly always made of Spectra or Dyneema. A selection of sizes is
recommended catering for many situations.
it is recommended that the instructors be issued with a basic lead rack,
which should encompass items such as Ascenders (Jumar), Prussiks,
Camming devices, wires and a nut key. This will cater for basic lead
instruction or arrival at an unfamiliar crag with no obvious belay
points. However it must be stressed that the local terrain and the
instructor’s experience will govern individual items purchased. The
top-roping equipment could also be used to keep down costs with
karabiners and knotted slings used as quick-draws. The price list for
lead racks is at the end of the piece.
summary, all climbing equipment is more mass produced than in the past
due to the increasing popularity of the sport and as such suffers and
benefits from the market forces. Consumers (climbers) can therefore
often find bargains or heavily discounted prices, at the time of this
piece of work Needle Sports were offering various harnesses for £14.99,
rock boots for £19.99 and many offers on climbing racks. However cost
should always be tempered by value for money, cheaper does not often
mean better for instance the latter harness has no adjustable legs. All
equipment should not only be logged for its use but rather an ethos of
checking equipment by all members should be strived for. Many pieces of
equipment will have a shelf and use life, which should be recorded and
checked by the club. Finally, all equipment is safe if used correctly
and therefore the equipment is only as good as the instruction given
combined with sensible equipment husbandry. The following page contains
a list of recommended equipment in order to start a climbing club of no
more than 20 climbers and two instructors taking in to account all the
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