How to become a Rock Climbing Instructor?

A personal journey from our Director's point of view

How to become a Rock Climbing Instructor?

Whilst looking for a job/course for my brother at the library back in the very early noughties, I came across a leaflet for Outdoor Education at Park Lane College in Horsforth. Something clicked like it had never done before, I knew this was something I would love, if you’ve ever had this feeling then like me you’re extremely lucky. Unfortunately the course hadn’t recruited enough students to run, so I sat in contemplation buying climbing magazines like Climber and Over the Edge, great reads for an aspiring climber to be. Weirdly, I’d never climbed before, but I just knew I would thrive, even though I was terrified of heights.

Fast forward a few months, and I had started at Thomas Danby College in 2002, where I fast became even further obsessed with climbing. Our tutor really engaged my passion, with information and encouragement of where this passion could lead. Obviously being a teenager I would listen to some stuff and other stuff I obviously knew better, this was quickly kicked out of me.

My first top rope climbs were wooden and filled with trepidation, fear and horror, but for some reason I knew it was still something that I wanted to do. Come to think of it my first outing I didn’t even make it to the top of a climb. Anyway being a college student, me and a fellow skint student clubbed together, me with kit and him with a car we started to adventure locally. Chevin, Almscliffe, Brimham Rocks, Ilkley Cow & Calf, and further afield on occasion to Stanage and other venues. Quickly we made our way on to the ‘Sharp End’ of the rope and began lead climbing at these places. We didn’t quite know 100% what we were doing on occasion, and constantly had to go back to college and query our competence with the tutor. What a great guy, he would tell us direct, we were either doing a great job, or we were lucky to survive usually, nowhere in between.

We continued our adventures across the UK and having left college we continued our rock climbing working towards the Single Pitch Award (now known as the Rock Climbing Instructor). 40 lead climbs on Severe grade or over, and 20 days of assisting groups as a minimum. At this point we’d started accummulating a lot more personal climbing and couldn’t contain our excitement and passion, climbing was awesome (and still is of course!!). We were climbing two grades over this and regularly adventuring in any spare time, bouldering and trad climbing, man I was rubbish at bouldering. Just not my thing, and I don’t think it ever will be, but it’s always nice to know your interests. Great though with a bunch of mates cheering you on and spotting you.

In 2006, with much hard work and building a logbook that had taken me 4 years to build I went for assessment. It was terrifying, I am not good under exam conditions at all, and I didn’t understand the process. At the end of the course it was hard to hear that I had deferred on group experience. I was fed back to that I should get 10 more days assisting an instructor. After recovering from this blow, I assisted anything I could get my hands on, it took me a further 7 months to get the experience to then send it off to be finally passed. 7 months you ask? Well I did my assessment in the beautiful month of November, and it goes without saying, in winter there aren’t many groups out climbing on UK crags.

Since passing that qualification, I have felt ready for many challenges due to the significant amount of work I put in to my preparation for the qualification. Even though I had deferred, the feedback was that I needed to just calm my nerves down, hence 10 more sessions of assisting. This feedback and follow up logbook experience really fired me up, and in the August of 2006 I landed my first outdoor climbing job in Oman, here (the land where Health and Safety doesn’t exist), I built a significant logbook of experience and developed the head for working at various venues. Every venue is different and poses it’s own interesting character of pros and cons, and problem solving is only developed over time, this was the place to problem solve.

Now bringing this experience back to the UK I have since worked across the country at more crags than I can care to name. My personal preference is a crag which doesn’t restrict the imagination, that’s why Ilkley, Higgar Tor and Brimham are my favourite group locations, no day ever feels the same. Here are just a handful of crags I have worked around the country, all with their own little quirks and conditions to work with.

  • Harborough Rocks
  • Stanage
  • Burbage
  • Hugger Tor
  • Almscliffe
  • Brimham Rocks
  • Crookrise
  • Ilkley Cow & Calf
  • Caley (aka, Chevin)
  • Windgather
  • Baildon Bank
  • Shipley Glen
  • Stone Farm Rocks
  • Cathedral Quarry
  • Copt Howe
  • Scout Crag
  • Brown Howe
  • Tilberthwaite

It is seen as a relatively easy qualification to get, but to master and become a good instructor like many things, takes time. Like most I find myself continuously finding new ways of rigging, teaching a skill, learning about new equipment and innovations in climbing technology. I now enjoy mentoring and supporting new members of staff as they come through the qualification, and it’s amazing as folk bring so much personal experience to the industry.

I continuously work to develop myself in climbing, and presently hold the below qualifications:

  • Rock Climbing Instructor (indoor and outdoor climbing)
  • Climbing Wall Development Instructor (teach lead climbing indoors)
  • Rock Climbing Development Instructor (teach lead climbing outdoors, currently building experience for assessment in 2023)

I am also a Mountain Training (National Governing Body for climbing and mountaineering) tutor for the below climbing courses as well:

These are great courses to spring board in to rock climbing in the outdoors. More information can be found on them by clicking the links above.

This is a fantastic industry to be in, not as well recognised as it should be in my personal opinion, but I have seen a massive change since starting 16 years ago. So hopefully it will not be too long before folk understand the hard work we have to go through to make this our careers. If you are interested in this line of work, I would recommend getting in touch and we are always willing to help out and support you where possible. More information about the RCI and other climbing qualifications can also be found on the Mountain Training website.

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