Understanding Variations As A Climbing Instructor

When I run a Rock Climbing Instructor training course, one of the first points I try to get across to my students is “Don’t be a robot!”.

Being a good RCI is about understanding climbing and the variations of systems used.

It’s not about replicating one or two systems that you’ve been taught and using those all the time, without fully understanding the pros and cons of each system.

Understanding variations as a climbing instructor

Multiple variations exist for nearly all aspects of climbing. Some climbers/instructors use the same methods all the time, others mix and match as to when they use one method over another.

Knowing what the subtle differences are and how they impact on the system are key parts of being a really good Rock Climbing Instructor.

Personally, I feel the old SPA had been dumbed down considerably and to the point where a person could be capable of an assessed level of safety, but perhaps not fully understanding of the why or when we use one system over another.

Thankfully, the newer RCI syllabus goes beyond this minimum standard and requires the candidate to not just be some automaton, but a more robust scheme, where the candidate should be an active climber, with critical decision-making skills and the ability to teach and coach.

Thankfully, on the RCI training courses I’ve delivered, I’ve met candidates with a healthy appetite to learn variations and the reasons why we use them.

Bottom Rope Set-Ups

I’ve picked bottom rope setups as just one example of where variation can differ massively.

All of the pictures below of bottom rope setups are perfectly safe. Some have enhanced safety, some have subtle differences, some have massive differences. All are appropriate to use and they’re many more variations possible too.

But the important thing isn’t that I have told you these are safe to use or that one is better than another, its that you understand for yourself that they are safe to use and what the pros and cons of each system are.

Some are quick to set up, some are easily adjustable, some have less stretch and some save on the amount of gear needed.

Understanding your preference

But this blog wasn’t written to teach you 9 different ways to set up a system, it was to make you think about the way you currently do something and investigate the possibility that there’s a different way to do it.

Personal preference is important as an Instructor. We all have different preferences on how we like to do something. The job of the RCI is not only to have a preference but to understand why they prefer it.

I see new methods in climbing all the time. Whenever I do, I first try to fully understand the method and potential benefits/flaws, then I practice them, use them in a variety of scenarios and try and decide whether I like them or not, or if I can tweak it, safely, to suit me.

An RCI assessor asking you “why?” you’ve decided to set up using one system as opposed to another doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong or unsafe.

It just means they want to see your justification for why you picked that particular method.

Assessments are pressure cooker environments at the best of time. Most of the pressure will have been created by you and not the assessor.

You might read into their questioning tone wrongly and assume you have done something unsafe when all they want is an explanation of why you made a decision.

Trust me, if it is the case you’ve done something unsafe, you’ll know about it.

I hope the above post is useful. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss any aspect of this post.

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