28th October 2015

SPA assessment, are you ready?

The Single Pitch Award is the qualification that allows you to take people climbing at single pitch crags and a ticket that most instructors will want to work towards. Once you have it, it opens up a lot of work opportunities.

In line with other Mountain Training awards it is made up of a training course and an assessment with a consolidation period in between.

The assessment is two days long and will be mostly outdoors but does include a climbing wall element.

The first thing I do as an assessor is check out your DLOG prior to the course starting. Embrace the DLOG! Yes it can be a pain in the butt to log stuff from the past, but get it done as best you can and when you’ve been climbing adding the details to it each time you go out is pretty quick and painless. Turning up with your routes and supervisory experience scribbled on a scrap of paper doesn’t really set a good, professional impression does it? The number of routes and supervising sessions are on the MT site in black and white, if you don’t have enough, I can’t pass you however good you are. At the other end of the scale if you well exceed the minimum requirement, this can sometimes buy you a bit of “benefit of the doubt”. Remember, a MINIMUM of 40 routes with a decent amount of Severes, in three different areas.

The amount of things you are assessed on over the two days is actually pretty small, take a look at the syllabus. An assessor will want to see you lead a Severe, set up a personal abseil, top rope, bottom rope, group abseil, teach/supervise some appropriate belay techniques, solve a simple problem or two and do a bit in the climbing wall. There’s other bits a pieces you might get asked about like fitting kit, taking care of kit, a bit of flora etc., but there’s no great surprises.

If you’ve practiced the above you should be nice and efficient (no need to rush!), you should also be placing solid bits of gear and appearing nice and confident. Assessors will be making judgements from the outset, so even the way you rack up will tell us a lot, are you faffing around unsure of where to clip your quikdraws or is it all well dialled?

When you lead your Severe, you’ll probably be given a guidebook and told to go and climb a route. Once you’ve found an appropriate route we’d like to see you climb the route efficiently, not sketching your way up it, placing quality gear placements, extending stuff appropriately and then setting up a text book belay at the top. Did you do a buddy check at the start, did you use appropriate climbing calls, are you sat down or stood up, is that rope running over your leg, can you see your second?

Later on you’ve set up an abseil to go and get some stuck gear back, how have you backed it up, where have you clipped your prussik to, how have you backed your prussik up whist getting that stuck bit of gear out, how could you protect your mate who’s forgotten their prussik?

Next up, you’ve set up a top rope for a group of intermediate people. Are you going to use a belay plate or Italian hitch, where do your clients go once they’ve topped out, why have you used that nut instead of that tree, are you tight on your anchors, your client is refusing to move off that nice comfy ledge because they’re scared – what are you going to do (you are out of the system aren’t you?)?

Then it’s off to the climbing wall for a bit of bottom roping and bouldering. What games can you play and importantly what do your group learn from the game, you did do a warm up didn’t you, helmet or no helmet for that auto belay, how many routes can you manage at once, what considerations are there when using a climbing wall, tie in or clip in, you clients traversed miles off route – quick what you going to do?

Few, day one over!

 

Second day.. First job, fit these harness’s to the rest of the group and give them a brief about the day etc. What’s that plant over there? What’s the rock type here?

Right, group of novice climbers, that’ll be a bottom rope then. Hopefully you’ve set something up on a suitable route and the ropes not running over any edges or anything, as always we’d give the setup the once over, hopefully seeing some good gear placements and something safe and simple. How are you going to get all the group involved, you going to use an ATC/Grigri/Italian Hitch, bell ringing or “proper” belaying, little Johnny is scared on that ledge again – refusing to move – sort him out, lowering time – you did practice that lower down didn’t you?

What’s left to do? Oh yes, the good old group abseil! So when I come up to check that one I’m going to be looking for the standard safe and simple setup, good gear etc. I’ll probably ask where your clients would be waiting, how they’re going to get to the abseil “zone”, you have considered that haven’t you? I hope they haven’t got to step over that pile of messy rope you’ve forgotten to get squared away…

You’ve done well so far…

Whilst one of the other candidates is abseiling down your line, surprise surprise, they’ve got their hair stuck (you didn’t check they’d tied it back?!), hopefully you’ve set up a releasable abseil?

Debrief time.

Hopefully you’ve done well, presented a good DLOG and have a valid first aid ticket. Brilliant, that’s a pass then.

A bit weak in one or two areas, never mind, a deferral and action plan. No stress you’ve performed well in most areas, come back after a bit of work and you’ll smash it.

Too far off the mark on too many areas, sadly that’s a fail. Did you read the syllabus and get out practicing? Oh dear, again here’s what you need to go away and focus on. Come back after that and I’m sure you’ll cruise it.

Hopefully that was worth a read!

The stuff I’ve written isn’t exhaustive, you maybe asked to do the odd other bit and you may be quizzed on a few other things, plus there’s a home paper, but it gives you an idea of what goes on. The vast majority of assessors are super chilled out, a lot of the time, we’d just leave you to it whilst setting up but will give you good feedback – you should be learning lot’s on an assessment no matter what level you’re at.

Can you set up all that stuff and answer all the questions?

The theme is – Practice, have a decent logbook, stay relaxed and it’s just a nice two days out on the crag.

Check out this PDF I made a while ago with some specific setup info etc

Also read the SPA hand book and the Rock Climbing book by Libby Peter/Mountain Training, it’s super useful.

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