This year has been super busy, which is ace! I’ve had loads of great clients coming and going, we’ve climbed loads of great routes, navigated up misty mountains and covered all sorts of skills from constructing a belay to identifying tiny contour features.
On the climbing side we’ve been running plenty of intro to leading courses, and in the last couple of weeks a few coaching courses for people looking to push on a little bit. As well as the technical skills of placing nuts etc, we pay a lot of attention to movement skills, route reading, tactics and performance preparation, looking at coaching people rather than old fashioned instructing, which is an important difference. We’ve had clients leading all sorts of routes, from their first leads on Diffs at Milestone Buttress through to people leading their first E1’s on the slate and over at Gogarth – which has been amazingly satisfying.
This year has mostly been climbing courses which I’ve loved running as I’m pretty obsessed about climbing… but it’s been nice to have a bit of a mix. I love all things climbing and mountains, it’s an honour to work on Mountain Leader courses helping other people on their path to becoming superstar outdoor leaders, people on ML courses are always enthusiastic and thoroughly nice. When it comes to assessing ML candidates I always try and make the atmosphere as relaxed as possible – they put enough pressure on themselves without me making it any harder! The aim is to further their learning as well, no matter how strong their performance, there’s always more to learn – which goes for all of us, I’ll often learn a new flora fact or something from candidates!
It’s the same with Single Pitch Award courses, of which we are providers. We’ve run many of these this year already and I always have a blast on them, I get to chat about climbing for two days solid, what’s not to like?! The assessments are good fun too, as long as candidates come prepared, they’ll have fun too!
Looking forward to the next couple of months, my diary is full of exciting courses we’ll be delivering, so it’ll be an ace summer, keep your fingers crossed for the sun!
Outside of work the climbing is going well, I’m training down the wall 3 times a week and currently I’m on an endurance phase. This is translating well to the outdoor stuff recently climbing up to E4 on Trad – The Mau Mau in the slate quarries and up to 7b on Sport – The Refrain on the Orme, although I’ve just had to postpone a trip to Portland due to rubbish weather…
Running a Single Pitch Award assessment isn’t all about sitting around with a stern face…!
The day actually starts the evening before the Single Pitch Award (SPA) assessment, with a final check of the candidate’s DLogs on the Mountain Training website when I’ll make a few notes on each person. It’s a good system, if you keep on top of logging your routes and sessions it’s pretty quick to do, it only becomes tiresome if you build up a backlog. From a Course Director’s point of view it’s really easy to use and I can check everyone’s experience very quickly, I’m a fan.
After that I’ll go and get all my kit sorted for the day, I like my extra minutes in bed in the morning! My personal kit all gets packed up along with plenty of warm kit, especially at this time of year, and I’ll put in plenty of other kit in case the candidates need to borrow anything such as extra static ropes, gri gris, abseil fig 8’s and a couple of guide books. It’s good to have plenty available on the day.
As per normal I’ll wake up before my alarm and check any emails, browse Facebook, see what odd thing Donald Trump has done to make the news today… My courses run from Pete’s Eats in Llanberis which is ideal and only five minutes away and when I get there I meet the candidates and have a quick chat.
Often I’ll know one or two of them from a training course or something else we may have done together which is always nice, it’s equally great to be meeting new people going through the scheme. I still remember exactly what it was like when I was starting my climbing career and we all still go through various assessments so I know that it can be a stressful experience! I try my best to make sure my courses are as relaxed as possible, my feeling is people perform best when they’re comfortable and it’s not my place to be putting unnecessary pressure on people because I’m sure they’re putting enough of that on themselves! I try and set out what’s expected of them, which shouldn’t be anything surprising as they’ve already done a SPA training course.
We run through the rough plan for the couple of days, check that people have the right kit etc, talk about the scheme and Mountain Training, the possible results (Pass, defer, fail) and then we head out to a nearby crag for the bulk of day one, which for me is mainly focused on group work.
Lion Rock is my normal first choice, as it’s super close and ticks all the SPA boxes, knowing it well there’s also some less well travelled parts that mean even if it’s busy I can find us some space. This is where the assessment really starts for the candidates! As much as I’m facilitating a nice chilled environment, I am still assessing so I’m taking in as much info as possible, what kind of harness have they got? Does it look used? Have they put it on correctly without faffing? I start asking some questions too like does this crag meet the SPA requirements, do they know the SPA requirements? What hazards are there here?
Getting things moving along I set the first task, I’d like them to set up something to get a group of novices climbing and I give each candidate a rough area to work in, to which someone will probably ask “do you mean a bottom rope?” I probably won’t answer this directly, not to be awkward, but I’m trying to work out if the candidate is thinking about the right sort of things.
As the candidates get to work, so do I. I’ve got a maximum of four candidates, that I potentially know very little about so although I’m trying to give them breathing space, I also need to keep a close eye on what they’re doing, with a lot of my focus on their personal safety, checking that they’re appropriately attached to something good when they are operating on or near an edge. I’ll wander around checking anchors and just having a general look at what’s going on, I’ll chat to people a bit as well, maybe about what they’re doing, but equally just having a nice chat to get to know them, I always want to enjoy my time at the crag. From an assessor’s point of view there’s loads going on now, so I will make the occasional note, but I’ll be sure to do this out of sight as much as possible, I don’t think it’s very nice to be sat looking at someone’s setup making notes.
Once people have completed their task, I’ll pop over and have a chat about it, ask a few questions and sometimes make a suggestion or two. Normally these are fine tuning points, I’d be gutted if even really slick people didn’t learn something from my assessments! At other times I might not be happy that what they’ve setup is safe to use, in which case we’ll have a chat and I’ll give them the chance to rectify it, ideally working it out themselves – we all make mistakes on assessments, if you do, it’s important to deal with it and move on, you’re unlikely to defer on one error.
As the candidates have just set up bottom ropes (hopefully!), we then go and use them, with each candidate running a mini session on their route involving the rest of us, I may throw in the odd problem, if it’s appropriate to the context of the route. At this point I’m looking to see clear demonstrations and instructions, before the safe management of a belay system and climb, hopefully involving all of us. I normally ask the candidates individually what belay system they would use out of choice, but may ask them to do something else so each person is doing something a bit different. This gives us a chance for each candidate to review a system’s pros and cons once we’ve seen some different things going on.
Next! Group abseil time, this is probably the most complicated setup an SPA holder will do, it’s not rocket science but it does have a few different things going on, and people know they’ll probably have to solve a problem when their time comes to send someone down it, usually a stuck hair or stuck on a ledge problem. Today, we’ve moved away from the main part of Lion Rock because it became busy with a couple of other groups running taster sessions. I’ll try my best to move out of other people’s way where possible, because I can probably make things work in places where it might not be as good for them. Whilst setting up the group abseil in the new location (Spotty Walls area of Lion Rock), I find myself a good vantage point to see everyone doing their thing and make a few notes on what people have done so far, if I don’t do it, I forget! As I mentioned earlier, it’s important that people keep learning so if there’s anything I’ve seen that I think the group will benefit from chatting about, I’ll make a note of that too.
Once a couple of people are ready to go, I get one candidate to manage another one down their abseil whilst I observe. I’m looking for them to get the abseiler safely to the abseil, give them a good brief and to have positioned themselves in an appropriate spot. Was the abseiler on a safety rope well before the edge? Is the candidate safe and able to see all the way to the bottom? Do they keep hold of the dead rope? Part way down the route I introduce a problem such as hair stuck in the abseil device, I’m looking for the candidate to solve this in a safe manner and fairly slickly, it doesn’t need to be fast, slow and steady is good for me. The candidates have to be on top of their game here and so do I, I’ll have already given the set up the once over, but I’m also watching what they’re tieing off / releasing really closely. It’s usually pretty obvious who has practiced this and who hasn’t! As the next person running an abseil has a ledge halfway down their route, their candidate becomes crag fast on it, so they get a different problem that requires another method to solve it, but again I’m looking for the same things – safe and slick.
Must be lunch time! After a good sandwich and a hot drink I’m ready to go again, so it’s time to get the candidates working again! I’ve set a few tasks, so one runs us through harness checks, one runs us through putting our harness on properly, one talks us through a variety of belay devices and the other talks us through how to place a cam well. One of the candidates didn’t quite nail the group abseil setup as well as I’d like so I send them off to do this again in another spot, whilst the others place some gear and equalise these with slings, before I send them off to do another setup for novices (yep, that’s a bottom rope!), each in a different spot to what they’ve used already. One of the candidate’s nut placements weren’t quite what I was after so I send them to a spot that relies on nuts, to try and get them to redeem themselves, which they do. Crag knowledge pays dividends for me to be able to create the scenarios I need to see.
After a bit of chat about the environment and our responsibilities at the crag, it’s time to head to the Beacon climbing wall for the indoor element of the assessment, and I ask the candidates to be ready to deliver a couple of games that have a learning point attached to them. When we get to the Beacon, it’s cafe o’clock first, which gives us a chance to go over the home paper that candidates get sent prior to the assessment.
After a bit of a warm up and the candidates running their games – which I’m looking to be fun, educational and safe, we harness up. The indoor wall gives me a great chance to see lots of belaying, catching falls (just on a top rope), tieing off the belay plate etc. and we’ll use a couple of different belay devices. As with the outdoor stuff there maybe a few problems to solve as well, even though the key is always problem avoidance in the first place!
After a quick debrief and a chat about day two, that’s about it for the day!
I’m usually pretty tired after an SPA day to be honest. You might think the assessor just sits around thinking about what’s for tea, occasionally getting up for a little stroll, but while I may sometimes sit down for a bit if I find a comfy rock, my mind is constantly working. What’s he doing there? Is she safe? Has he got an equal number of strands coming out the back of that knot? Is that krab done up? How we doing for time? What are we doing next? What more do I need to see from each person? Have they met the standards so far?
Whilst my candidates are still learning, the same goes for me, I learn something every day at work and I believe it’s imperative that we all review at the end of each day and put anything appropriate into practice.
Hopefully the waffle above gives you a bit of an idea of what to expect from an SPA assessment, and a little insight into an assessor’s thoughts. Every SPA provider has their own way of doing things, their own styles, their own itineraries, so it goes without saying that these thoughts are only my own ramblings!
To summarise what I’m looking for from candidates…
And from me…
If you’re looking for an SPA course, or anything check out the rest of the website for more information and don’t hesitate to get in touch if we can be of any help!
A chilly day in North Wales for an SPA refresher course!
We started off at Lion Rock, before heading over to Union Rock, then running away to the Beacon climbing wall!
Carol was with us refreshing her skills and we covered loads!
I had a tired training session at the wall after, just about struggled up a 7a which I’m pretty happy with considered my energy levels were low 🙂
We’re now into our third year of running these and we’ve just finished another Original Mountain Month, as always it was a great success.
Over the month the four participants got loads of climbing and hillwalking done.
Highlights include a great little mini break camping in Cwm Glas after a traverse of Crib Goch in stunning weather and climbing great routes like Grim Wall Direct (E1 5b) at Tremadog. We got loads of other stuff done too, scrambling over Tryfan, night navving in the Carneddau, staying in the Cwm Dulyn bothy, lead climbing loads of trad and sport on the coast and in the mountains.
At the end of the month they did their SPA training and ML training courses too.
Over the month we had five other highly qualified visiting instructors joining me to give a really good breadth of instructional knowledge and experience.
The next course starts in September and there’s just one space remaining… (for more info click here)
As usual you can see what we’ve been up to lately on our Facebook page
Heading the Shot is a route that I’ve wanted to do for a couple of years, the trouble is it’s hard! It gets given two grades, E5 6b if you don’t pre-place the quickdraws and 7a+ if you do, as although it’s bolted there’s a couple of bits you’d deck out from – they’re pretty spaced. I’d long ago decided that if I was to ever get on the lead, I’d pre-place the ‘draws.
Over the last two years I’ve gone up there three times and worked the moves on a fixed line and every time I felt like I was so far off the mark. The holds are mega thin and the hard moves are sustained – they keep on coming! Although I’ve been training down the wall a lot over the last few months the strength gains don’t really help on a route like this, there’s no big holds to crank on, it’s all about delicate rock overs and balancy climbing on very small holds. What does translate though is the confidence and head game, I’m happy falling off and super confident that my belayer will be concentrating which helps massively. Having never climbed 7a+ before it was always going to be a big challenge.
So yesterday we went up to Serengeti where Heading the Shot is to have a play on a top rope. I abbed down the route placing ‘draws to keep the rope in the right place so we didn’t swing around too much when falling or resting, the holds looked as small as ever! Michelle went first and although she rested a few times got all the moves done. My turn, this is hard, shit. I got all the moves but lowered off pretty despondent about it and with toes in agony from them being crammed into tight Five Ten Whites, pushing onto tiny edge after tiny edge.
Michelle went for the lead getting up to and past the first bolt, there’s a tricky move to get in to a position where you can clip the bolt and her head wasn’t in the right gear so she took a small fall and lowered off. Now I had decided there was no point at all in having a go that day, but had a quick change of heart sensing maybe, just maybe I could do something Michelle couldn’t! Past the first bolt, all steady, up to the second bolt, still good. The next moves make up the crux sequence and I just couldn’t commit, I lowered down, happy to have got on it but still not sure I had it in me.
We made the decision to go back the next day.
Now one advantage I do sometimes have (apart from being lanky!) is if I really want a route I can switch my leading head on enabling me to concentrate and climb far better than when I’m practising on a top rope, and I really wanted this route and knew I could try harder.
Walking back up this morning with Michelle and Oreo, the weather was amazing with wall to wall blue skies and when we got there the slate was warm to the touch. Days like this put all the rain we’ve had to the back of your mind.
Michelle was up first, top roping it one last time before the lead, she got it clean which was great, this meant no more excuses for her about not getting on the lead. I’d decided not to top rope it, there wasn’t any point, I knew the moves and all I needed to do was try harder so after a quick warm up of jogging on the spot and swinging my arms around, I went for it.
Go number one (that tells you what’s coming up!), the climbing was just as hard but I was progressing move after move feeling confident on every one of the small holds. First bolt, second bolt, boom – crux done, clip the third bolt and I’m on to the big holds of the traverse. Arghhh! My foot popped when I really wasn’t expecting it and I was off. I was super pleased to have cruised the crux but so frustrated to have failed after the hard part of the climbing.
Michelle’s go, she has to do the crux differently to me and she peeled off the route coming up to the third bolt making what seems like a really hard move.
Go number two for me, psyched up off I go, second bolt clipped, noooo, foot popped before the crux and I’m dangling again.
Mid fall screen grab!
Michelle’s go number two and she fell off the tenuous move she has to do again after looking super solid up to that point.
Go number three for me. I didn’t want to have to get on this again after this effort so I was ready to give it my absolute all. Up to the crux fairly easily, this is it, awesome I’ve made it on to the good holds of the traverse. DO NOT FALL OFF NOW! I crimped hard and made sure I wasn’t going come off here again, this time I made it in to the finishing groove which still isn’t a push over and was standing on great holds – the kind it’s hard to leave. The fourth bolt was clipped, a fall would be perfectly safe, I just did not want to ruin this attempt so I took my time, stayed calm and stupidly proceeded to climb the top section via a completely different sequence, which luckily worked…
I was super stoked to get this route ticked, it had taken time and effort, afterwards I definitely felt a sense of achievement and a healthy dose of relief to have got it.
Michelle still hasn’t got it, but 100% will next time!
To put it all in to perspective for me, someone came along just after and on-sighted it with relative ease!
Heading the Shot is an awesome route on a great looking slab in the Slate quarries of Llanberis. There’s a brilliant guidebook for the slate by Ground Up and more importantly there’s great cafes nearby.
Check out the Facebook page for more shots etc. of what we’ve been up to lately.