By Darryl Alder
Apr 07, 2014

Learn Safe Climbing Skills

It must be spring because there isn’t a week that goes by without someone calling the Scout Service Center to find out about climbing safety requirements. Climb On Safely is the Boy Scouts of America’s procedure for safely organizing climbing and rappelling activities; either at a natural site or a specifically designed facility such as a climbing wall or tower.

To get ready for these kinds of adventures CLAS Ropes Course has two “Learn Safe Climbing Skills” courses scheduled for April 26 and May 10, 2014.  (A group of 8 or more can also schedule a training on other days other than those listed by clicking the link or calling 801.373.8897) Each session runs from 8:00am to 6:00pm.  The regular pricing is $88 per person, but if you register two weeks early the discounted price is $58 per person.

Climbing Merit BadgeBecause there is inherent risk in climbing and rappelling activities even when working on the Climbing Merit Badge special precaution needs to be taken so that risk can be minimized. You must follow these eight rules of Climb on Safely:

1. Qualified SupervisionAll climbing and rappelling must be supervised by a mature, conscientious adult at least 21 years of age who understands the risks inherent to these activities. This person knowingly accepts responsibility for the well-being and safety of the youth in his or her care. This adult supervisor is trained in and committed to compliance with the eight points of the Boy Scouts of America’s Climb On Safely procedure. One additional adult who is at least 18 years of age must also accompany the unit. Units with more than 10 youths in the same climbing/rappelling session must have an additional adult leader at least 18 years of age for each 10 additional youth participants. In other words, a group of 11 to 20 youths requires at least three adult leaders; a group of 21 to 30 youths would require four adult leaders, and so on.

The adult supervisor is responsible for ensuring that someone in the group is currently certified in American Red Cross Standard First Aid and CPR (a 6 1/2-hour course). In addition, the two-hour module “First Aid—When Help Is Delayed” is recommended. A course of equivalent length and content from another nationally recognized organization can be substituted. A higher level of certification such as emergency medical technician (EMT), licensed practical nurse (LPN), registered nurse (RN), and licensed health-care practitioner is also acceptable. The ARC’s Emergency Response, a 43 1/2-hour course that includes CPR, is highly recommended.

2. Qualified SupervisionA qualified climbing/rappelling instructor who is at least 21 years of age and trained in the specific type of climbing must supervise all BSA climbing/rappelling activities. A capable instructor has experience in teaching climbing and rappelling to youth, acknowledges personal limitations, and exercises good judgment in a variety of circumstances.

There must be a minimum of two instructors for all climbing and rappelling activities (up to 12 participants) and one additional instructor (at least 18 years of age) for up to each additional six participants, maintaining a 6:1 ratio. Sources of qualified climbing and rappelling instructors include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • BSA Level II instructor (climbing director or lead instructor)
  • National Outdoor Leadership School
  • Wilderness Education Association
  • American Mountain Guides Association
  • Eastern Mountain Sports
  • University or college climbing/rappelling instructors
  • Professional Climbing Guide Institute
  • Professional Climbing Instructors Association

For specialized climbing activities such as lead climbing, sport climbing, ice climbing, canyoneering, mountaineering, and caving, qualified instructors with specific training and skill in instructing these activities are required.

Qualified instruction is essential to conducting a safe climbing/rappelling activity. Some people who claim to be qualified or have had some experience with climbing or rappelling may lack sufficient knowledge to safely conduct these activities. For instance, some climbers with a lot of experience have repeated the same mistakes many times without learning correct procedures.

3. Physical Fitness—Require evidence of fitness for the climbing/rappelling activity with a current BSAAnnual Health and Medical Record. The adult supervisor should adapt all supervision, discipline, and precautions to anticipate any potential risks associated with individual health conditions. The adult supervisor should inform the climbing instructor about each participant’s medical conditions.

4. Safe AreaAll BSA climbing/rappelling activities must be conducted using an established climbing/rappelling site or facility, including a portable or commercial facility. A qualified climbing instructor should survey the site in advance of the activity to identify and evaluate possible hazards and to determine whether the site is suitable for the age, maturity, and skill level of the participants. The instructor should also verify that the site is sufficient to safely and comfortably accommodate the number of participants in the activity within the available time. An emergency evacuation route must be identified in advance.

5. Equipment— All BSA climbing/rappelling activities must be conducted using an established climbing/rappelling site or facility. A qualified climbing instructor should survey the site in advance of the activity to identify and evaluate possible hazards and to determine whether the site is suitable for the age, maturity, and skill level of the participants. The instructor should also verify that the site is sufficient to safely and comfortably accommodate the number of participants in the activity within the available time. An emergency evacuation route must be identified in advance. A separate area should be established for onlookers.

Each participant and staff member in the fall zone of a climbing/rappelling site must wear a UIAA- or CE-approved rock-climbing helmet. Everyone must be anchored or tethered when within eight feet of a falling hazard.

6. Planning— When planning, remember the following:

  • Submit a tour and activity plan and receive approval from your local council service center.
  • Share the climbing/rappelling plan and an alternate with parents and the unit committee.
  • Secure the necessary permits or written permission for using private or public lands.
  • Enlist the help of a qualified climbing instructor.
  • Be sure the instructor has a topographic map for the area being used and obtains a current weather report for the area before the group’s departure.

It is suggested that at least one of the adult leaders has an electronic means of communication in case of an emergency. Before any activity, an adult leader should develop and share an emergency plan that includes the location of a nearby medical facility and the means of communicating with parents during the activity.

 7. Environmental Conditions— The instructor, each adult leader, and each participant assume responsibility for monitoring potentially dangerous environmental conditions that may include loose, crumbly rock; poisonous plants; wildlife; and inclement weather. Use the buddy system to monitor concerns such as dehydration, hypothermia, and an unusually high degree of fear or apprehension. The adult supervisor is responsible for ensuring that the group leaves no trace of its presence at the site.

8. Discipline — Each participant knows, understands, and respects the rules and procedures for safely climbing and rappelling and follows Climb On Safely and Leave No Trace. All participants should respect and follow all instructions and rules of the climbing instructor. The applicable rules should be presented and learned prior to the outing and should be reviewed for all participants before climbing or rappelling begins. When participants know the reasons for rules and procedures, they are more likely to follow them. The climbing instructor must be strict and fair, showing no favoritism.

Darryl Alder Director of Support Services

 

Author: Darryl Alder | Director of Support Services, Utah National Parks Council, BSA

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10 thoughts on “Learn Safe Climbing Skills

  1. AvatarLeah

    I attended a Clas Ropes course with a YM and YW group; the leaders were great. My favorite part was the zip line ( I couldn’t keep a Tarzan-like “Ahahahhhhh” from escaping as I flew from tree to tree : -)
    It seems that a large percentage of rescues that I hear about are for stranded climbers, so the requirements listed here for Scout groups should be heeded. The wind seems to get stronger every year and I know personally how it feels to hear of a Scout losing his life on an outing. Thanks for the hard work and planning that go into these high adventure experiences.

    Reply
  2. Susan CheeverSusan Cheever

    This is such a helpful article. I still have 3 questions after reading the article. How do I know if a particular climbing course is a qualified training course? You listed some qualified training courses, but indicated the list is not complete. Also, if you have one leader who has received instructor training, can he then train the other instructors who will be going with the boys on a climbing trip or does each of your instructors who will be working with up to 6 boys complete a certified instructor course?
    Also, do the boys and leaders need to have part C of the Annual Health and Medical Record even if the trip is less than 72 hours if it involves climbing?

    Reply
  3. AvatarCasey Durbin

    I talked with the people at the cedar city office two months ago about training and they sent me to multiple places without success, and no mention of clas ropes course. Our young men really want to go. BSA’s requirements are realistic if they offer the training, but they don’t, and it’s a joke trying to find information. I have experience, I often go out with college instructors, trainers, etc., and I don’t make mistakes. I am frustrated and wish I could get a straight answer. If we don’t figure it out soon, I will assume the responsibility and take the youth out with or without BSA’s blessing. If there is anyone in southern utah has any answers or can help me and a few others fulfill the requirements please e-mail me at caseydurb1@gmail.com. Thanks.

    Reply
  4. AvatarBlake M

    The CLAS Rope course only offers what they call a Level I certification. according to what you have posted here, a Climbing Instructor needs to be certified by:

    BSA Level II instructor (climbing director or lead instructor)
    National Outdoor Leadership School
    Wilderness Education Association
    American Mountain Guides Association
    Eastern Mountain Sports
    University or college climbing/rappelling instructors
    Professional Climbing Guide Institute
    Professional Climbing Instructors Association

    Where do I get Certified as a LEVEL II BSA Climbing Instructor?? The Class I participated in at CLAS Ropes was a joke. I knew more about Topping Out than the instructor did, and there was NO rescue training or much hands on work at all. They did do a good job at having me tie basic climbing knots and talking about climbing topics that relate to the BSA. Overall though, it was a waste of time for me to be there.

    Additionally, they said that I could submit a resume, and if I could prove to them that I a was good enough they would send me my Level II cert. WHAT A JOKE! My buddy, who has only ever been led through technical canyons by me, submitted a resume of canyons he has done and was granted a Level II cert. This guy can’t rescue anyone, he has almost dropped friends on rappels, he can barely do a self rescue, and is always the one to get hurt on the trips he comes on (makes me wonder why I let him come) anyway. This process that you have now is letting novice receive a certification that they don’t deserve. What would happen if a scout got stuck on a rappel with a guy like that as the “Climbing Instructor”? I am scared to death to find out.

    You need to fix this whole process! I will be happy to help in anyway I can.

    Thanks,

    Blake M

    Reply
    1. AvatarDebbie Spoons

      Blake,
      As we have spoken about this recently while you were assisting Ben with a Level 1 class at CLAS Ropes, I will reply to your post so that others know that your questions were answered and that the situation is cleared up.
      The Council now has a Climbing policy that will shortly be posted on line. There will be 2 separate locations for training in to become Level I & II Climbing Instructors.
      For people with little or no climbing experience they will only be allowed to obtain a Level I certificate, for those who have sufficient prior experience and can pass the tests etc. they may be able to obtain a Level II certification. For more details refer to the UNPS climbing policy.
      Debbie Spoons
      UNPC Climbing Chair & Program Manager

      Reply
      1. AvatarNate A

        What do you mean by shortly? When I was at the class with Blake it was conveyed that it would be posted “Monday”? I have the same feelings as Blake and anytime I try to figure out how to get a level 2 certification it seems that I get the run around or something will be posted in a couple of days answer with nothing actually getting posted.

        Reply
        1. AvatarDebbie Spoons

          Nate, if you remember I said that I “hoped” that I could get it finished by Monday. If you want to be part of the solution to setting up a new climbing program then please contact me.

          Reply
          1. AvatarNate A

            I am more than willing to help get things setup. Just let me know how to get a hold of you. Maybe the moderator can forward my email address on to you?

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