At the end of last week, I successfully passed the Single Pitch Award (SPA), which signalled the end of a period of five months, out of which two months were spent away from home. In the ten days leading up to the assessment, I spent almost every day at a crag or on the mountain, gaining personal rock climbing experience, leading and teaching groups, or practising the technical skills as found in the syllabus.


All of the awards which I have gained, along with my colleagues at The Mountain People, whether in hill walking, climbing or mountaineering, validate me to work with groups within the remit of the particular awards. In the case of the SPA, supervising climbers on single pitch crags and climbing walls, which generally means roped climbing and bouldering, but excludes teaching lead climbing.


These outdoor awards are an important part of our life and work. Although it is true that one can pick up the necessary skills and experience outside of the governing bodies for outdoor pursuits, which has tended to be the trend in the past (learning the ropes from an experienced mentor), it is a very rich, fulfilling and holistic process. Aspects of the system that I have personally appreciated include:


  • Interaction. It is so easy to operate in a bubble and find and hold on to the practises that one prefers. However, the training and assessment modules of the awards ensure that one is exposed to a large range of people from different backgrounds, including the trainers and assessors. Everyone has a different way of doing things, and sometimes it is helpful to learn a new technique to add to one’s repertoire or a more efficient way of doing so, for example setting up a belay or abseil. By exposing oneself to new people and situations there are excellent opportunities to grow and develop.


  • Discovery. All of the syllabuses I have read ask that the participant gain personal experience in three different mountain or climbing areas. It is tempting to think that one can gain most, if not all, one’s experience at the local crag or vicinity, but in fact that would squander a lot of variety. If one compares the rock of  North Wales, the Peak District and the Lake District, there are great variations, and even within those areas the rock is not uniform. This in turn affects the style of climbing and techniques required to operate on the rock. Experience on multiple rock types instils the confidence necessary to operate ‘onsight’, i.e., in an unknown environment, which is vital for a climber who needs the skills, techniques and self-belief to overcome unanticipated problems.


  • Knowledge. It is perfectly possible to read a book on climbing techniques, but by being incorporated into an official body one has the chance to compare oneself with the established best practice. No doubt there are many legitimate ways to do the same thing, but practices do change continually, and with the steadily development in equipment and technology, it makes sense to be up to date with current techniques and safety practice. By being part of an official organisation, one surrounds oneself with the qualified and competent people who can teach and inform.


If you have gained awards or are in the process of working towards one, what have you really appreciated? Feel free to leave a comment below.

Categories: Blog, NGBs, Simon
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