The one about instructor ethics and values…

How do we assess the competency of an Instructor?

An instructor takes a young child for a lesson on the bouldering section of a climbing wall in Ambleside, Lake District, Cumbria, England, United Kingdom, Europe(Photo Source : )

The current ITC assessment requires them to demonstrate competency in a few skill sets :

  1. Climbing Competency
  2. Teaching a lesson on prussiking
  3. Setting up a releasable abseil anchor
  4. Escaping from the system
  5. Knowledge (Theory) Test

Some would say that this is sufficient because the vault of knowledge a trainee instructor would have picked up by now would be thoroughly tested already in this battery of tests. Others would argue that a very important skill set of an instructor is to teach and the tests do not test them enough in this area. What use is “escape from system” in a SNCS Level 1 class some would say? Why bother to test them? Must a climbing instructor be able to climb the hardest routes?

These are all very valid discussions and something that we will come to in the future (i hope), but a conversation with a wise colleague today gave me another perspective on how we assess our leaders. Perhaps our focus is wrong. Whilst we focus on the hardskills like teaching and doing, are we neglecting to find out whether the Instructor has the right values to impart to the participants. Skills are easy to teach and impart, but things like ethics and values are ingrained from young and there is little we can do at this stage to change anything. If the instructor does not have the right values, he/she might not even be able to recognise that what he/she is doing is wrong. And these are the people who will be passing on the skills to a new generation of climbers. Perhaps we have our focus wrong. Perhaps we should be testing and assessing new instructors on the intrinsic, soft, qualitative aspects of their character rather than what they can do?

This gave me a whole new perspective on assessments today. I have to admit that i was guilty of overlooking the attitude of an instructor. I remember when i was being assessed for my ITC, the assessment ended off with an interview with the assessors where they questioned me on my motivations for teaching and what are my opinions on some controversial matters in the climbing community. I hear from newer instructors now that this is no longer practiced. I would really like to see this interview portion coming back and i hope it can play a part as the final cut to whether a trainee instructor gets his/her cert or not. Because the job of an instructor is to teach and to pass on good habits and values, but we cannot teach these values and yet these values are the important things that we need the next generation of climbers to carry on to keep them safe, and to the keep the traditions and the ethics of the sport alive.

SMF, can i humbly urge you to rethink about your assessment criteria?


Belay-Loop Myth

I see people belaying with their carabiner clipped around both tie-in points on their harnesses instead of clipped to the belay loop. Is the technique they are using safe?

Source: Belay-Loop Myth

Another good resource here. This is a common question climbers tend to ask. Especially when we see the older generation doing the clip both waistbelt and legloops method. I must admit i use to do that and i was taught that. But that was like eons ago…time to move on. Technology has improved so much that that think strip of nylon can take almost 2 tons of weight. Human stupidity and complacency however has not evolved much…

Is Dropped Gear Still Safe?

Now that you mention it…Nobody ever showed me “that report/study that was done on dropped carabiners and they failed way below what they were designed to do…” I’m guilty of promulgating this climbing myth about micro-fractures on dropped metal equipment. Are you? Will you still?


You are afraid of “micro fractures,” the invisible damage reportedly done to gear when you drop it. Question is, where is the report that proves these devils? It’s a ghost, much talked about, never seen.

Source: Is Dropped Gear Still Safe?

Cross loading a carabiner

Good video resource on crossloading a carabiner. But wait! The caveat is, this is an industrial application. So you notice his harness is using a rescue ring. The same effect will not happen with our nylon webbing belay loops. But, the Fig. 8 Descender we use has been known to orientate itself in a particular way that it actually leverages open a the gate. See picture 13 below :

kong_005(Photo Source : )


The one about the Trango Cinch guinea pig…

So just a few weekends ago i was asked to conduct a class to introduce the Trango Cinch into the SNCS Level 1 syllabus. The gym manager did inform me that i would be the first instructor to introduce this and she would appreciate it if i could give her feedback about it. I had a good session with a good above average performing class of adults. Here’s my experience to share.


(Photo Source :  

I decided to introduce the cinch only after they have had a chance to practice belaying with the regular tubular device (in this case it was an ATC). By this time the participants had already belayed with the tubular device at least twice and they were starting to master the basics of handling it, namely :

  • How to rig?
  • How to check that it is rigged correctly? Right hander, left hander.
  • How to do the five step belay?
  • How to catch a fall?
  • How to lower a climber?

I decided to introduce it as a separate device because i have always believed in focusing on one skill set at a time. Introducing two different devices creates too much information for the learner to take note off and the information they are suppose to retain for the first device will be lost once i go into the second device. Hence i decided to introduce it only after they had spent some time working with the tubular devices first. Then came the break and that was where introduced the cinch (note that i have already briefly described how it works and its camming abilities in the morning “theory” session liaoz). So i went through the same list as above.

This time i added in one more safety check which i thought was very important to share here. Now the cinch and most (if all) assisted belay devices (ABD) are notoriously complicated to rig up. Rig the climber and brake ends wrongly only and it gets dangerous especially if the user has a tendancy to foolishly let go of the brake hand with a false confidence that the ABD will catch. So it is very important that the learners rig it correctly. Hence i introduced a “pull check” after the rigging the device coupled with the squeeze check on the carabiner. This involves just tugging on the guide end of the rope (the end leading to the climber) and to check that the device catches (“bites”). If you got it the wrong way round, the rope will simply run through the device and you’ll know you got it wrong. I thought this was a very important step to include. So please consider including it.

Belaying-wise it was a breeze for a climbing instructor because the assisted braking capabilities of the device puts our minds at ease. (In fact i am even toying around with the idea of introducing the cinch first followed by the ATC in future classes) I simply asked the class to belay as per normal but this time inform me and my assistant when they are about to lower so that we could come over and supervise the lowering part.

Now the thing i didn’t like about the cinch was that the lowering of a climber was totally counter-intuitive from what the learners have been conditioned to do all afternoon with the tubular device. You see when you lower with an ATC, one just has to concentrate on letting the rope slip pass both hands on the brake line. So the master hand is in control of the lowering of the climber. Now with the cinch, there is a need to pull open the lever with the non-master hand (in this case my left hand). The master hand remains on the brake hand but now the non-master hand is in control of the climber because you need to pull down (and sometimes you have to pull very hard!) to release the climber. Now, your master hand on the brake line becomes more of a support in case you release too fast. The focus will be purely on the lever, which is totally opposite of what we just spent the whole afternoon trying to learn. I asked a few of my pax what they thought of it, and they all said they didn’t like it coz the lever just did not feel safe enough to pull down on it. I am thinking it’s more because they were conditioned to control the lowering with their brake hand but now the device forces you to focus on the non-master hand which causes the discomfort.

So from this experience, i have two pieces of advice to give for instructors conducting with ABDs:

  1. Include the Pull Check coz the consequences of rigging the device wrongly can be fatal.
  2. Make sure you demarcate clearly when you are using the tubular (non-locking) devices and when you are using the ABD. My concern here is that some pax (being new) might forget or get confused which is the locking and which is the non-locking one. My worry is that they might accidentally take their hands off the brake line when they are using the non-lockers. So i guess instructors have to pay extra attention to them or keep reminding everyone which devices they are using and their characteristics.

Yeah, so this is my feedback. I am in two minds about introducing ABDs as i had shared previously in another post. But i guess we just got to work out the kinks in the first few sessions. I dunno if the Trango Cinch is the best ABD to introduce here as i would rather go for the Mammut SMART or the Elderid Mega Jul or the Clickup for example because these devices are really more similar to the tubular devices that we have to introduce for SNCS Level 1. Something for gym owners to consider perhaps?

Hope this helps. Belay safe!

PS. One more tip, you will find that it is easier to release a Cinch if you hold the lever with your thumb on the hole (the one without the carabiner) whilst forcing the lever down with the palm at the base of your fingers. I heard from some climbers that it is an ergonomic design feature of the cinch whereby you get the most efficiency when releasing the cam and yet at the same time it forces your hand to be at a safe angle when pulling on the lever. Anyone can verify this? It really doesn’t work well if you dun put your thumb there…