SNCS Syllabus for you.

I dunno leh…. Upload one and a half pages of documents got so difficult meh? Here are the SNCS Syllabus if you can’t get them from the SMF Website. Including my copy of the SNCS Level 3 syllabus.

I don’t even know when they are “CAA” from, all i know is i downloaded the Level 1, 2 and ASC (DO WE EVEN STILL CONDUCT THIS COURSE???) from the SMF Website and the SNCS Level 3 syllabus was the one sent to me from other SMF Instructors when i asked for it.

Again this is for sharing, go make your own conclusions from how long it takes for someone to update a webpage, especially the things that the whole world needs…. ’nuff said.

Sports Climbing Level 1
Course Code: SCCL1

Course Duration: 7 hours or 2 sessions of 3.5 hours

Prerequisite: At least 13 years of age


The purpose of this course is to give participants an enjoyable, safe and informative introduction to sport climbing. The course is designed for people with no prior knowledge of sport climbing. Participants will be introduced to: equipment, climbing techniques, checking procedures, belaying for top-roping and climbing calls.

Passing Standards

Trainees must demonstrate the following course requirements :

1. Correct harness usage

2. Correct tie-in technique using the figure-of-8 knot

3. Correct belay technique using a friction device

4. Correct use of climbing calls

5. Perform pre-climb checks


SNCS Sport Climbing Level One Certificate


1.     Introduction to the Sport of Climbing

·      Development of climbing in Singapore

·      Concept of climbing

·      Sport climbing /Traditional climbing;

·      Lead / Top-rope;

·      Bouldering

2.     Introduction of Climbing Equipment (usage, care, limitation)

·      Ropes (Dynamic & Static)

·      Harness

·      Karabiner

·      Friction devices – (Fig.8 and Tubular)

·      Climbing shoes

·      Helmet

·      Chalk (drying agent)

·      Others – Quickdraws (Runners), Sling/Tape

3.     Tie-in Knot (usage, limitation, dressing)

·      Figure of Eight thread-through

4.     Belaying Technique (5 steps belay) using friction devices

·      Belaying a climber

·      Lowering a climber

·      Belaying stance

·      Arresting a climber’s fall

·      Rope handling & management

5.     Basic Climbing Technique

·      Use of handholds – pinch, grip, underhand, side pull, sloper, pocket

·      Use of footholds – edging, smearing

·      Basic wall configuration – corners, overhangs, slabs, roof

6.     Top-rope Climbing

·      Pre-climb checks

·      Climbing commands

·      Spotting

·      Safety considerations – pendulums, falling on other people, rope placement, buddy check

7.     Course Review

·      Suggestions for further advancement

·      General discussion and feedback

Instructor Qualification

Sport Climbing Instructor Category 1 / 2

Instructor To Trainee Ratio

1 Instructor : 10 Trainees, OR

1 Instructor + 1 Climbing Assistant (or Trainee Instructor) : 16 Trainees

Sports Climbing Level 2
Course Code: SCCL2

Course Duration: 14 hours or 2 sessions of 7 hours

Prerequisite: At least 13 years of age, Sport Climbing Course Level One certified


This course is designed as a follow on from the Sport Climbing Course Level 1. This course builds on the top-rope skills acquired from Level One and teaches a progression into lead climbing on artificial climbing walls. Participants on this course should be confident in all the techniques covered at Level One before undertaking this more advanced level course.


Passing Standards

Trainees must demonstrate the following course requirements :

1. Confident with lead climbing on an easy route

2. Correct placement of protection points on a lead climb

3. Correct belaying of a lead climber using a friction device

4. Correct top-out technique on fixed anchor

5. Conduct proper pre-climb checks

6. Correct use of climbing calls

7. Safe equipment handling


SNCS Sport Climbing Level Two Certificate


1.     Introduction to Lead Climbing

·      Top-rope Climbing vs Lead Climbing

·      Placement of protection points

·      Understanding Fall Factor and Impact Force

·      Understanding the anchor system on artificial wall

2.     Equipment Required for Lead Climbing (usage, care, limitation)

·      Dynamic rope vs Static rope

·      Harness with gear loops

·      Quickdraws (Runners)

·      Slings / Tapes (safety slings, extension as Runners)

·      Friction devices – (Fig.8, Tubular)

·      Helmet

3.     Knots (usage, limitation, dressing)

·      Double Figure of 8 knot

·      Tape knot

4.     Belaying a Lead Climber using friction devices

·      Giving slack & taking-in

·      Belaying stance

·      Arresting a climber’s fall

·      Dynamic Belaying

·      Rope handling & management

5.     Lead Climbing & Techniques

·      Pre-climb checks

·      Clipping in techniques / prevention & undo “Z” clips

·      Runners’ placement/direction

·      Climbing on overhangs & roofs

·      Safe falling position

·      Climbing commands

·      Safety considerations – hand & foot placement to avoid nasty rope burns, skipping runners, falling on a lead, buddy check

6.     Top-out Technique

7.     Course Review

·      Suggestions for further advancement

·      General discussion and feedback

Instructor Qualification

Sport Climbing Instructor Category 1 / 2

Instructor To Trainee Ratio

1 Instructor : 10 Trainees, OR

1 Instructor + 1 Climbing Assistant (or Trainee Instructor) : 16 Trainees


Wearing of helmet is compulsory when engaging in a lead climbing session

Activity Supervisor Course (Sport Climbing)
Course Code: ASC

Course Duration: 21 hours or 3 sessions of 7 hours

Prerequisite: At least 18 years of age, Sport Climbing Course Level Two certified. Must be confident to lead a 5.7/5b route on an artificial climbing wall.


This is a course designed for teachers, physical training instructors, people in-charge of climbing gyms and anyone required to supervising group climbing activities on artificial climbing walls. The course equips participants with the knowledge and skills necessary to safely supervise top-rope climbing, lead climbing and bouldering sessions. The course emphasizes on safety and organization. The course does not qualify participants to conduct formal climbing certification courses.

Passing Standards

Participants must demonstrate the following course requirements :

1. Correct use of and the ability to discern any incorrect use of climbing equipment

2. Have knowledge on safety practices in supervising:

– Top-rope & lead climbing session including belayers;

– Bouldering session with spotters and crash mats

3. Have knowledge on managing groups, organizational and communication skills

4. Understanding of risks associated with climbing and have knowledge on strategy to minimize risks

5. Ability to set up anchor system for top-rope climbing

6. Have knowledge on wall maintenance and route setting

7. Safe equipment handling



Activity Supervisor Certificate valid for 3yrs; to be accompanied with a valid first aid (sic)


1.     Roles and Responsibilities of a Supervisor

2.     Revision of skills and knowledge on

·      Equipment (usage, care, maintenance, check)

·      Knots (Figure of 8: thread-through, double-bight)

·      Belaying technique (top-rope, lead)

·      Bouldering and Spotting

3.     Setting up activities for

·      Top-rope & Lead climbing

·      Bouldering

4.     Planning a session (top-rope, lead, boulder)

·      Objective of activities

·      Profile of participants

·      Site & equipment inspection

·      Level of challenges (structures, routes)

1.     (sic)Managing a session (top-rope, lead, boulder)

·      Group management (procedures, rules, processes, ratio)

·      Facilitating experiences (teaching methods, communication)

2.     Risk Analysis and Management

·      Understanding & Identifying Risks

·      Strategies to minimize risks

·      Risk assessment & management plan

·      Protocol, Guidelines, Wall Maintenance

3.     Discussion on

·      Common mistakes and incidents in climbing

·      Supervision of climbing, belayers

·      Route setting

4.     Theory Assessment

Instructor Qualification

Sport Climbing Instructor Category 2

Instructor To Trainee Ratio

1 Instructor : 8 Trainees, OR

1 Instructor + 1 Climbing Assistant (or Trainee Instructor) : 12 Trainees


Wearing of helmet is compulsory when engaging in a lead climbing session

Sport Climbing Course Level Three
Course Code


Course Duration

14hrs or 2 sessions of 7 hrs


 At least be 16yrs of age

 Sport Climbing Course Level Two certificate or equivalent; and Abseil Proficiency Course Level One certificate or equivalent*

*This course builds on the basic skills learned in these courses. Hence, trainees should be familiar and confident with these basic skills before undertaking this course.

Objective (s)

This course introduces the techniques of climbing bolted multi-pitch routes safely.

Passing Standards

Trainees must demonstrate the following course requirements :

1. Setup anchor system for multi-pitch climb

2. Belaying a climber, using both direct (from anchor) & redirect belay system

3. Lead climb and then abseil with backup

4. Ascending on ropes

5. Conduct proper pre-climb checks

6. Use of climbing calls throughout the climb

7. Handle equipment safely


SNCS Sport Climbing Level Three Certificate


1. Introduction to multi-pitch climbs

·      Compare man-made climbing walls with natural rock crags

·      Recognise common types of protection points used in climbing

·      Describe the concept of multi-pitch climbing

2. Introduction of Equipment for Multi-Pitch Climb

·      Revisit the use of quick-draws and dynamic ropes

·      Recognise the uses of single, half and twin ropes

·      Describe the uses of accessory cords of various diameters which include prusik knots and anchoring; and their limitations

·      Describe the uses of slings (sewn slings and tapes) which include safety slings, runners and anchoring; and their limitations

·      Recognise the range of descending/belay devices:

–       Circular descending devices (e.g. Figure-of-8, Harpoon)

–       Planular descending devices (e.g. Sticht Plate)

–       Tubular descending devices (e.g. ATC)

–       In-Line adjustable devices (e.g. Rack)

–       Auto-locking descending devices (e.g. Gri Gri, Cinch, Stop)

3. Knots & Hitches

·      Demonstrate and describe the uses and limitations of knots:

–       Double Figure of 8 knot on the bight

–       Prusik knots (Classic, Klemheist, French)

–       Overhand knot

–       Clove Hitch

–       Munter Hitch

4. Anchor System

·      Apply criteria for assessing sound anchoring systems, using EARNEST

·      Demonstrate setting up of static (isolated) and self-equalizing anchoring systems

·      Recognise setting up of anchoring system using various equipment such as ropes, slings and accessory cords.

5. Multi-Pitch Climb

·      Apply criteria for assessing sound anchoring systems using EARNEST@

·      Demonstrate setting up of static (isolated) and self-equalizing anchoring systems

·      Recognise setting up of anchoring system using various equipment such as ropes, slings and accessory cords

6. Abseiling and ascending

·      Demonstrate abseil with auto-block backup

·      Demonstrate ascending on fixed rope using prusik knots

·      Demonstrate counter-balance abseil in a single pitch

·      Demonstrate stack abseil in a single pitch

7. Understanding risk involving multi-pitch climbing

·       Recognise the hazards common to multi-pitch climbing

·       Describe the corresponding actions to avoid common hazards

·      Apply risk assessment and management framework of PEEP and 4Ts (Tolerate, Terminate, Treat, and Transfer) to address on-going risks

Instructor to Trainee Ratio

2 Instructors: 8 participants or 1 Instructor: 4 participants.


Wearing of helmet is recommended when engaging in a lead climbing session

Will find some time to look for the APC syllabus another day. It’s somewhere and i have my own copy somewhere also. So if you need a copy of the syllabus, please feel free to take.

SMF, are you doing your job?


The one when the Instructor was wrong…

To ask the question, “Can an instructor be wrong?” might be a tad too pretentious. Of course we can. We are humans after all. But what happens after we discover we are wrong?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(Photo Source : Author’s own.)

So in a recent Level 3 class, i came to realise that i have been teaching something that was wrong. It was a case of “unconcious incompetence” because i had been taught that it was ok all these while and i have seen climbers doing so. I had a chance to talk to a more established climber and bolter (if there is such a word…) – QX, who shared with me that he has come across many bolts that come off… like literally just come out of the wall, with nothing more than just the climber’s weight. Hence he was always hesitant to teach beginners to clip on to a single bolt at the anchor but rather he would instruct them to clip into the master point of the anchor. In this way, at least the climber’s weight is distributed over two bolts whilst you check to make sure that they are bomb-proofed. Made a lot of sense to me then.

Just before this recent Level 3 class, i was arranging my notes when for some strange reason, i started to recall this conversation i had with QX. I flipped through my notes to see if i have covered that point when i realised that i have committed a tremendous error. All these years, i have been teaching my Level 3 classes to redirect the belay line to that one bolt at the anchor! It was not a case of being unaware that both the climber’s and the belayer’s weight are on that one bolt and that the weight magnifies (because of physics…i dunno why…), i just assumed that the strength of one bolt could deal with whatever forces i was generating. Now with QX’s input, it seems like it was a bad idea to continue doing that.

I scrambled to look up some books and google up some videos and i realised it is true. The world had evolved… The tendency now was to teach the redirection of the belay line through the masterpoint or more commonly the shelf on the anchors. It was easy to make the change, but i was haunted. Coz i had put a dangerous practice out there and now i wonder how i was to correct all my past Level 3 students.  It was easy to change the next day’s class. Just had to contact my partner instructor for that day and share with him my revelation. Coincidentally, he was also teaching the same thing as me so it was a good learning point for both of us. But it still bugged me that i got something wrong out there.

Oh well, i’ll just have to try and make things right again by trying to reach out to my past Level 3 students. For now, if any of you are interested, do watch this great video from the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) to see what i am talking about up there. Should be about 0.30mins in the video where she addresses the redirection part.

Anyway our other reflections after this Level 3 class was that it was very useful to teach and use the clove hitch in this class. Initially we thought that it would be a hassle because the new technique required the participants to use a clove hitch to attach themselves to the anchor. And this was exactly what i was trying to avoid last time by simplifying things so that it is easier for the learners to learn the concepts. But this time, JY and myself decided to press on by teaching them the clove hitch at the start of the day and by the end of the 2nd day, we were satisfied to see them tying it with ease for their anchors. So i guess lesson learned, dun do things for convenience.  If we take the time to teach properly, our participants will benefit from it.

We can get it wrong, we are humans after all. And that’s why we need to learn and evolve with the times. Only then can we do our best for our participants i guess.

The one about the Ram’s Horn…

Saw an interesting post on the Malaysian Bolting Fund website. For the uninitiated, they are kinda like the Dairy Farm Group here in Singapore. A group of climbers pooling money, resources and labour together to make their local crag better. A horrific incident happened at Nyamuk wall over the weekend over at Batu caves.

The response was swift from the Malaysian climbing community with companies like Verticale responding quickly. The word was put out through social media and they even pooled together resources all the way from QX in Taiwan to educate climbers on the dangers.

I’ll be frank that i have never encountered a ram’s horn anchor at the crags as well and this was indeed an eye opener to me to see such a catastrophical failure from a piece of hardware that is rated. Something doesn’t add up because there is no way a climber can generate that kind of forces whether he was lead climbing or top roping….

But again, what really impressed me here was how quickly the key stakeholders in the Malaysian climbing community got together to get the news out and put out the resources to assuage the climbers in general and especially the beginners who have never encountered such an anchor before. Thanks to the good people at Verticale and people like Alif Ahmad, climbing is not just a cold, clinical sport with medals and comps but a living breathing community that learns, unlearns and relearns together. Good job guys! Thanks for sharing.

Of seeing and believing…

A senior comd reminded me in a speech about safety this week.

“I see and i will believe. I believe and i will see.” ~ Lui Tuck Yew.

We need to move away from the former and evolve to the latter. I guess it’s the same with the instructor development process nowadays. We got to start to believe that we can do better and that it can be done before we will start to see changes. If we continue to just wait and see before we start to believe that things will change for the better, then we might never move on. I’m glad to know that there are other climbing instructors out there who are fighting the good fight, in their own little ways to speed up the slow moving wheels of the national organisation. Whether it moves or not, it is still little progress and it is way better than being stagnant forever. But the process is slow and we need everyone’s support to chip in and believe as well, before we can see. Do you believe?82a6d0770aeaafbae8f26bf40a822b9b79a5c412
(Image Source :

The LONG one about the three letter dirty word in gyms today that starts with ‘A’ and ends with ‘BD’ bypassing ‘C’…

16864536_10154990433310768_8823555492208082897_n(Photo Source : Author’s own. IKR… Ironically it’s because of stoopid behavior like taking a photo whilst belaying that leads to accidents. But i never said i was a Saint…)



*The author would like to point out that technically “ATC” is a model name but it is used interchangably often enough in sunny Singapore with “tubular device” that i shall continue to smear the good name of Black Diamond by referring to all tubular devices in this controversy as “ATC”. That’s how rambling i can get, sure you want to read more? I’m just getting warmed up….


The greatest debate to every stir up our climbing community so far. I have been keeping silent so far because of two reasons. One, because people tend to get carried away by emotions so I wanted to let things settle down a bit first. Two, because I was collecting my thoughts. My thoughts as a climber, as an instructor, as an outdoor educator, as a part-time-freelance-gym staff. It’s a complex topic, not complicated. Just two devices but already we see two camps forming for and against the new changes. I guess I’m finally ready to throw in my 2-cents worth into the debate and share what I think. But wait, for the record I have already been talking about this before this whole thing started, so that makes me way cooler… (The one about the non-mechanical belaying devices…) Back then there were hints and rumours that the gyms were heading there but nothing concrete was revealed.


For the uninitiated, as a background, three gyms in Singapore – OS, CC and CA, who make up the lion share of the market already, have announced that they will not be allowing non-assisted belay devices like tubular devices and Fig. 8’s (what planet are you from???) come 1 April 2017. Instead they will allow only Assisted Belay Devices (ABD) and climbers will likely have to go through another round of verifications with the gyms to “recertify” themselves at the gyms.


Standing on the gyms’ side, they have always placed their customers safety as their priority. And I believe this move is mainly motivated by the many accidents that have happened at the gyms in the recent years from unsafe belaying practices. (Face it, we have all heard of them…) They have resorted to this move purely to build a fail-safe environment for all. If they can totally put a stop to the risk, why not do so rather than risk having an accident. Besides being bad for business, it puts a great stress on the staff having to respond to these situations. (Just ask the gym staff who is the first responder to an incident…) Having an ABD prevents even that split second of distraction from escalating into a disaster. It prevents a belayer’s sudden bout of sickness from escalating into a disaster. It prevents a newbie’s inexperience at catching a big fall from escalating into a disaster, and many more. So that’s the main reason for the ban. It’s all about creating a safe environment for you and me to climb, and for that I am thankful for the foresight of the gyms.


And in the other corner… In the other camp, a bevy of climbers have taken offence to this move by the gyms. Some brayed for a boycott, someone created a petition out there, but mainly climbers were lamenting about the lose of a freedom of choice in something as simple as a belay device. And it certainly did not help that certain representatives of the gyms were creating a PR-disaster of their own by responding to every remark with defensive, abrasive comments of their own. Certainly a PR case-study on “how not to implement an unpopular policy”, but that’s another thing by itself. So climbers were certainly up in arms all week voicing their concerns to this draconian rule. It was funny to see some people saying “we won’t support them anymore” only to have others pointing out to them that “dude they are like the majority of the climbing industry… I hope you like bouldering…” There were also genuine concerns voiced out about the increase in cost now that climbers will need to purchase new devices and get themselves verified again. To be fair, the gyms have responded swiftly with a range of measures to cushion the impacts from cheaper deals on ABDs to announcing free workshops and verifications. All these didn’t seem to satisfy this camp much because they were still fixated on their autonomy to choose a belay device that works for them. It was satisfying to see the climbing community finally stir and speak up. It was not letting the Big 3 get away with it so easily. How dare you tell me what’s good for me!


So where do I stand in all this? Every long drive in the past week, every shower, every long run, I thought about it, weighing the many pros and cons in my mind. As I have said, it’s a complex issue. And sometimes when I see an inconsiderate or emotional comment, I felt like just yelling out. I remember a Youtube video I saw called “If Gandhi took a Yoga class” (if you have time watch it….laugh until die). In a way I felt like that Gandhi in the Yoga class when everyone didn’t understand him. I’m not saying that I’m like the guru or the know-it-all in the sport but I felt frustrated that many are so emotional about things that they do not see it the way I do. I penned down my thoughts, sorting it out, mindmaps, logic diagram and all and finally I am ready to write it down.


My views as an instructor? I’m firstly sad to see that a skill might potentially be lost to a new generation of climbers. The skill I am referring to is the cardinal rule of belaying, that you never ever let go of your brake hand. I remember as a new instructor, Bx said this once in her class and I have used this line in my own classes ever since, “…if you cannot remember anything I said in the class all day, the only thing I want you to remember from today’s class is that you must never, ever let go of your brake hand. Coz your buddy’s life literally depends on it.” This I call the sacred trust between the belayer and the climber. We might potentially lose this message as we rely on the ABD’s to provide that security. And to have such a sacred trust being replaced by a mere hunk of metal felt almost insulting to me. It saddened me that in future, younger climbers might point to an ATC and tell their friend that that device is unsafe to use. When in reality, the older generation will know that it is safe to use, just that we – the climbing community on the behest of the three gyms, decided that it is considered “unsafe” and ban it from use. “Is this how knowledge should be created?” I questioned myself.


From an instructor’s perspective, I also felt that there is no such thing as a zero risk environment as hard as the gyms are working to create it. We might be solving the problem of belaying today, but ABD’s can create their own set of problems as well. Complicated rigging, extra step to lower, specific rope diameters needed, climber must be of a certain weight, these are just some examples of problems I am aware of when using ABD’s. Are we complicating a very simple device such that we are solving one problem (letting go of the brake hand) but creating another problem (rigging the device wrongly)? Besides, one thing my mentors always remind me to do is to never underestimate the human propensity for stupidity. We might add a safer belay device but what’s to stop climbers from wearing the harness wrongly or tying in wrongly? Then what? We start introducing auto-locking carabiners, auto-locking buckles? We start climbing with two ropes and two belayers in case one set fails??? When will the list end? The more complex we make the system, the more the propensity for error.


In the first place, isn’t climbing inherently dangerous? It’s printed in most climbing books on the second page. To me, that’s one attraction of climbing. From an outdoor educator’s perspective, risk is necessary for learning to take place. We always refer to the Comfort Zone Theory. You learn best when you are pushed out of the comfort zone. Then what’s the role of an instructor? I believe the instructor’s job is to create a safety net for the learner to fail-safely. If the learner can fail safely, he learns. The trick is to discover how far out do you deploy your safety net? So if I am able to impress upon the participants in my course how important it is to never let go of the brake hand, I can cast my safety net wide to let them make mistakes by building in dry-run/practices/rehearsals during my course before they do the actual climb. When they do an actual climb, I stand near the belayer holding on to the brake line to correct and assist and to provide the additional layer of safety. When they are out climbing independently, they learn from me that there is nothing embarrassing about approaching the gym staff if they are unsure of how to use a certain device or to refresh on how to tie a knot. These are the safety nets I can cast out as an instructor to help my learners learn. Why do all these? Because climbing IS risky. And as outdoor enthusiasts, as adventure seekers, we are all dicing around with risk every time we do an activity. The key to these activities is to manage the risk either using your skills, your judgement, your gut and admitably a bit of luck. If you succeed, the rewards are tremendous, but everyone should know that if you mess it up, the consequences can be as mild as just an ego check or you might end up paying the ultimate price. That’s the attraction of adventure to me, I don’t need someone to babysit me because I spend time training, perfecting my skills to do what I want to do. If you want to be safe all the time, take up a different activity like chess or stamp collecting, this climbing thingy is just not for you. We need to teach climbers to manage the risk, not to put an end to it. And that’s where the instructor comes in. Granted that the quality of instruction today is not at its best, but that’s what some of us are trying to put right again today. And we need all your support. But again, that’s a story for another day…


So should we just accept the ban on tubular devices and move on with life. Is this really an evolution for the climbing scene in Singapore? I am still undecided. I guess like the few still on the fence, I see it’s benefits but yet I still want to have the benefit of choice. I, for one am terrible at lead belaying with a grigri so I use my ATC more often to lead belay. But when I top rope, I usually opt for my grigri as the top roping areas are usually crowded with belayers and most of beginners. So it’s always helpful to have a device that can lock up whilst you give a hand or some pointers to a newbie next to you. I want to be able to make the call myself which is better for which situation. Sometimes when the gym ropes get “fat” after they have been used for awhile, the ABD tends to jam and hinder the belayer from belaying. In this case it’s more helpful to give them a tubular device that lessens the amount of friction till it’s manageable for the belayer to concentrate on his belay technique. Will an experienced climber be able to make that call in future? Are we building in another hazard in this case, will the gym change the ropes immediately to a new rope when my device jams? Just an example I can think of now to illustrate my point.


I guess what I would like to hear in this situation is what steps the gyms have taken before they came to this draconian conclusion that a new device is in order to solve all our belaying nightmares. One thing I would really like to see is evidence of all these accidents that they speak about. So far whenever an accident happens, the gyms tend to keep it hush-hush. It makes sense from a business competition point of view. But I question how many of these accidents happen yearly and how many of them are actually related to a tubular device or a climber letting go of his brake hand? If the gyms can make this data more transparent, then perhaps it will convince climbers like me that the ABD is really a necessity. However it seems like the gyms are more concerned about giving analogies of motorcars and descriptions of fallacies than to really give climbers what we need to understand the situation. Neglecting the “Why” before the “How” once again… Maybe now that the heat has died down a bit, they can focus on getting the word out on “why” this had to be done so that we can convince the heart and the mind for the change.


Next, I would also question what are the gyms already doing currently to manage the risks at the gyms. There has definitely been a great improvement in how the gyms are managed today from the early days of climbing in Singapore where a counter staff will just pass you some ratty old rental gear, collect your money and then sit back behind the counter to play handphone. Gym staff nowadays are required to do regular patrols around the gym to spot any unsafe practices. I hear more checks over the counter to verify whether a new climber to the gym knows how to belay or not and rather than leaving the clueless newbie to his friends to take care of him, I hear the counter staff advising them what they should or should not be doing more often than not nowadays. I think these are good practices but I question their efficacy to “make the gym a safer place” at times.


My first contention will be to question whether does the gym staff actually have the ability or the competency to check on climbers when they do their patrol. Yes, granted most gyms require their staff to have at least a SNCS Level 2 certificate to work, but how many of them are regular lead climbers or even just climb regularly? Bouldering doesn’t count coz well…you dun use gears… Do they know what to look out for when they do their safety patrols? A recent experience I had at one of the gym left me bewildered. I spotted 3 climbers in the span of 30mins with their harnesses’ leg loops not double-backed and the 2 staff observing them did not even notice it. So my question is, are all the gym staff capable of observing your safety? Coming from an instructor of many years, I dare say this is a skill that takes many years of observation to pick up. You can’t spot an error if you don’t know it’s an error. If the gym staff hardly ever lead climb or belay after getting their Level 2 certs, I highly doubt they have the ability to competently spot errors or even know whether that is an error or not. Don’t believe me? (I haven’t tried this yet) Let’s try randomly approaching one of the gym staff and ask them what they are looking out for? Ask them whether they are able to tell which belayer is “dangerous”? What are the signs he/she is looking out for specifically to make the call? I am not trying to create troubles here for the gyms, but I half suspect this might be the situation on the ground. (Pls dun throw me out from the gyms…just my observation and conversations with the staff) If the level of checks put in place is redundant or simply ineffective, then it is just giving everyone a false sense of security until an incident happens.


My next observation is about location, location, location! My observation is that many of these counters are located too far away from the walls such that the staff are unable to effectively supervise the belaying or climbing at the climbing wall. Most of the staff’s activity takes place at the counters. Except for the occasional patrol around the gym floors, the majority of the staff are usually busy at the counter signing in new climbers or issuing rental equipment or handling enquires from customers. Staff at the counters are usually unable to effectively monitor the happenings at the climbing walls, all except a few gyms in Singapore who decisively (or some would say “so happened to”…) placed their counters right in front of the climbing wall. Someone joked that if the swimming pool is able to hire a lifeguard that sits at poolside just to watch the people swimming, why can’t the climbing gym do the same. As silly as it sounds, that might actually be a doable solution. If we are all about a mindset change now, why not change our mental model about how a climbing gym should be operated? If it works for the swimming pool and they can afford to hire a staff to do that simply because it effectively improves safety, why not consider doing that at the gyms? But I digress, my main contention here is that wherever the gym staff are spending stationed for most of their shifts are ineffective at supervising the climbers at the wall. It might not be their main job or their only job, but again I question whether is enough being done to supervise climbers at the walls itself. It’s a question of location, not competence or attitude of the staff this time.


So what exactly is the root of the problem here? I feel that more accidents at the gyms is a true problem but this is from my own personal observation and anecdotal evidences I have been hearing. I have only met one climber who was the unfortunate victim of a 15m fall with very “impressive” x-ray photos to show for (and who totally ruined my dinner…), and I have only seen one photo of a victim being restrained (in case of spinal injuries) sent to me by a concerned climber who witnessed the fall. I am convinced that the threat is real, that climbers are getting more accident prone these days and by co-relating it to the level of instruction I am seeing in the weekly climbing courses, I can only posit that the root of the problem could be the quality of the instruction new climbers are given nowadays. It also doesn’t help that the national organization has been silent all these years on training matters (and not surprisingly in the recent controversy). Apart from briefly saying that they will leave training issues “to the commercial gyms to regulate”, little or nothing has been done for the instructors development. So I guess we really do not blame the gyms for resorting to this method because that is one of the few ways they can keep the accident numbers from going down. Some gyms have already gone to the extent of using only a closed pool of instructors so that they can control the quality of instruction. I think this is a great idea because at least in this way there is some form of quality control rather than no control at all. My worry is the renegade instructor out there who are running independently with nothing to benchmark themselves against and with no one to police over them that might be doing more harm than good. The impacts here are not just in the course but can spread downstream to the gyms themselves. Hence although by introducing the ABD, we do go away with a safer environment for all to climb, but in the long run, it might eventually be the instructor community that suffers. Because in my opinion as an instructor, if we are really in the business of education, we should never allow ourselves to restrict or limit knowledge to a learner. The learner should be exposed to a breadth of information and an instructor helps him process it to turn it into knowledge. As an instructor, the ATC is not unsafe, my trainees just need to be more aware of its limitations when they use it. And it is up to me to build in practices to drive home this point. I will also be glad to introduce to them an ABD and share with them the benefits it brings especially if you are accident prone or you are tired or it is a very crowded day at the gym. I would rather my trainees take their training up to a higher level from just knowing how to use the device to being able to make a judgement call which device is better for which situation. Granted it will not work for all (eg. School kids) but that will be where the experience of the instructor will be called into play. When to introduce it, who to introduce it to? Does a Sec 1 kid need to know how to use the ABD proficiently? Can I spend more time on ABD’s rather than ATC’s? Can I warn them to use an ABD more often until they get better at belaying? These are all the considerations an instructor can do and admittedly, sadly it is not being emphasized in our instructor training today. Rather we are still fixated on teaching our trainee instructors topics like “escape from system” or “prussiking”… hard skills that can be picked up from any other book or the internet. And in the process, we tend to neglect the soft skills which will take an experienced coach to mentor and to teach and a proper OJT programme to complement it,  where the trainee instructor is given room to practice and learn. So you see, the root of the problem is not in the device but the quality of our instructors today.


And that’s why I am spending my time doing this blog, and running this COP and trying to engage SMF further to do more for the instructor development. I think it is a part that is not just stagnating but is literally regressing. We can continue to point the blame at the SMF but nothing much is going to be done because their hands are full as well. So that’s why I am trying to get the ground to chip in and help our own instructor community. How or even how much to do is something that I cannot alone decide. Hence we need your voices and we need all the help we can get. If you have an idea, or you think you can contribute in some ways, please approach me and let’s talk about it to see how we can operationalize the idea. There’s really no point lamenting and complaining about the current situation because nothing will be done if we don’t do it ourselves. I hope that once we pass this ATC vs ABD debate, we can see the importance an instructor plays in the climbing community, not just in teaching the classes but how much our actions can have a consequence on the bigger picture.


Ok that was a wall of text… And I might have digressed. But these are my thoughts. And I hope I have summarized the whole saga a bit and thrown in my 2-cents worth to stir some of your thoughts. Comment (I’m sure there will be coz not everyone will agree), but please keep things civil.


Peaceful Vibes!


Post Note : I just wanted to point out a few good blogs i have seen on people weighing in on the issue. I thought they made some very valid points that can help in our understanding of the issue. Go read if my rantings haven’t already given you a headache…

View story at

Mountain guide death leads to Exum fine


(Web Source : )

“The investigation underscores an emerging awareness among businesses in the recreation and outdoors industry that they are subject to rules seeking to ensure safety — even in unconventional workplaces like ski resorts and wilderness areas. “

Should we be prepared to attend courses like MOM’s Work at Height (WAH) course or have to attend an Occupational First Aid training in future? Should we be subjected to such industrial standards since we are dealing with clients at height? Will the knowledge in such courses be helpful?

Should we use our own personal equipment when conducting courses? Or do we only use whatever is provided by the company? What if the company’s gear isn’t safe enough for my comfort?

Some questions i have no answers for at the moment. But for your reflection. What say you?


When i first started this blog, my intentions were very simple (some would call naive). I had three objectives really:

  1. I was passionate about sharing with the instructors in the climbing community my experiences gleaned from so many years of teaching. I rem someone told me once, the sifu took 10 years to master that kung fu skill, if you can help the newbie shortcut the learning curve and help him take lesser time to learn the kung fu skills, it would benefit everyone. So i was eager to share what i have, in the hope that we can all improve the standard of teaching in climbing.
  2. I hear all the time that the SMF is not communicating with the instructors. They are basically silent for 3 years until it’s time for license renewal again. So i wanted to help be the messenger. To pass on the messages from the organisation to the community of instructors.
  3. I was curious whether blogging as a way to KM knowledge could work or not…

Tonight i realise that i have erred in my judgement. I had lost track of the purpose of this blog, which was to help teach, help nurture, help grow, help share on the topic of teaching climbing. It should not be involved with petty politics or complaints or long drawn grievances. It should stick to what it was meant to be. A learning platform that climbing instructors could call upon as a resource for their courses. The sudden jump in viewership numbers was intoxicating, i wouldn’t lie. I was happy to see ppl “liking” and sharing my post because in my heart i was still thinking that it is good because it is helping to get the message out. (Point number 2 above) But as with wealth, sometimes it makes you lose track of your true intentions. And i came to realise who the post was meant to be for. To inform and not for dissemination.

So yeah, i hope i am doing the right thing now. This blog will never be a transmitting tool or a mouthpiece for any organisation again. It will purely be about best practices when teaching climbing. If you want juicy, gossips and interesting plot developments, i suggest a good magazine. I would like to keep things as it was meant to be.

I have erred in my judgement of what was the right thing to do and what was wrong. I am still learning to make sense of that. I wish i had guidance but i am responsible for my own actions. I confessed before that i was afraid, that this was a big step to take starting all these, and i am still afraid today. But taking a fall is another part of growing and i hope i will not disappoint again.

To anyone out there who felt that i have wronged in the last few months, i apologise, the intention was never to shame but to educate. That has always been my intention and this will be a big lesson to reflect and to learn from.

I thank you for your patience again. I am trying to make things right.