The one about the Unbelayable ending…

One of my fav columns in Climbing Magazine is ending. I love what the author Kevin Corrigan says at the end.

“You can know every skill in the book, but if you’re mindlessly going through the motions or filling your days with “It’ll probably be fines,” then you’re leaving yourself open to the chance that it might not be fine. Climbing responsibly is a choice, one you must make every step along the way.”

I was just thinking of printing out past editions of this almanac of stoopid climbing mistakes and passing it around during Level 2 or 3 classes. The more experienced participants would probably guffaw at them but for those few who do not get what is wrong, i will start to be worried. Can be used as potential case studies for discussions. Hmmph just a thought at the moment, will need some time to operationalise it. What were your unbelayable moments?

The one about the belay loop…

Just a quick on from my hp.

A great article on why we use the belay loops to belay. As silly as it sounds, there are really climbers still out there who so not belay through their belay loops. Do you teach the use of a belay loops in yoir courses?

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 one about the risking instructor…



Interesting article about how we prove or disprove something quick and dirty at the gym. Sometimes as an instructor, i find it hard to demonstrate “accidents”. We learn best when we do, but how exactly do we let our trainees experience failures or mistakes if the mistakes might lead to physical harm?

The anecdote shared reminded me of one particular incident when i was working at an Adventure Centre. I was walking pass the centre one day when i saw two of my younger colleagues lead climbing at the wall. One guy was lead belaying whilst the other was climbing up to each bolt, fix the rope and take a lead fall. He repeated the process a few times. I said a quick hi and asked what they were up to? (Most people have to work in the middle of the work day you know…) They cheerfully informed me that they found this old dynamic rope in the store and there were no visible tags on it so they could not ascertain its age. So they did the next best thing and decided they will test it to see whether it was still ok to be used at the centre.

I replied, “And what if you discover that the rope snaps?”

Suddenly it dawned on the lead climber that if his experiment was effective enough and the rope really turns out ot be defective, there was nothing really holding him up. He would be proud that his carefully designed test worked, but at the same time he would be a very sorry tester…. They sheepishly lowered off , glad to live and climb another day. This time perhaps with a back up rope…

How can instructors design effective “mistakes” for our trainees to experience? How can we ensure safety? Where do we draw the line?

In my SNCS L1 courses, i find that my participants often need to see the consequences of their actions before they can thoroughly understand why they need to do a certain procedure of steps. 
Ome problem i face is when new belayers give too much slack at the start of the climb which might cause the climbers to deck.  I often struggle with myself whether i should demonstrate the consequences of this mistake because it would put myself at risk. I seldom (if not never) get my assistants to demonstrate this part of the course because of the risk involved. Usually to show the effects of a slack belay at the start, it involves climbing up to the 3m mark, making sure that my belayer gives me a bit of slack before i “slip” and deliberately and dramatically deck onto the ground. I tend to exaggerate the fall and the crash so as to get my participants’ attention. And often the ground is padded so i do not really hurt from the “controlled crash”. But there may come a day when i mistime it and land awkwardly twisting an ankle or something, you never know…

Hence the dilemma an instructor might face. To demonstrate or not to demonstrate. I have tried nagging, explaining, getting them to visualise but the same mistakes will keep occurring especially when they do not see the impact of their mistakes. One way is to just do rote learning where you drill and drill but participants might go away without understanding the “why” behind it which might cause them to forget the whole point in the long run. It’s a problem i face and something i have no solution for at the moment. But it helps to have an experienced assistant to help me with this part and it helps to talk to him clearly before the demo what exactly you are going to do and what he is to expect. (One assistant didn’t expect me to exaggerate the decking that much that she really thought i broke my ankle…) These can help facilitate the demonstration but again, i question whether it is safe. Would you do it? In the name of learning? Should an instructor “sacrifice” that much to do his job? Are there any other ways we can achieve the objective in a safer manner? Somethings to think about.

Oh and yah…watch the video on how to use a grigri properly….