Climbing Wall Instructor Training.

I’ve been taking small groups and primary tester sessions on our Academy wall since its build in 2015 and, as I probably will be based in another school with an indoor climbing wall, I felt that my site-specific training needed developing and to gather more knowledge and information. I’ve only known the Academy way of managing groups, so was looking at the Climbing Wall Award (now known as Climbing Wall Instructor) training to enhance my skills and knowledge.

I had a long look at the providers and had certain things in mind for what I wanted – a close location, weekend date and female instructor. By chance, browsing Twitter and #DofE hashtag (yes, I’m that much of a DofE geek), I found Ali Taylor of Monster Climbs; and that she ran the CWI training and assessment at Undercover Rock in Bristol. A quick check of dates on Mountain Training pages and there was a June/July date the suited, was outside of the expedition season, close by and reasonably priced so I booked it up in January time.

Fast forward months on end to an email reminding me I was on the course at the weekend…

I would like to start by saying that everything in the Climbing Wall Instructor handbook should be covered on the course – straight away Ali told our group that she covers 95% of the course. Fab.

I won’t bore you with the journey details but Undercover Rock is only a few minutes off the motorway and easy to get to. When you first follow the Sat Nav it seems to direct you to a residential area with a church nearby – that’s where you’re going! When I used to live in Bristol I found several church buildings up for sale, which I thought was both a shame and a curiosity as to how they can ‘close’ like that (now you can find places for worship for sale online); anyway Undercover Rock climbing walls are in the church and they’ve made good use of the space – a nice bottom belay area, bouldering walls, lead climbing area, circuit area, lockers, and small cafe area upstairs.


Ali runs her training on a ratio of 1:6, which I think is nicer for the participants – some instructors like to run 1:12 and I have even seen 1:20! I do question those with the larger numbers – will you get individual support? Will there be enough time to cover everything? etc. So my first bit of advice (you’ll get a couple in here) would be to go with an instructor that keeps their group numbers low so there is more time to focus on the correct techniques, being able to ask questions and feeling part of an inclusive group.

Ali described her experience to us and, by gosh, climbing is her air and water. Ali is passionate about climbing, getting it correct and safe (she had many stories of death/injury related climbing accidents), supporting others and she has gone to great lengths with the BMC to ensure the CWI training is more robust and develops stronger leaders. I found her to be honest and open about her opinions; straight away you’ll find out just how knowledgeable she is and how much she’s worked with clients of various abilities and issues – I phoned her prior to the course to discuss a previous injury and concerns and she was very reassuring and encouraging and that’s why I turned up (I had a lot of anxiety beforehand and wasn’t planning too).

Day 1

So, the usual introductions happen whereas everyone described their experiences and future aspirations then we went into discussion about the course content, BMC participation statement, the award itself before moving on to warm up practicals – discussion what parts of the body need warming and how to do them, fun warm-ups (animals!) and warm-ups to improve coordination skills etc.

Fun warm ups! source: @ali_monster on Twitter


Back to the ‘classroom’ and a discussion about personal protective equipment. How to check for wear and tear on equipment, ropes and belay devices, what to do with ropes that have taken a fall and what legalities and responsibilities you’ll have to adhere to as an instructor. An interesting topic for discussion, which Ali, knew lots about and had stories to tell about the failings of duty of care from instructors and the consequences.

Then on to a long afternoon of rope work. This isn’t a course to teach the basic rope skills, you should come prepared and knowing how to belay – the instructor is there to correct any bad habits and inform you of the CWI way. For me, I was taught two different ways to belay – the V, to Knee 1,2,3 rhyme and the PBUS (Pull, Break, Under, Slide) through different instructors- guess which one is correct? (Obviously, the one where kids struggle the most with because counting to 3 when changing hands for some is difficult!). I’m glad that was cleared up – having a look on YouTube a novice can easily pick up bad habits from some of the videos on there.

Bell ringing was a new belaying method for me. I had seen it in action before but had no idea who it was all about. It is a method that allows for novices to “belay” using a grigri without using the usual method. Good for parties or large groups having to climb in a short space of time – had I known this before our climbing taster days would have been a lot less stressful!

Simply put, bell ringing allows for the child (or adult) to simply pull the rope down, whilst someone else on the dead rope pulls it through the gri gri. Nothing more to that as the gri gri does the job. Ali corrected how I tie a sling into a harness, explaining about friction and wear and tear- so will be purchasing some more karabiners at some point. If the climber is heavier then using a quickdraw (see pic 2 above) can help support.

We had a discussion on supporting people with disabilities to begin climbing – Ali told us  story of a climber who climbs in his wheel chair. I’ve forgotten the name, I think it could have been Lai Chi-Wai : “confined to a wheelchair since being in a car accident back in 2011. In order to show that his disability won’t hold him back, he climbed a 1,600-foot-tall mountain — in the wheelchair.” Source: Youtube.

We were taught the double rope “M” method (probably not it’s official term). Double tie in and two belayers, one either side – both have to be in sync to belay and lower the climber together. This was interesting to do!


We looked at lead climbing as the aware requires it, although you won’t teach it. Ali showed us how to reduce swinging on a lead climb with an overhang but using another quickdraw on the rope and someone to feed it and hold when the climber comes off the wall.

The video shows how the system works.



Observation and learning. Source: @ali_monster on Twitter
Observation and learning. Source: @ali_monster on Twitter

Day 2

Day was more focused about the core climbing technique and coaching. After the warm up (lead by another trainee) we went down to the bouldering wall to look at games you could play, warm ups, footwork, flagging, pace and movements!

Ali made us wear tiny bells on our climbing shoes and tasked us with not making them jingle when we placed our foot on the holds – this was fun, hard but fun. The idea was to make you consider your pace and feet placement – the majority of your time climbing should be spent on feet work and fluidity of your movements and thinking 3-4 moves ahead.

My partner and I thought even thought up a little ‘rhyme’ to remember it all:

perfect placement, precision, quiet performance, pivot on a point, perfection.

There was a nice challenge of juggling whilst bridging on a corner, moving to another to bridge again and put on a top and zip it up, then on to moving through the hoop and finally signing the laminated paper (I didn’t get that far). It was good fun and I’m going to do similar with my girl’s club this week.

Bouldering challenge.

On the training you need to visit a second wall – the overall idea of the accreditation is that you’ll be able to walk into any wall and run a session. So we visited University of West England’s Centre for Sport in the afternoon and had a look at this wall.


After looking at and assessing risk, discussing assumptions, how a wall could be used to progress a climber we moved on to rescuing a frozen climber from the wall.

I knew we was going to cover this, I’ve done it before but only the method I’ve learnt of pulling them off the wall was to climb up, connecting yourself via a karabiner to them and using your weight to take them off; but the new CWI award specifies that the Instructor does not ‘leave the ground’ to do rescues, so Ali showed us how to do this with a gri gri. (I’m glad for the correction of old techniques and poor learning.)

Simply put, the instructor attachs the gri gri to the dead rope (rope that has gone through the belay device), clips in, removes the belayer from the system via removing the belaying device from the rope, then tightens the rope with the gri gri, pulls really hard (as the gri gri locks, it makes this part easier), and continues to pull until the climbing is pulled upwards and off, then they can lower. Simples.

I’ve been fortunate to have only had one frozen climber out of all that I’ve supervised/instructed at the Academy. We were told that if all the steps were correct and the climber has built up confidence in their instruction and belayer, then the likelihood of them freezing is low, so to only have one over two years is good me thinks!

Attempting to remove the karabiner from the belay- not easy with a load on the end!

After the rescue training we had the question paper – 20 questions, 40 marks ( I think), about terminology, history etc of climbing. I got 29/40 with one questionable mark about Joe Brown’s contribution to climbing…

The one thing that differs from this MT course than the SML is the reflective piece at the end;  I would have liked a moment, at the end, to ‘set a plan’ for the consultation period like we did with the SML, but, having a good 40 minute drive back to Swindon, I did this in the car. For me, I will need to heavily focus on personal climbing – a lot! I just have to find the time (excuses! excuses!)

As you have probably read it is a full on packed weekend, with lots of learn, but in the end it’s worth it. I do feel better informed and more confident, especially in terms of rescues and technique, than before.

I highly recommend Ali as your instructor. Her passion for climbing is very catching. I felt that this CWI training was very good value for money and the learning environment was relaxed, positive and non-judgmental. I can’t wait to put it all into practise on public walls and picked up more experience.

To contact Ali:

Ali Taylor. Mob: 07814555378

Just Joanne


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