Make sure your log book is full, varied and well itemised

By this I mean, get as much breadth of experience as possible. It’s taken for granted that you will log days at a variety of venues from across the UK and you will have gone out with groups as an assistant leader. But have you worked with adults as well as minors? Have you ever run a bouldering session? Have you ever tried running through a session with a group of novices at the local climbing wall? Have you practised and rehearsed a variety of rescues with a mate? These sorts of experiences you will find invaluable when faced with scenarios on your SPA assessment.

Personally I found that running a weekend of introductory rock climbing for four non-climbing mates the week before my assessment proved invaluable. As well as the feedback from my four ‘clients’ I was able to reflect on my practice in real time and that meant that I could be a lot slicker on my actual assessment.

Get 100% on the pre-assessment paper

Ok – maybe nobody has ever scored 100% but there is no reason not to aspire to do so. In this day and age with a bit of application and the internet at our fingertips there is no reason not to score highly on this paper. But that is the whole point – it’s not just set to assess your ability but it is also there to prompt you to think about wider issues, demonstrate your willingness to do a bit of research and to get your head into gear. Doing well in this paper means you will have done your homework, it will give your confidence a boost and it will reflect well on you as a first impression for the assessor marking your paper. Don’t stint on this.

Peak District rock climbing courses

Time in Recce is Seldom Wasted

It’s an old soldier’s saying that time spent in reconnaisaince is seldom time wasted. And this is only fair: I don’t think I have ever taken a group to a venue that I haven’t previously checked out beforehand.

Before your assessment find out which indoor wall you will be climbing at. With this information to hand go along a few days before the assessment and think how you would run a session there. What progression of routes would you use? Which are good for warming up on? Which might be good for demonstrating bridging, laybacking, or footwork for example? On the day of assessment, enter that wall with a near encyclopaedic knowledge of how you could use which route for what.

At the end of day 1 ask the assessor where you will be climbing the next day … And then go there that evening. Look at the routes and think about how you will need to rig them. Where are the placements? Which rocks will make safe anchors? What gear will you need? What’s solid and what’s not? How and where could you run a bouldering session at this venue? Time spent here will mean that you are that much slicker the next day. On my assessment when the assessor asked at the start of day 2 who wanted to run a bouldering session: my hand shot up. It set me up for a brilliant day 2 allowing me to showcase how I could manage a group and offer them a progression of skills into this great sport.

Be good at being good enough

Before your assessment get out and make sure that your personal climbing is up to scratch. On your assessment however there’s no need to try and flash a new route that’s pushing your grade. If you climb confidently at severe don’t push the boat and try climbing routes that are going to push you out of your comfort zone. Be honest with your assessor on the day and with your log book. They will ask you to climb routes that your log book suggests that you can do. If some of those harder routes are in a dim and distant past ask the assessor to set you a route that is within your ability but at the required grade of severe or above. Also when you lead your routes on the climbing day be sure to place gear on a regular basis. You’re not here to show how bold you are but how safe you are.

Be safe – IDEAS

Failing to identify safe anchors and to equalise the system is a common route to a deferred outcome or even a fail. Stop being lazy when you’re out climbing with your mates – start pretending every route you climb is the one on your day of assessment. So don’t just stick a sling around a boulder and clip in – back it up as if you’re being assessed. Go through the mantra – IDEAS – independent anchors, direction, equalised, angles, and safety. On this last point – be really sure to get used to being safe. Arrive at the crag and get your helmet on. When rigging make sure you are tied in the moment you have an anchor fixed. Before you give the thumbs up – check check check that everything is bombproof, equalised, the crabs are done up and that they are hanging down the rock-face. And don’t forget to use some rope protectors either!

Finally …

Finally remember the assessor is a human being. The person assessing you doesn’t want to fail you. It’s much easier to tell someone that they have passed than anything else. They will want to give you every opportunity to show yourself at your best and you should remember this. Do what comes naturally and don’t try to ‘second-guess’ the assessor. Don’t do something you aren’t familiar with just because you think ‘that is something they want to see’.

So be prepared, but try try try, to be relaxed too. Good luck – it’s a great role to have once you have it!

This article was written by Will Legon, JSMEL, ML, SPA and former teacher of maths and Territorial Army soldier. Now I describe myself as a blessed man who leads people walking and climbing in the hills, mountains and on the crags of the UK. I also run damn good outdoor first aid courses!