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How safe is this?
posted by: jimflomJim Flom  )   email this member
Posted Sunday, Aug 3 at 6:02 PM
Sun, Aug 3 at 06:02 PM
Are the following commonly accepted behaviors for an intro to mountaineering" course offered by a private climbing school? Prerequisites for the course are backpacking experience only (no rock climbing, etc,. req'd). Lead guide is IFMGA certified.

Pre-course briefing
participants are invited to bring their own ropes if they have them
participants are invited to bring their own tents if they have them (Three-season tents deemed okay despite four season conditions)

On-course
no discussion of care of ropes
no discussion of proper helmet wearing
instructors routinely standing on climbing ropes
knots not checked for neatness after first day
asst. instructor has just two years of climbing experience
asst. instructor not anchored on exposed ledge while monitoring 50 metre vertical rappel
students expected to pass asst. instructor to the outside in order to tie into rappel (more exposed than asst.)
only back-up on rappel for beginners is a prussik, briefly intro'd. No belay on rappel.
no real checking of harnesses after first day
course elements as marketed not covered on-course (planning multi-day objective, mountain navigation, etc.)

Stuff like that. Can difs like these be chalked up to differences in style? I don't want to superimpose my own program's standards, but I was getting an accumulation of red flags as the course progressed. I asked in another forum whether this might be a more Euro approach and one poster said there were wide differences within Europe regarding what is considered safe climbing in a school setting.

Just trying to process this experience.
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trails page for SarabinerRe: How safe is this?
Sarabiner  email this member
Posted Wednesday, Apr 15 at 4:26 AM
Wed, Apr 15 at 04:26 AM
If the lead is IFMGA certified I'd probably trust him. Are the other guides at least ACMG certified or was this oversea's?

I think that moving on exposed ledges like that is a personal comfort level thing. Some climbers would rather be locked into an anchor on ledges where other climbers might feel fine. If the guide and the students are comfortable on the ledge, and the guide feels the student's can hack it with *minimal* risk, then it shouldn't be a big deal. Everyone on the wall should be made aware that if at any time they feel unsafe, they can voice it, and the unsafe condition will be mitigated (personal anchors, lowered off the wall, ect).

Don't stand on the ropes... because you pointed this out I'm sure you know what the beef is with that. (Dust and dirt is pushed into the core and acts as an abrasive, reducing the life of your rope.) Some people care about things like this a little more than others.

If at any point your concerned with the condition of equipment, ask about their inspection routines, gear retirement (how often, ect) and how they track everything. They should inspect ALL hardwear and softwear routinely and thouroughly. All inspections should be logged.

It sounds like you didn't have a great experience with this Intro to Mountaineering Course. I hope you've provided the school with plenty of feedback about your concerns.


trails page for ChrisORe: How safe is this?
ChrisO  email this member
Posted Thursday, May 28 at 5:38 PM
Thu, May 28 at 05:38 PM
I would imagine any course like this is very much open to the personalities of the lead instructors. Despite what sounds like legitimate concerns about the quality of instruction, it does sound like you came away with a pretty good understanding of many of the issues. It was an intro climbing course, keep in mind, and no doubt there were time constraints on what you could learn.

In my opinion, courses are the wrong way to learn any sort of mountain craft. Climbing, mountaineering, ski mountaineering, all these are experience based activities. While courses and books can give you a little bit of an edge, there is no replacing experience, preferably with people who have advanced skills, have lots of patience, and are willing to act as mentors. This is the way everyone has learnt up until recent years when things have become more regulated and commercialized.

From a trust perspective, you need to learn to trust your own judgement. People you climb with will need to earn your trust. While certifications give you an idea of their course qualifications, it will be your observations of their practices (such as constantly checking theirs and your gear, being careful to not stand on the rope, taking extra precautions in exposed situations etc) that will help you chose safe climbing partners. There are many out there who have qualifications and years of experience up the ying-yang, but who are a danger to all who climb with them.

All that being said, you often learn more when things are not ideal, than when everything is done safely, though maybe this course taught you more because of its flaws.

Happy climbing, and stay safe.



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