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Are 100's of days of free climbing instruction being delivered by unqualified climbing instructors?

Updated: Jan 22, 2020

Are hundreds of days of free climbing instruction being delivered by climbing instructors unqualified and not up to the job?

I ask because I’ve seen some rather polished adverts for climbing instruction recently. These adverts look really good but do carry a caveat that the instructor is not yet qualified. The instructor has been trained to teach climbing. They are merely consolidating this training, the customer is therefore simply taking advantage of some free instruction whilst the instructor polishes their skills as they prepare for their assessment. Nothing wrong with that surely?

But, if you were aware that not all of those instructors actually passed their MIA/CMI assessment first time in 2019 would you be so keen to take up the offer of free instruction?

I am part of the problem. As a course director for the last dozen years I, and my colleagues, have been sending trainees away with the task of teaching climbing for at least 20 days.

6.2 20 rock climbing teaching days with students.

It’s what is says in the syllabus. Whereas on the one hand trainees need 20 days working as an ML holder currently there as there is no requirement to hold the SPA/RCI qualification so the rock climbing teaching days with students are set up to help candidates prepare for assessment. Should this be the case? Or should they really be days working or assisting on single pitch crags i.e. working as a rock climbing instructor?

As trainers and assessors, we know that candidates need this time. We know they need to practice ascertaining the level of the students then teaching them whatever it is they need to learn next. We find it frustrating when candidates can’t do this. It is a pretty basic concept in the world of teaching and instructing – where are we up to and what do we do next? Too many candidates arrived with a fixed idea of what they will do on this day. Too many candidates are not flexible enough on this day. Too many candidates make poor route choices on this day. Informally, on some occasions, we talk about candidates being too “climberery”, or too” instructorery”! Too many candidates are unable to adapt their programme to the needs of their learners. So much so that Mountain Training employ people to understand why pass rates are not as high as might be expected.

I suppose it is fair to say that not everyone who doesn’t pass first time fails on their teaching day, but why is it so difficult? One complaint we had a year or two ago was because we called the students given on the assessment day ‘mock students’. We thought this was interesting as, the people selected are not pretending to be students, they are students, so the term mock students isn’t really a good one. It’s something we try to clarify now, but the term mock students has come to mean ‘guinea pig students to practice on’ or to be used as ‘sacrificial learners for the purposes of assessment’. The mock students should know this and understand what they are getting for free. We simply haven’t come across a better term than mock students and the term mock students is widely understood within our sector (is it used in the same way in other sectors?)

Interesting as all that is, eventually most trainees do, eventually, pass their assessment. Here’s the but; to do this how many days of free rock climbing instruction have taken place? In 2019 trainee numbers were down. Only 45 people were trained at Plas y Brenin, I don’t know about the other two Centres. However, if 45 people were trained and debriefed to go away and do 20 days teaching rock climbing with students you start to see, potentially, how many days are being delivered by unqualified rock climbing instructors climbing and mountaineering instructors. This means that currently there are at least 900 days of free instruction on offer, add in to that the fact that the consolidation period typically takes up to 5 years and you start to see why it’s pretty difficult to make a living, as a climbing and mountaineering instructor, teaching climbing. And, the majority of this instruction is by people who fail to achieve the qualification which they ‘need’ to do it first time because they are good enough at it. Strange world eh!

All views purely personal.

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