Introducing Novice Members to Climbing and Mountaineering

The IMC has a long history of successfully introducing novice members to climbing and mountaineering. Many of our current active members started out as novices with the club. The following guidance reflects our experience over the years and is intended to help us continue this process safely.

Formal and Informal Meets

The IMC meets calendar includes both “formal” and “informal” meets.

The club’s formal meets normally include one or more designated “beginners’ meets” each year. These are the club’s chief means of introducing beginners to outdoor climbing.

Leaders and participants on formal meets have some defined responsibilities as indicated below.

The majority of the club’s meets are informal meets where participants make their own arrangements with regards to climbing partners and activities. Members with different levels of experience may be included on informal meets but there are no identified “leaders”. Responsibilities on informal meets are less well defined than on formal meets, but some sound guidance is included in the BMC Guidelines for Clubs on Risk, Responsibility, Duty of Care and Liability. which the IMC has adopted.

The difference between the two types of club meet is explained in more detail in the club’s Meets Policy

Formal beginners’ meets

The remainder of this document refers to the club’s formal beginners’ meets.

Each formal beginners meet will also have an organiser nominated by the club meets co-ordinator who may or may not be one of the nominated leaders.

Responsibilities of the meet organiser

As a beginners’ meet organiser you should:

  • Ensure that all those attending the meet are club members and have signed the BMC participation statement.
  • Ensure that any members attending under the age of 16 are accompanied by a parent, and any members aged 16 or 17 attending are either accompanied by a parent or their parent has signed the club’s form consenting to their being treated as adults during the meet.
  • Advise those attending of their own responsibilities as per below.
  • Ensure that all those attending are aware of what personal equipment to bring and arrange for club equipment to be available if required.
  • Arrange climbing groups so that each group includes a nominated leader. Each group may also include one or more assistant leaders and one or more novices or “improvers” (i.e. more experienced members not yet nominated as leaders or assistants).
  • Check that each nominated leader is happy with the composition of their group.
  • Consider mentioning in a follow up email after the meet that it will not have been possible to cover all the safety points in one weekend and referring people to the Mountain Training handbook “Rock Climbing – Essential Skills and Techniques” by Libby Peter for consolidation and further advice.

Responsibilities of the leader

As a leader on a beginners’ meets you should:

  • Ascertain the experience of the members of your group and what they hope to achieve on the meet. Plan objectives accordingly, when in doubt erring on the side of caution. (Take into account both climbing ability and experience and general mountain experience where appropriate).
  • Choose objectives well within your own competence in the conditions, particularly in situations (e.g. multi-pitch climbing) where your own failure to complete the route could put the whole group at risk.
  • If you have assistant leader(s), bear in mind their own competence and experience when delegating responsibilities. You have a duty of care to them as well as to the novice climber(s).
  • Have regard to your own safety and climb well within your own ability. In particular, don’t lead climbs close to your limit with a novice belayer.
  • Tailor the amount of information you offer to the needs of the members of your group. Complete beginners will not be able to absorb large quantities of new information, so focus on key points to enable them to have a safe enjoyable first experience on the route(s) attempted. “Improvers” with more experience may be one step away from climbing independently. They will benefit from a more thorough discussion of safety points to enable them to deal safely with a variety of different situations in the future.
  • Be familiar with the relevant safety guidance in the Mountain Training handbook “Rock Climbing – Essential Skills and Techniques” by Libby Peter. There isn’t a simple set of rules that fits all situations, and experienced climbers may approach things differently according to the circumstances, but when introducing beginners we should try to ensure that we are consistent with the guidance in this handbook.
  • Don’t encourage novices to lead traditional climbs unsupported until you, and they, are confident they can place runners well and accurately assess their quality. For early single pitch leads use a method that allows you to check the placements. Either pre-place crucial runners yourself, or climb or prussic alongside on a fixed rope. Competence in leading single pitch climbs should be well established before beginners lead on multi-pitch climbs.
  • At the end of the meet, if possible, spend some time discussing with your novices and improvers what they have learnt and what they should be ready to do next. According to how much progress they have made this might be to join the next formal beginners’ meet, to join one of the club’s informal meets, or go climbing with friends on their own. It’s important not to leave them thinking they now have the knowledge to go climbing on their own if they still need your support to be safe. However it is, of course, up to them what they choose to do.

Responsibilities of novices

  • You will get the most out of the club’s beginners’ climbing meets if you have previously attended our climbing wall evenings and picked up some basic knowledge regarding equipment and skills beforehand. The club normally organises a skills evening before each beginners meet which is a good event to attend.
  • At the beginning of the meet do let your group leaders know what previous experience you have and what you hope to achieve so that they can plan venues and objectives to fit.
  • During the meet, please remember that all climbers share responsibility for the safety of themselves and others they climb with. Even as a beginner, if you see something you think may be unsafe, always check with your group leader or assistants. If you are unsure about what to do, or why, always ask. If you feel worried about your own safety, always say.
  • At the end of the meet take the opportunity to discuss with your group leader what you have learnt and what you should be ready to do next. Depending on your prior experience and progress during the meet, this might be to join the next formal beginners’ meet, to join one of the club’s informal meets, or go climbing with friends on your own.
  • Do bear in mind that it is not possible to cover everything on a weekend meet. For consolidation of what you have learnt and further advice the club strongly recommends you read the Mountain Training handbook “Rock Climbing – Essential Skills and Techniques” by Libby Peter.