A Week at Warren Gorge and the ‘New School Method’ to Rock Climbing Instruction

The aim of the game last week was to educate a couple of Year 11 Outdoor Ed classes on rock climbing at my home crag, Warren Gorge, with one class being Monday – Wednesday and the other being Wednesday – Friday. Fortunately for me there was enough supervision at the campsite each night that allowed me the privilege of staying at my own house. I was able to concentrate solely on my role as the Master of Ceremonies for the climbing aspect of camp and felt like I gave the two classes of students a fine introduction to the new school of climbing.

Old school climbing instruction on outdoor ed camps is all about learning to belay, overcoming your fear of heights and just being outdoors. New school climbing instruction covers those things too (obviously learning to belay is important) but there is also a focus on acknowledging climbing as a sport and a way of learning how to use your body properly. As an Olympic sport in an era of society where F45 and activewear are now part of the lexicon, climbing is on the verge of making the transition from ‘daredevil’ type pursuit to a useful, all inclusive sport. Provided climbing instructors and recreational climbers get the message across right. And that’s what motivated me this week to embrace the 9-5 routine I had set whilst working at Warren Gorge, 15 minutes from Quorn, with these year 11 students.

The Lepus Face at Warren Gorge.

First day of each class was pretty similar in that for the first hour everyone is scared out of their brains. The students are scared the ropes and equipment is actually going to hold them and the staff are scared that the students are actually going to belay properly. Get the info about belaying wrong in that initial twenty minute period and, as I highlighted to the groups, you will die. No beating around the bush with me! Sure enough the threat of death is a persuasive factor in getting their attention (being out of phone reception at Warren Gorge also helps) and each students across the the week demonstrated great safety behaviour. And once the safety standard has been set, that’s when it’s time to layer on the performance climbing skills…

Laybacking, underclings, jugs, positive hand holds, crimps, weight transfer, traversing, silent feet, trying really really hard, the subtleties of different power screams, chalk/confidence dust, finding the beta, rehearsing the beta and hand jams. All different techniques that were mentioned and worked on over the three days with each class. The best students, the ones that were engaged listeners and asked questions, put this into practice by trying to climb a route that on day 1 was seen as almost impossible. For some that might have been a hard climb but for even the weakest climber on day 1 they were seeing the benefit of consistent practice and were actually getting to the top of climbs that were in the too hard basket. The way I sold this to the group was that learning to climb is like riding a bike. Your body has to learn all the different motor patterns of climbing, like learning to ride a bike, before it can confidently excel in using these motor patterns. And after three days at Warren Gorge in the New School of Climbing any non-climber will leave being a much better climber along with some transferrable life skills.

What are the transferrable life skills from climbing? Well, learning how to try hard like your life depended on it is one. Not only does your body get stronger by trying really hard but its also empowering to actually know how hard you can physically do something. Another great life lesson learned is that if at first something seems impossible, like a climb or a difficult job or assignment, at least giving it a go and practicing it is a great effort and generally leads to that ‘impossible’ thing becoming possible. You are always more capable than you think and this is visually reminded to any person who climbs past a section they once thought they couldn’t do. Lastly, climbing is all about enjoying moving outside and learning to trust and work with others towards a common climbing. Reinforcing this to the students this week is important because hopefully they are reminded that hanging out with mates and doing some physical exercise is a great antidote for those times when you’re feeling blue.

The author applying some of his own teachings down at Onkaparinga Gorge.

If reading this made you think about getting into climbing yourself or bringing your work mates, or even your own school group (pre-requisite here being that you are a teacher) then get in touch and get yourself up here! Click here to be taken to my Contact and Availability Details. Thanks for reading.

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