Climbing – Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use my own equipment?

Climbers can use their own harness, helmet and climbing shoes, but the equipment must be inspected by a certified Council climbing director or climbing instructor first. The gear must be in good physical condition, and the climber must know the age of the equipment and where it was purchased. If a climber’s personal equipment is deemed unsafe, the climber will be able to use available Council gear. Personal rope and hardware may not be used because the history of its use is unknown.

Safety is the number one priority of BSA climbing programs, and ensuring that all climbing equipment—from ropes to hardware to helmets—is safe for climbing, rappelling and belaying activities is a critical responsibility of the Council climbing staff.

What is the belay to climb requirement?

The BSA principle of “Challenge by Choice” is a vitally important part of the program. What this means is that each person decides which activity to participate in without being pressured or coerced by the group and without having to justify the choice. The group must accept each individual’s choice.

Belaying is the activity of a person who actively monitors a climber’s progress and who applies friction to a climbing rope so that a falling climber does not fall very far. When climbing and rappelling, the participant must rely on his belayer to help keep him safe. This is part of being a team and actively looking out for each other. As a result, for youths 12 and older, no one is allowed to climb without also belaying for someone else. This means that climbers equally share responsibility for each other’s mental and physical safety. If a person is unwilling to belay, he or she will not be allowed to climb or rappel. NOTE: Webelos and Cub scouts are not allowed to belay other climbers, but they can climb with trained belayers. Every participant will be offered instruction in proper technique for belaying, climbing and rappelling.

Where can I do indoor climbing?

A great resource for finding indoor climbing gyms in North Carolina is the Indoor Climbing website.

With features like bouldering caves, overhang areas, top-rope courses, lead climbing routes, kinderwalls, roof climbs, corners, cracks, arches, slabs and arêtes, indoor climbing gyms can offer an amazingly rich array of options in a climate controlled environment. Indoor gyms can make for great Scout outings in themselves or can be a convenient part of a training program for natural rock climbing as part of an overnight high adventure outing.

Most climbing gym operators provide an array of training and rental equipment such as harnesses, climbing shoes, belay devices and carabiners. The climbing procedures and liability insurance requirements of the gyms supersede the BSA requirements.

What about lead climbing?

Lead climbing may be practiced by climbing instructors or others with good climbing skills only if participants are protected with a top-rope belay. In lead climbing, climbers are tied to belay ropes that extend below them. As they climb, they insert chocks or other mountaineering hardware into cracks in the rock and then use carabiners to attach the rope to establish points of protection. Lead climbing requires extensive training and experience. A lead climber is exposed to the risk of falling a considerable distance (as much as 25 ft.), so lead climbing may be practiced during BSA Council and district activities only if participants are protected with a top-rope belay.

Experienced climbers know that static ropes must never be used to belay climbers. A static rope will cause a falling climber to absorb the full force of the fall, greatly increasing the chances of injury and the failure of anchors or other system components.

How many trained climbing instructors do I need for my event?

The Camp Durant climbing tower requires a minimum of two BSA climbing Instructors for an individual unit to participate. District and Council events also require a BSA climbing director be present. See more about arranging instructors here.

Can I hire a climbing guide for natural rock climbing?

There are several reputable sources of climbing guides in the mountain areas of North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and Georgia. Contact a local outfitter/outdoor gear shop for further information.

There are several things to look for when using a guide. Since you are using a guide, you will be working under the rules of that guide or guide company, just as you do in a climbing gym. As such, they accept any liability for the climb. So, make certain that the guide or guide company has sufficient insurance to cover accidents. Verify the experience, training and any certifications that the guide or guide company may have. Talk to them about the site(s) where they are taking you. If they’ve never been there, don’t go. Ask about their gear and rope care – make sure it makes sense.

What training should I have as a Scout leader organizing climbing events?

As a minimum, we recommend first aid, CPR, Climb on Safely, Weather Hazards, Trek Safely and Leave No Trace. Several of these are available online through National BSA.