Climbing Natural Rock

Occoneechee Council has full sets of climbing gear (helmets, harnesses, ropes and climbing shoes for 15 climbers) available to rent to do natural rock climbing at locations other than Camp Durant. With this gear and trained climbing instructors, Scouting units can top-rope anywhere in the state.

We also provide specialized natural rock training for adults, which enables them to check out the gear on their own. This training is usually offered once a year in the spring. To quality for the course, leaders must have already completed the Council’s COPE/Tower Climbing training.

The same safety issues that apply to other Scouting activities also apply when Scouts are climbing and rappelling. Leaders and climbing instructors need to pay particular attention to weather and ensure that everyone understands the safety briefing before activities begin. Everyone in the group shares the responsibility for safety. Everyone needs to know and follow the rules.

Climbing Route Difficulty

In rock climbing and mountaineering, climbing routes are given a grade that describes the difficulty, the danger of the climbing route and the “fun” factor. There are a number of factors that contribute to the difficulty of a climb, including the technical difficulty of the moves, the strength and stamina required, the level of commitment required and the difficulty of protecting the climber. Wikipedia has a nice introduction to route grading.

While route grading is inherently subjective, the system can help you decide which routes to try first when you go to a new natural rock climbing area. Check climbing websites for information, maps, route grades and helpful hints on the area where you are planning to climb.

Selecting a Natural Rock Site for Climbing/Rappelling

Choosing an outdoor location as the site of a climbing/rappelling program requires research, planning and the input of knowledgeable people. North Carolina offers an amazing range of climbing and rappelling opportunities for Scouts of all experience levels. Check out several places here.

If you are choosing a new area, the following steps will help to ensure that a site is challenging, safe and worthwhile:

  • Contact local rock-climbing authorities such as BSA climbing directors (from your Council and others) who have extensive safe climbing experience and an understanding of the program that BSA offers. Rock climbing organizations are also invaluable resources for advice, and many state parks link to local climbing club websites.
  • Avoid areas where rock is unduly fractured, brittle, loose, slippery or crumbly. Easily dislodged rock will present a hazard to climbers, rappellers and bystanders. Do not climb or rappel on rock faces adjacent to highways – these are not natural and may be unsafe. The site should be reachable by road or trail or should have other quick access to emergency aid within a reasonable time.
  • When climbing in warm, arid regions, you may be more comfortable on climbing and rappelling faces oriented toward the north or east out of direct afternoon sunlight.
  • Think about how many people will be using the climbing routes during the day – it may make sense to set up shorter routes so that more people can complete the climbs quickly. Try to plan routes of varying difficulty so that you can encourage climbers to select the route they most want to test.
  • The incline for climbing should be a 40-80 degree slope, with a 60-70 degree slope being optimum. There should be plenty of holds for hands and feet, preferably a variety of cracks, ledges and protrusions. Smooth surfaces are very difficult and may be frustrating to beginning climbers.
  • Rappel routes should have a vertical length of at least 30 ft. to maintain a sense of fun and adventure for the rappellers.
  • Every route for climbing and rappelling must feature fail-safe anchor points, preferably large, living trees or solid rock protrusions. If using man-made bolt anchors, use only those that are at least 3/8 in. diameter.
  • There must be sufficient area above each route to accommodate at least three people comfortably – a belayer, an instructor and a climber or rappeller.
  • If participants will climb and then rappel in sequence, establish a safe path from the top of the climb to the top of the rappel. NOTE: This can only be done as long as the anchor points for the climbing rope are high enough that the climber can top out WITHOUT moving higher than the anchors. NEVER climb above the anchor points of the belay line. When possible, the path should not run next to the edge of a cliff; if it does, install a safety line and require climbers to clip into it before unclipping from the belay rope at the top of their climb. The safety line will keep climbers out of harm’s way when moving to the next activity.
  • Consider where bystanders and participants waiting their turns to climb will gather. The gathering area must be well removed from the line of fall rocks or climbing equipment. Unless they are belaying or spotting, keep bystanders out of the safety zone below the climb or rappel.
  • Establish a secure place to store equipment, backpacks and personal belongings.
  • The site should have a source of safe drinking water or else instructors and climbers must bring their own water. Nearby toilet facilities are convenient when possible. At all times, Scouting organizations should practice Leave No Trace principles.  
  • Have a contact at your home base that knows where you’re going.
  • And finally, before you leave for the climbing event, print out several copies of driving directions to the nearest medical facility. In case of an emergency, you’ll need this information. You will also want to determine who is the designated emergency driver ahead of time.