Lead-climbing and The Castle’s under 18 assessment

In order to climb independently at The Castle Climbing Centre in north London, under 18s are required to take an in-house assessment. For obvious reasons, the test is pretty stringent, to make sure that the respective under 18 is competent and understands fully the issues surrounding safe bouldering and top-roping. For 14 and 15 year olds, there is an supplementary lead-climbing component to the assessment.

In the past, Geckos instructors occasionally taught lead-climbing within the regular kids’ club sessions, however it’s not always possible to do so. We run a dedicated lead-climbing course on Sunday afternoons for 4 older kids and hope to offer this to more kids when we can. However, spaces are limited.

Learning to lead-climb on The Castle's cafe walls
Lead-climbing upstairs at The Castle

Lead-climbing courses

Geckos run lead-climbing courses for under 18s during school holidays. Please contact us is this is something your are interested in.

N.B. The child should be aged 13 or above and experienced in top-roped climbing. The level of their climbing is not the main concern, but they should be confident on a route graded 4+ or 5.

The Castle’s assessment

Anyone taking the over 14 assessment should be able to boulder confidently and understand the potential risks, both for themselves and for bystanders. They would need to know how to put on a sit harness, tie in with an appropriate knot and belay safely. However, the major component of the test involves lead-climbing and lead-belaying. A brief summary of what is involved follows, below. Clearly this only provides an overview and is in no way to be seen as an alternative to being properly taught and building up sufficient experience. It is best seen as a resource to return to in order to reinforce what’s been covered on one of our lead-climbing courses.

The climber

The climbing aspect requires an understanding of when and how to clip the lead rope into the quickdraws correctly and the potential pitfalls to avoid. The following video introduces the basics:

The belayer

Lead belaying is much more complicated and difficult than belaying a top-roped climber and requires a great deal of practice to master. Here’s another quick introduction:

The physics

It is important for all to understand that part and parcel of lead climbing is falling; knowing how to do it safely while climbing and how to catch the climber properly while belaying. Both require some understanding of basic physics. There’s a fairly dry explanation of the physics of falling and the forces involved for both the climber and the rope on this manufacturer’s website. However the issues are presented rather more engagingly on this video by a climbing dude. It covers everything well enough, even if the presenter seems to be under the impression that Sir Isaac Newton lived in ancient Greece.

The test!

Assuming that your under 18 climbing daughter or son has been taught to lead climb and belay properly and has built up sufficient experience to take the assessment, you can find full details , including times, prices and information on how to book on The Castle’s website. However, if you’re not sure (teenagers can perhaps sometimes over-estimate their abilities and level of experience), you might want to consider booking a personal tuition session to make sure they’re fully ready. If that’s the case, then let us know. We’d be happy to arrange it.

Geckos alumni: Rachel

Geckos enjoying a trip to Stanage Edge

Rachel climbed with Geckos for two intervals: the first as a 9 year old, the second as a teenager. She now works as the Comment and Features Editor of a London newspaper and appears regularly on television discussing the media (and cats). Here is her beautifully written and inspirational account of climbing with us and what she got out of it.

Old habits die hard! Rachel still climbing trees in 2020.

I started rock climbing age six. It was inevitable really – I’d been attempting to climb things (boulders, trees, walls) since I could stand, and as my parents hadn’t been able to stop me, they figured I should probably be taught to do it properly. I never stopped. From the week Geckos was founded (I was one of the original class) until today, rock climbing has been a constant in my life. It has taken me all over from the world – from the slabs of Burbage North in the Peak District, to the sheer faces of the Swiss Alps, to the cliffs of Cat Ba Island in Vietnam.

It’s been over a decade since I was officially a Gecko, but the years I spent training with Richard Baxell and his group of instructors instilled in me the skills and confidence that have enabled me to sling on a belay harness and start scrambling wherever I am in the world. No tree or boulder is safe. People think of rock climbing as a solitary sport, exercise for people who don’t like teams. The opposite is true. In what other sport are you trusting your teammates not just with winning, but with your life? From day one I was taught that belaying was far more important than climbing, and that safety was paramount. From before I could read or write, I was learning about trust, responsibility, and discipline. Those are lessons any parent should want to instil in their child from an early age.

As an adult, rock climbing has never been just about fitness – it’s an exercise in problem solving, in confidence, and in resilience. There is no opponent, just you and the rock and your own assessment of what you can do. Of all the sports I’ve ever tried, it’s the only one which engages my brain as much as my body, and the exhilaration at reaching the top of a rock face that looked utterly insurmountable is an adrenaline rush like no other. There is no feeling like gazing down at the ground from 1,000 feet and knowing that you got up there with just your own two feet and ten fingers. What other workout enables you to see the world from an entirely new perspective?