The Castle’s new outdoor boulders are now open. With an extension to the northernmost boulder and the replacement of the central featured boulder with a brand new design, there’s loads of new and exciting problems to try out.
All use the new colour code system, graded using the American V system as follows:
White with red spots – VB
Grey – V0-V1
Green – V1-V2
Blue – V3-V4
Pink – V5-V6
Other colours – see tag on initial hand-hold
But please remember – if you’re going to have a go, be sure to bring your water bottle, a hat and some sunblock, as it gets pretty warm out there during the summer!
For a number of years it has been possible to include climbing as a sport within the GCSE in Physical Education. While the Pearson Edexcel syllabus was initially aimed at candidates with outdoor experience, it has been updated and amended to take into account the popularity of indoor climbing, more in keeping with the AQA syllabus. Over the years Geckos have successfully supervised many GCSE students at The Castle Climbing Centre in London.
Edexcel’s assessment criteria for rock climbing (see the syllabus, pp. 293-298)
The performance of skills and techniques in isolation/unopposed situations Candidates will be assessed on any four of the skills listed below when performed in isolation/unopposed practice as appropriate to rock climbing indoors or outdoors. • The ability to ascend a rock face making route assessment, re-assessment and carry out safe climbs employing a range of climbing holds and moves • Rope management (e.g. coiling, uncoiling, preparation and carrying) • Select and use a single anchor to set up top rope • Select and use multiple anchors • Ability to belay with different devices/detailed knowledge of protecting a bouldering climber, this may include spotting but also, for example, positioning pads, landings, etc. • Ability to demonstrate different climbing techniques • Tie a clove hitch, overhand knot and, as appropriate, figure of 8 on the bight • Set up and undertake an abseil, demonstrating the ability to lock off the abseil device during decent/descend from boulder problems safely • Use rope systems to demonstrate a range of secure anchors (e.g. wires, camming devices and fixed equipment).
Application of skills, techniques and decision making under pressure during a conditioned practice and conditioned/formal/competitive situation Candidates will be assessed on the quality of appropriate skills, techniques and decision-making processes to meet the challenges during a conditioned/formal/competitive situation, including using the skills/techniques from isolation/unopposed situations, as well as: • adhering to rules, health and safety guidelines, and considering appropriate risk management strategies. Ability to climb different routes (either indoor or outdoor) • Use a climbing wall or bouldering area • Assess and use a variety of pre-placed anchors • Belay another climber, hold a top-roped fall and perform a ‘lower’ • Demonstrate confident movement on and sequencing on rock/wall employing a variety of appropriate techniques reflecting body position, balance, foot and hand holds to make use of different rock/wall features • Precise footwork on small holds Candidates should be assessed on their control of the skills used and techniques executed, showing mastery of external factors (competitors and/or environment): • Fluid movement utilising momentum. Timing of skills and techniques means there is always fluency to the performance: • Climbs completed on time.
Demonstrates an ineffective level of technical accuracy, with little or no precision, control and fluency, when: • fitting a harness and helmet with instructor support • belaying with instructor support • communicating ineffectively with partner • ascending and descending correctly from route but with errors.
Demonstrates ineffective skills, techniques and decision making, with little or no precision, control and fluency, during a conditioned/formal/competitive situation, to include the following: Demonstrates a limited level of precision when executing skills and techniques, such as: • missing key holds Inadequate control, fluency and/or accuracy when under pressure from external factors (competitors and/or environment), including: • kicking and scraping feet • getting stretched out Timing of skills and techniques means there is no fluency to the performance, including: • getting stuck for periods on the climb.
Demonstrates a basic level of technical accuracy, with little precision, control and fluency, when: • belaying with peers supervised by instructor • putting on harness and helmet with instructor prompts • tying in with rethreaded figure of eight with support • a basic level of climbing communication used • demonstrating basic climbing techniques when ascending and descending with errors
Demonstrates basic skills, techniques and decision making, with little precision, control and fluency, during a conditioned/formal/competitive situation, to include the following. Demonstrates basic level of precision when executing skills and techniques: • using the correct hold inefficiently (wrong part of foot or wrong hand technique) Basic control and accuracy is evident when under pressure from external factors (competitors and/or environment): • jerky actions and lunging due to out of balance movement Timing of skills and techniques means there is basic fluency to the performance: • moves up the wall without major stops
Demonstrates a competent level of technical accuracy, with some precision, control and fluency, when: • belaying competently with backup • fitting harness and helmet independently • tying in independently • safety checks self and partner consistently • demonstrating climbing styles (ascending and descending) with competent techniques
Demonstrates a competent level of skills, techniques and decision making, with some precision, control and fluency, during a conditioned/formal/competitive situation, to include the following. Demonstrates a good level of precision when executing appropriate skills and techniques: • using holds correctly (hand and foot positions) Control of the skills and techniques executed, showing competent control and accuracy when under pressure from external factors (competitors and/or environment): • able to rest in balance with relaxed stance Timing of skills and techniques means there is competent fluency to the performance: • moves up the wall with a competent, steady pace
Demonstrates a good level of technical accuracy, with precision, control and fluency, when: • belaying independently and holding a bottom rope fall consistently • handling climbing equipment fluidly, e.g. carabiners and belay devices • demonstrating climbing techniques (ascending and descending) with good technique
Demonstrates a good level of skills, techniques and decision making, with good precision, control and fluency, during a conditioned/formal/competitive situation, to include the following. Demonstrates a good level of precision when executing appropriate skills and techniques: • accurate footwork Consistently in control of the skills and techniques executed, showing good control and accuracy when under pressure from external factors (competitors and/or environment): • good weight transfer Timing of skills and techniques means there is very good fluency to the performance: • climbing appears fluid with good body positioning for balance
Demonstrates a very good level of technical accuracy, with accurate precision, control and fluency, when: • able to belay with two further devices • able to demonstrate climbing techniques (ascending and descending) faultlessly and fluidly • tie clove hitch, overhand knot and figure of 8 on the bight and understand their uses
Demonstrates a very good level of skills, techniques and decision making, with very good precision, control and fluency, during a conditioned/formal/competitive situation, to include the following. Demonstrates a very good level of precision when executing appropriate skills and techniques: • precise footwork on small holds Always in control of the skills and techniques executed, showing very good mastery of external factors (competitors and/or environment): • fluid movement utilising momentum. Timing of skills and techniques means there is always very good fluency to the performance: • climbs completed fluidly
Students should be working towards French 5+ or F6a. It is expected that students would make use of a minimum of 2 different climbs to demonstrate the following:
Rope work: Students, in a top rope capacity, should be able to tie in, belay and lower partners consistently and safely with effective communication. This could begin in a peer belay situation and progress through to students belaying independently although this would be with backup.
Three points of contact: Students should be able to climb a route of their choice showing 3 points of contact between moves. This could progress from a slab to overhanging terrain.
Traversing/climbing: Students should be able to climb a route of their choice demonstrating clear use of weight transfer and climbing techniques associated with this. This could progress from moves on a slab with three points of contact through to students only using two points of contact and effective body positioning to make the movement successful on steeper terrain.
Climbing at limit: Students should be able to demonstrate climbing at their limit using a variety of techniques in a progressive manner to make a successful ascent; this could progress from a rehearsed route through to a student on sighting at their limit.
Climbing overhanging/steep ground: Students should be able to climb successfully on overhanging terrain; this could be progressively overhanging through to very steep.
Part 1 – Skills (10 marks)
Students should perform the core skills/techniques in increasingly demanding and progressive drills. Progressive drills may start with the skill in isolation but should aim to increase in difficulty by linking skills together and by increasing the difficulty of the route. This must not be in a fully competitive climb.
The quality of technique is maintained for all skills and throughout all practices, even when they are linked together. When faced with a harder route, decision making in relation to when to perform the skill is consistently effective. There are very few errors and the student is adaptive when faced with progressively challenging situations. They almost always produce the intended results/accuracy.
The quality of technique is maintained for all skills but may start to deteriorate when they are linked together in the most challenging practices. When faced with a harder route, decision making is usually effective in relation to when to perform the skill and at what angle. There may be occasional minor errors but the student is usually adaptive when faced with progressively challenging situations. They regularly produce the intended results/accuracy.
The quality of technique is maintained for most skills but may deteriorate when they are linked together in the most challenging practices. When faced with a harder route, the effectiveness of decision making is inconsistent. The student makes more effective decisions on slightly easier routes. There may be occasional errors and the student is sometimes adaptive when faced with progressively challenging situations. They sometimes produce the intended results/accuracy.
The quality of technique is maintained for some skills but frequently deteriorate when they are linked together in the most challenging practices. When faced with a harder route, decision making is only occasionally effective. They are significantly more proficient on easier routes. There may be frequent errors and the student is only occasionally adaptive with progressively challenging situations. They infrequently produce the intended results/accuracy.
The quality of technique is maintained for few skills but they cannot be linked together in the most challenging practices. When faced with harder routes, decision making may be ineffective. Any proficiency is shown on easier routes. There are likely to be frequent errors and the student may be unable to adapt with progressively challenging situations. They rarely produce the intended results/accuracy.
Nothing worthy of credit.
Part 2 – Full context (15 marks)
Students should perform a climb, either in competition or against a suitably challenging environment, demonstrating the skills appropriate to their chosen route. The difficulty of the climb should be appropriately challenging for the performer.
The student shows a high level of ability to make successful and effective tactical and strategic decisions, almost always fully relevant to their position on the wall/rock face. The student’s contribution is highly effective, significant and sustained for almost all of the climb, due to a highly developed level of suitable fitness. The student maintains a high level of technical consistency in the performance of all skills within each climb. The application of skill is fully appropriate to their position on the wall/rock face. The student demonstrates a high level of ability to perform the most appropriate skills/techniques and is usually successful in outperforming others/the environment.
The student shows the ability to make successful and effective tactical and strategic decisions, usually relevant to their position on the wall/rock face, with only minor lapses. The student’s contribution is usually effective and significant and is sustained for the majority of the climb, due to a good level of suitable fitness. The student maintains technical consistency in the performance of all skills in the climb. The application of skill is usually appropriate to their position on the wall/rock face, though there may be some lapses. The student demonstrates an ability to perform the most appropriate skills/techniques and is usually successful in outperforming others/the environment. Occasionally however, they are outperformed.
The student shows the ability to make successful and effective tactical and strategic decisions but there may be some obvious weaknesses and they are occasionally not relevant to their position on the wall/rock face. The student’s contribution is sometimes effective and significant but it is not entirely sustained throughout the climb, with the student’s contribution occasionally lacking due to a slight lack of suitable fitness. The student maintains technique and accuracy in the performance of most skills in the climb but it is not always consistent. The application of skill is not consistently appropriate to their position on the wall/rock face. The student demonstrates an ability to perform appropriate skills/techniques and is sometimes effective in outperforming others/the environment, although only low level performers. However, there may be some obvious areas of weakness and they are often outperformed.
The student shows some ability to make tactical and strategic decisions but there are significant weaknesses and inconsistencies in their relevance to their position on the wall/rock face. The student’s contribution is evident but only occasionally effective or sustained within the climb due to a lack of fitness. The student shows some technical consistency in the performance of some skills during the climb but there are obvious inconsistencies and weaknesses. The application of skill is only occasionally appropriate to their position on the wall/rock face. The student demonstrates a limited ability to perform appropriate skills/techniques and is seldom effective in outperforming others/the environment. There are likely to be some obvious areas of weakness and they are usually outperformed.
The student shows only a limited ability to make tactical and strategic decisions and they are seldom relevant to their position on the wall. The student’s contribution is limited, seldom effective or sustained during the climb with fitness a distinctive weakness. The student shows only limited technical consistency in the performance of a few skills during the climb. The application of skill is rarely appropriate to their position on the wall/rock face. The student demonstrates only very limited ability to perform appropriate skills/techniques, but seldom outperforms anyone/the environment.
I first started climbing when I was 9 years old and my first ever climbing session was with Geckos. I originally went because my mum basically said ‘Stop being lazy and go out and do something!’ So I chose climbing and I was instantly hooked.
Geckos is a place to learn how to climb, but it is also a place to make friends and learn valuable skills. I enjoyed the easy going atmosphere of Geckos, which was somewhere to focus and get better at climbing, but also a place to have fun. Geckos introduced me to a whole new group of people who supported and helped me achieve my goals. Climbing teaches discipline, patience and determination- all things that can be transferred into everyday life. Without climbing I wouldn’t be who I am today.
The thing I love about climbing is that it is so freeing and Geckos not only teaches how to climb, but it embodies it as well. I am visually impaired meaning I have reduced vision. Some may view this as a disadvantage but I don’t. Geckos helped me realise that even though I can see as well as others it is no reason to stop following your dreams and for me that was to become the best climber I could be.
Geckos has led me to climb with The Castle’s Academy and then onto the competition squad. This fuelled an obsession with climbing, which has driven me to both work in the industry and to compete in international competitions with the GB para-climbing team.
For anyone who wants to climb or who has already started, my advice would be ‘keep going’. Sometimes it will be tough and you’ll have to learn to overcome adversity, but in the end the rewards from climbing will be more than you could have imagined. I wouldn’t have been able to achieve my dreams without having been to Geckos, it was my starting point and thanks to the coaches and other kids in Geckos I have reached many of my goals.
Without the help of the coaches from Geckos I would’ve have never pushed myself and achieved what I have, they helped me realise that even though life dealt me a bad hand with my eyes, that shouldn’t stop me, it should motivate me and make me the best version of myself.
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 taught lead-climbing within the regular kids’ club sessions, but over the last 18 months the necessities of social-distancing have limited the opportunities to do so. We have just started running 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.
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 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:
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:
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.
With the government planning to lift many of the Covid restrictions on the 19th July, Geckos will be able to restructure some of our activities, particularly at weekends. What is likely to remain in place is the centre’s stipulation that anyone entering The Castle Climbing Centre must wear a mask when not actually climbing.
It’s still difficult to predict exactly what the position will be in September, but this is the structure of sessions that we are likely to be running. Prices have still to be calculated, but they should be very similar to pre-pandemic levels.
Kids’ club We will be running the kids club from 5-7pm weekdays and 10-12 and 12.30-2.30pm at weekends. Groups will once again comprise 6 children and sessions will last 2, rather than 1 hour. This would allow time for a short break, half way through the session.
Climbing parties Will also return to groups of 6, with parties lasting 1.5 hours, rather than 1 hour. This would allow time for up to 30 minutes bouldering, plus 1 hour of top-roping on the 8m walls. Parties will be timetabled to run on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, or in the daytime during school holidays.
As of Saturday 17 October 2020, London is to be moved from Tier 1 into Tier 2, a response to the recent rise in infections in the capital. Parents of children who climb with our regular kids’ club and prospective customers may be concerned at the impact of the myriad new rules and guidelines. However, for the moment, we can continue to provide climbing activities to children and young people.
In line with guidelines from national sporting bodies, you can take part in sport and physical activity outdoors. Organised indoor exercise classes are only permitted if it is possible for people to avoid mixing in with people you do not live with or share a support bubble with. There are exceptions to enable disability and youth sport and physical activity indoors, in any number.
Finally, finally Geckos is getting back to (some kind of) normal. It’s been a difficult few months for everyone. We are now taking bookings for personal tuition and taster sessions and the kids’ club will be reopening in mid-September. Hopefully climbing parties will return soon after that.
Not surprisingly, while the pandemic is still with us, things are going to look a little different. A number of changes have been made in order to limit potential transmission between anyone in the climbing centre. While evidence suggests that the overwhelming majority of children experience few, if any, serious symptoms, we are erring on the side of caution. After all, children interact with adults at home and at school who have a greater chance of becoming seriously ill, if infected.
The Association of British Climbing Walls, who publish a regular Covid update on their website, have been taking the lead and clearly both the Centre itself and Geckos will follow their advice. Their guidelines will probably need to remain in place until there is an effective, widely-available vaccine or treatment. Key changes include the following:
A limit on the maximum number of people in the Centre at any one time
Maximum numbers in specific areas
A one-way system within the building
2m distance between climbers
The use of face-masks for anyone not climbing, including belayers and instructors
A reduced number of courses
Smaller groups and shorter sessions
No cafeteria or communal water-fountains
In addition, all communal surfaces will continue to be cleaned regularly, particularly the rental and teaching equipment. While it’s clearly not going to be feasible to individually clean all of the thousands of climbing holds or even the ropes, antiseptic hand-gel is provided at reception and hand-washing facilities are available around the building. Efficient ventilation is also useful; fortunately The Castle Climbing Centre benefits from very high ceilings and a sophisticated aeration system.
If you have any concerns, comments or suggestions, please get in touch using the form below.
Louis Parkinson climbed with Geckos as a teenage during the 2000s. Having been a member of the GB climbing team, he regularly competes in competitions and coaches at a number of different centre. I bumped into him in early 2020 in Walthamstow’s new climbing gym, Yonder.
Hello Louis, nice to see you again. What are you up to at the moment?
I’m currently working as a professional coach, though I still train hard to enter competitions and attempt my projects outdoors.
When and why did you first take up climbing?
I first tried climbing when I was 13 years old. My younger sister was turning 11 and my parents (correctly) thought that a rock-climbing birthday party at the local climbing centre would be an exciting option. I was TERRIBLE at it … in fact, I got stuck at the top of the wall on my first attempt, and cried in front of all my little sister’s friends! Despite the less-than-ideal beginning, I was hooked immediately, and rapidly became obsessed with climbing.
What did you enjoy about climbing with Geckos and what did you get out of it? How long did you climb with Geckos?
Climbing with Geckos was critical to my development as a climber. Over the years I climbed with Geckos, I learned ALL the necessary skills to keep myself safe while at the climbing centre and rapidly developed my technical skills for movement and problem solving while on the wall. Richard Baxell was one of the kindest and most patient teachers I have had in any discipline or subject, and I feel truly lucky to have had him as a guide in my early years of climbing.
Does learning to climb (or climbing itself) have any transferable skills?
Absolutely! Climbing fosters a growth-mindset, and through it I have learned to be persistent, to have confidence, to solve problems by working with others, and to be patient in my hard work. I have slowly grown in to a well adjusted, self-confident and happy adult, and I would credit my experiences within climbing and the friends I made within the community with the majority of this development.
What advice would you give to children who are thinking of getting into climbing, or have just started?
Get started!! You’ll do things you never thought yourself capable of, you’ll become physically and mentally stronger than you thought possible, and none of it ever will feel like hard work because you’ll be having SO MUCH FUN doing it! Plus, you’ll make loads of great friends and have a reason to travel to some beautiful places around the world.
What do you enjoy about climbing?
This is a difficult question to answer as I have so much to say here! For me, climbing is so many things; it’s my community, it’s now provided me with a job I love, it keeps me in fantastic shape and is my constant source of fun and excitement. I think one of the most useful things I get from climbing is that I have a hobby which continually forces me to be incredibly mindful in my practice – almost like a form a moving meditation.
What’s next for Louis Parkinson?
I’m really excited about the years to come! To be honest though, I’ll just be doing more of the same: training, competing, coaching and travelling, but constantly aiming for bigger and better than I have in the past!
It is with great sadness that I share news of the death of the Mountain Leader and Instructor Rick Abbott, aged 74. Without his work and support Geckos and The Castle would certainly not be the businesses that they are today.
Between 1997 and 2010, Rick was – among many other things – the technical advisor for The Castle, overseeing the centre’s health and safety and delivering technical workshops to the Centre’s instructors. I was fortunate enough to be one of them and I’ll always be grateful for his support, encouragement and, above all, his humour.
At his funeral at Barnstable in North Devon on 2 March 2020, the crematorium was packed with people from the worlds of climbing, mountaineering and canoeing. Sad though the day undoubtedly was, it was good to see so many making the effort to show their respects to Rick, known only as ‘Abbo’ to many of his friends. The ranks of down jackets and bright outdoor clothing (as Rick had requested) spoke volumes of the deep affection and respect in which he was held.
It might be a cliché to talk of ‘a life well lived’, but it’s difficult to deny that Rick always lived his life to the full, always did his utmost to help and encourage others to do likewise, and always looked on the bright side of life.
Rick Abbott, mountaineering guide and instructor, 1946-2020.
Garden Conditions of use
The garden is based on the principles of permaculture design. We reuse and recycle materials as much as possible, compost waste, use organic growing techniques and have created habitats to support wildlife and promote biodiversity. The fruit, vegetables and herbs grown in the garden are used in the centre’s café.
Please take some time to wander around; you can find out more about the different areas of our garden by reading the information boards.
Use of the Garden
Please be aware that other people may be using the garden to relax and enjoy some tranquillity.
Please respect the plants, insects and animals.
It is your responsibility to monitor the safety of your group and make sure that they are aware of the hazards.
Please take into consideration
The garden is a working garden; please keep to the paths, do not pick or eat anything, either in the beds or other in areas of the garden.
There are trip hazards, there may be construction materials stored here and occasionally there is work taking place.
Children and animals to be supervised at all times. Dogs, in particular, must be kept on a lead at all times and away from the growing beds. Please don’t allow dogs to foul in our garden- but if it does happen, please pick up and dispose the poo immediately.
There is a bee hive located between the Engine House (Café) and Boiler House (ground level) entrances. Do not disturb the bees.
There is a small pond in the SE corner of the garden- take special care in this area with small children.
Do not climb the trees.
Visitors who haven’t checked in to climb at reception are not permitted to climb in the centre or on the outdoor boulders. Children who are attending a group climbing session are only permitted to climb during the session under their instructor’s supervision.
Do not drink from the taps- some of these are untreated rainwater used for irrigation.
Please dispose of all rubbish and used dishes in the centre. If you have a large amount of recyclable material please ask reception or a duty manager who will be able to provide you with a large bag for the recyclables to go in.
There are a variety of plants in the garden, including some that sting or can make you ill- don’t touch anything you are unsure of.
Staff regularly monitor this area. Please report any incidents, problems or concerns to the Duty Manager.
There are men’s and women’s changing rooms with toilets inside the building (the women’s and an accessible toilet with baby changing facilities are on ground floor, the men’s is on the mezzanine floor).
There are water fountains in the centre.
If there is an incident or you require first aid please go to reception and they will contact the Duty Manager.