The Duke of Edinburgh’s award, and GCSE climbing

Bouldering at THe Castle

We are often asked by parents if Geckos can accommodate children who are participating in the Duke of Edinburgh’s award, or would like to take the climbing option of the GCSE in physical education. The answer to both questions is yes.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s award

We have helped numerous young people who are working towards the bronze and silver awards. The vast majority have elected to chose climbing as their physical activity, though we have, on occasion, allowed some of the long-standing members of our climbing club to work with us as volunteers.

The physical activity requires regular attendance while working towards some achievable goals. There’s more about the DofE’s physical activities here. Your instructor will be able to confirm your attendance and one of Geckos’ Managers will complete your online assessment. It’s all pretty straightforward.

For those who want to volunteer with us, it’s essential they are already an experienced member of the climbing club and are at least 14 years of age. Generally volunteers would be expected to assist a regular Geckos’ instructor, perhaps demonstrating simple climbing techniques to younger or less experienced children, or helping with belaying. Volunteers are supervised at all times.

GCSE climbing

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. 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

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.

11-2Demonstrates 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.
11-5Demonstrates 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.
23-4Demonstrates 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
26-10Demonstrates 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
35-6Demonstrates 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
311-15Demonstrates 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
47-8Demonstrates 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
416-20Demonstrates 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
59-10Demonstrates 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
521-25Demonstrates 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

Geckos alumni: Lux

My name is Lux Losey, I’m from London and have been a climber for 10 years. I am an assistant coach at The Castle Climbing Centre and I am on my way to becoming a qualified Climbing Wall Instructor.

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.

Lux (left) at the final of the 2019 Paraclimbing World Championship. Photo by Sytse van Slooten

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.

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 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.

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.

Getting back to normal

Bouldering on the first floor

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.

Taster & family taster sessions
To remain essentially the same: up to 4 at a time for 1 or 1.5 hours.

Personal tuition
Up to 3 people at a time for 1, 1.5 or 2 hours.

London moves to Tier 2

Level of infections in London, October 2020

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.

The stipulations, as they appear on the government’s website, are as follows:

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.

If you would like to know more, the Association of British Climbing Walls has a FAQ page.

Obviously, to minimise the risk to the children in our care and to our staff, we will continue to follow The Castle’s social distancing and hygiene policies set out in an earlier blogpost.

Geckos, The Castle and Covid-19

The Corona virus

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
A useful reminder

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.

Geckos alumni: Louis

Louis & George

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.

Louis doing his thing…

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!

Rick Abbott R.I.P.

Rick Abbott on top of the world

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.

Rick Abbott leading an ML training course in Dartmoor, August 2004
Doing what he did best: Rick running an MLTB mountain-leader training course in Dartmoor, August 2004

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 scrambling in Snowdonia 2006
Scrambling in Snowdonia, May 2006

Rick Abbott, mountaineering guide and instructor, 1946-2020.