Foreword By Tom Hatt

Tom and James climbing at Wintour's Leap in the Wye Valley, Herefordshire.
Tom and James climbing in the Wye Valley.

I have known James for a number of years and climbed with him all over the UK and on trips to Europe.

Once he started on his path to becoming a rock climbing instructor he was committed to say the least. He volunteered with us shadowing a number of our instructors gleaning all the knowledge he could from them while developing his own teaching style. His passion for the sport is second to none and since passing his qualification, he has become one of our top instructors.

James sport climbing in Portland, Dorset.
Sport climbing in Portland.

A few years ago I found myself driving from West Sussex every weekend to sea cliffs in Dorset, quarries and edges in the Peak District, limestone crags in the Wye Valley and the mountains in North Wales to go climbing. Cold temperatures, wind or rain didn’t stop me attempting day trips with early starts, weekend stop overs or whole weeks away planned well in advance. All I wanted to do was climb!

Whenever I got home I would record my achievements and attempts on the UKclimbing forum (commonly known as UKC) logbook facility. Half way through an evening of updating my logbook I asked myself, why am I recording all this? I never really read it, so what was the purpose did it serve? I was discussing this point with a friend soon after, they asked me if I had thought about doing my RCI or Rock Climbing Instructor Award.

I hadn’t thought about it for a while, in fact not since I had worked a summer season for one of the large UK outdoor providers after finishing college. I had not been climbing that long at that point so the RCI (then SPA) seemed a little out of reach for me and an expensive outlay.

Things were different this time though, with the all the personal climbing I was doing I had easily surpassed the entry prerequisites and I could now afford to pay for the qualification training and assessment. I would be climbing those weekends anyway for fun, but this would also contribute something to my C.V. So I said to myself, why not?

James climbing a ridge traverse in Spain.
Ridge ‘sport climbing’ in Spain.

I registered for the award with UK national governing body (Mountain Training). Here you can see prerequisites for the qualification you want to register for and once registered you’re provided with a login and a digital log for your climbs. This allows your experience to be shared with the trainer/assessor and later potential employers etc. Handily you can import your log book straight from the UKclimbing forum, result! If you don’t currently log your climbing on UKC and there is a any possibility you might want to do your RCI in the future, I highly recommend you start doing so. I then needed to pick a training provider, someone who would deliver my training and assess me once I was ready. A friend recommended a small independent adventure company run by a few members of staff, something I personally like to support. I also believe you get a slightly different experience from this type of provider. All paid up, I was nervous and excited in equal measure, this was something new to aim for, a new goal other than pushing grades or exploring new climbing venues. On the flip side, the need to show you have climbed in in various places in the U.K may also be a good excuse to climb in new places. But was I ready?

James learning to teach outdoor climbing to clients with Hatt Adventures.
James assisting with real clients on a Hatt Adventures climbing course.

The weekend came round quickly and I drove up to the Peak District with my kit loaded up for a weekend’s climbing. My brain, however, I left at home. It was scrambled. I was so nervous! I suppose climbing around a bunch of strangers seemed a bit daunting. So what did I do the day before training? I went climbing, a fantastic day on a long trad traverse route. In the end the training turned out to be so much fun. It was relaxed and well structured, I learned loads of new things, met some like minded people and also confirmed some of my current skills…and it was really sunny so I topped up my tan.After completing training the focus becomes gaining experience, being part of a variety of group sessions. These can include and ideally be a good mix of, shadowing professional climbing and abseiling sessions, volunteering on such sessions and taking inexperienced but willing volunteers out for free having explained you are not qualified but are in training. Ideally this would be in a mix of locations and as many of them as possible at single pitch settings with easy access to the top and bottom as this is the limitation of the qualification once assessment is passed. I would also recommend getting out in as many different weather conditions as possible with a variety of people as you will learn so much more.

One assessment prerequisite is to have led 40 trad climbs with 20 of these at grade Severe or above. Luckily for me I had all the personal climbing I needed so for a few months I took friends out climbing, setting up top and bottom rope systems for them. It was difficult gauging achievable routes for newbie at first, but I soon got the hang of it. I even took my OAP mother-in-law out on a cold day in November, the week before my assessment.

It really benefited me approaching climbing businesses big and small to volunteer and shadow the sessions they had running. This was invaluable, being part of real situations, with real clients, perhaps a little nerve wracking but brilliant. The sessions I helped out on included a charity abseil which was really interesting and something no one else had done on my assessment and gave me great confidence on setting the abseil up on the second day.

Abseil rescue training on a group abseil, in the Peak District.
James running a ‘group abseil’ and dealing simulated rescue.

So the assessment. Again I was nervous… really nervous.

This time around in mid November there was no sun. My accommodation for the weekend was my car roof tent, embracing temperatures of minus three overnight, something I had checked after being woken up by boy racers at one in the morning – not an ideal way to spend a night prior to assessment.

The first day went well, everyone shivering, wrapped in many layers looking like michelin men trying to climb the windswept gritstone edges of the Peak District. I again enjoyed confirming my skills and as on any good assessment learned even more. The second day saw a couple of hours of sun but just as much wind. British climbers are generally used to some shared suffering, approached with a certain humour to get each other through and this was no exception. Our instructors applauded our ability to get on with what was asked of us, including setting up top rope, bottom rope and abseil systems and rescue scenarios all with groups in mind.

Then came the results. Walking back from the crag we were called over one by one to chat to the instructors and receive our course feedback. The instructors had picked up on my first day nerves but had said that my second day was much improved which meant…I had passed!

Passing the full RCI includes completing a 16 hour outdoor first aid qualification. The first aid course I attended was great although I have since heard some stories of some that are not so good, so try and get a recommendation for a good one near to you.

With all this completed I am now able to pick up work around the UK using my new qualification passing on my experience and that feels really good. Part of this work has been for Hatt Adventures and I really look forward to this 2019 season with Tom and his team.

All in all would I recommend doing your RCI? Certainly! Question is, what to do next?

By James Yoxall