Archive for South East Sandstone Tips

How to belay for rock climbing

Belaying refers to the method that climbers use to hold each others ropes. Below is a simple video explaining how this can be done.

What next? A list a recommended climbs

rock climbing in south East UkAfter a climbing course, people often ask me for a list of recommend climbs. Well - here it is. This list does not go above 5a and sticks to three cliffs that are suitable for beginners (Bowles, Harrisons and Stonefarm)

Bowles Rocks
rocks at Bowles

November 2b
Funnel 3c
Pigs Nose 5a
Devaluation 5b
YoYo 4a
Sapper 4c
Skiffle 3a
Reclamation slab 2b

Harrisons Rocks
rock climbing at Harrisons
Long layback 5a
Bow Window 3c
Right circle – 4a
Tame corner 2a
Tame Variant 2b
Toeing the line 4b
Deadwood crack 4c
The Vice 4c
Smooth chimney 3b
Moonlight arête 4a
Wanderfall 4c
Birch tree wall 4b
Birch tree crack 3c

Stonefarm rocks
climbing at Stone farm rocks
Tiny Wall, Stonefarm Rocks
Pine crack 3b
Curling crack 4b
Introductory climb 2b
Dinosaurs don’t dyno 3a
Praying Mantles, Stonefarm Rocks (5b)

More detail can be found at here

rock climbing courses

Bowles Outdoor Centre - staff training day.

This week I ran a training session for all the full time staff at Bowles outdoor centre. This was quite a hard task as all the staff at Bowles are excellent outdoor instructors. There is a huge amount of experience between all the team. Bowles is very different from many other outdoor centres as it places a great deal of importance on quality and educational value of its outdoor sessions. A large amount of time and money is spent training and developing the staff - hence my input on the training day.
climbing training at Bowles Rocks
I decided the aim for the day should not only be technical input such as ‘how to rescue’ and different ways of teaching belaying but some of the session was also spent looking at ‘information processing’ and how this can effect how we run our climbing sessions.

Information Processing

All the staff at Bowles recently had a training on Autism, although this is not new to us, we all gained a further insight on some of the difficulties that Autistic people could face whilst at Bowles. I decided to continue with this theme at explore how people we can pass complex information (such as all the safety information needed for climbing) to students who have difficulties dealing with large amounts of information.

As a warm up, we played a game where all the staff had one minute to remember as many objects as they can. Once the staff had written down all they could remember they then found out that each object represented a different instruction that can given as part of our climbing sessions. There are a possible 36 bits of information that can be included in a climbing brief and therefore there where 36 objects to remember. Each person then had to look at what they had remembered and write down what sections of the climbing brief they represented. Each staff member then had to decide whether they had gathered enough information for the climbing session to be safe!

Half the staff did remember enough information for the session to be safe but all the other staff released that they had not retained enough information. This then lead to a group discussion and it was quickly agreed that we only need to give out three pieces of information to make our climbing sessions safe. All the other bits of the brief can be added once the 3 main parts have been understood.

Click on this image to see some of the notes from this section.
rock climbing course


Later during the day we looked at possible rescue practices. Firstly it was decided that there are not many situations where pulling hard on the ‘live’ end of the rope will not solve. Everyone was very surprised how effective a simple prussic on the live end can be.
rock climbing assistance
We also practiced something known as a ‘counter balanced rescue’. I am not going to explain this here as I feel it is something that needs proper training. The photos below are only meant to remind people who attended the course.
rock climbing rescues
rock climbing rescue course

Adding value to climbing

The final part of the training day was a discussion on how we all add extra value to the climbing session. All climbing sessions will have elements of team work/goal setting/ communication and confidence. The Bowles staff are very good at bringing these out during the session. We took it for granted that we are able to do this so we focused on how we can add extra value by teaching students about the geology of the rocks, history of rock climbing and plants and animals. We all agreed that this ‘value’ should be added without distracting from the rock climbing session. We looked at games we can play whilst climbing that also teaches the students about the rocks.
rock climbing information

New Bolts placed on Salamanda Slab (Bowles Rocks)

rock climbing at Bowles RocksAs part of my contract with Bowles Outdoor Centre, I check all the high access equipment, high ropes courses as well as checking the bolts on the rocks. I have been informed by a local climber that the tree at the top of Salamander Slab ‘wobbles’ when you pull on it. This is a bit of a worry as not only is the tree an important hand hold but most people also use it to attach their ropes to.

I don’t think it is good practice to use a tree that is perched on the edge of a cliff, especially one that is dead down one side! It can be set up with a rope using a Y hang without wobbly tree, but not many people do this.

To try and encourage sensible and safe practice, I have placed some bolts behind the tree so people can use a simple set up, instead of a more complex Y hang.
Climbing bolts
Currently, the bolts are not in use as some time is needed for the resin to set and I also need to order a connecting wire to link the two bolts.
climbing bolts
The new bolts will usable in the next couple of weeks.

Start up equipment for rock climbing

As many of my rock climbing courses are designed to teach people how to climb without instruction, I often get asked what equipment is needed for climbing on Southern Sandstone.

The simple method I teach for setting up climbs will work in any situation, it does not matter whether you have one or two anchor points or if you are using trees or bolts. This one simple method will work every time. Although there are some methods on my setting up sandstone climbs page, I don’t describe this method as I like to keep some skills back for my courses - sorry. The one disadvantage is that it requires 1 more krab than some other methods!

For this system you will need the following;

5-10 meter length of static rope - for rigging (same spec as below and will cost from £10 to £20)
30-40m length of climbing ropes (either static or dynamic 10-11mm in diameter and it should be a ‘single rope’) At static will be between £50 and £60 for this length
1 HMS krab (£10 to £15)
2 or 3 D or oval krabs (£10)
1 belay plate (I like the Black Diamond ATC at £20)
1 harnesses per person (£40 to £80 - make sure it is comfortable by hanging in it whilst in the shop)
climbing shoes (£40 to £120 - don’t spend more than £50 on your first shoes - they should be snug but comfortable)
Helmet (optional)
Rope protector (old carpet is fine)
Carpet for cleaning feet at the start of the climb.

I would recommend this local store as they are sandstone specialists and stock DMM climbing equipment (DMM is British, has great environmental record and make great kit)

Importance of using a rope protector

Damaged climbing ropes

This rope was damaged on Patella at Bowles rocks. The climber in question said that they had tried the climb less than 10 times and when he went to de-rig the climb, he found the rigging rope in the current state.

I know if this happening at least 5 times this year on various climbs and crags in the South East this year and it has happened with slings as well as ropes. It really does show how vital it is to use a rope protector when setting up bottom ropes (bottom roping is the proper term for the type of climbing we use on Southern Sandstone). Rope protectors can be bought commercially at many >climbing shops or can be made from old bits of carpet.

A simple carpet rope protector is shown below.
carpet on climbing rope

Not only will the rope protector help keep you safe but it is also vital for protecting the fragile sandstone cliffs. The outer crust of Southern Sandstone has been hardened by a process called ‘case hardening’ but this layer is very thin and can still be damaged by climbing ropes. Carpets can often be found at the bottom of the rocks having been left behind by other climbs, if they have no owner, pick one up and help keep the crag clean and get yourself a free rope protector.

Advice from Petzl about roped soloing (self belay)

Roped soloing is often used on Southern Sandstone as an alternative to climbing with a partner. The most common pratice is to use a Petzl Shunt although other devices are also used.

The following advice is taken from the petl website at

The Petzl team highlight a number of methods that can be used and then point out the issues with each one. They also explain the problems with some of the devices when they are used as a self belay system (Petzl do not make a device for this use).

roped solo
This method only has one rope and if the device fails there will be a shock load on the rope and acender! When petzl tested this they found the the back up knots did stop the climber from hitting the ground but the device was broken and may not always work if the test is repeated.

roped solo2
This is a better method as there are two ropes but there is still a chance of high fall factors which would be made worse by static ropes. The petzl website shows some good diagrams of how to use this system.

best rope solo method
Petzl also disccus these two methods, more details can be found here and here

other best method

Staying safe at the top of the rocks

I was working at Bowles rocks the other day checking bolts and wires at the top of the cliff. I replaced a couple of wire slings as they has grown too tight around the trees. I also removed some (top of funnel, Sing Sing and one from the top of Birch crack) as you need a long static rope to set these up properly and therefore a wire sling around the tree is of little use to climbers. As the centre has a policy that all instructors must be clipped onto something if there is a risk of falling, I had to make sure that these climbs could still be set up safely by Bowles staff. I therefore added a wire sling to a tree near the top of some climbs so the centre staff could clip in with a sling before they get near to the edge of the cliff.

As I finished this job I watched a local climber setting up one of these climbs, this got me thinking about how many risks we take as climbers. We often put our selves in dangerous situations without even thinking about it. A couple of years ago a friend of mine fell from the top of Bowles rocks and broke his back in many places.

It is so easy to stay safe at the top of the rocks - we all have a harness. All we need to do is put it on BEFORE we head up to the top of the cliff. We are going to put it on at some point so we might as well do it at the start of the day.
Cowstail for the top of rocks
This photo shows a simple method of creating a ‘cows tail’, which can be clipped into the bolts or wires at the top of the cliff. You will notice that I have used a girth hitch to attached the sling, this is a weak knot and you must make sure that you never shock load the sling. A couple of overhang knots in the sling can be used to allow you to choose where you clip the krab and therefore keep the sling tight.

Near misses on Southern Sandstone

This weekend a member of the public was climbing on Pigs Nose and after taking a number of falls on the top move the rope sheath started to strip itself from the core of the rope. The climber was lowered to the floor and although the climbers were shaken, they were both OK. Ropes are designed to absorb the force of the climber and they do this by stretching. After taking a couple a falls without giving the rope time to recover to its normal length the rope will no longer be able to stretch and absorb the force of the fall. It is important to lower off and give the rope time to recover. This can be done by tying into the other end of the rope or having some recovery time.

There is also a good video about ways this can happen at the DMM site.

Below are a couple of other near misses that I have also been made aware of;
There have been a number of people setting up using slings (good) but instead of clipping the rope into the sling with a krab, people run the rope directly through the sling without the use of a krab (bad). Ropes moving over a sling in this way could cut their way through the sling in a matter of seconds!

People have been spotted using fence posts to attach ropes (bad). We understand that at some other crags (places in Swanage, Peaks etc.) fence posts are the only anchors available. At these places they are used as a last resort and are by no means a good safe anchor point. The fence posts at Bowles are old, rotten and extremely loose. They would not hold you.

There have also been a number of people using dynamic ropes to set up with. Although this is not too dangerous (see point below) this will damage the rock at the dynamic rope stretches and rubs the rock away.

On Temptation a long static rope was used to set up a belay (good). After about 6 falls on this climb another climber noticed that the static rope looked ‘a bit strange’. When looked at more closely the sheath of the rope had completely worn out over a 2 meter section where is had been in contact with the rock. This had left the core complete exposed meaning the rope would have snapped after a few more falls. Although the climbers had done nothing wrong in this situation, it does highlight that ropes rubbing on the rock (even static ropes) can become damaged. It is worth checking your ropes and slings; the use of a rope protector or carpet at the top of the rocks would reduce the chances of this happening and also help protect the rock. NB. I have also seen this happen with a sling.

You would be shocked at how any people can’t do up their harnesses correctly. Remember the waist band should go ABOVE the hip bones at be tight enough so it’s impossible to slip down.

There is a good video about setting up on top ropes from the UKC climbing site.