Around 100 students from 50 clubs honed their skills at this year’s BMC student seminar, gaining valuable knowledge to help improve their university clubs practices. Philly Betts, president of Warwick University Climbing Club reports back on what went on and why the weekend was so much more than the word ‘seminar’ suggests.
Warwick University Climbing Club hadn’t sent any exec members on the course in a fair few years, so my decision on becoming president to attend was partly through curiosity and partly to ensure peace of mind that the following year could be run as smoothly and safely as possible! When you become an executive member of a club that runs adventure sport trips, there are few guidelines and very little advice on how to best avoid incidents and ensure you teach your intake of freshers correctly whilst making sure that every member, old and new, has an enjoyable experience.
Three years ago, I was that trusting fresher, happily scrambling up top roped climbs on Stanage Edge, weighting the rope and not giving a second thought to the safety of the anchor, my impact on the rock or the issues of swamping the crag with minibuses and novice climbers like myself. So when, in May this year, I was thrust into this position of responsibility, I realised that it was up to me and the rest of the exec to learn everything we could about the responsible running of a club, the safety of our members, and of course, how to avoid annoying every independent climber we encountered and incurring abuse on UKC a week later!
The weekend at Plas Y Brenin began with a host of different seminars on those vital tips that ‘no one ever tells you’. The most insightful of these talks was on ‘Tort law as they apply to clubs’. The title seemed daunting and I was prepared for an hour of confusion, when in reality we simply learned about negligence, and how to operate within our remit. Considering that we, as club exec, are not qualified instructors yet are acting in a position of leadership to novices, this was extremely useful to establish our boundaries and judgement of safety versus adventure.
After a morning in the seminar room some of us chose to go outside and stretch our legs in a variety of practical drills in incident management. This practical session allowed us to learn resourceful methods of stretchering injured climbers using rucksacks, ropes or walking poles, and the proficient use of group shelters. Learning methods of quick and efficient first aid and group protection using just the equipment you would happen to be carrying was very insightful and would no doubt avert a far more serious situation from occurring if we did experience an accident at the crag.
That afternoon, we split into our respective areas of specialism as there was a vast mixture of rambling, mountaineering and climbing clubs present. Since I chose to study crag based rock climbing, we headed to the crag just behind the centre to practice gear placement and equalising anchors in the evening sunshine. This evening program was effectively a ‘warm up’ for the Sunday program in which we spent the entire day at Drws Y Coed.
Beginning in the morning with personal gear placement, we each chose a simple route and on completion, had our gear placements rated out of ten by our instructor. This gave us all a good, and somewhat sobering(!), idea of how competent our trad skills were, and what areas we could improve on. Most of us discovered that our cams were over-extended or our nuts had insufficient contact with the rock, mistakes which can be quickly rectified once someone has pointed them out!
After we’d assessed our personal climbing skills we looked into setting both top and bottom rope anchors, and how to ensure our own safety on top of the crag using prussics. Finishing off the day with personal and group abseiling, we had managed to cover an extensive selection of SPA skills within just a few hours.
Heading back to Plas Y Brenin, we met up with the other groups, some of whom had spent the day scrambling their way to the summit of Tryfan or multi-pitching on Little Tryfan. Then back to the seminar room after being plied with enormous flapjacks and tea. After a quick debrief and some scribbling on forms, the prizes were handed out for the popular bouldering competition that had been hosted the night before at the centre. We then collected our freebies of BMC DVDs and booklets, being students these went down extremely well, and then went our separate ways back to our various universities across Britain.
The entire weekend was a complete success and I took home so many more skills than I had expected to gain from an event referred to as a ‘seminar’ in which I actually spent about 80% of the time out on the crag. I completed my SPA training a week later, and the cross-over in skills taught was remarkable, proving that the BMC event which cost just £50 was just as conclusive and as insightful as a £180 SPA weekend!
I, and many of the other attendees I spoke to, now feel so much more confident in our personal skills and those of group leadership and now feel we can run our clubs in a way the BMC would consider safe and successful. Here’s to an excellent year of climbing to come.
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This article is part of BMC Student Season, a term's worth of student-friendly articles and social media banter to help students get the most out of climbing and walking. Please tell us what you think of the BMC by completing our young people survey aimed at 14-25 year olds.