Climbing gym verification is a topic that pops up every so often. For the “older” climbers (those who started climbing before 2017) this may feel like a topic that had been beaten to death in the past. However, this question was frequently asked by climbers that are somewhat new to climbing. Hence for new climbers who plan to lead climb someday, then you’ll need to know about gyms’ climbing verification requirements. As different gyms have different requirements hence you’ll need to deal with different rules. However, before going into these different verification requirements. It is necessary to understand why there is a need for verification in the first place.
Before there was any need for getting climbing verification issued by climbing gyms. The SMF’s (Singapore Mountaineering Federation) SNCS (Singapore National Climbing Standards) level 1 and level 2 courses certification were the only requirements. Having certified to SNCS level 1 means you can top-rope belay. Level 2 means you can lead climb and lead belay in any gyms in Singapore. The certification is also recognized by some gyms in Southeast Asia.
This seems to be a good system. Every climber is trained according to the same standard hence the level of knowledge and competence are the same. With the SNCS system, gyms will be able to determine if a climber is able to lead climb and belay. Based on the SNCS certification the climber has.
Origin of individual gym verification
As climbing becomes popular and with more people taking up the sport, climbing-related accidents increased. These accidents were mainly caused by less than adequate belaying competency or just plain complacency. Hence, some gyms in Singapore decided to put in additional steps to ensure climbers’ safety. The steps taken was to introduce the mandatory use of ABD (Assisted-braking Belay Devices). And to ensure climbers know how to use them, an assessment of competency was required. Soon after the introduction of ABD verification. Most gyms started to implement their own top-rope and lead climbing / belaying verification. So as to ensure all climbers are competent enough to belay and climb in the gym.
Gym conducting belay and lead climbing verification is not something new. Most countries do not have a national climbing standard like Singapore. So individual gyms will conduct an assessment to determine if their customers have the competency to climb and belay safely.
Do you need SNCS certification?
Now the question. Do you still need SNCS certification? Below is the article that explains if you’ll need SNCS certification.
Gym verification (What you need to know)
Who are required to take the gym verification?
So if you are already an experienced climber and you also happen to have all SNCS certifications. Will you still need to go through the verification? Yes, you can be Janja Garbret showing up to the gym with an Olympic gold medal around your neck. You’ll still need to go through the verification process if you visit the gym for the first time. So that you can be evaluated by the gym staff.
Where will your gym verification cert be recognized?
The short answer is, only the gym that you are climbing at. Unless the gym is part of a franchise or partnership. If that is the case your verification will also be recognized by the other affiliated gyms. Therefore whenever you visit a climbing gym you had never been to. It is likely you’ll need to go through a verification process.
What does the verification entail?
To determine if you are fit to climb and belay in the gym. You will be tested according to the items below.
– Figure 8 knot
– Top rope belaying using an ABD of your choose
For lead climbing
– Demonstrate what is back clipping and how to rectify
– Demonstrate what is z clipping and how to rectify
– Lead climb on an easy route and clipping rope to quickdraws
– Perform a lead fall
– Able to lead belay safely using an ABD of your choose
– Able to catch a lead fall using an ABD of your choose
You’ll be allowed to belay and lead climb in the gym if you are able to perform the above.
When can you take the verification test?
This depends on the gym you want to take the verification test. Some gyms will conduct the verification as and when you show up if there aren’t many people in the gym. Some will have specific time slots where you’ll need to book.
Can any SMF climbing instructors issue gym verification cert?
Yes and no.
Yes, if you sign up for your SNCS course directly with the gym that you’ll want to climb at. Because the instructor is conducting the course for the gym. Thus you will be verified competent once you pass your SNCS course. Or in some cases, you’ll get a complimentary verification test after the course because you sign up for the SNCS course with the gym.
No, if you sign up for an SNCS course directly with an independent climbing instructor. As the instructor is not affiliated with any specific gym. Thus he or she cannot issue any gym verification cert except for SNCS certificates.
How much do you need to pay for gym verification?
The most controversial part of the article. Charging a fee for verification. Love it or hate it… although I can’t think of any reasons to love it. Or maybe I’m just a cheap f**k 🤔 I don’t know.
There are gyms that will charge you a fee for verification. And if you fail you’ll need to book and pay again. Luckily there are many gyms that do it for free. I had climbed overseas, yes there are some gyms that charge a fee for verification. But many others that do not.
Since it is not feasible for me to physically go to numerous overseas gyms. So I randomly emailed a number of gyms in different countries. So I can have a better understanding of the common practice among gym operators. To my surprise, only a handful of gyms have a requirement to verify climbers’ competency for lead climb and belay. But none charge a fee.
One particular email reply from a gym operator stood out. I’ll end this article by sharing the reply below but redact the name of the respondent and the gym.
We follow a standard of practice common in European climbing gyms. We do not require a verification test. Instead, we have a document that you must complete and submit to testify to your competency, following which we will ask some general questions.
We have not seen any evidence that proficiency testing leads to less accidents. From personal experience and anecdotal observation, I’ve found that often gyms that do proficiency testing tend not to pay much attention to what the climbers do once they have passed the test. However since accidents more often occur due to complacency and not lack of skill or knowledge, our risk management system puts more emphasis on supervision of climbers while in the facility.
Our crew make regular rounds of the facility and are always watching and responsive to anything that would be a concern of safety to the climber to others. We keep records of any issues we encounter so we can identify patterns of concern or specific members who need closer observation. In rare cases, if we find someone who appears to be lacking in the skills needed to be safe, we may have to downgrade their skill level so it realigns to their current competency.
We hope this helps explain our SOPs with respect to climber safety.