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Ethics of teaching climbing skills to friends

Original Post
Martin Brzozowski · · Belleville, MI · Joined Aug 2019 · Points: 17

Hi all,

So I've taken a couple courses, read a couple books, watched hundreds of videos.  I've learned a few things about climbing.

But what are your opinions on showing a friend or two some of these skills? I obviously shouldn't be showing anybody how to place protection (or when would that be okay, if ever?), but most people can show other people how to do basic things like tie a figure 8. My question is: where do I draw the line? Or how do I determine myself where to draw the line? I'm definitely no AMGA certified guide, but I'm not a complete idiot either. I certainly don't want to kill or injure anyone or myself. How do I know what I should and should not teach? Thoughts?

Jeremy R · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2016 · Points: 25

If you're conflicted about this, you need to decide. Not MP forum.

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275

How many times have you climbed outdoors, not counting courses?

If it's at least 50-100 times, go for it.

If not, you're not ready.

Roy Suggett · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 8,208

Your job...is too be a well schooled outdoor climber with a full pocket of experience prior to telling anybody what to do.

Mike Lane · · AnCapistan · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 880

If you are asking the internet when it's ok for you to do something where common sense would normally suffice, you shouldn't be showing anyone how to do anything

Josh B · · Cambridge, MA · Joined Nov 2018 · Points: 10

I think that beginners can learn together as long as you make it clear where you're at in the learning process to your partners and pick objectives that match your abilities.

You should read books about climbing such as rock climbing mastering basic skills by Craig Lubben and encourage your partners to do the same. Taking courses or hiring a guide can also be useful.

This is more or less how I learned each of the climbing disciplines I'm involved in and it has worked out fine so far.

I would encourage you not to take people out in a pseudo guiding capacity where you're the only person who knows what they're doing until you're very very solid. If you're going to teach someone then they should be another person who's psyched about climbing and progressing along side of you.

To give a practical example, I 'taught' my friend how to place trad gear when I had been leading trad for only 25 days out. I was humble about my knowledge and emphasized the importance of self study throughout the session. I simply had my friend lead 5.4 routes and then we abseiled down each route and inspected tested and improved his gear where possible.

In this case my friend would have gone out and climbed trad routes either way, so I think that I probably helped make his learning experience safer, even though it wasn't a prototypical guide client session that mountain project types always recommend.

Teaching is fun and rewarding. Just be cautious and conservative and you'll be fine.

Cpn Dunsel · · Salting The Earth Beneath Y… · Joined Jan 2003 · Points: 135

^ This.

Showing other people things we just learned is one major way in which we learn them well for ourselves.

There is nothing wrong with sharing knowledge.   Ever.

Charging them money for such things?  That is where the real ethical debate begins.  
Franck Vee · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2017 · Points: 91

I'd agree with others - if you're asking yourself (or the internet) that question, then it's probably a sign you're not there yet. Congrats to you for actually asking yourself (and others) the question - I've seen a few instances of impromptu crag classes that were at best half wrong & incomplete, at worst potentially dangerous.

But I think there's more to it than that. Your formulation seems to imply it's wrong for a non-certified guide to teach anyone much of anything. I think this is false and putting to much emphasis on certifications and external validation. Mentoring has a place. The key is knowing what you know for sure, and perhaps more importantly what you don't know, or not with enough completness & confidence to be able to teach someone else safely. I've also learned a bunch with other equally non-qualified beginners at the time - we all survived. But we were all aware and it was clear that none of us was an expert of any kind regarding climbing and that we had to take things slowly and double-check everything we did.

imo, in climbing one of the worst mistake one can do is to overestimate your understanding of what you're doing. That's true both for yourself wrt to yourself (e.g. in decision making etc.) and for yourself wrt to others...

Peter Thomas · · Denver, CO · Joined Jul 2018 · Points: 42

Make sure you know what you're teaching, and that you're teaching it the right way. I increasingly see people "teaching" dangerous practices, and people doing things wrong and then saying "that's how I was taught" when corrected. 
curt86iroc · · Lakewood, CO · Joined Dec 2014 · Points: 54
Franck Vee wrote
imo, in climbing one of the worst mistake one can do is to overestimate your understanding of what you're doing. 

ah the old dunning-kruger effect...

Edit: Peter, you must have beaten me by seconds!
Cole D · · Sydney, NSW, AU · Joined Sep 2017 · Points: 156

If your tick list is an accurate representation of your outdoor experience I wouldn't teach your buds much of anything.
This feedback is also coming from a relatively inexperienced climber so it's to be taken with a grain of salt.
According to what I've read on Mountain Project, we are both 5.8 Trad leaders, you have watched more videos than I have, but read less books.

Good on ya for having some self awareness to not charge into "teaching" your buds how to trad climb and being thoughtful about it.

If you and a friend want to learn things together, practice things, quiz each other, question everything the other person is doing, etc. you will learn more in the process. In a scenario like that you are each responsible for your own safety and nothing more.

Keeping inexperienced climbers safe in a single pitch top rope environment is certainly easier, but even that is not to be taken lightly. Check out how lengthy this book on that subject is:
https://www.amazon.com/Rock-Climbing-Single-Pitch-Manual/dp/0762790040

Good luck dude! Growing/Creating partners can be a good approach to dual track as you also continue to search for partners and grow your ability to evaluate other folks' skills and abilities that you may end up tying in with.

rgold · · Poughkeepsie, NY · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 526

I think a lot of the respondants have it exactly backwards when they suggest that if you have to ask you aren't ready.  The fact that you are questioning what you should or should not try to teach someone and are willing to endure the slings and arrows of internet exposure speaks to me of integrity and a reasonable sense of self-knowledge.  What this means is you aren't going to represent yourself as something you are not, and aren't going to pretend to expertise you don't have.  As long as you bring that openness and honesty to your interactions with people you are helping, I don't see any reason why you shouldn't share what you've learned.

Of course, where to "draw the line" is a difficult decision and one that continually changes as you gain more experience.  Two questions you might ask yourself are (1) whether you can explain the reasons for the thing you are teaching and (2) whether you know alternatives along with their good and bad features.  If you are simply offering proclamations, eg "such-and-such a book says this," or "I was taught this," then I think you should stay away from imparting that knowledge, at least not with an air of authority.  It's ok to say "Here's what I learned from a book/ was taught by a mentor, but I'm not sure that it is the best or even the right way to do things."  

I guess I should add that these conditions might disqualify some climbers with a lot of experience as well.

One question is whether people are suspending their own judgement and relying on yours.  This is, perhaps, never a good thing, but you particularly do not want to get into a guiding capacity, as Josh B says.  But if your contributions are part of a sharing process between learners, I think you are on solid eithical ground, to return to your original phrasing.

Martin Brzozowski · · Belleville, MI · Joined Aug 2019 · Points: 17

Thanks for the feedback guys. I'm definitely not trying to teach stuff that I don't know or understand deeply. I'm only showing stuff to my friend like basic knots and how to use a prussik and how to set up a 3:1 pulley and things like that. I'm definitely no expert, but I am proficient in a few things. I always make sure to emphasize that I'm not an expert, and that I'm only there to give the basic general idea that he can then go and research himself. I wasn't sure how far I should go into my own knowledge before stopping and going "yeah a I can't show you this because I'm not 100% solid on it" instead of "oh dude I'm totally a pro here's how to place gear" like no. And I definitely don't charge. In fact I gave him my books and went "this is legit, I'm not." 

Roy Suggett · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 8,208

Well thought...well said...be super safe.

Cpn Dunsel · · Salting The Earth Beneath Y… · Joined Jan 2003 · Points: 135
rgold wrote: 
One question is whether people are suspending their own judgement and relying on yours.  This is, perhaps, never a good thing, 

This is the crux move here, and across the spectrum of almost all queries on this site, or ITRW.

My how the culture has changed that such a thing even need be said but kudos for nailing it.  Your posts are as good as the routes you put up.

Glowering · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2011 · Points: 5

As usual rgold is spot on. As mentioned just be clear and make sure everyone knows that ultimately they are responsible for their own safety (including when they trust you to set up an anchor, or trusting a belayer).

I taught myself to top rope from books and was the “leader” of trips with friends.  I’d explain what I was doing and make sure we agreed it was safe.

My friends and I taught ourselves to sport climb simultaneously.

I was the one who wanted to do trad the most and I took a two day course. Then I lead climbs and showed my friends what I learned.

In hindsight we never really did anything unsafe. The only thing is I wasn’t perhaps as prepared for as I should have been was emergencies and self rescues.  Nothing ever went wrong so it was okay, but I could have been more prepared.

John Reeve · · Durango, formely from TX · Joined Nov 2018 · Points: 5

If you really want to know something, explain it to someone else.

How you apply that to climbing is up to you, but  I think it's true.

Martin Brzozowski · · Belleville, MI · Joined Aug 2019 · Points: 17

Most of the stuff I show to my friend isn't even out at the crag. It's basically me and my friend at a park bench in superflat Michigan going over some simple things. I'm definitely not going out to the crag and showing my friend how to do complex stuff that I just learned. So based off what I'm reading and what I'm thinking, I think my judgments in what to show him are pretty decent. I'm following a similar trend as Glowering (minus the teaching trad to my friend - I'll save that for when I have at least 50-100 routes under my belt). Thanks guys!

Cosmiccragsman AKA Dwain · · Las Vegas, Nevada · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 111
Martin Brzozowski wrote: Hi all,

So I've taken a couple courses, read a couple books, watched hundreds of videos.  I've learned a few things about climbing.

But what are your opinions on showing a friend or two some of these skills? I obviously shouldn't be showing anybody how to place protection (or when would that be okay, if ever?), but most people can show other people how to do basic things like tie a figure 8. My question is: where do I draw the line? Or how do I determine myself where to draw the line? I'm definitely no AMGA certified guide, but I'm not a complete idiot either. I certainly don't want to kill or injure anyone or myself. How do I know what I should and should not teach? Thoughts?
I've just changed the old saying, "Yer Gonna Die!"
The NEW one to fit this post; "They're Gonna Die!"


Mike Shorts · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2019 · Points: 10

Please don‘t.
https://www.mountainproject.com/forum/topic/117765801/how-to-keep-people-out-of-climbing

Dan Gozdz · · Louisville, CO · Joined Jun 2015 · Points: 0
Martin Brzozowski wrote: Hi all,

So I've taken a couple courses, read a couple books, watched hundreds of videos.  I've learned a few things about climbing.

But what are your opinions on showing a friend or two some of these skills? I obviously shouldn't be showing anybody how to place protection (or when would that be okay, if ever?), but most people can show other people how to do basic things like tie a figure 8. My question is: where do I draw the line? Or how do I determine myself where to draw the line? I'm definitely no AMGA certified guide, but I'm not a complete idiot either. I certainly don't want to kill or injure anyone or myself. How do I know what I should and should not teach? Thoughts?

I would say go for it. Be very clear as to what your experience and confidence levels are in what you're teaching them. I started showing people some stuff before I was climbing at your level, but I also started later in life and have done a lot of other instructing in the past. Remember (and modify) the 5 step model: tell, show, do it with them, watch and correct errors, and only correct at the end. This is assuming that the instruction is being done in a way that they will never be in danger.

  • Let people fumble around a bit when they're learning the skills. It'll stick far better than correcting them. It'll also stick better if they're using the skills soon after they practice.

  • Teach only one skill at a time. I typically tier things so that people are only learning 1-3 new things each outing, especially safety systems.

  • Know who you're teaching. Do they get upset in a way that throws off their day if they need to fumble around? (quicker corrections) Do they prefer to play around until they get it? (very few corrections) How do they like to be talked to? This is a skill that can be gained with experience.

  • Don't rush people who are learning. Don't leave them alone in a situation where screwing it up could be fatal, such as rapping (learn to stack rappellers).

  • If you're doing this in a live setting, know how to keep them safe and triple check that you have them safe before they do anything.

  • Whenever possible do a trial at ground level. For cleaning a sport anchor, I will set up trad gear at the base for people to practice on.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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