Top Rope Climbing Instructor

The Top Rope Climbing Instructor course provides instructors and potential instructors with an in depth and standardized understanding of the skills essential to teaching climbing in an outdoor setting. 

Like other PCIA courses, the course reinforces the importance of teaching technically accurate information and debunks many common climbing myths.  Emphasis is put on refining core skills and improving the educational delivery of material. The thirty hour (three day) course builds upon the existing skills of competent recreational climbers and takes an in depth look at: site selection, equipment, knot selection, anchor construction, rope systems, Leave No Trace practices, rescue and assistance skills as well as key instructional skills. Most importantly, the course stresses blending these skills together to form a seamless and efficient climbing experience for participants. Upon the successful completion of all course components, participants are considered PCIA Assistant Instructors. Assistant Instructors may elect to take an optional certification exam to achieve the Top Rope Climbing Instructor™ Certification. The one-day examination stresses efficient site and gear utilization, client and instructor safety, site management and educational delivery. The exam may be taken any time after completing all course components. This course may be taken as a stand alone course or coupled together with the two-day Single Pitch Instructor Module.

Top Rope Climbing Instructor™ Course Pre-Requisites

  • Currently at least age 18.
  • Shows an adequate experience level to the course provider, illustrating that he/she is ready for the course. Examples include regular climbing for 2 – 3 years, a high intensity of climbing in the past few months, etc.
  • Has lead climbing experience (highly recommended but not required).
  • Is able to comfortably set up base managed climbs, belay, rappel without guidance and demonstrates detailed familiarity with anchoring principles, natural anchors and artificial anchors (wedges, hexes, passive and active cams). These skills may be assessed at the start of the course.
  • Possesses the personal equipment necessary for the course.
  • Is capable of comfortably climbing 5.8 terrain while on a top rope.

Top Rope Climbing Instructor™ Course Length
The course is 30 hours (3 days) with pre-course study and lesson preparation required.

Top Rope Climbing Instructor™ Component Skills
Professional Skills

  • Presents him/herself with a professional demeanor and appropriate attire.
  • Presents him/herself with essential and well-maintained personal equipment.
  • Discusses the differences between recreational climbing and climbing instruction and supervision.
  • Continuously practices and illustrates a high level of Leave No Trace principles.
  • Understands various legal and administrative aspects related to outdoor climbing.
  • Designs and demonstrates professional client greeting and facility introduction.
  • Discusses options for working with youth populations vs. adult populations.
  • Is able to discuss professionalism, professional training programs, and the role of organizations such as the PCIA, CWA, ACCT and the AMGA.
  • Appropriately chooses terrain to meet client needs and can match terrain from a guide book or base of cliff with the appropriate anchor at the top of the cliff.

Climbing Ability

  • Models a top rope climb at the 5.6 standard illustrating confident, smooth, and controlled movement.
  • Demonstrates a variety of basic and intermediate physical climbing movement skills.

Technical Understanding

  • Demonstrates the ability to correctly identify and discusses (in depth) a selection basic climbing gear including various carabiners, belay tools, webbing and cordage materials and ropes.
  • Possesses a working knowledge of, and an ability to inspect, basic climbing gear such as ropes, anchor cordage and webbing, harnesses, belay devices, carabiners, climbing shoes, belay tools and artificial forms of protection.
  • Is able to confidently demonstrate and discuss the appropriate use of the following knots: Figure 8 Follow Through, Figure 8 on Bight, Double Bight Figure 8, Overhand on Bight, Overhand Follow Through, Bowline.
  • Demonstrates and discusses the appropriate use of the following hitches: Clove Hitch, Munter Hitch, Blocked Munter, Block Belay Plate, Prussik Hitch, Klemheist Hitch, Auto Block.
  • Demonstrates the construction of a sit harness with webbing or rope. The harness must include leg loops, a swami and be redundant such that if the closure knot loosens, the harness remains secure.
  • Demonstrates rope coiling into a mountaineer’s coil and a backpack coil.
  • Demonstrates confident and competent belaying using a variety of belay methods including aperture devices, assisted locking devices, and a Munter Hitch with both the right and left hand as the break hand.
  • Demonstrates the proper placement of artificial protection including tapers (Stoppers), Hexentrics, Tri-cams, and Spring Loaded Cams. 
  • Demonstrates the use of various methods of slinging natural features with rope or webbing and articulates the pros and cons of each.
  • Articulates how to assess bolts and pitons.
  • Constructs an effective master point using more than one natural anchor point and the joining material of his/her choice. The master point must be within 12 inches of a location chosen by the course provider. Time Limit: 10 minutes.
  • Demonstrates the ability to efficiently build a variety of adequate anchors with artificial gear as well as a mix of natural and artificial gear. Time Limit: 10 minutes / anchor.
  • Demonstrates the set up and use of an instructor belayed rappel utilizing one or two ropes.
  • Demonstrates the set up and use of a releasable instructor belayed rappel utilizing one or two ropes and discusses the situations when this set up is warranted.
  • Demonstrates the set up of a base managed climb with easier edge access, rappels down the redirected rope, demonstrating self-protecting practices while descending over the edge and rappelling. Time Limit: 15 minutes.
  • Demonstrates the set up of a base managed climb with difficult edge access and rappels down the redirected rope, demonstrating self-protecting practices while descending over the edge and rappelling. Time Limit: 15 minutes.
  • Demonstrates a variety of base managed student belays – anchored, unanchored, direct, indirect – and articulate appropriate use of each.
  • Demonstrates the ability to supervise a base managed site with at least two climbs operating.
  • Demonstrates how to take a weighted and un-weighted indirect belay from a student belayer at the base of a climb.
  • Demonstrates counter-ascending to assist a client and counter-rappelling to the ground with the client using an assisted locking device.
  • Demonstrates a variety of belay transitions.
  • Demonstrates multiple alternatives for protecting a belayer from both an upward pull and falling backward.

Safety Skills

  • Presents a sample site safety briefing.
  • Discusses the selection of safe climbing routes for varying abilities and styles of climbing.
  • Evaluates and problem-solves the need for back-up belays and the use of anchors.
  • Performs basic assistance and rescue skills such taking over a loaded belay, counter ascending / rappelling, and a climber pick off.
  • Prepares a risk management and emergency plan for a sample location.
  • Demonstrates the effective supervision of both bouldering and roped climbing areas.
  • Demonstrates effective spotting techniques.
  • Demonstrates the effective construction of a chest harness with webbing or rope. The harness must attach to the rope in such a way as to not compress the torso or fully weight the chest harness.
  • Continuously demonstrates adequate personal and student safety.

Educational Ability

  • Designs and demonstrates a 45 min lesson on harness application, knot use, belaying and communication.
  • Designs and demonstrates a 45 min lesson showing effective coaching of movement skills through activities, verbal direction and modeling.
  • Designs and demonstrates a 45 min lesson on artificial gear placement.
  • Designs and demonstrates a 45 min lesson illustrating the essential considerations of master point creation, using various materials.
  • Facilitates a 10-30 min educational presentation on carabiners, belay tools, climbing grades, reading route top, webbing and cordage material specs and use, how to select a rope /rope dynamics and Leave No Trace practices.
  • Designs a demonstrates a 45 min lesson on knot and hitch tying including: the figure 8, overhand, clove hitch, block Munter Hitch and Prussik Hitch.

Top Rope Climbing Instructor™ Certification
Upon successful completion of the course components, an individual may elect to take a one day certification exam. A skill consolidation period after the course is recommend, but not required. The examination is a one day field exam that evaluates both core technical skills and educational delivery. The target goal for the certification standard is for candidates to be able to generalize learned information.  In other words, candidates should be able to utilize various principles to create solutions for problems at hand. Generalization is considered the fourth learning stage following memorization, comprehension, and application.

Exam pre-requisites:

  • Candidate must have completed the PCIA Top Rope Climbing Instructor™ course or must have completed the AMGA Single Pitch Instructor Course.

Exam candidates will be asked to:
1. Present a minimum of two professionally organized lessons chosen by the examiner from a published list of topics.
2. Complete two technical scenarios illustrating full comprehension and application of all technical skills taught in the course. Only one marginal score is allowed within the four exam activities. A candidate who fails the exam may retake the exam at a future date.

Top Rope Climbing Instructor™ Exam Challenges
The TRCI Exam may be challenged. Experienced providers who can provide evidence of formalized instruction in climbing management and significant field experience are allowed one attempt to challenge the exam. The requirements for exam challenges are: previous completion of the AMGA Single Pitch Instructor Course or greater than three years experience working at least 40 days per year managing rock or ice climbing sites. These sites should include diverse areas that include both natural and artificial anchors. Please note that an individual may petition the PCIA to be allowed to challenge the exam based on a resume showing significant experience and evidence of formalized instruction (ie. an individual with several years of personal climbing experience, who instructs rock climbing 10 – 20 days per year and has taken at least seven days of formalized technical courses through highly recognized providers).

Certification Maintenance PCIA Top Rope Climbing Instructor™ Certification can be maintained in multiple ways.

  • Option 1 - Participation in approved continuing education courses. Recertification by continuing education requires a minimum of eight hours focused on technical skills and four hours focused on education skills within 3 years from the date of your exam. The continuing education "clock" resets itself on the three year anniversary of your exam.  Individuals may petition the PCIA for credit for activities that are not pre-approved. 
  • Option 2 - Completion of a higher level PCIA course and/or certification.  An upper level PCIA certification (ie. Single Pitch Instructor) supersedes the TRCI Certifications and both will remain valid as long as the recertification requirements of the higher level certification are met.
  • Option 3 - Participation in a standard 12 hour (1.5 day) recertification course taken within three years of the last date of certification.

Recognition of Other Certifications The PCIA recognizes that there are many sources of information available to the climbing public. Any person holding other certifications that are similar can apply for a review of their credential. If a positive review is given then that person may join the PCIA as a certified member and receive both a PCIA Top Rope Climbing Instructor certification.

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