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Climbing and Abseiling


(Published January 2023, replacing January 2018)


This page looks to give the facts a person would need to know to run climbing for a group of young people, or to do it for themselves if they are a young person.


Single Pitch Climbing is where a climb can be completed in one stage (pitch) where the rope is anchored only once and not moved on to form a second pitch, and from which the climber can safely walk off unroped from the top, or can be safely lowered to the bottom of the climb.

Multi-Pitch Climbing is where a route that can only be completed in two or more stages (pitches), or from which the climber cannot safely walk off unroped from the top, or cannot be safely lowered to the bottom of the climb.

Top Rope refers to a single pitch climb where the climber is belayed either by a person at the top of the climb, or by a person at the bottom of the climb when the rope runs from the belayer through an anchor at the top of the climb.

Lead Climbing refers to a climb where the climber places protection devices into the rock face, or uses pre-installed protection devices, to clip their rope into as they climb. Sport climbing and trad (traditional) climbing are types of lead climbing.

Abseiling involves the descent of a rope using a friction device to control the speed of descent. It is popular as an activity on single pitch crags and walls, from structures such as bridges and as a method of retrieving equipment stuck on a climb.

Bouldering is a form of rock climbing that takes place on artificial bouldering walls, large natural boulders (rocks) or small rock formations, close to the ground without the use of ropes or harnesses. Members who are leading bouldering activities do not need a climbing permit but must be aware of the risks involved in the activity and plan for the limitations of their groups. Where artificial bouldering venues provide operating procedures these must be followed.

Ice Climbing generally refers to the climbing of ice formations such as icefalls and frozen waterfalls, although there are also artificial ice climbing walls available. Ice Climbing is climbing done using ice climbing equipment and/or on ice surfaces, this includes dry walling. An ice climbing permit is required for all ice climbing activities.

What is a Climbing Permit?

The adventurous activity permit scheme is designed to ensure that only people with the relevant skills and experience lead adventurous activities for the young people. Therefore all activities classed as adventurous can only be led by someone holding the appropriate permit. Additionally young people (under 18) can take part in adventurous activities for themselves with personal activity permits.

A climbing permit is required for all climbing and abseiling activities, except bouldering and those using auto belay systems.

There are five levels of permit available for climbing. These are:

  • Artificial Top Rope
  • Natural Top Rope
  • Artificial Lead
  • Natural Lead
  • Multi-Pitch

Each permit can be restricted (such as through specific locations, no abseiling, etc.) to end up with an individual permit to the level of the competence and requirements of any person.

All natural rock permits cover the equivalent artificial permits, unless restrictions state otherwise.

There are three types of permit available for climbing. These are:

Personal – Allows a young person (under 18) to take part in climbing with other youth members with a personal climbing permit.

Leadership – Allows the permit holder to lead climbing for a single group.

Supervisory - Allows the permit holder to supervise more than one climbing group.

Personal – If you hold a personal climbing permit you can go climbing with other youth members (under 18) who also hold a personal climbing permit. Climbing undertaken must only be to the level of the person with the lowest permit held within the activity group. It does not allow you to go climbing with anyone not holding a climbing permit.

Leadership – If you have a leadership permit for top rope climbing you can lead up to two top rope climbing systems at a time, unless a restriction is in place reducing the number of ropes to one.

If you have a leadership permit for lead climbing, you can lead one climbing rope system at a time.

If you have a leadership permit to lead multi-pitch climbing you can lead one rope system at a time.

Supervisory – If you hold a permit to supervise climbing then you can supervise up to three rope systems at a time. You should remain in a position to be able to effectively supervise and assist all rope systems. You remain responsible for all the groups you are supervising, but can designate someone with the appropriate skills to be the rope leader of each group.

Note: No supervisory permit is available for multi-pitch climbing.

When supervising more than one rope system, the holder of a climbing supervisory permit needs to designate a rope leader for each group. This rope leader can then act as the belayer. This designation lasts only for the current activity while the permit holder is supervising.

People designated as rope leaders should hold the relevant skills; including being able to competently belay, and be responsible enough to lead the rope system that has been set up. There is no problem with making young people rope leaders if they are up to the role, and it can be used as a useful development tool to encourage people to work towards gaining permits.

The leader needs to consider the type of belay device being used based on the experience and competency of the individual belayers / climbers.

Where any element of climbing involves walking in Terrain One or Terrain Two then the relevant Hillwalking Permit is required by a member of the group. This includes walking to or from a climbing area.

The weather can create risks for all adventurous activities. Permit holders should know where to find local weather information and should take historical weather conditions into consideration. Knowledge of weather conditions relevant to climbing is included in the assessment checklist.

The permit holder of the activity should ensure that any outdoor natural rock climbing venue being used is accessible, has an access arrangement in place along with any routes into and out of the outdoor natural rock climbing venue.

When at and climbing on natural rock location a leave no trace approach should be used. The leader should use an educational approach to engage the participants into these good practices.

Refer to BMC The Green Guide for Groups of Climbers and The 7 Principles - Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.

Rules relating to climbing and abseiling

Rule 9.7 Adventurous Activities Permit Scheme

Rule 9.8 Adult groups undertaking activities

Rule 9.12.3 Climbing and Abseiling

General activity rules

Rule 9.1 All Activities

Rule 9.6 Use of External Centres and Instructors