Natural Rock Climbing

The Council provides a full set of climbing gear including helmets and harnesses for 15 climbers, ropes and webbing, and even climbing shoes from size 7 through 13. With this gear, and Council-trained climbing instructors, your Boy Scout Troop or Venture Crew can top-rope anywhere in the state. We also provide specialized natural rock training for adults--enabling them to check out the council's gear. This training is offered once a year, in the spring. To quality for the course, leaders must have already completed the Council's COPE/Tower Climbing training.

The same safety issues that apply to other scouting activities also apply when scouts are climbing and rappelling. Leaders and climbing instructors need to pay particular attention to weather (see BSA’s Hazardous Weather online training course (see online training), and to ensure that everyone understands the safety briefing before activities begin. Everyone in the group shares the responsibility for safety. Everyone needs to know and follow the rules.  

Climbing Route Difficulty

In rock climbing and mountaineering, climbing routes are given a grade that describes the difficulty, danger of the climbing route and the “fun” factor. There are a number of factors that contribute to the difficulty of a climb including the technical difficulty of the moves, the strength and stamina required, the level of commitment required, and the difficulty of protecting the climber. Wikipedia has a nice introduction to route grading.

While route grading is inherently subjective, the system can help you decide which routes to try first when you go to a new natural rock climbing area. Check climbing websites for information, maps, route grades and helpful hints on the area where you are planning to climb.

Selecting a natural rock site for climbing/rappelling

Choosing an outdoor location as the site of a climbing/rappelling program requires research, planning and the input of knowledgeable people. North Carolina offers an amazing range of climbing and rappelling opportunities for scouts of all experience levels. Several local areas, such as Pilot Mountain, Holloway Mountain, Table Rock Chimneys and Devil's Cellar are detailed on our site, and into is included in the Natural Rock Gear binder that comes with the natural rock gear rental.

If you are choosing a new area, the following steps will help to ensure that a site is challenging, safe, and worthwhile:

  • Contact local rock-climbing authorities such as BSA climbing directors (from your council and others) who have extensive safe climbing experience and an understanding of the program that BSA offers. Rock climbing organizations are also invaluable resources for advice, and many state parks link to local climbing club websites.
  • Avoid areas where rock is unduly fractured, brittle, loose, slippery or crumbly. Easily dislodged rock will present a hazard to climbers, rappellers, and bystanders.  Do not climb or rappel on rock faces adjacent to highways – these are not natural and may be unsafe.
  • The site should be reachable by road or trail, or should have other quick access to emergency aid within a reasonable time.
  • When climbing in warm, arid regions, you may be more comfortable on climbing and rappelling faces oriented toward the north or east, out of direct afternoon sunlight.
  • Think about how many people will be using the climbing routes during the day – it may make sense to set up shorter routes so that more people can complete the climbs quickly. Try to plan route of varying difficulty so that you can encourage climbers to select the route they most want to test.
  • The incline for climbing should be a 40-80 degree slope, with a 60-70 degree slope being about optimum. There should be plenty of holds for hands and feet, preferably a variety of cracks, ledges, and protrusions. Smooth surfaces are very difficult, and may be frustrating to beginning climbers.
  • Rappel routes should have a vertical length of at least 30 feet to maintain a sense of fun and adventure for the rappellers.
  • Every route for climbing and rappelling must feature fail-safe anchor points, preferably large, living trees or solid rock protrusions. If using manmade bolt anchors, using only those that are at least 3/8 inch in diameter.
  • There must be sufficient area above each route to accommodate at least three people comfortably – a belayer, an instructor, and a climber or rappeller.
  • If participants will climb and then rappel in sequence, establish a safe path from the top of the climb to the top of the rappel. (NOTE: This can only be done as long as the anchor points for the climbing rope are high enough that the climber can top out WITHOUT moving higher than the anchors. NEVER climb above the anchor points of the belay line.) When possible, the path should not run next to the edge of a cliff; if it does, install a safety line and require climbers to clip into it before unclipping from the belay rope at the top of their climb. The safety line will keep climbers out of harm’s way when moving to the next activity.
  • Consider where bystanders and participants waiting their turns to climb will gather. The gathering area must be well removed from the line of fall of rocks or climbing equipment. Unless they are belaying or spotting, keep bystanders out of the safety zone below the climb or rappel.
  • Establish a secure place to store equipment, backpacks and personal belongings.
  • The site should have a source of safe drinking water, or instructors and climbers must bring their own water. Nearby toilet facilities are convenient, when possible. At all times, scouting organizations should practice Leave No Trace principles.  
  • Have a contact at your home base.  

And finally, before you leave for the climbing event, print out several copies of driving directions to the nearest medical facility. In case of an emergency, you’ll need this information. You will also want to determine who is the designated emergency driver ahead of time.


Natural Rock Climbing Equipment

Council owned climbing equipment may be reserved for use by Occoneechee Council units with adult leaders that have obtained the proper certification and training to lead unit climbing activities. Current BSA Standards require a Level 2 instructor to supervise the event when council equipment is in use.  Equipment is let out on a daily use basis and must be returned immediately after the scheduled day. All equipment will be inventoried and inspected prior to issue and upon return for any damage. Units will be expected to reimburse the council for any lost or damaged equipment beyond what is considered normal wear and tear.

Use of rock climbing equipment by groups other than Occoneechee Council units is not permitted.

Fee Schedule:               $75.00 -  equipment fee.   Staff fee is negotiable.

Trips of longer duration will be negotiated with the reservation coordinator.  Cost for lost or damaged equipment is 100% of the replacement cost.


Rock Climbing