High Adventure, High Opportunity

The popularity of climbing walls and ropes courses has been huge in the past couple of decades and continues to be a distinctive feature to most camps and conference centers in recreation.

Most camps I’ve visited have some form of a high ropes course and most have some sort of a climbing tower or wall. Using these unique, fun and challenging activities for program reasons are easy to defend in regard to the benefit to the self esteem of the participant. Kids learn confidence, a sense of accomplishment, adventure and goal based achievement.

In addition, the camp atmosphere found in modern climbing programs are a far cry from those gym-based climbing ropes that scared me as a kid! Not to mention the increased safety.

Climbing that rope in gym class was out of fear of being yelled at, or made fun of by other kids, and not falling from the rope was based on a fear of not wanting to die!

Today’s walls and high rope courses are actually safer than horseback riding and water activities. I wish that in gym class I had a climbing harness and person acting as my belay person. It would have been nice to know that it takes over 2,000 pounds of pressure to break my rope or harness!

No matter what type of climbing program your camp has or is thinking of having there are some safety issues to consider and programming integration questions you should be asking.

Too many camps and program people based their decisions on the Cool Factor. Well, of course it’s cool! A 50′ tower simulating a rock face with a zip line off the top! Of course it’s cool, but is it right for you? And, if it is right, are you using it correctly and maximizing its use?

Highest Priority

Any camp that considers a high ropes element or a climbing tower should have yearly inspections of the equipment, poles, trees, and training programs for your facilitators.

It is essential that your course is inspected by an outside and neutral company. This protects your camp and your guests.

To find the right builder and company to provide training a camp you can conduct a simple search of ACA and YMCA recommended builders and trainers.

Research Camp Business advertisers and vendor lists from the camping conferences held throughout North America. High course builders frequent these gatherings. Call for references from these companies. Find out who they did work for and give a call. Combined, a camp will find the right company to work with.

Related Article: Climbing & Traversing

All facilitators in your program should be trained and certified by certified trainers. Any shortcuts to safety can lead to accidents which cost a camp more than the investment in training or construction of their elements. There is no shortcut to highly trained people training and reminding your staff on how to use the equipment.

Far too many stories of camp that have someone who is on staff and continues to train other staff, then the training continues from one of those trained staff passing it on. Soon, the only training is based on the internal knowledge as it has been passed down from staff member to staff member. Much like oral history, it reeks of the old saying “That’s the way we have always done it.”

Get real! As a responsible leader in the recreation industry it is our responsibility to see that our staff is trained to the best of our ability by the best there are in the area being trained for. How to operate a 50′ tower? How to navigate a 30′ high course? That needs to be taught by experts, and that means making our staff experts every time, every year!

Use the above mentioned builders and companies to train. Have some of your staff become qualified instructor trainers. Just make sure that they stay current on industry standards.

Program Challenge

The first consideration a camp should discuss is what type of high adventure element fits in best with your program. All of the high adventure elements are great, but some take more time then others.

What is the goal you are trying accomplish with high adventure? What do you want the kids to get out of the experience? How do you want the activity to fit in the camp schedule?

A high ropes course for a group of 20 or less can take all morning or more to accomplish based on the type of elements that are being navigated and the number of them. Does that work in your schedule? And, are you using the course year round or seasonally?

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