Rock climbing

Rock climbing is the process of ascending cliffs.

It involves following certain routes on a rock face requiring the use of naturally formed handholds and footholds and uses specialised equipment as a backup safety system.

These guidelines apply to rock climbing on natural rock cliffs, not on artificial structures.

Abseiling, which is descending a cliff by sliding down a rope in a controlled manner, is a skill used by rock climbers or done as a separate activity. Separate guidelines have been developed for abseiling.

These guidelines apply to rock climbing on natural rock cliffs and boulders, not on artificial structures. For climbing on artificial structures please see the Artificial Climbing and Abseiling guidelines.

Note on lead climbing: Lead climbing involves a climber ascending a rock face, safeguarded by the ongoing placement of protection while belayed from below. The real risks involved in lead climbing are higher and less controllable than other forms of climbing such as top roping or seconding. Due to these risks, students should not be involved in leading rock climbs.

Note on bouldering: Bouldering is an activity in its own right requiring the same techniques found in rock climbing; however, these techniques are usually applied no higher than two metres off the ground. If students are to be offered a bouldering experience a specific safety and risk management plan should be developed with consideration given to the safety guidelines for rock climbing.


Single-pitch ground belay - top rope systems utilising a bottom belay involves the climber starting next to the belayer with the safety rope going from the belayer up through an anchored point and down to the attached climber. The climber will climb the cliff; as they do so, the belayer will take the rope in to secure them. Once the climber reaches the anchor point they are lowered back down to the ground.

Single-pitch top belay - top rope systems utilising a top belay involves the climber starting at the bottom of the climb and the belayer at the top of the climb. The safety rope goes from the belayer straight down to the attached climber. The climber will climb the cliff; as they do so, the belayer will take the rope in to secure them.

Multi-pitch climbing - climbing may also be done on an individual section requiring multiple sections to complete the climb; this is called multi-pitch climbing. Multi-pitch climbing requires a progression in a climbing program over an extended period, and is only appropriate for more experienced students.


Rock environments

Rock environments are usually hardened and elevated landscapes commonly referred to as cliffs or crags. Geologically their origins are diverse. The elevation of rock environments offers a vantage point from which unique perspectives can often be drawn. Where surrounding landscapes have been disturbed, rock environments may be a refuge for remnant flora and fauna and thus require sensitive use and management. Vegetation in rock environments is susceptible to damage by human activity and effects can be long lasting.

When preparing for activities in rock environments, consider how to minimise the environmental impact of the experience.


Due to the unique nature of each location, a specific assessment of suitability should be made prior to the trip.

Your choice of location should be based upon the recent and first hand knowledge of at least one member of the planning and supervising staff. Where this is impractical, planning and supervising staff should be thoroughly familiar with the general characteristics and conditions found in similar locations, and have consulted with people who can supply recent and first-hand knowledge of the locations being considered.

When assessing the suitability of a location, consider:

  • the potential to support your educational objectives
  • the level of access to the resources, services and facilities that you need or would like to use including campsites, water, walking trails, toilets, shelter from extreme weather, or interpretive information
  • the level of access to communications and external assistance, in the event of an emergency, or extreme weather conditions. The more effectively remote your location is, then the more self-contained and self-reliant your group must be
  • the potential exposure to environmental hazards and difficulties
  • the activity ability and fitness of students.

Contact with relevant authorities should be made in order to access up-to-date management information and to determine any access and permit requirements.

These authorities may include:

Groups need to be aware that extreme weather conditions may develop prior to or during the proposed trip. Staff should be prepared to cancel, modify or relocate the activity at any time.

When selecting rock climbing locations, consider:

  • the soundness of, and safe access to, anchor points
  • a safe area away from the cliff edge/face for anyone who is not participating in the activity
  • the ability of the belayer to see the student throughout the climb.

Your communication strategy should enable you to receive weather forecasts and warnings, communicate with the school, and engage support in the case of an incident or emergency.

  • Choose communication equipment based on current communication technology.
  • Develop a communication strategy for the group during the program and to enable communication with outside parties including the school and emergency services.
  • Be aware of the limitations of your communication strategy.

Check the weather forecast for the location in the days leading up to the program and on the day the program commences. If the program extends overnight, monitor and assess the weather throughout and based on that information access daily weather forecasts and warnings.

Weather conditions can change rapidly. Monitor and assess the weather throughout the activity and be prepared to cancel, modify or relocate at anytime.

Weather warning telephone services:

  • Coastal, Land Weather and Flood Warnings: 1300 659 217
  • Full State Telephone Weather Service: 1900 955 363 (call charge applies)
  • Victorian Bushfire Information Line: 1800 240 667

These telephone numbers may be useful to have available on your program.

Web links:


The transportation of groups to and from activity locations must be carefully considered.

Vehicles used to transport students must comply with VicRoads registration requirements.

  • Drivers must comply with all licensing requirements.
  • Equipment carried inside vehicles must be securely stowed.
  • Students must be supervised by a minimum of one adult, in addition to the driver, during travel.

See: VicRoads 

Drivers of vehicles with up to and including 12 seats (including the driver) require a current drivers license.

Drivers of vehicles with 13 or more seats (including the driver) require a current license appropriate for the vehicle and must:

In circumstances where a teacher or staff member is to drive a vehicle transporting students, the program should allow for them to have adequate rest prior to driving consistent with the national driving hours regulations.

Hazardous areas

Buses with a capacity greater than 12 seats entering prescribed hazardous areas during the declared snow season must have an annual hazardous areas inspection and a current certificate. The driver must also hold a current Hazardous Areas Authority

The driver must also carry the required equipment for hazardous areas. Information about Victorian Hazardous Areas requirements can be obtained from VicRoads, including information specific to bus travel in snow fields. See: VicRoads 


Student skills

Planning for activities should begin with an assessment of students’ current knowledge, skills and experience in climbing activities.

First time climbers and beginners must receive competent instruction in basic skills.

The instructor should ascertain the previous experience of each student.

Instructional staff must brief students on:

  • equipment, clothing and footwear that is suitable for the activity and location
  • safety measures appropriate to control risks associated with the activity and the environment
  • minimal environmental impact techniques relevant to the activity and location
  • historical and cultural considerations relevant to the activity and location
  • activity scope and boundaries
  • communication and communication signals
  • relevant terminology
  • the use of safety equipment including harnesses, helmets and descending devices
  • proper belaying technique and back-up belaying technique
  • abseil stance for descending the climbing route
  • basic rope management and tying in
  • environmental conditions and potential hazards

The responsibility of belaying must be emphasised. All student belayers must have a belay backup. A belay backup normally involves another student holding, or using a second belay device on the same rope. Staff must vigilantly monitor belayers.

Preparation should also include supporting the mental health and well-being of students. This is as important as physical preparation.


All equipment used must be in sound condition, suitable for the activity and meet applicable industry safety standards.

A log of use of all climbing equipment must be maintained by the owner.

Belay devices

Belay devices that are in good working order and meet Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme (UIAA) standards or Comite Europeen de Normalisation (CEN) or the Australian equivalent must be used.


Harnesses that meet EN 12277:1998 or the equivalent UIAA or Australian standards. Harnesses must be in good working order and correctly fitted. Students and staff must be vigilant in ensuring that harnesses are correctly refitted between sessions or after removal.


Helmets that meet UIAA standards or equivalent CEN (EN 12492) or Australian standard must be worn by all students and staff when rock climbing or in the vicinity of the rock face.


Dynamic ropes must be used for rock climbing activities. Ropes should measure between 10 mm to 13 mm in diameter. Half ropes are not to be used as the climb rope.

Abrasion of set up ropes frequently occurs where ropes rub against the cliff. Rope protectors or padding are recommended and help prolong rope life. Any rope protection used must be rigged to ensure it cannot be dislodged onto the climbers or increase the likelihood of dislodging rocks.

The rope should be secured to the harness according to the harness manufacturer’s instructions.

Belay devices must be attached to harnesses with a locking karabiner.

Leader Rescue

Leaders must carry rescue equipment appropriate to the activity.



Staff members are those adults who provide the supervisory, instructional and educational elements of the program. All staff members must be approved by the principal.

All staff members must comply with current Departmental police check requirements or the Working with Children Check

A teacher registered with the Victorian Institute of Teaching and either employed by the Department  or the school council must be present and have overall responsibility for the activity.

Where not directly responsible for the instruction of the activity or assisting the instructor, the teacher present must understand the activity and the environment in which it will be conducted. This teacher must confer with the designated instructor about the supervisory role and establish areas of responsibility. If the teacher is not the designated instructor he/she is to act on the advice of the designated instructor on technical safety issues.

Any staff members with a known medical condition that might compromise the group’s risk management plan should make accompanying staff aware of this condition. Issues of confidentiality and privacy will be involved in any such disclosure.

Staff conducting multi-pitch climbing must:

  • have a high level of rope, group management and cliff rescue skills
  • have extensive knowledge of the rock face, descent routes, escape route options and belay ledge management
  • ensure a gradual progression in a climbing program over an extended period
  • allow for more experienced students to apply earlier learned knowledge and skills for movement in a rock environment.

To find out more on multi-pitch climbing see: Definitions

Experience and qualifications

Staff involved in the planning and conduct of the activity should have sufficient knowledge and experience of the activity and the activity environment to operate in all foreseeable conditions.

The designated single-pitch rock climbing instructor/s must have one of the following:

  • a Single Pitch Guide award accredited with the Australian Climbing Instructors Association
  • equivalent documented abseiling training and experience from another training provider or education institution
  • equivalent documented abseiling experience in lieu of certification/accreditation.

The designated multi-pitch rock climbing instructor/s must have one of the following:

  • a Multi Pitch Guide award accredited with the Australian Climbing Instructors Association
  • equivalent documented training and experience from another training provider or education institution
  • equivalent documented experience in lieu of certification/accreditation.

Note: It is recommended that where the instructor does not have an award accredited with the Australian Climbing Instructor Association that they have lead climbing experience. Having lead climbing experience indicates that the instructor is more likely to have the broad range of technical skills required for instructing rock climbing experiences and will be able to respond to a wider range of situations.

Equivalent training and/or experience includes staff having experience and knowledge of:

  • setup of secure and efficient top rope and abseil teaching systems using a variety of belays and sites
  • methods for conducting students safely and efficiently on single-pitch climbs
  • self-rescue techniques relevant to single-pitch situations
  • site choice in relation to safety, environmental factors and outcome for the participant
  • teaching techniques and group management
  • environmental and land-management issues.

The designated assistant to the instructor must:

  • have experience in the activity at the level being offered to students
  • be familiar with the requirements of the activity
  • be able to assume a supervisory role during the activity
  • have the ability to participate competently in emergency response procedures
  • have conferred with the instructor to establish the emergency response and supervision responsibilities.

Documentation of staff qualifications and experience (doc - 151kb) can be used to document staff qualifications/experience in lieu of qualifications.


Supervision is the critical factor in managing risk in the outdoors.

A minimum of two staff members must be present for each activity, one with responsibility for activity instruction and the other able to assist the instructor.

The following table shows the minimum staff-to-student ratio that must be used for rock climbing. It is the starting point for establishing the supervision strategy.

(Note: Students not directly involved in rock climbing, must be supervised separately with a minimum staff-student ratio of 1 to 20.)

ActivityStaff numbersStudent numbers

Single-pitch top belay




Up to 12

13 - 18

19 - 24

Single-pitch ground belay




Up to 12

13 - 18

19 - 24

Tramline multi-pitch




Up to 4

5 - 6

7 - 8

Independent multi-pitch




Up to 4

5 - 6

7 - 8

It may be necessary to increase the number of staff allocated based on:

  • age, maturity and gender of students
  • ability and experience of students
  • individual needs
  • dynamics of the student group
  • experience, qualifications and skills of staff
  • location conditions.

Reasons for increasing staff allocations must be documented.

The teacher in charge is responsible for the supervision strategy, which must be endorsed by the principal as part of the excursion approval process. Staff members will supervise students according to that strategy.

Informed consent

The school must receive informed consent from parents or guardians that their child may participate in adventure activities.

Informed consent should be based on an understanding of:

  • the educational purpose of the activity
  • the nature and details of the activity
  • the supervision strategy
  • other information deemed relevant by the school or by parents/guardians.

Informed consent must be given in writing, including signatures, by parents or guardians.

First aid

At least one member of staff responsible for each group of students must hold, as a minimum, a current (within 3 years) level two first aid qualification, a current (within 12 months) Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) qualification and have a first aid kit applicable to the level of training.

Staff members must consider carefully the nature and location of the excursion as well as the medical history of the students to determine the level of first aid training required by staff.  For example, if any student in the group has a history of anaphylaxis and may require the use of an epi-pen, appropriately trained staff must be present.  See: Excursion Support – First Aid

Common risks

This list identifies risks likely to be inherent in any rock climbing activity. A program-specific risk management plan must be completed that takes account of the specific conditions and unique participants of the excursion/program.

Sample RisksSample Controls

Fall from height

Pre-activity safety briefing on belay systems and cliff environment. All participants to wear correctly fitted helmets and harnesses.

Students to be briefed to remain at least two metres from the cliff edge.

Anyone who is operating within two metres of the cliff edge must be on belay or tethered to a secure anchor.

Student belaying skill level

Choose an appropriate system for use by students.

Instructional staff to directly observe belaying by students.

Provide a clear belay brief and then assess each student’s ability to belay.

Slips and trips

Correct footwear to be worn by students. Clear instruction on how to descend.

Entanglement (hair, clothing, jewellery)

Participants to remove all jewellery prior to commencement. Participants with long hair to tie back hair prior to abseiling.

Clothing to be tucked in and ensure belay devices are free of potential entanglements.

Falling objects (including rocks)

Review site for loose rock prior to climbing.

Do not drag ropes or other equipment which may dislodge rocks.

Teach calls to warn of rock fall and appropriate protective response.

Excessive speed while descending

Appropriate belay system to slow descent. Instruction and supervision of belayers.


Rock climbing resources
General resources