Climbing Merit Badge Guide

climbing merit badge guide

Climbing Merit Badge – Do you love to climb? Do you feel freedom in leaving the flat earth behind? Do high and windy places invite you to come and explore?

Climbing allows you to challenge yourself. It is not a sport that requires tremendous muscular strength, though being in good shape will allow you to enjoy it more.

What climbing does demand is mental toughness and the willingness to practice hard to master a set of skills. The adventure of climbing can also give you a new way to have a good time in the outdoors.

Climbing really is an activity in which at least half of the fun is getting there. It’s great to stand at the top of a climbing route, but even more exciting is what it takes to reach the heights making good moves and using balance, judgment, and skill to move up steep walls.

Today, you don’t have to go to the mountains to learn how to climb. There are plenty of climbing walls throughout the country, and even indoor climbing gyms.

If you are in the mountains, your Scouting unit might combine climbing with hiking and camping for terrific outdoor experiences.

Climbing Merit Badge Requirements

climbing merit badge requirements

  1. Do the following:
    • Explain to your counselor the most likely hazards you may encounter while participating in climbing and rappelling activities and what you should do to anticipate, help prevent, mitigate, and respond to these hazards.
    • Show that you know first aid for and how to prevent injuries or illnesses that could occur during climbing activities, including heat and cold reactions, dehydration, stopped breathing, sprains, abrasions, fractures, rope burns, blisters, snakebite, and insect bites or stings.
    • Identify the conditions that must exist before performing CPR on a person.
  2. Learn the Leave No Trace principles and Outdoor Code, and explain what they mean.
  3. Present yourself properly dressed for belaying, climbing, and rappelling (i.e., appropriate clothing, footwear, and a helmet; rappellers can also wear gloves).
  4. Location. Do the following:
    • Explain how the difficulty of climbs is classified, and apply classifications. to the rock faces or walls where you will demonstrate your climbing skills.
    • Explain the following: top-rope climbing, lead climbing, and bouldering.
    • Evaluate the safety of a particular climbing area. Consider weather, visibility, the condition of the climbing surface, and any other environmental hazards.
    • Determine how to summon aid to the climbing area in case of an emergency.
  5. Verbal signals. Explain the importance of using verbal signals during every climb and rappel, and while bouldering. With the help of the merit badge counselor or another Scout, demonstrate the verbal signals used by each of the following:
    • Climbers
    • Rappellers
    • Belayers
    • Boulderers and their spotters
  6. Rope. Do the following:
    • Describe the kinds of rope acceptable for use in climbing and rappelling.
    • Show how to examine a rope for signs of wear or damage.
    • Discuss ways to prevent a rope from being damaged.
    • Explain when and how a rope should be retired.
    • Properly coil a rope.
  7. Knots. Demonstrate the ability to tie each of the following knots. Give at least one example of how each knot is used in belaying, climbing, or rappelling.
    • Figure eight on a bight
    • Figure eight follow-through
    • Water knot
    • Double fisherman’s knot (grapevine knot)
    • Safety knot
  8. Harnesses. Correctly put on a commercially made climbing harness.
  9. Belaying. Do the following:
    • Explain the importance of belaying climbers and rappellers and when it is necessary.
    • Belay three different climbers ascending a rock face or climbing wall.
    • Belay three different rappellers descending a rock face or climbing wall using a top rope.
  10. Climbing. Do the following:
    • Show the correct way to directly tie into a belay rope.
    • Climb at least three different routes on a rock face or climbing wall, demonstrating good technique and using verbal signals with a belayer.
  11. Rappelling. Do the following:
    • Using a carabiner and a rappel device, secure your climbing harness to a rappel rope.
    • Tie into a belay rope set up to protect rappellers.
    • Rappel down three different rock faces or three rappel routes on a climbing wall. Use verbal signals to communicate with a belayer, and demonstrate the good rappelling technique.
  12. Demonstrate ways to store rope, hardware, and other gear used for climbing, rappelling, and belaying.

Risk Management and First Aid

Climbing and rappelling, when properly done, are as safe as most other Scouting adventure activities.

Like most other Scouting activities, there are certain risks to be managed with careful planning, attention to safety issues, and being prepared to respond well should an injury or illness occur.

Even shortfalls can lead to minor bruises or skinned knuckles and knees. Though rare, a longer fall can result in sprains, abrasions, or fractures.

Responding to Emergencies

Before beginning a climb, your group should work out an emergency response plan that includes information about the location of the nearest telephone and the telephone numbers of the closest hospital, sheriff’s department, and rescue unit.

In many areas of the country, dialing 911 contacts all three.

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is an important first response in the event of a cardiac emergency.

It is used only for extreme emergencies when the person has no pulse, indicating that the heart has stopped beating. CPR includes both chest compressions and rescue breathing (mouth-to-mouth resuscitation).

CPR courses are designed to teach rescuers how to recognize life-threatening conditions and respond appropriately. 

Check with the American Red Cross, the National Safety Council, the American Heart Association, and other similar organizations in your area to find out if they offer CPR and other first-aid training. 

Every BSA climbing or rappelling activity should include at least one person on-site who is trained and certified in CPR. You need to know CPR before you have to use it.

The Boy Scout Handbook and First Aid merit badge pamphlet explain how to identify the conditions that must exist before performing CPR on a person.

Here is some information that can help you answer the requirements of the first climbing merit badge.

First Aid

While climbers prepare by keeping fit and planning ahead, firstaid situations sometimes will arise. Always have a well-equipped first-aid kit at hand, both while climbing and while traveling to and from the site.

All climbers should be prepared to take action. Instructors at climbing and rappelling areas at Scout camps should be trained to respond quickly to emergencies.

At indoor climbing gyms, the staff will take the lead in treating injuries and contacting help.

1. Heat Reactions

Heat reactions, including heat exhaustion and heatstroke, result when the body cannot keep itself cool enough. If someone feels dizzy, faint, nauseated, or weak, develops a headache or muscle cramps, or looks pale and is sweating heavily, treat for heat exhaustion.

Have the person lie down in a cool, shady spot with the feet raised. Loosen clothing and cool the person with a damp cloth and fan. Have the victim sip water slowly.

Recovery should be rapid. If the condition worsens or does not improve, get medical help.

Heatstroke occurs when the body’s heat-control system shuts down, causing the victim’s temperature to rise to life-threatening levels. The skin may be wet or dry but always will be flushed and hot.

The pulse is extremely rapid, and the person will be disoriented or unconscious. Cool the victim immediately through immersion or with cold packs. When the victim is able to drink, give all the water wanted.

Treat for shock and seek medical attention immediately.

To prevent the familiar condition called sunburn, use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 and limit your exposure time.

Apply sunscreen liberally before exposure (don’t forget your ears and the back of your neck), and reapply often if you are sweating. If your skin begins to redden or if you feel discomfort, seek shade.

Treat painful sunburn with damp cloths. Remedies containing aloe vera also might provide some relief. Protect your lips by applying a lip balm with an SPF of at least 15. To protect your eyes, wear sunglasses.

2. Cold Reactions

Hypothermia occurs when a climber becomes so cold that he can no longer keep warm. As the core temperature drops, vital organs shut down. In extreme cases, death may result.

Hypothermia can sneak up on a climber gradually, especially on a chilly, windy day. Since hypothermia impairs the ability to think clearly, the victim may not realize the danger and may not be able to save himself.

Prevent hypothermia by staying warm and dry, taking breaks, and eating plenty of energy foods. A victim who shows early symptoms of hypothermia will feel cold, tired, and irritable.

Take action to rewarm anyone who shows signs of hypothermia and prevent further heat loss. Move the victim to a shelter and wrap the person in a blanket or sleeping bag (remove wet clothing) until body temperature warms to normal.

For additional warmth, keep the head covered. Give the victim hot drinks if available (no caffeine or alcohol) and only if the victim is alert enough to drink.

Cold winter weather, especially if it is windy, brings with it the danger of frostbite. Essentially, a part of the body becomes frozen. The flesh becomes numb, though sometimes the victim may not notice.

If the freezing continues, the area will stiffen and become grayish-white in color. To treat the victim, thaw the affected area only if there is no risk of refreezing. Once warmed, keep the affected area warm.

Do not rub the area with snow. In the field, use body heat. Put cold fingers under the armpit and the warm palm of your hand on frostbitten nose, ears, or cheeks.

In a shelter, if possible, put cold feet on a companion’s bare belly, or immerse the affected area in lukewarm water no warmer than 108 degrees.

If blisters develop, apply a large sterile dressing. Treat the victim for shock and immediately seek medical attention.

3. Dehydration

Dehydration, caused by lack of water in the body, can occur in cold or warm weather anytime a person is sweating profusely and/or not drinking enough liquids. 

Avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of fluids and eating enough throughout the day to keep your body well-balanced. 

If you become weary or develop a headache or body aches, or if you become confused, rest in the shade and sip water until the symptoms subside.

4. Sprains

A sprain, caused by twisting, wrenching, or lifting movement, tears or stretches tissues surrounding a joint. The area will feel tender to the touch, and you will feel sudden pain when you move, so try to keep still.

Elevate the area and apply a cold compress for 15 to 20 minutes. For persistent or severe pain, seek medical attention.

5. Fractures

Fractures, or broken bones, can be either closed (simple) or open (compound). In a simple fracture, the skin is not punctured.

In a compound fracture caused by a climbing incident, there is a wound through the skin where the bone is broken. If you suspect a fracture, do not try to move the injured area to test for pain. Look for these other signs:

  • Tenderness to the touch over the site of the break. It hurts when you press gently on the skin over the fracture.
  • Swelling or bluish color at the fracture site.
  • An unusual or abnormal shape, position, or movement of the bone or joint.
  • A grating sound or feeling.
  • An inability to move the injured limb.
  • The victim may have heard or felt a bone snap.

A compound fracture will show the signs above in addition to an open wound.

6. Rope Burns

Rope burns, or friction burns, can occur when climbers allow the rope to slide too quickly through their hands or when any part of the body comes in contact with a fast-moving rope. A rope burn is characterized by raw, red skin and sometimes blistering.

The best protection against rope burns is, of course, to wear climbing gloves, but if a burn does occur, clean the area with mild soap and water to help prevent infection.

7. Stings and Bites

For typical stings and bites, carefully scrape away the stinger with the edge of a knife blade. Don’t try to squeeze it out that will force more venom into the skin from the sac attached to the stinger.

An ice pack might reduce pain and swelling. If you have 0.5 percent hydrocortisone cream, apply it to help soothe insect stings and bites.

For severe and prolonged pain, or for any severe reaction, dizziness, or respiratory distress, get medical help.

8. Snakebite

Snakebite is rare and seldom fatal. Snakes generally try to avoid humans and normally strike only when they sense danger.

The bite of a nonpoisonous snake requires only ordinary first aid for small wounds scrubbing with soap and water, then treating with an antiseptic.

However, the bite of a poisonous snake can cause sharp, burning pain, swelling, and discoloration. Follow these steps.

  1. Seek medical care for the victim as soon as possible.
  2. Remove rings and other jewelry that might cause problems should the area around the wound swell.
  3. Have the victim lie down and keep still; help the patient stay calm to help slow the spread of the venom. Position the wound area lower than the rest of the body.
  4. If medical help will be delayed, put a broad, constructing band (strip of cloth, belt, or neckerchief at least 1 inch wide) around the limb, 2 to 4 inches above the bite (between the heart and the bite), to slow the spread of venom.

This is not a tourniquet; make the band snug but loose enough to slip a finger under easily. Periodically check for pulse on both sides of the band; do not cut off blood circulation entirely.

Do not use a band around fingers, toes, head, neck, or trunk. Splint the area as for a fracture.

9. Other Possible Climbing-Related Injuries

For abrasions (cuts and scrapes), clean, disinfect, and cover the wound. Any basic first-aid kit should provide for minor wound treatment. Blisters form when the skin is irritated, usually by friction or heat. A hot spot signals the beginning of a blister.

Stop immediately and protect the tender area by covering the hot spot with a piece of moleskin or mole foam. If a blister forms, build up several layers of moleskin or mole foam, as needed, to take off the pressure.

Blisters are best left unbroken. Treat a broken blister as you would a minor cut or abrasion.

For an explanation of the Leave No Trace principles and Outdoor Code for answering requirement 2, you can read on the climbing merit badge pamphlet.

For answers to requirements number 3, you can read the following information.

Clothing and Equipment

clothing and equipment for climbing

For the most part, any clothing that is comfortable, rugged, and suitable for the weather will be fine for climbing.

Pants, shorts, and shirts should let you move freely as you stretch to reach handholds and footholds, but not so baggy that folds of cloth can catch on rock outcroppings or tangle in belay or rappel systems.

What you wear on your feet can make a big difference in how well you can climb. Avoid shoes with slick soles. Tightly laced athletic shoes are fine for learning the basics.

As you become more skilled, you may want to try shoes made especially for rock climbing. They will allow you to feel the rock with your toes and twist your feet to fit into cracks. The sticky rubber of the flexible soles will help you grip tiny footholds.

Climbing shoes fit very tightly to help prevent your feet from turning inside them. That support can give you better balance as you stand on small footholds.

gloves leather for climbing

Rappellers must wear gloves with leather palms to prevent friction burns while they are
handling the rope. The gloves must be dry and fit well.

Tie back long hair and tuck it into your helmet or into the back of your shirt so it won’t become tangled with ropes, belay or rappel devices, or carabiners. If you wear glasses, consider using a strap to keep them from slipping off.

For your first climbs as a beginner, you won’t need to take much with you. Eventually, however, if you become skilled enough and want to climb in remote areas, you will need a sturdy daypack or backpack to carry your:

  • First-aid kit.
  • Compass and map.
  • Food and water.
  • Flashlight.
  • Pocketknife.
  • Sun protection.
  • Waterproof matches.
  • Clothing for protection from wind and rain.
  • And other items necessary for climbs conducted far from a road.
climbing helmet

Whenever you are climbing, rappelling, or belaying on rock faces, wear a helmet that has UIAA, CE, or ASTM approval and that is designed just for climbers.

A helmet will protect your head against stones and debris falling from above, and may prevent injuries if you collide with a rock face during a fall. A chin strap helps keep a climber’s helmet from falling off or shifting.

To answer requirement 6 of the climbing merit badge you can read the information below.

1. Rope

Rope is the lifeline of climbing. Before the 1940s, the best rope available was manila rope, made by twisting together tough, stringy fibers of the manila plant.

However, manila rope may rot if it remains wet for long periods. Manila rope is also static, which means it stretches very little. A falling climber belayed by a manila rope will be yanked to an instant stop.

This can put excessive strain on the rope, the anchors, and the climber’s body, often causing damage to equipment and/or possibly injury.

After the invention of nylon in the 1930s, manufacturers developed ropes that are dynamic, meaning they will stretch.

A dynamic rope stops a falling climber gradually rather than all at once, which reduces the shock on the rope and anchor system and helps the climber avoid injury.

Currently, the only rope approved for BSA climbing and rappelling activities is kernmantle climbing rope with a core of parallel or braided nylon strands (the kern) surrounded by a woven sheath (the mantle).

When new, static rope must have a breaking strength of at least 22.2 kiloNewtons (5,000 pounds). Climbing ropes must be dry and treated with care before storage.

Type of kernmantle rope

Rope Inspection

Your life and the safety of those climbing with you may depend upon your rope being in good condition. Climbing ropes are very strong but they can be damaged.

Before each day’s climbs begin, perform an inch-by-inch hand and eye inspection of any rope you plan to use.

Search for cuts or abrasions, fraying, puffs of fiber, soft or hard spots, lumps, stains, or fused areas that are smooth and slick. Tie a figure eight on a bight in one end of a rope to indicate that it has been inspected.

Do not use any rope that shows signs of damage. Bring it to the attention of climbing instructors and directors. They will remove the rope from service and, if necessary, retire an unsafe rope by cutting it into pieces no longer than 15 feet.

You can wash a rope to remove dirt and rock crystals that might shorten its useful life. Wash a badly soiled rope by hand or in a front-loading washing machine with cool water and a mild laundry soap that does not contain bleach.

When using a washing machine, place the rope in a large net bag first so there is no danger of rope ends becoming entangled in the washing machine mechanism.

Thoroughly rinse the rope, then air-dry it completely (out of direct sunlight, and don’t use a dryer) before using the rope again or putting it into storage. Be patient it may take several days for a rope to dry.

Rope Care

The following guidelines will help you protect a climbing rope from damage:

  • Never step on a rope or drag it along the ground. Dirt and tiny bits of sand can cut the sheath and may even penetrate to the core and weaken the rope.
  • Never pull a rope over a sharp edge, especially if it is bearing weight. Route the rope away from sharp edges and narrow cracks that might cut it, or protect the rope by placing canvas pieces between the rope and the rock.
  • Protect rope from heat.
  • Never allow a rope to run over another rope or a piece of nylon webbing. Friction between the two can harm the stationary webbing or rope and perhaps wear through it.
  • Never leave a rope stretched or under tension for extended periods of time.
  • If possible, keep the rope dry. Before putting it into storage, let wet rope air-dry in a place safe from direct sunlight.
  • Keep rope away from chemicals and petroleum products, which can erode and weaken nylon.
  • Prolonged exposure to sunlight damages nylon rope. Don’t leave rope out in the sun any longer than necessary.

Coiling or Bagging a Rope

A typical climbing rope is 50 meters (165 feet) long and 11 millimeters (7⁄16 inch) in diameter. Coiling or bagging a rope keeps it in a neat package that is easy to carry and store.

You can also loosen a coiled or bagged rope without its becoming a tangled mess. This is especially important when throwing a rope down a cliff for a belay or rappel.

Begin a coil by removing any knots and hardware from the rope. Starting about 10 feet in from one end, drape lengths of the rope over the back of your neck so that the loops hang down below your waist.

When you are about 10 feet from the other end, remove the loops from your neck, grasp the two ends of the rope, and wrap them several times around the coil.

Thread a bend of the remaining rope lengths through the coil, then pass the ends through the bend and pull it snug.

For a convenient way to carry a coil, some climbers leave enough of the two ends to place them over their shoulders and around the coil, then tie the ends around the waist. This is called the butterfly coil.

2. Carabiners

Carabiners are the essential connectors of belay and rappel systems. They are used to attach climbers, rappellers, and belayers to ropes and anchors, and to clip together ropes and runners, or loops of webbing. (See “Webbing” in this chapter.)

Most carabiners are made of aluminum alloy or high-grade steel. A spring-loaded gate on one side allows a carabiner to be snapped onto a rope or piece of webbing.

Locking carabiners have a sleeve that you screw or twist with your fingers to lock the gate closed (take care not to overtighten the sleeve).

With double-locking carabiners, a climber must twist and pull the gate to open it; this system provides added protection against an accidental opening.

When used alone, a carabiner should almost always be turned with the gate down and away from a climbing surface to minimize chances of it opening if it pushes against a rock or hold.

When two nonlocking carabiners are used together, the gates should be reversed so that when they are pressed open the gates form an “X.” This helps prevent both from being unintentionally opened at the same time.

Inspect carabiners for any signs of damage or wear. Make sure the gates work smoothly and close cleanly. Do not drop carabiners on hard surfaces, drag them along the ground, or
otherwise mistreat them.

Grooves worn into the metal by friction from ropes can weaken a carabiner. Retire from use any carabiners that have become significantly grooved or bent, or that have been dropped from a significant height onto a hard surface.

3. Webbing

tubular webbing

Webbing designed for climbing is available in a variety of sizes, lengths, and materials such as nylon, Spectra, and Dyneema.

Tubular webbing (usually 1″) is used to form tied-seat harnesses; for anchors used by belayers and rappellers; and for other uses in climbing, rappelling, and belaying.

A piece of tubular webbing can be made into a loop known as a runner in one of two ways: The ends are commercially sewn together, or the ends are tied with a water knot backed with safety knots.

Climbers use runners or slings, as these loops are also called for rigging anchors, managing rope, and many other tasks. Like all climbing rope, all webbing can be harmed by friction, dirt, and long exposure to sunlight or harsh weather.

Dispose of webbing that shows any sign of damage or that has an unknown history.

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