Professional Climbing Instructors’ Association: Top Rope Climbing Instructor Course (outdoor)

Dates: March 17-19, 2024, or April 5-7, 2024; certification exam options will be provided in the ensuing several weeks.

Location: Hidden Rocks, in the George Washington National Forest, 30 mins. west of Harrisonburg.

Cost: $450 for the course (includes 1 year PCIA membership); $150 additional for the exam day, scheduled individually, and subsequent to the course.

Provider: Lester Zook, WILD GUYde Adventures LLC ([email protected], 540-433-1637)

Lodging Options: Harrisonburg has the full range of hotel/motel options (Exit 247 off I-81), from Motel 6 to Hampton Inn. There is also a KOA with showers 30 mins. from the climbing area (540-896-8929), and Hone Quarry Campground in the GWNF (fire-pits, picnic tables, and restrooms; no showers; about $6 per site; 1 mile from the climbing area).

To register: For March 17-19, visit this link to sign up: link. For April 5-7, visit this link to sign up: link. Then go to the Confirmation page and print off the Medical Form/Participant Agreement, and the Skills and Experience Checklist, and mail with the fee to: WGA, 1047 Stuart St., Harrisonburg, VA, 22802. 75% refund up to 7 days prior; no refund thereafter. Use the topics below as a personal preparation checklist. You will receive a teaching assignment or two prior to the course.


  • 30-50’ piece of static rope
  • Personal climbing shoes
  • 1 full length climbing rope (45m, 50m, or 60m)
  • @ 20’ 1” tubular webbing (can be in cut lengths)
  • Personal harness and helmet
  • 16-18’ perlon cordalette (6 or 7mm)
  • Passive belay device (ATC, Trango Pyramid, etc.)
  • Personal first aid kit
  • Stream crossing footwear
  • Lunch and ample water (2 qts. minimum)
  • 4-6 locking carabiners (1-2 pear-style)
  • Some padding (2 carpet squares, rope bag)
  • Gri-gri
  • 2 prussik loops (each 4’ of 7mm perlon cord)
  • Daypack or climbing pack
  • Weather appropriate clothing (rain protection, warmth, etc.), and hiking footwear
  • Small spiral bound notebook/pens or pencils
  • Any protection gear you have (passive, cams, etc.)
  • Assortment of slings (24″, 48”) and quickdraws 

PCIA Top Rope Climbing Instructor Program Information

For More Information Visit PCIA Site

The PCIA has created a focused course and optional certification exam that addresses both base managed and top managed climbs. The Top Rope Climbing Instructor™ course (TRCI) provides instructors and potential instructors with an in depth and standardized understanding of the skills essential to teaching climbing in an outdoor setting. Like other PCIA courses, the course reinforces the importance of teaching technically accurate information. The emphasis is on refining core skills and improving educational delivery of material. The thirty hour (3 day) course builds upon the existing skills of competent recreational climbers and takes an in depth look at site selection, equipment, knot selection, anchor construction, rope systems, Leave No Trace practices, rescue and assistance skills as well as key instructional skills. Most importantly, the course stresses blending these skills together to form a more seamless and efficient climbing experience for participants. Upon successful completion of all course components participants are considered PCIA Assistant Instructors. Assistant Instructors may elect to take an optional certification exam to achieve Top Rope Climbing Instructor™ Certification. The one day examination stresses efficient site and gear utilization, client and instructor safety, site management and educational delivery. The exam may be taken any time after completing all course components. This course may be taken as stand-alone course or coupled together with the two day Single Pitch Instructor Module.

Top Rope Climbing Instructor™ Course Pre-Requisites

  • You are currently at least age 18.
  • The candidate must show an adequate experience level to the course provider illustrating that they are ready for the course. Examples include regular climbing for 2 – 3 years, a high intensity of climbing in the past few months, etc
  • Lead climbing experience is highly recommended but not required
  • You are able to comfortably set-up base managed climbs, to belay, and to rappel without guidance and can demonstrate detailed familiarity with anchoring principles, natural anchors and artificial anchors (wedges, hexes, passive and active cams). These skills may be assessed at the start of the course.
  • You possess the personal equipment necessary for the course.
  • You are capable of comfortably climbing 5.8 terrain while on a top rope.

Top Rope Climbing Instructor™ Course Length

The course is 30 hours (3 days) with pre-course study and lesson preparation required.

Top Rope Climbing Instructor™ Component Skills

Professional Skills

  • Presents oneself with a professional demeanor and appropriate attire.
  • Presents oneself with essential and well-maintained personal equipment.
  • Discusses differences between recreational climbing and climbing instruction and supervision.
  • Continuously practice and illustrate a high level of Leave No Trace understanding.
  • Understands various legal and administrative aspects related to outdoor climbing.
  • Designs and demonstrates professional client greeting and facility introduction.
  • Discusses options for working with youth populations vs. adult populations.
  • Able to discuss professionalism, professional training programs, and the role of organizations such as the PCIA, CWA, ACCT and the AMGA.
  • Appropriately chooses terrain to meet client needs, and matches terrain from a guide book or base of cliff with appropriate anchor at the top of the cliff.

Climbing Ability

  • Demonstrates a variety of basic and intermediate physical climbing movement skills.
  • Models a top rope climb at the 5.6 standard illustrating confident, smooth, and controlled movement.

Technical Understanding

  • Demonstrates ability to correctly identify and discusses (in depth) a selection of basic climbing gear including various carabiners, belay tools, webbing and cordage materials and ropes.
  • Possesses a working knowledge of and an ability to inspect basic climbing gear such as ropes, anchor cordage and webbing, harnesses, belay devices, carabiners, climbing shoes, belay tools and artificial forms of protection.
  • Confidently demonstrates and discusses appropriate use of the following knots: Figure 8 Follow Through, Figure 8 on Bight, Double Bight Figure 8, Overhand on Bight, Overhand Follow Through, Bowline.
  • Demonstrates and discusses appropriate use of the following hitches: Clove Hitch, Munter Hitch, Blocked Munter, Block Belay Plate, Prussik Hitch, Klemheist Hitch, Auto Block.
  • Demonstrates construction of a sit harness with webbing or rope. The harness must include leg loops and a swami and be redundant such that if the closure knot loosens, the harness remains secure.
  • Demonstrates rope coiling into a mountaineer’s coil and a backpack coil.
  • Demonstrates confident and competent belaying using a variety of belay methods including aperture devices, assisted locking devices, and a Munter Hitch with both right and left hand as brake hand.
  • Demonstrates the proper placement of artificial protection including tapers (stoppers), hexentrics, Tri-cams, and spring loaded cams.
  • Demonstrates various methods of slinging natural features with rope or webbing and can articulate the pros and cons of each.
  • Articulates how to assess bolts and pitons.
  • Constructs an effective master point using more than one natural anchor point and the joining material of their choice. The master point must be within 12 inches of a location chosen by the course provider. Time Limit: 10 minutes.
  • Demonstrates the ability to efficiently build a variety of adequate anchors with artificial gear as well as a mix of natural and artificial gear. Time Limit: 10 minutes / anchor.
  • Demonstrates the set up and use of an instructor belayed rappel utilizing one or two ropes.
    Demonstrates the set up and use of a releasable instructor belayed rappel utilizing one or two ropes, and discusses situations when this set up is warranted.
  • Demonstrates set up of a base managed climb with easier edge access, and demonstrates protecting themselves adequately both while descending over the edge and while rappelling. Time Limit: 15 minutes.
  • Demonstrates set up of a base managed climb with difficult edge access and demonstrates protecting themselves adequately both while descending over the edge and while rappelling. Time Limit: 15 minutes.
  • Demonstrates a variety of base managed student belays – anchored, unanchored, direct, indirect – and articulates appropriate use of each.
  • Demonstrates the ability to supervise a base managed site with at least two climbs operating.
  • Demonstrates how to take over a weighted and un-weighted indirect belay from a student belayer at the base of a climb.
  • Demonstrates counter-ascending to assist a client and counter-rappelling to the ground with the client using an assisted locking device.
  • Demonstrates a variety of belay transitions.
  • Demonstrates multiple alternatives for protecting a belayer from both an upward pull and falling backward.

    Safety SKills

  • Presents a sample site safety briefing.
  • Discusses selection of safe climbing routes for varying abilities and styles of climbing.
  • Evaluates and problem-solves the need for back-up belays and the use of anchors.
  • Performs basic assistance and rescue skills such taking over a loaded belay, counter ascending / rappelling, and a climber pick off.
  • Prepares a risk management and emergency plan for a sample location.
  • Demonstrates effective supervision of both bouldering and roped climbing areas.
  • Demonstrates effective spotting techniques.
  • Demonstrates effective construction of a chest harness with webbing or rope. The harness must attach to the rope in such a way as to not compress the torso or fully weight the chest harness.
  • Continuously demonstrates adequate personal and student safety.Maintaining Certification

Educational Ability

  • Designs and demonstrates a 45’ lesson on harness application, knot use, belaying and communication.
  • Designs and demonstrates a 45’ lesson showing effective coaching of movement skills through activities, verbal direction and modeling.
  • Designs and demonstrates a 45’ lesson on artificial gear placement.
  • Designs and demonstrates a 45’ lesson illustrating essential considerations of master point creation with various materials.
  • Facilitates a 10’-30’ educational presentation on carabiners, belay tools, climbing grades, reading route topos, webbing and cordage material specs and use, how to select a rope /rope dynamics, Leave No Trace practice.
  • Designs and demonstrates a 45’ lesson on knot and hitch tying including figure 8s, overhands, clove hitch, block Munter Hitch and Prussik Hitch.

Top Rope Climbing Instructor™ Certification

Upon successful completion of the BMCI course components, an individual may elect to take a one day certification exam. A skill consolidation period after the course is recommended but not required. The examination is a one day field exam that evaluates both core technical skills and educational delivery. The target goal for the certification standard is for candidates to be able to generalize learned information – in other words to be able to utilize various principles to create solutions for problems at hand. Generalization is considered the fourth learning stage following memorization, comprehension, and application.

Exam pre-requisites:

  • Candidate must have completed the PCIA Top Rope Climbing Instructor™ course and be considered a PCIA Assistant Instructor, or,
  • Candidate must have completed the AMGA Single Pitch Instructor Course.
  • Exam candidates will be asked to:
    1. Present a minimum of two professionally organized lessons chosen by the examiner from a published list of topics.
    2. Complete four technical scenarios illustrating full comprehension and application of all technical skills taught in the course. Only one marginal score is allowed within the four exam activities. A candidate who fails the exam may retake the exam at a future date.