Department of Recreation, Parks & Tourism

RCPT 421: Introduction to Ropes Course Programming


Instructor:                   Dr. Mark Wagstaff                 Phone: 831-7724

Office:                         Waldron Hall 139                   Office Hours: 10:00 to 12:00 daily

E-mail:                       Class e-mail:


RU ABLE Director:   Fred Pierson                            Phone: 831-7721



RCPT 421    Ropes Course Programming.                        (3) Credits

Three hours lecture/laboratory.

Prerequisites or co-requisites: RCPT 112, RCPT 210, RCPT 313, and permission of the instructor.


Students will learn and apply the technical, safety, leadership and facilitation skills essential to safe and effective ropes course programming. Emphasis is given to understanding the theoretical underpinnings of ropes course philosophy. A five-day training workshop is a required component of the course. See training dates below.


A.    Detailed Description of Course Content


This course covers a wide spectrum and representative cross-section of cooperative warm-ups, non-traditional group games, trust activities, initiative or group problem-solving activities, and low and high challenge ropes course elements. Basic technical and safety skills will be taught, including spotting and the variety and types of belay devices, techniques and systems. Emphasis is placed on developing the necessary leadership and facilitation skills to implement safe and effective initiative and ropes course programs. Additional emphasis is placed on understanding the theoretical underpinnings of ropes course programming, including the experiential learning cycle, the full value contract, goal-setting, challenge by choice, and processing the adventure experience.


B.     Detailed Description of Course Conduct


The course begins with an orientation to the theoretical concepts underlying ropes course programming and the experiential aspect of the course. Throughout the course students are required to maintain an activity log. The log is the primary source of information and insight for a self-assessment at the completion of the course. During the five-day training, students must demonstrate specific ropes course competencies in order to complete the course. Within two weeks of the five-day training, students take a comprehensive exam that covers all course material, readings, training information and the RU-ABLE manual. Finally, the student is required to participate in a 28 hour laboratory experience. The lab requirement involves assisting, co-leading and/or leading in the implementation of ropes course programming though Radford University’s Adventure Based Learning Experience (RU-ABLE). It may also involve ropes course installation, the development of ropes course policies and procedures, etc. Students will document this lab experience using the RU-ABLE facilitator evaluation form.


C.     Goals and Objectives of the Course


Goal 1: To develop basic technical and safety skills.


Objectives for Goal 1—at the end of the course students will be able to:


·         Demonstrate proper spotting technique for low elements

·         Tie the following knots: bowline-on-bight, figure eight loop knot, double figure eight, retraced figure eight, prussic knot, double fisherman and butterfly knot.

·         Perform a standing hip belay

·         Perform a team belay

·         Belay using at least two of the following mechanical belay devices: sticht plate, ATC, GriGri, and/or a Trango Pyramid.

·         Demonstrate appropriate belay techniques as a “second” belayer.

·         Distinguish between “dynamic” and “static” belays within the ropes course context.

·         Identify at least five factors or considerations regarding the “on ground” safety management of low and high ropes course elements.

·         Explain at least five procedures or strategies for the proper care and storage of ropes course rope.

·         Properly identify and explain the function of all equipment items essential to ropes course safety, including carabiners, rapid links, helmets, harnesses, pulleys, ropes course cables and connections, and tools for maintenance and inspection of elements.


Goal 2: To understand the theoretical concepts and constructs underlying ropes course programming, including the experiential learning cycle, the full value contract, goal setting, challenge by choice, and processing the adventure experience.


Objectives for Goal 2—at the end of the course, and with reference to her/his journal, the student will be able to:


·         Describe at least three techniques or strategies for implementing challenge by choice.

·         Explain the four components of the experiential learning cycle.

·         Evaluate at least five methods or techniques for effective processing of experience learning.

·         Evaluate three methods for implementing a full value contract.

·         Articulate the role and process of goal setting in the context of the experiential learning cycle.

·         Critically analyze the theory and application of ropes course programming to selected client groups.


Goal 3: To apply the basic skills and understanding of ropes course programming.


Objectives of Goal 3—through the SL experience, each student will:


·         Where possible, assist in the design a ropes course program for a specific client group.

·         Assist, co-lead and/or lead specific initiatives and ropes course elements under the supervision of qualified ropes course personnel.

·         Complete a self-evaluation regarding her/his participation in the lab experience.


D.    Assessment Measures


Assessment is based upon participation in classes, labs, a five day training workshop, successful demonstration of competency-based technical and safety skills, a final certification exam (skills test and written test), completion of a facilitation notebook, and completion of a service learning program.


E.     Course Readings


Ryan, B. (2005). The Guide for Challenge Course Operations. Project Adventure.


Rohnke, K., & Butler, S. (1995) Quicksilver: Adventure Games, Initiative Problems, Trust Activities, and a Guide to Effective Leadership. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co.


RU-ABLE Operations Manual (5th ed.) (available at the RU bookstore)


Martin, B., Cashel, C., Wagstaff, M. & Breunig, M. (2006). Challenge Course Programming, Chapter 11. Human Kinetics.


F.         Course Requirements and Evaluation


1.                  Mandatory Attendance


a.                   Monday, August 29th   6:00 – 9:00 – Training preparation and Quiz

b.                  Monday, September 5th 6:00 – 9:00 – Quiz


Five day training (participation is mandatory – lack of attendance may result in withdrawal)


                        c.         Wednesday, September 7,  7:00PM - 10:00PM

                        d.         Thursday, September 8,  8:30AM - 10:00M

                        e.         Friday, September 9,  8:30AM - 10:00PM

f.                   Saturday, September 10,  8:30AM - 10:00PM

g.                  Sunday, September 11,  8:30AM – 4:00PM


h.                  Additional classes

(1)    September 26 – Certification Exam

(2)   October 10 – New Games Workshop

(3)   November 14 – Technical Skills Review

(4)   December 5 – Class Evaluation and Debrief


i.                    Ropes Course Service Learning: Schedule with Fred Pierson


2.                  Participation: 40%.  Participation addresses and includes the following:


·         Preparation for and commitment to the course are essential to its success. Students will be evaluated according to the course behaviors outlined below (see “course expectations”). (15%)     

·         Preparation includes reading and initial quiz (10%)

·         Participation includes successful completion/demonstration of basic competencies. Evaluation will be based upon observation and skill assessment forms.

·         Submitting facilitation notebook/journal. Due during certification exam. (20%)

·         All late work will be penalized 10% per day.


3.                  Lab Experience: 30% points. Serve as an instructor for RU-ABLE by co-facilitating client groups. Students will schedule hours with lab director, Fred Pierson. The RU-ABLE facilitator’s log must be maintained that describes: dates, type of group, responsibilities, activities and reflections. Must complete a total of 28 hours: twenty-five hours spent facilitating groups and three hours conducting program management activities such as administrative projects or maintenance. There is a five point penalty off the student’s lab grade for each hour not completed under the 28 hour minimum and the student will not be eligible for Level 1 Certification.  Click here to download RU ABLE Facilitator’s Log.


4.                  Comprehensive Certification Exam: 20%. (September 26th)


5.                  Submit portfolio log by last day of class or when student no longer accumulating hours. 10% of final grade See sample portfolio log. (Before December 5th)


G.        Course Expectations


            Although the following is not a complete list, it does represent basic expectations regarding student participation during the course.


            Students are expected to:


Come prepared:


·         Dress properly for the weather, including: raingear and extra clothing to adapt to changing conditions; a hat and/or cap (protection from rain, bugs, sun, cold)

·         Dress with loose-fitting, comfortable, and functional layers of clothing which will allow you to adjust to changing conditions

·         Bring an old pair of jeans for performing the standing hip belay (nylon rope will glaze/melt nylon sweats; rope will burn through cotton sweats)

·         Bring a bandanna (many uses)

·         Bring proper footwear (sneakers, tennis shoes; no sandals or sandal like shoe of any type are permitted on ropes course elements; boots are okay (soles with deep lugs may catch on wire cables)

·         Bring a water bottle or two with your beverage of choice

·         Bring snack foods

·         Bring a notebook & pen (for journal writing)

·         Bring your RU ABLE Operations Manual

·         Bring a daypack or small rucksack (for carrying everything around)

·         Bring a bag lunch and dinner

·         (Optional): Camera (great framing with blue skies)

·         (Optional): Bring snug fitting leather or leather-palmed gloves for belaying


      Come Rested and Ready for Active Participation


·         Stay hydrated and well-fed during the training

·         Structure your evenings to get adequate rest and sleep; plan to got to bed as early as possible

·         Moderate any habits that will interfere with your ability to function at optimal levels


            Arrive on Time


·         Do whatever it takes (e.g., multiple alarms; a wakeup call) to get to West Campus on time

·         Attendance is mandatory (there is no way to make up lost time with this particular group)


            Share the Load


·         Help carry ladders to and from the course

·         Help carry game and initiatives equipment

·         Help put equipment away and inventory at the end of the day

·         Keep your eyes and ears open and take initiative to help as needed

·         Help coil ropes and rope harnesses

·         Help with the sorting and inventory of equipment


            Leave Unnecessary or Potentially Harmful Objects at Home


·         Leave valuables at home

·         Leave sharp objects at home

·         Remove jewelry unless permanently attached and not susceptible to being grab or caught


Learn as a Team


·         Appropriately assist, guide, teach, coach in the learning and mastery of the RU ABLE curriculum (the more we help each other learn, the quicker we cover the curriculum, and the more we generate opportunities for advanced learning)

·         We will all complete or not complete the curriculum as a group; either all will receive certificates of completion or none will. We are accountable as a team. So share and assist in the learning!!!


RU-ABLE Certification


Upon the successful completion of all requirements outlined in this syllabus, students will receive the RU-ABLE Basic Facilitator Certification. Certified individuals are qualified to work as employees for the RU-ABLE program. Successful completion of this course also allows students to register for the advanced course in the spring. Successful completion of advanced course requirement and adequate experience allows students to receive Head Instructor Certification.



          Available Handouts:

          Map to RU West        

            Map to Selu

          RU ABLE Skills Check List

            RU ABLE Evaluation Rubric

            RU ABLE 2011 Training Schedule

            RU ABLE Waiver and Assumption of Risk Form

            RU ABLE Medical Form

            General Technical Information (Equipment and Skills)

            Lab Attendance Policy