What is lead climbing?
Lead climbing is a thrilling adventure that rock climbing fanatics find extremely rewarding. Lead climbing is when you carry all of the gear you need with you while climbing up a route. It is both dangerous and intense, which is why it is beloved in the climbing community.
Since I am still new to outdoor climbing I didn’t think that lead climbing was in the cards for me just yet. However, after a couple of hours at Manchester, I got peer pressured into trying a few routes. Here are some first time lead climbing tips you should know before trying your first route.
Upon arrival, the whole scene is different from any other outdoor climbing area I have ever been to. The ‘rock’ is the remains of an old bridge built-in 1874. The bridge was demolished in 1907, but climbers take advantage of the several slabs of the wall that remain. It is one of the most unique places I have ever climbed at, and the ideal place for the first time lead climbing.
Types of lead climbing;
Trad- In this form of climbing the climbers place all the gear on the wall as they climb. They must carry on the gear with them as they go.
Sport- This type of climbing relies on permanent anchors that climbers clip into while they climb. Climbing uses quickdraws to brace the climbers fall.
Try taking a lead climbing class at an indoor gym before going outside
This is one of first time lead climbing tips I wish I knew before heading outdoors. Indoor climbing gyms are a great place to get comfortable with lead climbing before heading outdoors. Taking a clinic for lead climbing helps get practice and feel comfortable outside.
Practice clipping in before you get on the rock
Clipping in may seem like the easy part of lead climbing, but when I am trying to balance myself on the wall it is much more challenging. Clipping in incorrectly can be dangerous. If you are unsure if you clipped incorrectly shout down to the person belaying you to double-check.
Different ways to clip in:
Pinch-clipping (forehand clipping)- (grab the rope diagonally through your hand, press the back of the carabiner with your thumb, and push against the rope with the side of your pointer finger to open and insert the rope into the carabiner gate.
Snap-clipping (backhand clipping)- pinch between thumb and index, use the middle finger to steady draw)
Back-clipping- (pinch the rope with your pointer finger and thumb, stabilize the carabiner of the quickdraw with your middle finger, then twist your wrist to flick the rope in the ‘biner.)
z-clipping- is when you clip the rope to your next bolt from below your last bolt or gear
Find a stable position before clipping in
Before even reaching for the rope to clip in, be sure you are in a stable position, or as stable as one can be while scaling a mountain.
Use reliable gear
Climbing has become safer than ever. New climbing gear comes out every year, making the once risky sport assessable to more people. Harnesses, shoes, quickdraws, and rope can be found at your nearest outdoor provision store. Your gear is life-supporting so double-check and be sure your gear is up to date, and the rope hasn’t seen too many falls.
Don’t forget your crash pad
Crash pads are crucial when bouldering. However, they play an important role while clipping into the first quickdraw of lead climbing. Clipping in the first quickdraw is the scariest because if you fall you often fall to the ground. Since I want to keep climbing and reduce the chance of injury, putting a crash pad at the bottom can help ensure I won’t break anything if I fall to the bottom.
Climb a route you know you can climb for your first lead
The key to getting the courage to lead climb is trying a route you know you can do. I can climb 5.9s in a climbing gym so I knew that I could climb a 5.5 outside lead. Another thing to keep in mind is lead falling is much different than falling a regular top-rope route. Getting used to taking steep falls is challenging. Practice lead falling in your gym back home before you try harder routes outdoors.
Use everything on the wall (even the arete)
Using the side of the wall helps a lot on this route. Don’t be afraid to use the arete or anything else on the wall to get you to the top.
Don’t let the fear get to you
Fear can be debilitating when lead climbing. Taking deep breaths and staying focused is key to not letting fear interfere with your climbing.
I trust my gear and my belayers and am rarely afraid while rock climbing. Even when I am dangling 60ft in the air on the side of a mountain I somehow unfazed. Yet, lead climbing strikes a nerve of fear in me, and I am intimidated to try it.
After peer pressure and encouragement, I give the route a go. Lead climbing gives you that adrenaline effect, much like a roller coaster. Even though it is terrifying by the end of it you will be wanting to lead climb another route.
Practice harder routes while top-roping
Practice top-roping routes that are more challenging than your current skill set. When I constantly push myself to try harder routes, eventually I can climb higher grades with ease. Since climbing outdoors is typically harder and more dangerous it is good to have a base skill set of climbing. While I can climb 5.9s and 5.10s indoor outdoors I will struggle on a 5.7 or 5.8. This is good to keep in mind while practicing indoors. The better to you inside the easier it will be outside.
Watch how the pros do it
Some of my friends are the best rock climbers I have ever met. Watching and learning from them is the best way to get better. Bringing along some pros for extra tips on the wall. I wouldn’t recommend lead climbing outdoors with anyone else except people who know what they are doing. At least for the first couple times a climbing expert must be with you to show you the ropes (pun intended) until you get the hang of lead climbing, setting anchors, rappelling, and cleaning quick draws off the route.
Make sure your belayer knows how to lead belay
Lead belaying is much different than regular top-rope belaying. Be positive your belayer knows what they are doing before you get on the wall. If you have never seen them lead belay before have them demonstrate their skills. It is much better to ask and to be certain of your belayers skills. The first couple times I lead belayed outside I had people watching or back-up belaying me to ensure I did it correctly.
Communicate with your belayer
One of the easiest ways to prevent accidents while lead climbing is to communicate with your belayer. Be sure your belayer knows what is happening on your end.
Manchester photography (35mm film camera)
Hope this encourages you to try lead climbing!
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