September 30, 2021

How to lead climb

The sport of climbing has recently been added to the illustrious Summer Olympics. It debuted in the 2020 Summer Olympics and captivated everyone lucky enough to watch. 

This feature in the Olympics got many people interested in recreational climbing. Lead climbing is a safe form of rock climbing that you can perform indoors and outdoors.

Due to its safety and relative ease to begin, lead climbing is a good start for beginners. It is the most popular form of rock climbing. Now that its popularity is at an all-time high, many people wonder how to lead climb. 

If you want to know what lead climbing is, it is suggested to do your research and preparations. It is not so easy that you can jump into it. It will challenge you both physically and mentally. Sooner or later, nearly all climbers get to lead climbing for different reasons at some point in their careers. 

What is lead climbing

What most climbers love about lead climbing is the adventure feeling. It’s adrenaline-charged and quite challenging. Lead climbing gives the chance to start a new course up the cliff. 

It pushes you physically and mentally. To lead climb, you at least have to be proficient and accurate when using the clipping quickdraws, lead belaying, and placing trad gear. Before we go further, 

What’s Lead Climbing? 

You might have spotted a cliff with climbers, but bizarrely, how the rope got up there remains to be the question in your mind. There’s no route up there, but somehow someone managed to get there and place a rope. 

When it is done outdoors, you may see climbers attaching hooks onto the rocks they are climbing. Indoor climbing already has designated hooks attached as well. These are all critical parts of lead climbing that you need to learn before you try it out.

One thing about lead climbing is that the rope is not already fixed. It connects climbers directly with belayers. When the climber progresses atop the cliff, the rope is clipped into bolts mounted on the wall or temporal parts of traditional gear. If you are not familiar, read what is traditional climbing.

The lead climber needs to tie the rope on a bolt above him to advance to go up the climb. If the rope remains unclipped before clipping into the next bolt, the fall will be at least twice the distance above the last piece. Climbers four feet above the last piece, for instance, would plummet eight feet, plus a bit more relative to rope strain.

Lead climbing is essentially a safe way to climb while still exerting all the effort you would in a regular climb. It is climbing while attached to a rope that you then clip onto fixed positions along your ascent route. This procedure is done to prevent any injuries that may occur from a steep fall.

How to Lead Climb

How to lead climbing

Before ascending the cliff, you should tie a knot on the end of the rope, either bowline or figure eight. The rope should be designed for climbing, a dynamic rope. It has to stretch whenever it’s weighted.

If it’s static, on a fall, it will cause your body to absorb most of the force, and that could lead to injuries. The rope should also be strong to manage the force generated while you fall. 

When the climber is outdoors, he will need to attach quickdraws to their harnesses. Quickdraws numbers are determined by the number of bolts to be used. At the endpoint of each bolted lead climbing route, an anchor has to be situated. 

It consists of double bolts where one acts as a contingency, hangers, and sets of attached chains. So the quickdraws will clip onto hangers to lower the climber. If the climber has the knots tied and all the necessary gear, they are good to go. 

Lead climbing is a relatively straightforward experience if you have the required athleticism for it. Mistakes in lead climbing can result in severe injury and even death in more dangerous climbs. 

Nevertheless, it would be best if you practiced the basics of lead climbing foremost. It is recommended that you hire a guide or teacher to help you learn the proper procedures first.

1) Climbing

The first thing you should learn is how to climb properly. It would be best if you knew where to position your feet and how to maneuver the climbing wall. 

It is recommended that you work with an instructor at a beginner climbing wall first to learn the proper form. Climbing can get tiring, so you need to build up your body as well.

2) Clipping a quickdraw

Besides knowing how to climb, the most important thing you need to know in lead climbing is how to clip your quickdraws. And here is our guide to the best climbing quickdraw products.

There are two sides to a quickdraw: the bolt carabiner and rope carabiner, which are essentially two powerful clips attached together. As in the name, the bolt carabiner attaches to the fixed position while the rope carabiner attaches to the rope.

3) Clipping onto a rope

In indoor climbing, the quickdraw will already be fastened onto the bolts. All you need to do is to grab the back of the rope carabiner firmly and pass the rope through with your thumb. The rope will then be fastened to the bolt. 

What is a lead climb

4) Clipping onto a bolt

In outdoor lead climbing, you need to attach your quickdraw to the bolt before doing this. This clipping is easy, and you only need to pass the bolt into the clip.

Test the strength and stability of it before moving on, as this can save your life.

Tip: You will need a belayer to see if: 

  • The knot embraces the soft points within the harness and if it’s appropriately tied.
  • If the harness buckles as fastened.
  • If the draws are sufficiently matched with the anchors made.

If you are going to lead climb in the morning after a coffee session, it will be wise if you visit the bathroom first before climbing.

The climber starts of the ground with the rope dangling behind them. The first bolt can, however, be dangerously placed, ten feet above the ground. Thus you are advised to use stick clips. 

They are a contraption with an extension pole and a device at the end. The quickdraw and the rope are then clipped into the device. It’s then held up using the pole and attached to the first bolt. 

How to Make a Carabiner Clip?

A carabiner has an opening, a gate precisely, that functions as a lever or door. Ropes can be slipped into the carabiner by pushing them against this lever, forcing it to open. It then closes automatically after that.

When clipping in the rope (the end closest to the climber’s harness), ensure that the climbing rope ends are in front of the carabiner. Let’s take a look at what exactly are carabiners.

Carabining a rope to a quickdraw appears easy, but it can lead to significant issues if done incorrectly. Two ways can lead to incorrect carabiner clipping:

1) Back Clipping

This happens when the rope is clipped into the carabiner, but the climber’s end is left pointing backward. As such, should the climber fall above the quickdraw, the rope will unclip from the carabiner. 

2) Z-Clipping

In an unexpected incident, the rope would not be in a straight line if the climber unintentionally clipped into the next quickdraw from beneath the previous quickdraw instead of above it.

As a result, it will resemble the letter “Z.” The Z-Clipping is rendered useless because the rope cannot pass through it. This is formidable when bolts are close to each other. 

To prevent back clipping and z-clipping, take your time and ensure that the rope is caught when coming up slack to clip into the quickdraw.

Can Carabiners be Used for Lifting

3) Anchor Bolts

When the hiker approaches the anchor bolts, they must insert two quickdraws within the hangers, and the gates should face each other. Clipping one’s rope into both quickdraws allows the climber to be lowered to the ground.

A climber’s danger of falling increases as they progress to increasingly challenging climbs. On the other hand, falling is a big element of lead climbing, and it can be terrifying.

While it’s hard to adjust to the stomach-curling sensation of rapid falls, it is technically possible to fall without getting hurt. 

Lead Climbing Risks

All of the dangers associated with lead rope climbing are related to falling depending on where the rope clips and how tight it is; you can fall anywhere from 5 to 30 feet.

The fall will extend twice as far from your last anchorage to the ground. The thought of climbing dangers can be frightening. However, we have to be aware of them to avoid errors that leave a margin for them. They consist: 

1) Pendulum Swings

Should you fall, your nearest bolt nearby will protect you from falling too far. Nonetheless, the rope can be too tight. If there is no margin from slack, your body becomes a pendulum ball on a swing. There will be little real space to stretch your legs out and soften the hit. Eventually, you will slam against the rocks.

This can result in concussions, scratches, fractures, or broken limbs. Its therefore crucial to have an expert belayer who knows how to belay, slack and tighten a rope correctly. 

2) Danger Feet (Toe Tucking)

This is a typical mistake among beginners. Your toe, foot, or leg is usually caught in the gap formed by the rope and the rock. It may not appear to be much, yet it will result in serious harm. 

It’s dangerous, such that during a fall, your leg snags the rope and subjects you to an uncomfortable posture. As a result, you have limited control over how you fall and are more likely to go against the rock head-on.

Tucking your toe might be difficult to avoid since you’ll have to change your climbing way. But it’s doable with mindfulness, training, and deliberate thought. Just keep your leg away from the and the rock. Also, your belayer should keep an eye on you in case you do it inadvertently. 

3) Decking

Decking occurs when the rope can reach your final bolt but is longer than the distance between the bolt and the surface.  You’ll fall to the earth before the rope can grab you.

There is the possibility that this kind of incident could result in serious injuries, such as fractured bones and spinal injuries. 

This generally happens when you’re on the first bolt, but you can’t reach the second. However, after you’ve hooked that second bolt, you’ll be mostly protected. You can only limb when this is done, but be cautious and have your belayer watch you. 

4) Improper Clipping

Incorrect clipping can result in dangers like the rope unmounting from off the carabiner-making curves that leave the bolts useless. 

Consequently, the threat of decking by causing the lead climber to tumble and fall a long distance becomes imminent. To mitigate this blunder, acquaint yourself with the proper clip-in technique and have a belayer inspect it for errors.

Belayer Risks

When lead climbing, you depend on the belay. Most of these hazards, if spotted by the belayer, can be mitigated. You, therefore, have to ensure you have an expert belayer. 

Remember, it’s your life you are entrusting him with. If he is a novice, he will increase the climbing tension and fatal mistakes. If it’s a beginner belaying you, make sure a professional instructor supervises them for your protection.

Mitigating Falling Risks 

Falling is an inevitable aspect of lead climbing. It’s unavoidable, but you can indeed reduce the danger that comes along. You have to adhere to instructors’ directions and remember the essential points discussed above. 

It’s a fearful approach and a hurdle that several climbers must overcome, but remember that falling is normal for developing oneself and learning new abilities. 

And if you keep learning how to fall when lead climbing, you’ll get more comfortable with the situation. It enables you to focus on improving your abilities rather than that primitive dread.

What Climbing Equipment Do You Need for Lead Climbing

If you are serious about lead climbing, you must get to know the equipment you will use. It is comparatively cheaper than the other methods of climbing. There are a few required pieces of equipment and those recommended to help you out.

1) Climbing harness

As you may suspect, lead climbers require a harness to attach the rope and quickdraws. This harness is essential, and it is involved in keeping you safe. 

2) Climbing shoes

Climbing with improper shoes can get painful very quickly. It is as much of a lower-body sport as it is an upper-body one. Proper climbing shoes can assist you in keeping your footing and prevent slips and falls on the climbing route.

3) Quickdraws

The quickdraws are integral to the lead climbing experiences. Quickdraws must be present and useable before you attempt to climb. You may need to have your own if you climb outdoors.

4) Chalk bag and chalk

As with the climbing shoes, chalk can help prevent your hands from slipping or losing traction. A chalk bag conveniently holds your chalk so that you may reapply it whenever you need it.

5) Climbing Rope

It would not be lead climbing without a rope. Most lead climbing establishments have their own ropes, but you may need to provide your own if stated. Especially if you are climbing outdoors, it is best to bring your own rope.

6) Helmet

A helmet is required for lead climbing outdoors, and you should not attempt to do it without one. For indoor lead climbing, it is not necessary, but you may want one if you wish to be careful or are nursing a previous head injury.

Lead Climbing Tips

Everyone starts somewhere, and so do lead climbers. For starters, it will be wise to begin on routes that are on a lower level than the ones you top rope with. 

It’s the only way you can have a mastery of the techniques involved and the safety precautions. When you are ready to advance, you can proceed to, 

1) Getting a pro belayer 

While lead climbing, a belayer is vital in helping you avoid dangerous mistakes. The belayer should be someone with who you can communicate effectively. Both should go through the route plan and look for any potential difficulties. 

2) Ready yourself mentally 

It is not shameful to admit that lead climbing may be frightening. If your brain isn’t ready, keep working on your abilities and practicing in the gym until you’re confident enough to tackle more difficult routes.

Do not feel obligated to lead climb this route because it can be top-roped. Falling during lead climbing is a distinct possibility. 

On a lead climb, you must ascend higher than your last clip, which might result in the fall being doubled in length. Some falls are innocuous, but others can result in scratches, rope burn, shattered bones, and even death.

3) Practice clipping bolts 

It would be best if you made this habitual. It will assist you in familiarizing yourself with the proper action and practicing with one hand, as you will be performing it one-handed on the wall.

4) Consider taking a practice fall

You have to get a sense of how it feels, and if it’s fine, you’ll be less concerned about falling. So practice it frequently and have an attitude of it being easy. 

5) Don’t do clipping in a hurried manner

Clipping shouldn’t be hurried; you may feel the need to clip in as quickly as possible for safety reasons. There are multiple reasons why this isn’t ideal, and the best grips are usually near the bolts anyway. The bolt should be near the head waist prior to clipping. 

How to fall

You should avoid Falls at all costs, but they are a risk of lead climbing. Because of this, you should practice how to fall correctly in case of the real deal happens. To do this, practice short-falls until you get the hang of it. 

Keep the rope between you and the wall as you want to avoid hitting anything going down. Aim for a clear path and keep your body compact to avoid your limbs smashing against any rocks.

Expert Lead Climbing Tips

Experts have provided some tips for you to follow when you embark on your lead climbing journey.

  • Practice beginner routes until you can complete them without resting.
  • Attempt climbing while attached to another climber until you get the hang of it.
  • Get rid of the fear of falling by practicing safe falls. It will help you stay calm if it actually happens.
  • Start easy and work your way up to the more challenging routes.

Lead Climbing Questions and Answers

How do you start lead climbing?

Enroll yourself in rope belaying courses at your local gym. after this, you can proceed to belay practice and get the necessary lead climbing gear. Whenever you are ready, also enroll in an indoor lead climbing course.

How do you lead climb better?

Practice if done repeatedly, It amounts to perfection. The same goes for lead climbing. Through practice, you get to familiarize yourself with lead climbing moves, roping techniques, and how to beat mental and physical challenges. 

Where do you keep your rope when lead climbing?

While lead climbing, there is a gap between you and the wall. And that’s where the rope should be. 

Should it run off one side, bring it closer to the wall. Be cautious not to allow it to go behind your leg. Should it happen, then step out and over the rope to prevent tucking. 

How to rest using gear when lead climbing?

Should you need rest, then you have to go back to your last bolt. Also, have your belayer take the rope so that it gets taut. 

Once done, you will be able to rest and even clear your head. Have your rope slackened by your belayer and go back to the rock whenever you want to resume. 

What rope do I want to lead climb?

Your lead climbing rope should be dynamic in that it stretches whenever it’s weighted. It should be at least 60 meters and twice as much as the route of climbing. 

How good do you have to be to lead climb?

You can start lead climbing once you have succeeded in doing rope climbing. Again, you need certification for lead climbing. 

You can get this from the gym in which you enrolled for a lead climbing course. Also, you should be able to climb a 5.9-5.2a on the top rope before you kick off lead climbing. 

How do I learn to lead climb outside?

Most lessons would likely occur indoors if you enrolled for a lead climbing course at your local gym. To successfully lead the climb outside, you will need an additional lesson on how to lead the climb outside. 

It will be best if you get a certified guide. Note, you have to use a guiding company for this approach. Still, you can use outdoor stores such as REI for outdoor lead climbing tutorials. 

How to fall on a lead climb?

When falling off a lead climb, you have to mentally prepare yourself to do away with the fright of fall. Again, you need to keep your eyes on the rope.

It should be between you and the wall. If it runs on the other side, ensure it’s still close to you and the wall. Each time you fall, communicate with your belayer. It helps in keeping him alert, and if gravity prevails, he will react swiftly. 

Note: there should be no objects in your landing path. Again you should not push off unless you are clearing an obstacle. Your arms, on the other hand, should be at your chest level and knees somewhat bent. To relax reflexively, breathe out. And lastly, do not grab anything while falling unless you want to break your fingers.

When should you learn how to lead a climb?

You are good to go for lead climbing if you are well acquainted with climbing and belaying in top-roping

Can you lead the climb by yourself?

Have you ever heard of the rope solo? Well, it’s somewhat a dangerous technique in climbing. So while you lead climb solo, it will need you to have advanced maneuvers. 

Hence it’s not to be attempted with starters. Also, it is difficult for experienced climbers. And when done wrongly, it could lead to death! We recommend you find a climbing partner.

How long of a static rope should you bring to lead the climb?

A word of advice never uses a static rope in any form of climbing (only for rappelling). You have to use a dynamic rope that stretches. The rope should also have a smooth texture. 

The standard length Is about 60 meters. But if your climbing route s 80 meters, I will advise you to get a 160m rope.

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About the author 

Bernice

Bernice often jokes that she is better at climbing than walking. With avid parents of climbing, her first encounter with the high vertical rock walls was at the age of one. Her favorite style of climbing is bouldering.

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