/ Learning to lead climb
I started climbing about four months ago, and climb indoor (Castle - London) about once a week on average, although want to increase this.
I go with a couple of friends, sometimes my girlfriend, or on my own, and we tend to top rope or boulder. I'm not too obsessed with grades but as an indication of my level, I seem to be climbing around 6a-6b+.
However, I would really like to start lead climbing. One of my friends has done a few sessions of trad outdoors with a more experienced climber, and is currently borrowing their rope. He has suggested we just start lead climbing indoors but I'm not sure I'm that confident and don't want to pick up bad habits, fall or cause him to fall.
I'm not really keen on paying for a course for something I think I could learn from books/videos but I don't know if this is advisable. I'm talking particularly about indoor and outdoor sport climbing, rather than trad at the moment.
I would really prefer to save my money for a course on movement. I have however got the Self Coached Climber and also seen some of the masterclass videos by Neil Gresham.
Did others learn to lead climb from books/videos, and if so, can you recommend any?
Lead climbing on bolts is not that difficult at all. Just apply common sense when it comes to belaying a leader (i.e. pay attention, don't have too much slack rope out nut pay out enough to make sure you aren't pulling them off the wall).
As a leader, the one thing you have to learn is to clip the karabiners correctly - I'm sure Neil Gresham will cover this in his videos, but if not, there are loads of photos on the internet showing how to do it properly. You should also make sure that the rope is never behind your leg or foot, as that could invert you in a fall.
Bearing all that in mind, just go for it.
you've read the books, you've seen the video, you know what to expect from seconding
Go for it!
If you can top rope you and your partners can already belay and tie on.
The rest is just climb, clip, climb, clip - repeat to the top. What else do you need to know ? Falling off now and again is part of it
Thanks all for your advice. It's definitely the things you mention that are probably taken for granted by a lot of experienced climbers that I'd like to be aware of. For example, I overheard in a lead course the other day the instructor reminding a guy who he was teaching, to grab the rope from just above the knot when clipping. But I had no idea why.
To the beginner it's very difficult to know how important different pieces of advice are.
From videos I've seen, it also seems to be that flagging is frequently used when clipping. Assume this is to get the centre of gravity underneath the holding hand in order to free the other one to clip, but maybe there are ways to do this better.
My two cents:
- Practice falling on something overhanging, for the sake of the belayer and climber
-- Make note that sometimes not enough slack makes the fall much worse as you slam into the rock at the end.
Two things that will definitely help in the early stages:
1. Although it can be tempting to clip above your head, try to get yourself into the most comfortable position before clipping (on indoor walls this will often be arranged so that the clip is somewhere between your waist and chest). clipping too high is tiring and may mean you are left in a more stressful position when you pull up the rope. It can be a little intimidating climbing above clips at first, but that passes.
2. Watch the position of the rope - your belayer can help here too. If the rope is running over the back of your leg it can invert you if you fall. Simple stuff but easy to forget if you're concentrating on your next move/clip.
3. Feet, feet, feet. When you're on top rope, you can't fall. When you are on lead, you instantly become aware that you can. Some people tend to hang on for dear life with their hands at first, which is VERY tiring. Keep the focus on your feet and you'll have plenty of stregth left to get up the route and clip as you go.
4. Practice clipping at ground level. As someone pointed out, backclipping is a potential issue, so try using both hands and with the clip facing difference directions. See what works best for you.
5. You're pumped. You pull up rope, try to clip and drop it. It happens (quite a lot to me!), don't panic, you're not going anywhere. Relax, pick up the rope again and do it again. As before, good footwork and positioning takes more of the stress out of these situations. If you're clipping way above your head, from a stressful position, having to pull up loads of rope twice is going to leave you knackered.
it's pretty simple really, but theres lots of small things which you pick up with experience.. off the top of me head:
- where the belayer stands, especially first few clips and depending on where the climb goes
- you don't want them falling on your head
- you don't want them falling into the rop as it tightens (rope burn!)
- you don't want to be suddenly pulled forward into the wall if you can help it
- you want the rope running cleanly and out of the way of the climber
- take a step in while paying out slack to do so quickly
- paying more attention and anticipating clips
- grab the rope to clip from the knot is a good rule to stop accidentally z clipping
- recognising the best place to clip from
- clipping easily (theres a few techniques you can find online but practising at home with a length of rope and a quick draw makes things go much more smoothly at the wall)
- not backclipping, it helps if your belayer spots this when you do it (and you will at some point)
- confidence in your belayer
- don't put your feet in a position so if you fall the rope trips you over and flips you (it's mostly obvious).
> Thanks all for your advice. It's definitely the things you mention that are probably taken for granted by a lot of experienced climbers that I'd like to be aware of. For example, I overheard in a lead course the other day the instructor reminding a guy who he was teaching, to grab the rope from just above the knot when clipping. But I had no idea why.
I've been leading for about 17 years, and I have to admit that I have no idea why either.
> From videos I've seen, it also seems to be that flagging is frequently used when clipping. Assume this is to get the centre of gravity underneath the holding hand in order to free the other one to clip, but maybe there are ways to do this better.
Don't get hung up about this - it is just a technique that can be used to ensure that you are in a stable and non-too-strenuous position to clip. To start with, just do what feels right - a good tip is to be hanging from a straight arm with well placed feet. This is much easier than pulling hard on a bent arm and allows your mind to focus on the clip rather than how close your arm is to giving up.
I still say give it a go - these nice little details will come with time.
strudles makes most of the points i was thinking about.
Just to add a few further things to think about
* Take some planned falls.
I have almost been dropped on two occasions over the last year by people who had been climbing and leading for a while, but who never caught a proper fall before.
The first time it happens it can be a little surprising, but after a few gos you get used to what's going on and its all instinct.
The first person to nearly dropped me instinctively grabbed for the non break end of the rope and did stop me from falling but only by his strength!! Lucky this was on a route that had some drag to it.
The other managed to leave about 3 meters run through their hands before finally stopping the rope. They were both lucky to not burn their hands.
It might be best to get a third person to hold the dead rope as a back up for these first few test runs.
* Back clipping.
I'm surprised how many people don't really know the reason why back clipping is dangerous. I'm not saying that its 100% if you fall on a back clipped draw that it will unzip but I find that once people actually see how it can unzip, they soon stop back clipping.
* Lead belaying.
I think that the most significant thing about lead climbing is the belaying. They play a more important role than you might think. Not just catching you when you fall but not letting you hit things etc.
As an example, if someone is doing a tricky move over a ledge or sicky out feature, it may be best to leave a little more slack, so that if they fall the clear the ledge.
The biggest issue indoors isn't the leading. Leading is piss easy, you only need to remember about 3 things:
- clip so the rope to you comes out the front of the quickdraw
- don't clip at full stretch, climb up to the clips
- make eye contact with your belayer before letting go at the top to lower down
Pretty much every possible problem novice leaders can encounter stems from attempting to clip at full stretch, so just avoid doing that and you'll be fine.
The biggest issue is that lead belaying properly is fairly tricky to get the hang of. The good news is that the first step to getting good at it, is dead easy - just accept that it isn't easy and be willing to tell people you are belaying to climb slower, repeatedly. Concentrate 100% on belaying slowly and properly rather than quickly and you'll soon find you get the hang off it.
So as far as indoor leading goes, provided you bear in mind that it is the BELAYER rather than the climber who has the steepest learning curve and avoid trying to lead routes too quickly initially, you should just get on with it.
When it comes to sport climbing outdoors, it is nowhere as safe and sanitised as indoors - people get helicopter off to hospital from sport venues like Portland several time per year. So, climbing with other more experienced climbers initially can be invaluable. If you don't have that opportunity, I do think some professional instruction/coaching can help you get into safe habits and equip you to deal with common problems. A day of instruction split between 4 people is not necessarily that expensive (about 2-3 trips to the Castle including a drink at the cafe?).
As far as books go, the Rockfax SportClimbing+ one is probably your best buy.
There's nothing too tricky about learning to lead on bolts, the basics can easily be learned from a book.
However... It's going to be easier and nicer if you can rope in an experienced leader/belayer for a session since the last thing you want on your first lead is your belayer holding you back while you're trying to clip. Likewise as belayer you don't want to be fighting with the rope while your mate is stressed on the wall. They can also offer feedback and welcome reassurance that you're getting the basics like clipping the draws, clipping positions and avoiding tangles right. Likewise for the belayer: Positioning, rope control, anticipation of clipping etc.
Outdoors is much the same as indoors plus an element of judgement regarding the the venue, route and the fixed equipment plus you need to learn to thread the lower-off safely. That's pretty easy and can be figured out safely at home with a book before you do it for real.
It's generally to clip from a balance position or to give you the sideways reach you sometimes need to make the clip. It's not generally an issue on easier routes where you'll have a handy pair of foot holds. By the time you need to flag to clip you'll already be doing it without thinking :)
> By the time you need to flag to clip you'll already be doing it without thinking :)
Why not hire an instructor yourself rather than go for an off-the-shelf course organised by the wall? You'll likely get more time for your money and you can ask them for a mixture of technique and lead climbing practice. That way you could get the first few falls and catches under controlled conditions without forking out for a full lead climb course.
Some of the advice reminded me of something I read, when it said climb to get to the top of the wall, and not to clip. So I'll concentrate on getting my feet in the right places, being in a stable position and with a straight arm (and I shall leave the flagging alone for now!)
Also, thanks Stephen for clarifying about why one should grab at the knot. Very kind offer to give us some advice at the Castle. Will send you a message.
And yes, ripper, your description of belaying makes a lot of sense. So basically if you clip over your waist then it's pretty much like top roping belaying, and as soon as you pass the clip, back to feeding out again.
Thanks again everyone
In reply to tnewmark:
> I overheard in a lead course the other day the instructor reminding a guy who he was teaching, to grab the rope from just above the knot when clipping. But I had no idea why.
I've been leading for about 17 years, and I have to admit that I have no idea why either.
its to help prevent z clipping where you grab the rope below the last clip and and pull
it up and clip it. Its not really relevant if the bolts are far enough apart and/or you have climbed up to
the next clip but if the clip is at your waist and you 'chicken clip' the next bolt way
above your head z-clipping is a possibility - grabbing by the knot eliminates this
Having said all that, everytime you clip it's basically a judgement call, based on getting in the most secure position to take one hand off...
have fun :)
> In reply to tnewmark:
> I've been leading for about 17 years, and I have to admit that I have no idea why either.
> its to help prevent z clipping where you grab the rope below the last clip and and pull
> it up and clip it. Its not really relevant if the bolts are far enough apart and/or you have climbed up to
> the next clip but if the clip is at your waist and you 'chicken clip' the next bolt way
> above your head z-clipping is a possibility - grabbing by the knot eliminates this
Fair enough. I know that z-clipping has made an appearance on all sorts of things in the last few years, but it seems to almost be a problem created for indoor walls' induction courses. I'm pretty sure I've never seen it happen or know anyone who has done it.
I admit that I misunderstood what the OP was saying - I thought they meant that you should grasp the rope just above the knot to clip (which would mean that you would only be able to clip if your waist was about 20cm from the bolt), rather than to find the rope near your waist and stretch your hand down it.
"Fair enough. I know that z-clipping has made an appearance on all sorts of things in the last few years, but it seems to almost be a problem created for indoor walls' induction courses. I'm pretty sure I've never seen it happen or know anyone who has done it."
I've done it once (realised straight away pretty much and corrected it), and I've seen it done by someone else once. It would tend to happen on indoor walls with bolts very close together where you've clipped very low on one bolt then very high on the next, where you pull from behind the clip instead of in front of it.
i've done it a couple of times, and i've seen it loads
Hi, fellow Castle climber here.
If you want to learn clipping technique easily, a good place to start is on the two slab routes in the downstairs area, just round the corner from the campus boards (behind the Rockley Wall). There are two routes there which are usually set with low grades and each have top ropes. Between them is a row of quickdraws. This way you can do an easy climb (rainbow even) and have plenty of grades/brainpower in hand to practice technique. You also have a top rope available if you want to practice going up with the rope and clipping it, without having to worry about whether a novice lead belayer is getting their bit right!
The first time you lead onto the Fang is such a rush!
I would advise against holding the rope in your mouth while trying to clip. If you were to slip from that position I dread to think what might happen. Better to get into good habits and find a good clipping position at a good height wherever possible.
> I would advise against holding the rope in your mouth while trying to clip. If you were to slip from that position I dread to think what might happen. Better to get into good habits and find a good clipping position at a good height wherever possible.
Good advice as one of my (now) partly toothless mates will testify!
We did though manage to startle another guy belaying next to us later on in the evening. My friend was a bit tired after a few hours and was struggling to lead a 5+, falling off a few times, and even when he had got higher and clipped and came down to try again he couldn't quite work out the start. The guy next to us told my friend he was a worried for all of our safety, and told him he shouldn't be leading the 5+. It was probably a fair comment, especially as the guy himself looked a little bit inexperienced at lead belaying and so didn't need the distraction of worrying about being landed on! Although I didn't feel we were doing anything unsafe, and I thought that indoors was the place to have a go.
It is quite difficult though in the Castle when it's busy, the lines are very close together.
Other than that, it seemed to work out alright. I found that leading actually improved my technique as it encouraged me to keep my arms straightened as I was hanging on a lot longer as I fumbled with the clips.
Plus, need to sort the belaying out. Nothing worse than having to pull the rope up cois your belayer cant feed out quick enough or keeps is too tight all the time. I never got "taught" at a wall but after I'd lead indoors I went on a course in Sapin and would say some proper instruction is well worth it. I learnt loads, and far more than many people at the wall who'd been climbing for years. That was expensive though but an hour or 2 at the wall shouldnt cost too much and is always worthwhile from what I've seen
"Start off top-roping on routes where you can also lead and take a dead rope up with you...easy to get used to clipping but no fear of falling."
Maybe because I didn't learn to lead like that, but I hate doing that. I get so confused about which rope is doing what that it actually (completely illogically) makes me more nervous than if I was just leading.
Haven't led on 2 ropes yet, I guess once you have it's easier to make sense of it.
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