Lead climbing is sick. There are a million reasons but here are three: big falls, big fear, and absolute precision. Whether inside or out, climbing on lead allows a climber to experience the most impressive features imaginable.
So how do you do it? First you will have to learn how to lead climb. Either take a lesson in the gym or learn from a friend out on the rock, but regardless, ensure that you are receiving proper instruction.
With that knowledge in your back pocket, you can actually begin to get somewhere. Quickly, you’ll notice that there are lots of wall angles that make for different styles of climbing. Let’s hash it out.
Overhangs are pretty neat. It is what often attracts people to lead climbing in the first place. Top rope simply does not allow you to climb in a 50 metre roof. Lead allows access to features like this and, in exchange, overhangs often provide the safest falls simply because you are falling into a cushion of air. Overhangs are made up of big holds and powerful moves making it a fun transition from bouldering.
Effectively a super steep, super difficult hike, slab climbing is the scariest form of lead climbing. It might not seem like it because “slab is rad” and the angle is inclined, but it is for that reason that it is so scary. When falling on slab, the climber gets to appreciate “the cheese-grater-effect”. To put it mildly, you are the cheese, the wall is the box grater.
Face climbing, or “Vert”, as the savviest sport climbers will put it, is perhaps the most beautiful form of rope climbing. It is delicate and precise like slab, but offers a steepness that allows the climber to try all types of movement. Definitely a favourite angle for the new lead climber, it is worth getting on and learning how to use those feet.
But how do you get good? Now you know the walls, sure, but anyone can see that an arch is overhung. How do you get to the top? There are a few tricks. Think of this as a quick list to improve on a rope.
- The quieter your feet, the stronger your core. The stronger your core, the easier it is to climb.
- Efficient clipping:
- If you are locking off to clip, you are becoming more pumped and physically fatigued. Make it easy and clip from a straight arm.
- Clipping Technique:
- No one is good at clipping until they are good at clipping. Spend time trying to clip your rope in quickly and in a single movement.
- Figuring out the moves of a climb from the ground can make climbing the route easier. If you fall on route, try and memorize the hand and foot sequences for that crux so that it is more muscle memory than try-hard.
- Caused by an increased heart rate, fatigue in the forearms, sometimes called “over-gripping” in the nervous climber, can be a massive drain. Relax, you will fall off or send. Embrace it.
These are the fundamentals of lead climbing, but they still don’t help with the fear factor of the whole thing. For that you will need practice. Route Setter Emile Baril doesn’t believe “you’re born without a fear of falling. You have to practice falls to get used to them and then commit.”
In the same way that new climbing moves will kick off the most experienced of climbers, you will have to get used to falling for it to feel instinctual. Trust your belayer, and have a belayer worth trusting. A perfect team can make even the shakiest of climbers a little more sure of themselves.