Learn to Lead

Ideally, you have been climbing a while, happy to top rope, and have noticed some folk in your gym turn up with their own rope, and climb the walls that have weird looking clips fixed to them but no top rope in place at all.

“Lead climbing” refers to climbing that begins without a rope anchored at the top of the wall. This means the climber has to climb up the route, securing their rope through those weird clips (quickdraws) as they get higher.

Outdoors, there are crags with many bolts drilled and permanently fixed in place, this allows Lead climbing to be done outdoors, this is known as “sport climbing”.

Risks of Lead Climbing

Lead climbing introduces some risk and needs the climber and the the belayer to learn new skills.
Lead climbing begins with the climber tied to one end of the rope and the belayer attached to the other using a belay device. The rope starts on the ground, not yet linked to any anchor. Up the lead route, bolts are installed in the wall, similarly to climbing holds. As they climb and reaches these spots, they secure one end of equipment called a quickdraw to the bolt. In most climbing gyms, the quickdraws will already be in place.


The rope from their harness is pulled up slightly and secure through the other end of the quickdraw. The quickdraw creates an anchor point in the system, allowing the climber to be caught if they fall.
They can still fall, but with the skills of their belayer they will be safely caught.

So, lead is sounding pretty easy, huh? The tricky part is, if a climber clips into a quickdraw, continues climbing, but falls before successfully attaching their rope to the next quickdraw the climber will fall for as much slack as is in the system. To explain further, if the climber has clipped into a quickdraw, and is 3 feet above that when they fall, they will drop 3 foot to the quickdraw, then 3 foot below it, plus any slack rope that is in the system. These falls could be far but with training the belayer can make the fall, and subsequent catch quite a soft feeling.

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