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Indoor Rock Climbing Safety: Lead Climbing


Lead climbing is perhaps the most adrenaline pumping form of rock climbing, but also the most dangerous. It requires the most amount of knowledge and technical skill, with a potential for very unforgiving falls. Learning the basics indoors will mentally prepare you for climbing outdoors, which takes a considerable amount of confidence.

What is lead climbing?


Lead climbing is what you see climbers doing when they’re attached to the rope and clipping it in as they move up the wall. The rope runs directly from belayer to climber. As the climber ascends, they clip the rope into bolts that are fixed to the wall.

top-roping-vs-lead-ropingThis variety of climbing requires in-depth proficiency in rope handling and understanding how to clip in as you ascend the wall. To thoroughly learn and get adequate practice, I strongly recommend taking a lead climbing class at your local rock climbing gym. Your instructor can also provide you with some tips on body movement and clipping. You won’t be able to learn everything from a Youtube video.

It is important to respect lead climbing and understand how dangerous it can be. Make sure you find a knowledgeable belayer and always clip your rope in incorrectly. Be attentive, ask questions, and climb confidently. Remember to keep breathing. If you’re feeling pumped out (when your forearm muscles feel fatigued), take a deep breath and shake out, it will help immensely.

How can I start lead climbing?

mock-lead-climbingA good way for first-time lead climbers to practice is to do a top rope technique while also leading with another rope. This will allow you to focus on clipping the bolts and managing the rope while also having the security of the top rope to fall back on. To do a mock lead, you need two climbing ropes and two belayers.

The next step to safely learn lead climbing is starting out easy. Don’t be afraid to practice on a beginner route. Just because you can top rope a 5.10 doesn’t mean you’ll be able to jump right into that level on lead. Also, be sure to learn how to fall properly.

What gear is required for lead climbing?

The climbing gear required is the same as that in top roping – harness, shoes, and helmet for extra safety. It also requires a dynamic climbing rope. More and more gyms require you to bring your own if you want to lead climb, and some have dynamic climbing ropes you can purchase there. Your rope is your lifeline, treat it well and inspect it often. Look for weak points and if you find one where the core of the rope is showing, retire the rope.

These are some good starting points if you want to get into lead roping but you should always pace yourself. If you’re new to climbing entirely, I recommend you begin by bouldering and then top roping to familiarize yourself with the basics. Let us know how you’re climbing in the comments below!

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