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Learning To Lead Climb
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By Aaron Greenwood
From Albuquerque, NM
Feb 14, 2010
Hanging with the tree

I am interested in any advise or suggestions about how to go about learning traditional lead climbing. Also, any stories or examples on how others reached that goal. I have some opportunities to learn where I live in New Mexico but they are very limited. I am grateful for those opportunities but they are just not enough.

Here is some background on me. I started climbing last April 2009 and at this point in time I can lead sport routes at the 5.8 level and an occasional 5.9 sport route. I have built a pretty good rack by buying pieces every month with the goal of learning traditional lead climbing. I have read a number of books on the subject to familiarize myself with terminology, techniques and gear. I have built top rope anchors and climbed o rappelled on them. Also, took a class in anchor building at ground level. I have lead a short 5.8 trad route under supervision of a lead climber.

Any comments advise would be greatly appreciated.


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By Chris Plesko
From Westminster, CO
Feb 14, 2010
OMG, I winz!!!

The idea is to start leading things you're not going to fall off because your placements at first aren't going to be all perfect (and you won't necessarily know which are bad) plus falling on "easy" terrain often means there is ledges to hit which isn't fun. Climbing with someone who knows how to place trad gear to critique your placements is also very beneficial. Most people start on some variation of this theme. I haven't had just one mentor but I've read a lot, climbed a lot and listened closely to everyone I've climbed with as to which pieces sucked, which were good, etc etc. I'm just starting to get comfortable with falling on pieces I know are solid but generally have not been pushing on trad as hard as on bolts.

Also if you can follow trad a LOT, cleaning gear will let you see where your leader placed pro, how they placed it, how they slung it and so on.

If you have little opportunity to climb trad you're going to have to make getting to a trad friendly location happen.

Also if you've got the opportunity to climb more sport or even in the gym, get after it as many days a week as is reasonable for you. Being strong does help the mental game of placing gear as you start to climb tougher routes. Knowing that you're not just going to run out of gas lets you stop, THINK and find a place for solid protection and then be able to gas it to the next stance to place again. It's much easier for me to be comfortable finding good placements and dealing with runouts when I know I'm not going to fall off and then slowly work harder and harder trad routes. Starting out and worrying about movement, gear placements, rope drag, where to build the darn belay etc all at once can be a little much for someone pretty new to climbing.


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By Mike Anderson
From Dayton, OH
Feb 14, 2010

You should practice placing gear any opportunity you have...just go out on your own and screw around at the base of a cliff. Practice placing with one hand, above your head. Practice building realistic anchors. There are several good books out there that can get you started...Anchors by John Long, Craig Lueben's book, Freedom of the Hills, etc.

Another thing that is really helpful, once you're solid on placing gear is to do some aid. It will teach you (through trial and error) what is a good placement and what is not, and you will gain a lot of confidence in your gear placement skills this way.


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By Reed Fee
From White Salmon WA
Feb 14, 2010
Part of an anchor on Pingora.

When I was getting into leading trad I spent a lot of time on the ground. I would rack up at a popular bouldering and top roping area and walk around with a cordelette and set anchors in all the obvious and not so obvious places. When I was bored with that I would climb easy but sometimes high boulder problems just to get my head used to being exposed yet relaxed. I followed a lot of easy to moderate trad lines with a much more experinced climber. After a few years when I could not find partners I used to solo aid single pitch stuff to learn what is a good piece of gear and what is not.
Breath, know when to push it to a better stance and realize when your wasteing energy fiddling with that fancy micro cam when theres a good nut one more move away.

Jeez I cant wait for spring!!!!


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By awskitc
Feb 14, 2010

my introduction to lead climbing was a little unorthodox. i had been doing a lot of solo top roping since i was in a new area and had nobody to climb with. my first sport lead was a solo lead. i read about how to set up a solo lead system online and tried it using a grigri. the only bolted route around was about at my toprope limit. i took 5 upside-down spinning whippers and when i got to the top it took me a half an hour to figure out how to lower off. i hadn't thought that far ahead. i did a handful of sport leads that way before i found somebody to belay me, then showed up at a crag one day with some people i hadn't climbed with before and they handed me the trad rack and asked if i wanted to lead. and that was my first trad lead. fortunately i didnt fall.


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By John Maguire
From Boulder, CO
Feb 14, 2010
Bastille Crack Final Pitch

Expect it to be a long, hard, scary process. It will feel uncomfortable for a while if you are used to seconding.

...At least this was my experience. It still is scary and I think thats why its fun. Keep with it though, it is definitely worth it.


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By Scott Bennett
Feb 14, 2010
photo by Forest Woodward

All the advice so far seems good, but I would add that falling, or at least climbing routes on which you might fall, is another important step. Granted, you need to find a safe route with good gear and potential for clean falls (maybe a vertical handcrack), but I think that falling on you gear early on in the learning process helps to build confidence.

When I was learning to trad lead, I tried first on a very easy route, maybe 5.4. Since I didn't feel like I was going to fall, I wasn't heavily invested in really finding the best placements. My second trad lead was a 5.10, and I was a lot more interested in placing solid gear.

-Scott


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By Kevin Garcia
From Albuquerque, NM
Feb 14, 2010
Indian Creek fun

I am from Albuquerque, but now live in Denver. I would suggest going to stone age climbing gym, getting a membership and getting strong this winter. They teach a good lead class, but if you feel comfortable sport leading, you should take their trad 101 class. They go over anchors, gear, placements, etc.

Following an experienced leader is also super important. Look at their placements and ask questions. Also, a book that I think all climbers should own is "Freedom of the hills". "Climbing Anchors" is also a good book I would recommend.


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By Thomas Beck
From Las Vegas, Nevada
Feb 15, 2010
beck on limestone

Becoming competent to lead on placed gear can be a long or steep learning curve. Basically with some common sense, a bit of mechanical ability and some obserational skills it is not that difficult. But there are a lot of subtleties to learn.

All the advice before this post is worth taking to heart. You've taken a class - that's great! Get to where you can quickly and competently set up a gear anchor. Most cases you should be able to build a safe clean anchor in about 2 to 3 minutes. Then....

If you can hook up with an experienced leader you might ask that he climb alongside you as you lead placing gear for a couple routes you can easily climb. That requires a party of 3, you, your belayer and the adviser.

I've found in practice this will considerably shorten your learning curve.

Someone mentioned a class in Albuquerque. You might meet people through that group.

Short of that, try to find a competent trad leader by asking at the local shop, go to the popular crags on weekends and hang out. Maybe post on the local Meetup rockclimbing site, Find this person and be his subman for a time; eventually, if he likes you, he will set you on pitches he thinks are straightforward enough you can safely lead.

Remember this is an exchange and if you fade away or are not invested few people are willing to take the time to show you. IME Most really experienced and competent leaders are pretty reticent and laid back. The instructors that keep offering to instruct; I'd question their competence and motives.


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By Tom Rangitsch
From Lander, WY
Feb 15, 2010
Finishing Rimfire, 13b, at the Sanctuary in Sinks

IMO, you have to fall in the real world on real gear to get the experience you need and the right head to lead trad routes. I was fortunate enough to hook up with an experienced leader soon after I started climbing. I took a college class and learned anchor placement/belaying/crack technique and then spent all my summer job money on a trad rack (this was in 1991 before gyms hit the big time).

My first lead experiences were on steeper granite cracks at Vedauwoo and Devil's Tower that were strenuous but took good gear. I hung/fell/bitched a lot, but gained a lot of insight into placing good pro. I was even able to lead some 5.10s at the end of that summer. I think the most valuable thing of all was to have a mentor who was encouraging and knew which routes would be difficult for me but safe when I (inevitably) pumped out.

This is not to say that I am some trad master, far from it. It still takes a few pitches to get comfortable again after having sport climbing too much.


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By Colin Simon
From Boulder, CO
Feb 15, 2010
Just below Thunderbolt Peak

I didn't feel comfortable leading trad until I went on a long trip and simply did it every day for weeks.

Also, aid climbing has helped me a good deal. It taught me how cams often shift before they catch.


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By Tristan Higbee
From Thailand
Feb 15, 2010
Me on a mixed route Crisco and I did in Rock Canyon.

Link: What's the best way to start trad climbing?


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By Sam Stephens
Feb 15, 2010
Top half of Melifluous



Oh god not the daily climbing tips. Yea, because mock leading is actually good for your head. You're better off skipping the placing gear on top rope game and just practicing placements at the bottom of a cliff and bouncing on them. You should also be following someone and cleaning their gear and inspecting it while you do. Then get on some easy route on lead.


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By Kyle Wills
From San Diego CA
Feb 15, 2010
Cams are over rated.

Man, cmon you are definitely ready to rock'n roll it sounds like to me, the only advice you need is to jump head first in. Now. Just get a belayer you are comfy with and start ticking off easy to moderate leads and your first fall will come eventually, and next thing you know, you'll be a fairly savvy trad leader.

No matter what anyone says, the best way to learn is to do. Go West Young Man.


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By David Appelhans
From Lafayette
Feb 15, 2010
Imaginate

Just go do it. You will learn by doing and if you have read some books you should know what to do. After all you are mostly just slotting chunks of metal in the rock so they won't come out if you fall. It is not that difficult for most climbs.

I read some books and started leading trad without following a mentor, and so can you.


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By Phil Lauffen
From The Bubble
Feb 15, 2010
RMNP skiing. Photo by Nodin de Saillan

David Appelhans wrote:
Just go do it. You will learn by doing and if you have read some books you should know what to do. After all you are mostly just slotting chunks of metal in the rock so they won't come out if you fall. It is not that difficult for most climbs. I read some books and started leading trad without following a mentor, and so can you.


I feel sorry for what is about to happen to you.


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By Mike Rowley
From Boise, Idaho
Mar 21, 2010

Lots of good advice... you've done the reading and have the gear. Go to upper la cueva canyon n start placing gear. Once u can tell a bomber placement start heading up! I'm coming to Abq for my bday in may and wanna do some multi pitch routes. Ill lead up to 5.10 trad so I can show u some technique and push u a little. If your down shoot me an email. Mrowley06@Gmail.com


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By Will Cobb
From Flagstaff, AZ
Mar 24, 2010
Me and my son, Kellen.

Aaron,

It really is helpful to take a class, learn from a good mentor, and/or hire a guide to climb with.

I learned a ton about trad gear by learning to aid climb. You can set a TR on an "off the beaten path" crack and aid up the thing to your heart's content. You will end up placing lots of gear in a single pitch. It will teach you the difference between a bomb proof piece and one that is body weight only. It will also teach you about keeping organized.

The best though is climbing and placing your own gear.

Finally, take your time. Work your way through the grades. Don't be afraid to back off sometimes. It happens to everyone at some point.

Best of luck,

Will


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By Ty Harlacker
From Albuquerque, NM
Mar 25, 2010
Silverton

Mike Rowley wrote:
Lots of good advice... you've done the reading and have the gear. Go to upper la cueva canyon n start placing gear. Once u can tell a bomber placement start heading up! I'm coming to Abq for my bday in may and wanna do some multi pitch routes. Ill lead up to 5.10 trad so I can show u some technique and push u a little. If your down shoot me an email. Mrowley06@Gmail.com

I would recommend hitting lower La Cueva, Flake n Bake is a good route to learn the placement of gear. It's lower class climbing so, you can pay attention to gear. Then I would recommend taking some gear falls. Of course under the assumption you can correctly place pro. After that then I would suggest Ms. Piggy then Second Coming. you can go from there. Of course there is snow all over the Sandia's now, I don't know how Lower La Cueva looks now but it may be worth checking out in a couple of days. You may want to hit White Rock for cragging purposes; you will find a short approach and high concentration of climbs. The weather is nice now and the routes will help you learn on different size cracks. So you can be ready when the Sandia's are in. A lot of the climbs in the Sandia's are face climbs with protectable cracks. The class is a good idea, but I can recommend reading "Climbing Anchors" Long ,Luebben. and "Freedom of the Hills". Practice what you learn in the books before you leave the ground.


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