Lead climbing- what is it? It’s independence in the mountains and on the crags, it’s freedom, it’s a towering moment in the developing climbers life.
From a technical aspect, most of the time climbers climb in pairs, with the first “lead” climber clipping his/her rope at certain points on the climbing route to give themselves a degree of safety until they reach the top of the route, or “pitch”. Once the leader reaches the top (often after a brief pause to take in their epic achievement) they then need to anchor themselves to the top of the crag so their second can follow them up the route, unclipping the leader’s rope as they go.
Lead climbing is key to the development to the improving climber as once they have achieved competency, they can choose their own routes based on a difficulty that they are happy with. Once the climber can lead, they have gained their independence and a world of opportunity is opened up to them. I often long for that first feeling of freedom that the new lead climber experiences. It’s like, all of a sudden you are a climber – things are never the same from that point on.
European differences – you know how it is, we have to be different! In most of Europe and the US, most rock climbing routes will be bolted. However, in the UK 99% of our climbs are “traditional”. This means there are no bolts – which means the leader has to use a range of metal wedging devices to secure to crags in the rock instead of clipping their ropes into nice secure bolts…scary at times. This equipment or “protection” then is removed by the second, leaving no trace. This is the pure ethic that we practice in the UK. There are of course a whole range of, not only technical skills needed to do this with a degree of safety, but skill in judgement is also needed – trad leading takes mental skill.
1) Check out UKC – the UK’s top climbing website for information on all things climbing https://www.ukclimbing.com/
2) Take a look at the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) for more information on access and general climbing information. https://www.thebmc.co.uk/
3) For Learn to Lead Climb courses take a look at Gritstone Adventure Activities http://gritstoneadventures.co.uk/courses/climbing/