I have just lead my first 7a+. I still can’t quite believe it, but luckily I had a witness – the lovely Emma Timmis from Womenclimb, who led it after me. This post is a reflection of my own personal climbing journey and includes the things that were most helpful to me and made the most difference to my climbing. During this period I had 1-2-1 training with Libby Peter, from whom I got some of these tips. Finally, please note I refer to everything in terms of indoor climbing!
So how did I get here? As recently as last year I was frozen with fear on a 5+ lead, unable to control my thoughts of imminent death and shouting “take! take!” every 2 seconds.
Tip 1- Find a partner you can develop trust with.
I can’t express how important this was for me. Through Climb Find I found my first regular climbing partner, Claire; we climbed for about 18 months together. We learned each other’s wobbles, encouraged each other and trusted each other 100%. You could have several people you do this with and it does get easier to trust new people quickly but I think initially it really helped me to have at least one solid fully reliable partner.
I started leading at least once a week and became confident and comfortable doing it. One thing was holding me back though and it was the one thing I just didn’t see changing- FEAR OF FALLING.
What was I scared about? Falling far? Hitting the wall and hurting myself? Hitting the floor!? The more I pondered the more I was stumped as especially indoors the risks are minimised so greatly that the falling fear should be a mere niggle.
Tip 2- Desensitisation
I won’t explain the technique in great detail, as that would take up a whole other discussion, but basically start by falling on tight top rope, then slack top rope, then under clip leading then at clip then above etc. Do this over a course of weeks not hours.
The fear of falling is within our heads and due to the minimised actual risk it is quite irrational in a controlled environment. By controlled I mean fully working equipment, reliable belayer, sound rope, harness done up correctly and knot tied up correctly. These elements exist at good climbing walls and by being vigilant with personal equipment. I still get scared but have a select few climbing partners that I am comfortable making hard moves above clips with. If I fall I know I’m not going far. In fact it becomes quite exhilarating!
Tip 3- Straight arms
This makes such a difference to how tired you can get on a lead climb. Always try to have a straight arm while clipping in or resting. When you find yourself with a bent arm you are basically wasting your energy and thereby reducing your confidence to make the moves.
Tip 4- Endurance and strength
For endurance climb lots. And lots. Climb at a level you are comfortable with and just do a few hard climbs. Climb two or three climbs in a row. For strength, short and hard routes are great, as is bouldering. Which leads me to my next tip:
Tip 5- Boulder
Yes. I’m sorry. I genuinely used to hate bouldering with a vengeance. I used to outright refuse. Then one day I was waiting for someone else in the boulder room and had a go. I couldn’t do it. Instead of stomping off in a huff muttering “bloody bouldering” under my breath, as usual, I did it again. And again. And again. Until I reached the top. I was hooked. The feeling of elation from working on a problem and getting it was unreal to me! I started bouldering more than climbing. This increased my strength, footwork, confidence and you can go alone so no excuses of not having a partner! It definitely made a huge difference to my climbing. In fact it is probably the one thing I did that made the most difference to my confidence and strength on the climbing wall.
Tip 6- Variation
Yes I know you hate overhangs/slabs/vertical walls/features etc but do them. Slopers are my enemy. I couldn’t do them. I hated them. I still hate them but now I can do them. End of.
Well there you have it. These are the things that have helped me the most in the last 2/3 years. There are endless tips and training advice and you need to find what works for you. Also I never thought I would ever climb a 7a, it was completely unattainable, a pipe dream. I never had any goals I just climbed and climbed hard.