Busting Climbing Myths #4: Trad, Lead, Sport, what do these terms all mean and do I need a partner?
As with any sport, there is always a whole bag of new lingo to pick up and climbing is definitely a guilty candidate. There are many different types of climbing and some may suit your lifestyle and time more than others. Whatever one you like the most, it’s very easy to transfer skills from one to the other.
This involves climbing without a harness on walls that are usually around 20 feet high. All bouldering centres will offer taster sessions to get you up and about with some of the techniques involved and how to land safely on the crash mats. As you’re not far off the ground, you sometimes feel like you can throw yourself into doing more dynamic moves as you’re close to the crash mat, whereas other times the lack of harness as a backup can make you second guess yourself on a harder move. It’s all about slowly building confidence. You don’t need a friend for bouldering, but it’s always nice to have a buddy on the ground that can help point out where your next foot or hand could go. If you want to be a bit more adventurous and have gained a bit more confidence, you can always see what outdoor boulders there are close to your area and head out one weekend with a bouldering crash pad. Time to feel like a mountain goat!
As with bouldering, this can be done both indoors and outdoors. With indoor rope climbing, one person is scaling the wall which is attached to their harness. The rope is then running through a metal loop at the top and is attached to the harness of the person on the ground who is the belayer. The belayer is feeding the rope through a belay plate as the climber climbs up, so if the climber should fall, the belayer’s rope will arrest the fall so they don’t drop too far down the wall and risk injury to themselves. If the two climbers are of similar height and weight it can make belaying a lot easier, but if not, grabbing a sand bag is always an option if you are the lighter person on the ground! Indoor rock climbing walls can vary massively in height which means to complete one route can be quite an endurance workout.
You might have noticed at the wall that there are some routes which have no rope on the wall but have pre-placed bolts with quick draws attached. Here the first climber who goes up the wall, is leading with rope, feeding it through the quick draws until they reach the top and then they can lower themselves back down. There’s a few more elements of skill and technique added on here. As the climber you have to make sure you have one hand free to feed the rope through the quickdraws as this is now your safety net should you fall. The belayer’s job is to feed out rope when the climber needs it to place into the quickdraws.
This nicely leads us onto sport climbing which is done outdoors with a route of permanent anchors that are already fixed to the rockface. The next step from here is Trad.
This involves placing your own gear into the rock, to which you can then add your quickdraws and then feed your own rope through. The pre-placed bolts are no longer here! Generally this type of climbing is a bit slower and involves a bit more precision and thought as any gear that is placed incorrectly may just ping out if you fall. Once the first climber has climbed the route and placed the gear, the second climber comes up, now being belayed by the first climber, and the second climber removed all the gear that had been placed.
When the rock face is simply not enough, a sheet of ice will do the trick! Culminating skills of lead and trad climbing, ice climbing involves placing ice screws as your protective gear. However instead of using your hands and feet, this is now replaced by ice axes and crampons.
‘So how do I get started?’
Womenclimb organise meet-ups all around the country at various climbing centres. These will be posted on our Womenclimb website and our Facebook group, so please keep an eye out for them!
By Deniz Üstüner