By now, you’re hopefully feeling some psych for getting out and trying your hand at trad climbing. At first you may spend a long time seconding (following) your climbing partner/s up a variety of trad routes to get into the trad vibe and get used to handling all the gear. The exciting next stage of your trad journey is lead climbing, and putting it all into practice. But first, some important questions you might be asking yourself.
What should I cover before lead trad climbing?
- Placing protection – nuts, cams, etc, what good placements look like and how to spot a bad placement or identify weaknesses in a placement.
- Attaching the rope to your protection – using quickdraws correctly, clipping the rope correctly, thinking about rope drag and whether you need to use an extender (longer quickdraw).
- Setting up an anchor – after topping out (finishing your climb), setting up a secure system at the top of the route to belay from.
- Belaying from above – at the top of the route, belaying from your anchor and bringing up your partner safely.
When do I know I’m ready to lead trad climb?
Do you feel ready? It may be obvious, or cliche, but really only you can make this decision. There are some things you should check in with yourself first: Do you feel comfortable with everything on the list above? Do you feel comfortable with your climbing partner? Do you have someone available to check your anchor system before you use it? Remember, this isn’t just your life, but the life of your climbing partner. Are you prepared for your partner to critique your gear placements?
Remember, when you’re ready, go with a competent trad climber who has all this knowledge and can check yours at every step. But! At the end of the day, you have to be happy with it. With great climbing comes great responsibility.
What are the grades like?
Trad grades have an overall grade and a technical grade. The overall grade is the most British, wordy system of grading climbs and is very amusing. We have:
Mod (moderate), Diff (difficult), V-diff (very difficult), MS (Moderately Severe), Severe, HS (Hard Severe), VS (Very Severe), HVS (Hard Very Severe) (and my favourite one to say in full), E1 (Extreme 1), E2, E3… and so on.
This overall grade is a combination of, amongst other things, the technical grade (the grade of the hardest move on the route), how long the climb is (a longer route of sustained moves at a certain tech grade can be graded harder than a short route of one or two moves at that grade) and how exposed the climb is (exposed moves are scarier!). You can check out grade conversions between trad, sport and other grading systems on the Rockfax website. This might give you an idea of what grades you’d be comfortable on in comparison to the climbing you already do.
How do I pick my first lead trad climb?
Go for something easy, it’s that simple. Even if it seems too easy. Don’t let anyone (or your ego…) coax you into leading something hard for the sake of it. Shoot up a Mod or a Diff, even if your technical grade (indoors, bouldering, or on sport) is much higher. Your first lead trad climb is not about pushing the grade. It’s about testing your knowledge and safety, practicing gear placements and receiving feedback on them. Once you’ve got some experience you can work your way up the grades to get used to placing gear in increasingly awkward positions on harder routes.
Now by no means is your trad journey over, your first lead is just the beginning. The beginning of a beautiful blossoming relationship with a challenging and satisfying sport (well, all climbing is, right?) that will take you to some beautiful locations. And for me, that’s what it’s all about.
I hope to see you out in the world of trad climbing soon, and don’t forget to buy your patient and trusty climbing partner a slice of cake or something!