Touchstone Blog Archive
Thursday, October 12, 2006
  Taking the Lead - pt. 2
A clear head helps you take the lead
Part two about how to improve at lead climbing

Lead climbing is a mental challenge as well as a physical challenge. When we lead, we think more about falling, about the distance between bolts, about hazards on the wall below, and all the things that never bother us when a rope is attached to the top of the climb. Whether it’s conscious fear or just a vague feeling of unease at the back of your mind, it takes its toll: You grip everything a little bit more, you climb with less confidence, and after a while you're worn out on what should be easy moves.

In Part 1 we discussed the mental challenge, along with tips for getting in the right frame of mind. But muscles still count. Mind and body work together, so here are some ways for your body to help your mind.

First, remember to rest on the route. It’s more important when leading than at any other time. Even if you are climbing at optimal efficiency, leading takes longer and you have to exert yourself more. You have to stop at every bolt, shift around, find a comfortable stance, and then hang by one arm long enough to clip.

When you do clip, don’t always use the same arm. Spread the load from arm to arm so you don't get to the top with one arm complete trashed. Get into the most efficient, comfortable stance possible. Tense leaders clip from bent arms and wear themselves out. Instead, hang low on a straight arm, letting your legs carry the weight.

Also, get your clipping down cold, so you don't fumble getting the rope into the carabiner. Every extra second here leaves less strength in your arms for the most difficult parts of the climb. Don’t wait until you are on a climb to get both arms used to clipping. Hang a draw someplace handy and practice clipping it. First use your right hand, clipping from the left and the right. Then use your left hand, clipping from the left and from the right. Some climbers will hang some practice gear on the rear-view mirror in the car and put a rope in the front seat. That way they can clip while they are stuck in traffic. (But keep your eyes on the road when you start moving again.)

The final tip is partly mental, but mostly physical: Use some strategy. Break the route down into pieces. There should be obvious, easier places to clip from. Climb quickly between these and the rests. Don't hesitate in the hardest part, especially when you know what you need to do. Make the clip and then climb with confidence.

When you pull it off and lead a challenging route -- and do it with some psychological composure instead of whimpering for your mommy -- nothing feels better. All you can think of when you are done, ironically, is getting back to those great moments between bolts when you were cranking hard moves.

Those are the moments climbers live for.

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