Lead climbing

How To Stack a Climbing Rope

You'll need to 'stack' the rope before every lead climb so that it will feed out without tangles while you're climbing.

Beginning at one end, simply feed the rope into a pile on top of your rope bag, or a clean area of the ground. The climber ties into the top end of the rope.

Stacking a climbing rope

Top Tip
If you are storing your rope for a while, or carrying it somewhere, it can be best to coil it instead.

Coiling a climbing rope

 

The Figure-8: How to Tie In to a Climbing Rope

Unless you are bouldering, you'll need to tie the end of the rope to your harness before you climb. The best way to do this is using a rethreaded figure of 8 knot. It's really important that you do it correctly, as this knot is what connects you to the whole climbing system and keeps you safe.

Try not to talk to someone or distract them while they tie in. Likewise, once you start tying your figure-8, keep going until you’ve finished before responding to any questions. Accidents have happened because climbers were distracted halfway through tying in and then fell with a half-completed or incorrect knot.

How to tie in to a rope for rock climbing with a figure 8

How To Tie In with the Figure of 8 Knot

Step 1
Make a loop about a meter from the end of the rope. Wrap the end of the rope around the base of the loop, then push the end through the loop.

How to tie in to a climbing rope

Step 2
You should end up with an '8'. Make sure the knot is around 90cm from the end of the rope. The exact length varies with ropes of different diameters, but you'll soon get used to it.

How to tie in to a rope for rock climbing

Step 3
Pass the end of the rope through both of the two points on the front centre of your harness – the same ones your belay loop runs through. It is important that the rope goes through your harness in exactly the same way as your belay loop does.

How not to tie a figure of 8 knot to a rope for rock climbing
 

Step 4
Use the end of the rope to 're-trace' the figure of 8 knot. Follow the twists of the rope starting from where the rope joins your harness.

How to tie into a climbing rope with a figure eight

Step 5
Continue following the twists until you end up back at the start of the knot.

Pull the whole thing tight.

Figure of 8 knot and stopper knot climbing rope

Step 6
Make sure the end of the rope is around 25cm long. If it is shorter, you'll have to untie and start again. After this, you will need to tie a 'stopper knot'. Loop the short section of rope around the main length.

Tie into a rope for rock climbing

Step 7
Do this twice, with the second loop closer to you than the first.

How to tie into a rope with a figure of 8 knot for rock climbing

Step 8
Push the end of the rope through these two loops, away from you.

Pull this tight too (make sure it's pushed right up against your figure of 8 knot).

Remember that your knot is not complete until it is tight. Be aware that stiff new ropes tend to loosen. Pull the knot super tight before you climb.

How to tie in to a rope for rock climbing with a figure eight

The stopper knot has no bearing on safety as long as you tied your figure-8 correctly, so don’t panic if it starts to unravel as you climb. The purpose of the stopper knot is to ensure that you have left enough tail to stop the figure-8 failing – a short tail could slip through the knot.

Also, if you left a long tail dangling without a stopper knot, it could be mistaken for the main rope when clipping quickdraws, or the anchor. Always tie a stopper knot for these reasons.

If you didn't have enough rope left to tie a stopper knot, you'll need to retie the figure of 8 so that you do.

It takes a bit of practise to judge just the right amount of rope from the start, but you'll get used to it soon.

How to tie in to a rope for rock climbing with a figure 8
 

Safety Check: Have You Tied In Correctly?

Rock Climbing Infographic: Have you tied in to the rope correctly?

Visually inspect your knot, and your partner’s knot, before every climb.

If someone asks you a question or distracts you when you are tying your knot, wait until you have finished before answering. Do nothing else until the knot is complete.

 

How To Attach Quickdraws To Your Harness

Some indoor walls have quickdraws already attached to the wall, but if yours doesn't, you'll need to bring your own.

Clip half of them to the gear loops on the left side of your harness and the other half on the right side. Clipping them to your gear loops with the bolt-end carabiner will make it easier when you come to use them.

Make sure you bring enough quickdraws with you. You'll need one for each bolt, plus a couple of spares in case you drop one half way up or if a mystery bolt appears that you couldn't see from the ground.

Quickdraws on climbing harness quick draws

While you lead climb, there are 4 other things you'll need to do that you wouldn't do if top roping:
1) Clip quickdraws to bolts
2) Clip the rope into the quickdraws
3) Clip the rope into the top anchor
4) Pull the rope back down when you finish

How To Lead Climb: Clipping Quickdraws To Bolts

If the quickdraws are not already attached to the wall, you'll need to clip one on first. Simply clip the bolt end of your quickdraw to the bolt in the wall. It doesn't matter which way it faces.

Obviously, if you fall before clipping the first quickdraw, you'll land back on the ground.

Climbing quickdraw carabiners

How To Lead Climb: Clipping The Rope Into Quickdraws

The easiest way to clip a quickdraw is to place your fingers around the back bar of the carabiner, then use your thumb to flick the rope through the gate. The pressure of you pushing the rope on to it will open the gate; you don't need to open it with your fingers.

How to clip climbing rope to quickdraw

If you're clipping with your other hand, you'll need to hold the back bar with your thumb and use your fingers to flick the rope through instead.

How to clip climbing rope to quickdraw

Another way is to steady the carabiner with your middle finger and then flick the rope through with your thumb.

How to clip climbing rope to quickdraw

Quickdraw Orientation

If you will be traversing far to the left after clipping a draw, it’s better to orientate it so the rope-end gate faces right, and vice versa.

If the gate faces in the same direction as you, there is a greater (but still very small) chance of the gate opening in a fall.

Sport climbing quickdraw direction

Back Clipping

The rope needs to be clipped through the quickdraw so that the end of the rope attached to you comes out of the front side of the quickdraw. If you fall, the rope will stay clipped through the carabiner.

Sport climbing quickdraw backclip

If you clip it the wrong way round, the rope could snap through the carabiner's gate if you fall when lead climbing. This would unclip the rope from the carabiner. This is known as 'back clipping'.

If you're belaying a leader, keep an eye out for them accidentally back clipping, and let them know if they have!

Back clip climbing quickdraw backclip

Cross-Loading

A carabiner is ‘cross-loaded’ when it is loaded sideways. This makes the carabiner much weaker, meaning that it could break during a fall.

A common cross-loading situation is when the rope-end carabiner moves out of position. The rubber attachment is designed to stop this – check your draws to make sure the rubber is still intact.

Cross-Loading carabiners

Carabiners can also be cross-loaded over an edge of rock. Use a longer quickdraw to avoid this.

Cross-Loading carabiners over rock

Sticky Gates

Make sure the carabiner's gate has snapped shut after you've clipped the rope through it. If it stays open, the carabiner is just as weak as if it was cross-loaded.

This can happen if the gate is resting against a rock edge. Use a longer quickdraw.

Open carabiner

How To Lead Climb: Clipping The Top Anchor

Once you get to the top of the wall, you'll need to clip the rope through the top anchor. Different walls have different systems for this – some have two snapgate carabiners, some have one or two screwgate carabiners that you'll need to unscrew first. Ask one of the staff before leading if in doubt!

It's important to make sure that the anchor you clip does not have another rope already running through it. Having 2 ropes through the same anchor can damage them.

Once you've clipped your rope through the top anchor, you can be lowered down in the same way as if you were top roping.

However, if you've attached your own quickdraws on the way up, you'll need to collect them on the way down. Simply lower down, unclipping them from both the bolt and rope and then clipping them back to your gear loops. The belayer will need to stop lowering you at each bolt so you have time to do this.

Bolted climbing anchor

 

Lowering from a Sport Climb

Lowering is the simplest method of descent.

You Will Need:
* Two spare quickdraws

Best Situation To Use this Method
- When someone else will lead the climb after you
- When you plan to leave all your quickdraws on the bolts for the next climber

Step 1
Clip a quickdraw into each bolt. Make sure the rope-end carabiners have their gates facing outwards.

If there are chains or rings on the bolts, clipping your quickdraws underneath puts them in a better orientation.

Sport climbing anchor lowering chains

Step 2
Clip the rope through the quickdraws from the back so the rope is coming out towards you.

Sport climbing anchor lowering chains

Step 3
Ask your belayer to take you tight. You are now ready to lower.

Sport climbing anchor lowering chains

Step 4
Lower down, leaving the lead quickdraws in place.

Be careful - if you swing around to unclip quickdraws on your descent, the rope could snap through the carabiners at the anchor.

If you must remove the lead quickdraws, consider setting up the anchor as you would for a top rope.


Warning
Only lower down like this if someone else will lead next. It is dangerous to top rope from two quickdraws.

Sport climbing anchor lowering chains

Extending the Anchor

Never connect quickdraws together like this.

If you need to extend the anchor for lowering or any other reason, make sure to use a sling or cordelette instead, as described here.

clipping quickdraws together

Pulling the Rope Down

When you're pulling a lead rope down, shout 'rope' before it falls, so that everyone around you is expecting it – a falling rope in the head hurts!

Make sure to pull the rope through so that the falling end drops down through the clipped quickdraws – this will slow it down and make it safer.

Pulling down a climbing rope

Lead Climbing: Understanding Fall Potential

Leading for the first time can be pretty scary. Suddenly you're exposed to a much greater fall potential than on a top rope. The consequence of a fall while leading is more serious than when top roping, as you can fall much further. This increases your chances of hitting something (such as a large hold) as you fall.

If you fall while below a quickdraw you've just clipped, the fall will be similar to falling on top rope, as the rope is running through the carabiner above you.

Rock climbing fall

But if you fall when above the last quickdraw you've clipped, you'll fall below it, about the same distance as you were above it, or a little bit further (as the rope stretches to absorb the force of the fall).

Rock climbing fall

It's important not to clip quickdraws too soon. It can be tempting to pull through meters of rope to clip way above your head. But doing this means there's a lot of slack rope in the system so you'll fall a lot further if you slip while clipping.

Instead, wait until the quickdraw is between your shoulders and waist, then clip it. Not only will you not fall as far if you slip, it's also less strenuous and quicker.

Rock climbing fall

Top Tip
Try to clip from a resting position. It's much easier to clip a quickdraw while you're hanging from a big hold on a straight arm than from a tiny hold on a bent arm.

Lead Climbing: Where To Position the Rope

When lead climbing above a quickdraw, make sure the rope is running over the side of your leg. If you fall with the rope between your legs, it can flip you upside down, causing you to hit your head on the wall and get 'rope burn' behind your knees.

Rock climbing technique lead climbing

 

Step 1
When lead belaying, you need to attach your belay device so there is just a few meters of rope between it and the climber's knot.

How to lead climb

Step 2
When the climber is moving up the wall, you'll need to feed rope out to them instead of taking it in.

Place one hand on the rope above the belay device and the other on the brake rope below. Use both hands to shuffle rope upwards through the belay device.

Then slide your hands one at a time back down the rope so you are ready to give more slack. Make sure not to let go of the brake rope!

Lead belaying and Climbing

Step 3
Once they've clipped the quickdraw but are still below it, they're effectively on a mini top rope, so you'll need to take in a small amount of rope until they're level with the quickdraw. At this point, you'll continue giving slack rope out again so they can go above it.

Lead belaying

Step 4
You'll catch a fall in exactly the same way as for a top rope fall, by locking the rope off downwards.

If the leader takes a big fall from above a bolt, the force will be much greater than a simple top rope fall, so it will be much harder to hold – keep a tight grip on the brake rope and pay attention!

How to lead climb and belay a climber

Lead Belaying: Belay Position

Before the First Bolt
Before the leader reaches the first bolt, you'll need to 'spot' them, just the same as if they were bouldering.

Make sure to have just enough slack in the rope so they can reach the bolt.

How to spot a climber when bouldering

After the First Bolt
Stand close to the wall, and in-line with the leader. Maintain a good stance in a position where you can see them.

How to lead belay correctly

Lead Belaying: Common Mistakes

Leaving too much slack in the rope.

How not to lead belay correctly

Standing too far back from the wall.

How not to lead belay correctly

Lead Belaying: Top Tips

For your first few times lead belaying (for either top rope or lead), it can be useful to ask a qualified member of staff to hold the brake rope a metre or so below where you're belaying. This acts as a back up so that even if you let go of the rope your climber won't fall to the ground.

How to lead climb and belay on top rope

It's also possible to have a top rope setup when learning to lead climb. This way, you can practise the techniques of leading, with the increased safety of a top rope. Ask a qualified member of staff for help with this.

How to lead climb belay

 

Sport Anchors: Lower, Abseil or Walk Off?

Sport anchors lowering chains

 

Many climbs have bolted 'sport anchors' at the top. This is the standard for sport climbs worldwide, but is also common at many North American trad climbing venues.

These bolted anchors will usually be equipped with mallions (quick links) or lowering rings, sometimes connected with chains. You won’t be able to simply clip your rope through this type of anchor like you would at the gym. Instead, you’ll need untie from the rope and thread it through. After that, you can either abseil, or have your partner lower you down.

It’s important to learn how to do this in the correct order. If you thread an anchor incorrectly, you could drop your rope and be ‘stranded’ at the anchor, or even become completely detached from the bolts.

This depends on the type of anchor, how it is positioned and what you plan to do after the climb.

Lowering from a sport anchor is quicker than abseiling. It’s also much easier to retrieve gear on your way down when lowering.

However, abseiling puts much less wear on the rings. This could be the best option if the rings are already showing signs of wear.

If the next climber is going to top rope the route, you should make an anchor from your own gear and lower down from that.

If you are the last person to climb the route, you’ll need to ‘clean’ all your gear from the anchor before you descend.

For anchors which are in a poor position for lowering or abseiling (e.g: far back across a ledge), it is much better to belay your partner from the top of the climb. You can then walk off.

Each of these scenarios requires a different anchor setup. These are described in the following articles.

How To Clean a Sport Anchor For Lowering – Method 1

This method is suitable for anchors with a central point which is big enough to feed a bight of rope through. You will remain ‘on belay’ during the whole setup.

You will need:
* Two spare quickdraws
* One screwgate carabiner

Step 1
Clip your rope through a quickdraw on one of the anchor bolts.

How to clean a bolted sport climbing anchor

Step 2
Clip another quickdraw into the other anchor bolt and clip it directly to your belay loop. Rest your weight on this quickdraw.

clean a bolted sport climbing anchor

Step 3
Pull up a little slack and push a bight of the rope through the main anchor point as shown.

thread a bolted sport climbing anchor

Step 4
Tie a figure-8 on the bight and clip this to your belay loop with a screwgate carabiner.

How to thread the rope through a bolted sport climbing anchor

Step 5
Untie from the end of the rope.

How to clean a bolted anchor

Step 6
Pull the end of the rope through the main anchor point.

How to clean a bolted sport anchor

Step 7
Remove the quickdraw which isn’t holding your weight. Ask your belayer to take you tight.

How to clean a sport climbing anchor

Step 8
Rest your weight on the rope, then remove the other quickdraw. You are now ready to lower.

How to clean a sport anchor
 

How To Clean a Sport Anchor For Lowering – Method 2

Sometimes, you won’t be able to push a bight of rope through the anchor. This depends on the thickness of your rope and the type of anchor. In this case, you must use a slightly different method. As with method 1, you will remain ‘on belay’ during the whole setup.

You will need:
* Two spare quickdraws
* One screwgate carabiner

sport climbing anchor chains and bolts

Step 1
Clip two quickdraws into the anchor bolts; one clipped through the rope and the other clipped directly into your belay loop, just the same as method 1.

Rest your weight on the quickdraw.

How to clean a sport anchor

Step 2
Pull up some slack rope and tie a figure-8 on a bight. Clip this to your belay loop with a screwgate carabiner.

What to do at the top of a sport rock climb

Step 3
Untie from the end of the rope.

What to do at the top of a sport climb

Step 4
Feed the end of the rope through the main anchor point(s).

What to do at the top of a rock climb

Step 5
Tie in to the end of the rope.

threading rope through climbing anchor

Step 6
Remove the screwgate carabiner and untie the figure-8 on a bight.

threading rope through sport anchor

Step 7
Remove the quickdraw which isn’t holding your weight. Ask your belayer to take you tight.

How to clean a sport route

Step 8
Rest your weight on the rope, then remove the other quickdraw. You are now ready to lower.

How to clean a sport route anchor
 

How To Clean a Sport Anchor For Abseiling (Rappelling)

In most cases that you clean a sport anchor, you will lower down - this is much quicker than abseiling. It’s also much easier to retrieve gear on your way down when lowering. However, abseiling puts much less wear on the rings. This could be the best option if the rings are already showing signs of wear.

You will need:
* A belay device with a screwgate carabiner
* A prusik cord with a screwgate carabiner
* Three spare carabiners (two of these must be screwgates)
* Two slings

Step 1
Girth-hitch both slings through your belay loop and attach them to the anchor bolts with screwgate carabiners.

You can now tell your belayer that you are ‘off belay’.

abseil from sport climb

Step 2
Pull up some slack and tie the rope to a carabiner. Clip this to your belay loop. You don’t necessarily need to use a screwgate carabiner here, and it doesn’t matter too much what knot you use. The point of this is so you can’t accidentally drop the rope during the following steps.

Some climbers clip this to a gear loop, since it will not be weighted. This is okay, but it’s possible to break your gear loop if the rope gets stuck on something, meaning that you would end up ‘stranded’ at the top of the climb without a rope.

rappel from a sport climb anchor

Step 3
Untie from the end of the rope.

How to abseil from climbing anchor

Step 4
Feed the end of the rope through the main anchor points.

Tying a knot in the end of the rope stops it from zipping through the anchor if you accidentally let go of it during the next step.

How to rappel from a sport anchor

Step 5
Remove the carabiner and untie the knot from your belay loop.

Pull the rope down so that both ends are on the ground.

How to abseil from a sport anchor

Step 6
Attach your belay device and prusik to the rope.

How to rappel from a sport route anchor

Step 7
Weight your belay device to check the setup. Then remove the slings. You are now ready to abseil.

How to abseil from a sport route anchor
 

Cleaning Sport Anchors – Top Tips

* Always double-check the setup before you untie each knot. A mistake could be fatal.

* Make sure to communicate with your partner so they know if you plan to lower or abseil. If you plan to lower but your partner thinks you will abseil, they will take you off belay! Be clear about what you are doing.

* Look out for sharp edges beneath the anchor. Consider abseiling, rather than lowering, if your rope could run over a sharp edge.

* It’s important that you don’t add wear on the anchor rings by top-ropingoff them. Make sure to use your own screwgates and slings for top-roping so any wear is on your own gear rather than the rings.

* Always inspect the quality of the anchors and the rock around them before trusting your life to them.

* Never thread a rope directly through a bolt hanger. The square edges are likely to damage or cut your rope. Only thread your rope through round-edged metal.

 

From - vdiff climbing

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