Learning How to Lead Climb – Part 1

Young female rock climber clipping rope while lead climbing

My Climbing Journey So Far

As you know, I started indoor rock climbing last year in April during my birthday. Since then, I have been extremely determined to learn how to climb efficiently and effectively. It has been a wonderful journey but also a challenging one.

So far, I took Intro to Climbing and Learn the Ropes last year at Brooklyn Boulders. Considering the fact that I have a slight fear of heights, learning how to climb has been a great effort and success for me. My rock climbing buddy, June, and I were climbing 5.10+ routes last year, and we thought we were the bomb or for me, Catwoman. I know that this is not the highest level, but it is not the lowest level either.

Unfortunately, I took a winter break and was inactive for almost five months, believing that it wouldn’t hurt to do so. I didn’t start climbing again until mid-April. I know now that I made a huge mistake. Since then, I noticed there were some setbacks, but nothing that can’t be fixed or improved. I just needed to get the feel of the wall again and implement what I have learned last year. I still struggle with using straight arms while climbing however. It is a lesson learned. So, this coming winter, I will not take a break but continue to climb.

What’s Currently Happening

The most exciting experience this year as a climber was joining a rock climbing community this May through Meetup which opened the door to meeting more climbers like myself and those who are more advanced. During the Meetup, I met a wonderful female climber who likes to boulder a lot, which was something I really didn’t focus on last year. This actually played a huge part in regaining my strength in my fingers and arms. It also helped me to focus more on my footwork. After joining and regaining my confidence, I was motivated to face my fear and learn how to lead climb.

Note: If you are interested in lead climbing, I would suggest that you take the beginner and intermediate classes first before taking a lead course or at least have been currently climbing indoors or outdoors.

So, last Sunday, I took my first lead climbing class. Actually, there are two three-hour classes in order to learn how to lead climb. I was a bit nervous and as I said before, I am still battling with my fear of heights. I have to say that it was definitely a learning experience for me. There were six people in the group (including myself). Everyone in the group was very friendly as well as the instructor. Before we began, we introduced ourselves and learned a little bit about each other. The icebreaker question was “What was the strangest thing that we have ever eaten?” Many had interesting answers from bull balls to lamb brain. I couldn’t think of anything that was stranger than calamari until after my answer.

The instructor took on a more of a discussion teaching approach with open-ended questions which was great since this kept us more interactive in a three-hour class. We talked about quickdraws for a long time from the way they are designed to how to properly handle them while climbing. After the discussion, we went into practice. All six of us had to learn how to clip our rope from different clipping positions using our left and right hand. At first, it was difficult for me to push the rope into the clip, but eventually, I got the hang of it from the ground of course. I definitely realized that this wasn’t as easy as it appears on YouTube tutorials and the videos that I have seen with professional climbers.

We then went over the most common mistakes of lead climbing: Z-clipping, Back climbing and the danger of having the rope behind the leg.

Z-clipping occurs when a leader pulls the rope below the previous quickdraw instead of from above and from his or her knot.  This usually happens when two bolts are situated closely together.  If it is not noticed quickly, it can create a longer fall because the leader is not protected by the most recent clip but the previous one.  It will also cause a drag in the rope.

Back clipping is when the leader is climbing and clip the rope incorrectly.  This can cause the rope to unclip due to the rope not being properly clipped into the quickdraw.  The rope should run out of the quickdraw instead of facing the rock or the wall.

Lastly, the leader should avoid having his or her leg behind the rope as this will cause the climber to flip upside down if he or she falls. To avoid this, step over and around the rope.

We eventually had to do demo clipping sessions on the rocks. Unfortunately, even though I understood what the teacher was saying, I encountered some of these screw-ups anyway. It was one thing to hear it, but demonstrating it was a whole different story. Being alert and understanding how to maneuver while lead climbing are crucial aspects to learning to lead. I learned this very quickly. Everyone climbed on a 5.9 route except for me because I was struggling with clipping and climbing at the same time. I know now to make sure that I get in a position that is comfortable enough and stable enough to clip the rope.

I liked the fact that we had to do several demos in order to get the feel of clipping our rope into a quickdraw. During my first demo, the route that I was on had two bolts that were very close to each other. Instead of pulling the rope from my knot as instructed, I pulled it from the bottom of the last bolt (Z-clipping). I honestly didn’t notice until one of the students and my instructor got my attention. So, I had to undo the last clipping with one hand in order to clip the rope correctly.

When I finally release the rope from the clip, I nervously did a back-clipping into the same quickdraw that I did the z-clipping in, and once again, I had to make sure to stay calm in order to do it correctly. However, I’m glad that this experience happened during this class instead of later. I felt a little discouraged but these mistakes helped me to be a problem solver and fix the problems that I was encountering.

The last part of the class was to do a demo fall. I thought that this would’ve been the worse part of this class, considering the fact that I never really “fallen” from rope before. So far, it wasn’t that bad maybe because I have fallen a lot during bouldering. The only thing that I need to remember is to not grab the rope while falling but have my hands free in order to train myself to use my feet and avoid any arm or shoulder injuries.


Lead climbing is an adventurous sport but complex and dangerous. So, alterness is key. Continuous practice will help me get comfortable. I’ve decided to get some more practice at the gym before taking the second part of my lead class this Sunday. We will go over how to belay for lead climbing and hopefully go over what we learned last Sunday.


Do you go rock climbing? If so, what type of climbing do you do?

3 thoughts on “Learning How to Lead Climb – Part 1

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