Learning to Lead Traditional Rock Climbs. Part 1: Background

I still can’t believe it’s over. About three months ago, I walked out of my first Advanced Rock lecture filled with fear and disbelief that I was actually going to take on the task of trad leading. I had just barely begun trying some easy leads in the safety of the rock gym and I had no clue how any of the funky metal gadgets that dangle from the harnesses of trad leaders worked. I was definitely in over my head. Sure, I knew how to climb. I could tie some knots. I understood how to set up a rappel. But to be on the “sharp end,” as they say…well that was a whole different story.

I had spent the last couple of years learning the basics of climbing. I had refused to enter the world of technical rock for some time, as all the ropes and gear seemed a bit too much. I was a hiker; I liked the feeling of getting from point A to point B unencumbered by stuff. Rock climbers carried a lot of stuff and they relied on specially bolted routes to ascend the rock. How stupid, I thought, when there’s a perfectly nice trail meandering up the other side. After taking the Basic Climbing class with the Mazamas, however, rock climbing suddenly seemed less mystical and more practical. There was much more excitement and work involved, and I kind of liked it.

Flashing forward to three months ago, I sat listening to my peers ask intelligent questions and talk about all their heroic rock climbing aspirations. I was sure I was in the wrong place. “I can’t do this…” I thought, over and over again. As I pondered the expenses involved in acquiring all the gear, the vast amount of technical knowledge I’d have to pack into my brain, and the numerous skills at which I’d have to become proficient, let alone the mental game I’d have to conquer, I was sure I would fail at this. I’ve always had climbing partners who were more experienced that could lead the way for me. Why this? Why now? If Brad hadn’t told me it was possible for me to learn this now, then I wouldn’t have come. But I was not in it for him, I thought, I was in this for myself. I was tired of being a follower. It was time for me to step up and lead.

Leave a Reply