The King of Diamonds

Number 52 – Learn to lead climb (King of Diamonds) – Wednesday 16th November 2016

Wow! This one is super late, so apologies in advance.  I have recently been setting up some of the bigger entries for the Apocalyst, which means making some pretty huge life decisions.  One of these decisions involved giving up my home and moving back into my mum’s house over Christmas, before heading to South East Asia in January; hence why I have been so quiet.  Hopefully I will get a blog entry up about that this week, but for now let’s talk about the King of Diamonds…

My friend Rachel and I have been climbing for some time now.  It’s a great form of exercise and over the past few months both of us have seen a marked improvement.  After our first course, which we completed with our respective partners, we didn’t really take climbing that seriously and didn’t go regularly enough.  But earlier this year we decided to get back into it properly and devote some real time to it.  The style of climbing we have been doing up until now is top rope climbing, where the rope is already anchored to the top of the climbing wall, and as you climb your partner keeps the rope tight and you safe.  It is a great way to get into climbing and gives you a lot of stability, but it is rather limited and can be restrictive; you can only really climb indoors at climbing centres that have top ropes installed.  We also had an urge to progress in our climbing; my ultimate aim is to climb outside properly.  So we made some enquiries and booked onto a ‘learn to lead’ course at our local climbing centre.

For those of you looking blankly at the screen right now, lead climbing is where there is no rope above you holding you up if you fall; instead you have a rope attached to your harness which flows down to the floor and your partner.  As you climb, you have to clip the rope into holds, which then becomes the anchor point.  The main difference between this and top rope climbing is that there is much less security whilst climbing.  Until you have clipped the rope in you are effectively free climbing, and so if you fall, instead of dropping 10cm as in top rope climbing, you could drop up to 4m… yeah.

The course was split into three 2 hour sessions across 4 weeks, so we actually started the course at the end of October.  The first session involved getting the basics down, things like how to belay at the bottom, how to clip the rope in correctly so that if you fall the rope wont slip out of the clip; if that was to happen you would end up falling more like 8m instead of 4…  This session was a bit heavy, with lots of new skills to try and incorporate into what is already a strenuous activity, but by the end we were getting the hang of it.  In the second session everything started to fit into place a lot more, but the main focus of the session was something different entirely: learning how to fall. Whilst, as I said earlier, falling when lead climbing can be a lot more dangerous, the main reason for spending so much time on this was merely to get used to the feeling.  Free falling 4m might not seem like a lot, but when you’re 18m up a wall, tired from climbing and not expecting it, it can be pretty terrifying! Bear in mind that throughout the first two sessions we were still connected to the top rope as well, and our instructor Oli was pretty awesome at keeping us safe.  In the third session we reviewed everything we had learnt previously, and then removed the top rope entirely so that we could complete our first full lead climb.  I have to admit, that first climb without being attached to the top rope was pretty intense; you are effectively free climbing a 21 ½m wall.  You have to remember to clip in every few metres, watch your footing, and you are suddenly aware of what could happen if you were to fall.  All of which made for a pretty crazy climb!  But we completed it, and at the end of the session got signed off as official lead climbers.

If you do climb and haven’t yet tried lead climbing, then I would definitely recommend it.  It is pretty exhilarating, and to me it feels a bit more like true climbing.  Not that there is anything wrong with top rope climbing; I will still top rope as well as lead climb, but I also want to push myself.  If you haven’t tried climbing then it really is something you need to do at least once.  I am not good with heights at all, but for me I think it was a case of facing my fear.  I do still get a bit pasty when I get too high, but it has helped immensely.  For those of you close enough, the climbing centre I go to is ROKT in Brighouse.  It’s a great climbing centre for all abilities, and the instructors are all pretty great.

Instead of a blog entry, this feels like it turned a little bit more into a review!  Learning to lead climb was a personal victory for me, and it’s one step closer to being able to climb properly outside.   One step at a time…  Make sure you keep checking back over the next week as I will try and get another update onto the site!


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