Leading – The Holy Grail of Indoor Climbing

Passing your first lead test at your home gym is a milestone that many climbers don’t forget.  My first lead test was at the Boulder Rock Club with Chris Wall judging my performance.  To say I was daunted is an understatement, which is why giving shy new climbers their first lead test is one of my favorite things to do.  This is for anyone who is contemplating taking their lead test at one of our gyms in the near future.


1.  Why do I have to lead a 5.9?  We chose that grade for a couple of reasons.  Leading is obviously a harder way to climb since you have to know some pretty advanced climbing techniques, like how to let go with one hand, keep your balance and fumble with a rope at the same time without falling.  We feel that a climber that can flash a 5.9 should have the climbing skills needed to safely lead in our gym.  Another reason is simply the layout of the leadable walls in our gym.  Most of our draws are pretty steep terrain, meaning that setting anything easier than a 5.9 is difficult.  At the time of writing this, we have 2 leadable 5.8’s in the gym.  If you have to struggle up a 5.8, you will have slim pickens for what you can even lead in the gym.

2.  Why is the lead test where it is?  We chose the lead test locations for a couple of reasons too.  First, we want to see that you are comfortable flashing a 5.9 on lead at the gym.  To do this, we moved the test route to a wall that is lead only so that the climber won’t have as much of a chance to wire out the route.  Second, once we changed our lead test rules to include taking a lead fall, we decided that we are not going to ask our customers to do anything that we ourselves wouldn’t do.  That being said, you will never see me take a lead fall on a vertical wall, which is why the lead test is on a steep part of the wall.

3,  What would I have to do to fail?  Back clipping, z-clipping, sloppy clipping, unbalanced clipping stance, getting your foot behind the rope especially when you’re above your last clip.

Following is a good example of how to fail your lead test.  Watch as Tyler back clips the first draw and z-clips the third,

Here is a perfect example of how to flawlessly pass your lead test.  Kathryn not only climbs with confidence, but she chooses a smart clip line, chooses a balanced stance for each clip and clips in what I like to think of as a climber’s strike zone – not too far over your head so that you are pulling a lot of slack which could lead to a dangerous fall if you blow the clip and not too far below your hips which would also create a longer fall than you might want.

An inability to clip the draws quickly is usually the accomplice in failing the lead test.  Fumbling around trying to clip will not only make you more physically tired, but it will ruin your mental focus.  A great way to practice your clipping is to hop on the auto belay on a leadable wall with a lead rope tied to your harness and mock lead routes.  Another way to help you pass your lead test is to take our Learn to Lead class offered monthly at both gyms.  It is a two day/three hour class that goes over both leading and lead belaying.  The cost is $75 ($60 for members) and preregistration is required, check our calendar for the class schedule.


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