Lead climbing

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Lead climbing is a climbing style, predominantly used in rock climbing. [1] [2] In a roped party one climber has to take the lead while the other climbers follow. [3] [4] The lead climber wears a harness attached to a climbing rope, which in turn is connected to the other climbers below the lead climber. While ascending the route, the lead climber periodically connects the rope to protection equipment for safety in the event of a fall. This protection can consist of permanent bolts, to which the climber clips quickdraws, or removable protection such as nuts and cams. One of the climbers below the lead climber acts as a belayer. The belayer gives out rope while the lead climber ascends and also stops the rope when the lead climber falls or wants to rest. [5] [6]


A different style than lead climbing is top-roping. Here the rope is preattached to an anchor at the top of a climbing route before the climber starts their ascent. [1] Lead climbing as a discipline of sport climbing debuted at the 2020 Summer Olympics. [7]

Basics and safety

Lead climbing is done for several reasons. Often, placing a top-rope is not an option because the anchors are not accessible by any means other than climbing. Sport climbing and traditional climbing both utilize lead climbing techniques for practical reasons, as well as stylistic reasons.

When lead climbing, the lead climber or leader wears a harness attached to one end of a climbing rope with a tie-in knot, like figure-eight, or bowline on a bight. [8] [9] [10] This rope is usually a dynamic kernmantle rope which is both resistant to abrasion and also softens the impact of a fall by stretching to some degree. [11] [12] The leader's partner or follower provides the belay, paying out rope as needed, but ready to hold the rope tightly, usually with the aid of a belay device, to catch the leader in the event of a fall. [5] [6]


Lead climber (trad) with a large set of protection gear on his harness. New River Gorge - Supercrack - 1.jpg
Lead climber (trad) with a large set of protection gear on his harness.

The lead climber ascends the route, periodically placing protection (also known as a quick draw) for safety in the event of a fall. The used protection differs based on the climbing discipline. [13]

In traditional climbing ("trad") the protection is usually only temporarily attached to the wall. Nuts and spring-loaded camming devices are placed in cracks of the rock face, slings can be tied around rock spikes and hooks can be placed on small ledges. These devices usually have a carabiner attached to one end, which allows the climber to clip in the rope. These devices are later collected again, usually by the followers when they ascend themselves.

In sport climbing there is usually only one climber. The climbing partner remains on the ground and belays the lead climber while they ascend the sport route. In sport climbing protections are usually permanently attached to the rock face in the form of drilled bolts or chains which are used for attaching quickdraws directly. The quickdraws are either placed by the lead climber during the ascent or are placed beforehand.

Fall distance and impact

Distances between pieces of protection can range from one to twelve metres (3–40 ft) or more, although most often the distance is between two and four metres (6 and 12 ft).

At any point, protection will be placed so that the distance to the most recently placed protection will be at most, half of the length of a possible fall. For example, if a leader is three metres (10 ft) above the last piece of protection, any fall should be a maximum of six metres (20 ft). Realistically, the fall would likely be somewhat longer due to rope elasticity and slack and give in the overall mechanical system. [14] If a lead climber, starting from the ground, approaches twice the height of the last piece of protection, there is danger of a ground fall (more commonly referred to as "decking") in which the falling climber hits the ground before the rope goes tight.

The severity of a fall arrested by the climbing rope is measured by the fall factor : the ratio of the height a climber falls before their rope begins to stretch and the rope length available to absorb the energy of the fall. (A leader may reduce their fall factor by using "protection", equipment that attaches in some way to the rock, allowing the rope to pass through it.) As the rope begins to stretch, it absorbs the energy of the fall and slows the falling climber. The more the rope is stretched by the force of the faller, the more intense the force it exerts on the faller, and the more severe any effect of that force. For this reason, a fall of six metres (20 ft) is much more severe (exerts more force on the climber and climbing equipment) if it occurs with three metres (10 ft) of rope out (i.e. the climber has placed no protection and falls from three metres (10 ft) above the belayer to three metres (10 ft) below—a factor 2 fall) than if it occurs thirty metres (100 ft) above the belayer (a fall factor of 0.2), in which case the stretch of the rope more effectively cushions the fall.


Several poor practices during lead climbing can lead to severe risk.

In traditional climbing, failure to place removable protection adequately may also result in lost protection. [18]

Multi-pitch climbing

Long routes, for instance in big wall climbing, are usually climbed in multiple pitches. One climber takes the lead and the other climbers wait at a spot where they can anchor themselves securely and are not in risk of falling. The lead climber is belayed until the end of the rope is reached or a convenient place for a new anchor is found. Here the lead climber secures themself to a new anchor and waits while the other climbers follow. Often the lead climber gives belay to the followers at this point. When the other climbers reach the new anchor the process is repeated. Usually another climber takes the lead for the new pitch and the previous leader can rest. [19]

In mountaineering it is also common that the other climbers do not wait for the lead climber to reach the end of a pitch. They already start climbing beforehand. This practice increases the risk of the entire rope party falling to their deaths or serious injury should the protections placed between the lead climber and the followers fail. On the other hand it shortens the length of time necessary for completing a section, which in turn lowers the risk of getting caught in an avalanche, bad weather or getting hit by falling ice or rock. This practice is known as simul-climbing. [20] [21]


Lead climber Mei Kotake about to clip a quickdraw. Final round of the 2018 World Championships. Climbing World Championships 2018 Lead Final Kotake (BT0A2343).jpg
Lead climber Mei Kotake about to clip a quickdraw. Final round of the 2018 World Championships.

Lead climbing is a popular discipline in competition climbing together with bouldering and speed climbing. The setup usually mirrors the outdoor sport climbing variant. [22] An artificial climbing wall is prepared with a complex route made up of geometry and climbing holds. Bolts with preattached quickdraws serve as protection. The competitors are expected to free climb, in other words they cannot use the protection to make progress or hang in the rope to rest.

Performance is determined by the highest hold reached and whether or not that hold was "controlled", meaning the climber achieved a stable position on that hold, or "used", meaning the climber used the hold to make a controlled climbing movement in the interest of progressing along the route. [23]

Lead competitions usually consist of three rounds: qualifications, semifinals, and finals. [24]

As a discipline of sport climbing, it has debuted at the 2020 Summer Olympics. [25] It has also been confirmed to be part of the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics. [26]

See also

Related Research Articles

Climbing Activity to ascend a steep object

Climbing is the activity of using one's hands, feet, or any other part of the body to ascend a steep topographical object. It is done for locomotion, recreation and competition, and within trades that rely on ascension; such as emergency rescue and military operations. It is done indoors and out, on natural and man-made structures.

Carabiner Shackle with a spring-loaded gate

A carabiner or karabiner is a specialized type of shackle, a metal loop with a spring-loaded gate used to quickly and reversibly connect components, most notably in safety-critical systems. The word is a shortened form of Karabinerhaken, a German phrase for a "spring hook" used by a carbine rifleman, or carabinier, to attach his carabin to a belt or bandolier.

Climbing protection is any of a variety of devices employed to reduce risk and protect others while climbing rock and ice. It includes such items as nylon webbing and metal nuts, cams, bolts, and pitons.

Traditional climbing Style of rock climbing

Traditional climbing is a style of rock climbing in which the climber places all the necessary protection gear required to arrest any falls as they are climbing, and then removes it when the pitch is complete. Traditional bolted aid climbing means the bolts were placed while on lead and/or with hand drills. Traditional climbing carries a higher level of risk than bolted sport climbing, as the climber may not have placed the safety equipment correctly while trying to ascend the route; for some of the world's hardest climbs, there may not be sufficient cracks or features in the rock that can accept protection gear, and the climb can only be safely attempted by bolting as a sport climb.

This is an index of topics related to climbing.

Quickdraw Piece of climbing equipment used by rock and ice climbers

A quickdraw is a piece of climbing equipment used by rock and ice climbers to allow the climbing rope to run freely through protection such as a bolt anchors or other traditional gear while leading.

Glossary of climbing terms List of definitions of terms and concepts related to rock climbing and mountaineering

This glossary of climbing terms is a list of definitions of terms and jargon related to rock climbing and mountaineering. The specific terms used can vary considerably between different English-speaking countries; many of the phrases described here are particular to the United States and the United Kingdom.

Ice climbing Activity of ascending ice formations

Ice climbing is the activity of ascending inclined ice formations. Usually, ice climbing refers to roped and protected climbing of features such as icefalls, frozen waterfalls, and cliffs and rock slabs covered with ice refrozen from flows of water.

Rock-climbing equipment

A wide range of equipment is used during rock or any other type of climbing that includes equipment commonly used to protect a climber against the consequences of a fall.

Free climbing Form of climbing not using aid climbing

Free climbing is a form of rock climbing in which the climber may use climbing equipment such as ropes and other means of climbing protection, but only to protect against injury during falls and not to assist progress. The climber makes progress by using physical ability to move over the rock via handholds and footholds. Free climbing more specifically may include traditional climbing, sport climbing, bouldering and most forms of solo climbing. Free climbing a multi-pitch route means free-climbing each of its pitches in a single session. At the end of each pitch, climbers anchor themselves to belay stations where they can rest.

Aid climbing Style of climbing

Aid climbing is a style of climbing in which standing on or pulling oneself up via devices attached to fixed or placed protection is used to make upward progress.

Sport climbing Form of rock climbing

Sport climbing, is a form of rock climbing that relies on permanent anchors, permanently fixed into the rock for climber protection, in which a rope that is attached to the climber is clipped into the anchors to arrest a fall; it can also involve climbing short distances with a crash pad underneath as protection. This is in contrast to traditional climbing where climbers must place removable protection as they climb. Sport climbing usually involves lead climbing and toproping techniques, but free solo and deep-water solo climbing on sport routes is also sometimes possible.

Belaying Rock climbing safety technique using ropes

Belaying is a variety of techniques climbers use to create friction within a climbing system, particularly on a climbing rope, so that a falling climber does not fall very far. A climbing partner typically applies tension at the other end of the rope whenever the climber is not moving, and removes the tension from the rope whenever the climber needs more rope to continue climbing.

Top rope climbing Climbing technique

Top rope climbing is a style in climbing in which the climber is securely attached to a rope which then passes up, through an anchor system at the top of the climb, and down to a belayer at the foot of the climb. The belayer takes in slack rope throughout the climb, so that if at any point the climber were to lose their hold, they would not fall more than a short distance.

Bolt (climbing) Anchor point used in rock climbing

In rock climbing, a bolt is a permanent anchor fixed into a hole drilled in the rock as a form of protection. Most bolts are either self-anchoring expansion bolts or fixed in place with liquid resin.

Rock climbing Sport in which participants climb natural rock formations

Rock climbing is a sport in which participants climb up, across, or down natural rock formations or artificial rock walls. The goal is to reach the summit of a formation or the endpoint of a usually pre-defined route without falling. Rock climbing is a physically and mentally demanding sport, one that often tests a climber's strength, endurance, agility and balance along with mental control. Knowledge of proper climbing techniques and the use of specialized climbing equipment is crucial for the safe completion of routes.

Ascender (climbing) Devices used for ascending, braking, or protection in climbing

An ascender is a device used for directly ascending a rope, or for facilitating protection with a fixed rope when climbing on very steep mountain terrain.

In rock climbing, an anchor can be any device or method for attaching a climber, a rope, or a load above or onto a climbing surface—typically rock, ice, steep dirt, or a building—either permanently or temporarily. The intention of an anchor is case-specific but is usually for fall protection, primarily fall arrest and fall restraint. Climbing anchors are also used for hoisting, holding static loads, or redirecting a rope.

Dynamic rope Rope designed to stretch under load

A dynamic rope is a specially constructed, somewhat elastic rope used primarily in rock climbing, ice climbing, and mountaineering. This elasticity, or stretch, is the property that makes the rope dynamic—in contrast to a static rope that has only slight elongation under load. Greater elasticity allows a dynamic rope to more slowly absorb the energy of a sudden load, such from arresting a climber's fall, by reducing the peak force on the rope and thus the probability of the rope's catastrophic failure. A kernmantle rope is the most common type of dynamic rope now used. Since 1945, nylon has, because of its superior durability and strength, replaced all natural materials in climbing rope.

Belay device Mechanical piece of climbing equipment

A belay device is a mechanical piece of climbing equipment used to control a rope during belaying. It is designed to improve belay safety for the climber by allowing the belayer to manage their duties with minimal physical effort. With the right belay device, a small, weak climber can easily arrest the fall of a much heavier partner. Belay devices act as a friction brake, so that when a climber falls with any slack in the rope, the fall is brought to a stop.


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