Learning to Lead......

22nd Sep 2015


Andy stood at the bottom of Physiology at Stanage Edge.  The route is an interesting, varied and well protected route at the crags popular end.  Andy had his rock shoes clean, his harness tightened and checked, helmet correctly fastened, a rack of gear hung from his various gear loops and he was tied into a single rope via a retreaded figure of eight knot.  Alongside Andy was Sarah.  Sarah also had a harness and helmet on and Andy's rope was threaded through her belay plate.  They did a final buddy check of each other's equipment and harness before Sarah gave a thumbs up and said "climb when you're ready".  A cheerful reply of "climbing" and Andy was off.

This was a big moment for Andy.  He was on the second day of one of Peak Mountaineering's Learn to Lead climbing courses and, after an apprenticeship served in the climbing walls near his home in London and some few crag visits with friends, he wanted to experience life on the sharp end.  For Sarah a similar journey had led to this point although she had also benefited from some input on gear placements and belay building given to her by friends at the climbing club she had recently joined.

Next to Andy dangled another rope.  It was a length of static attached securely at the top of the crag and Al, the team's instructor, was clipped at the bottom.  He was going to ascend alongside Andy to offer any advice needed on his gear placements and also to ensure he was safe.  Al had selected the route carefully but, just in case, the system he used to ascend his rope also allowed him to quickly clip Andy in to his set up if needed.

Andy was well prepared.  Yesterday the pair had spent a lot of time practicing gear placements and belay building.  They had learned about route choice, honed their rope work knowledge and spent time bouldering to improve their movement skills. They had then led some routes with a back up rope and built belays to secure their partners.  Al was certain, by the time he let them 'off the lead', that they would be safe.  

Andy left the ground and ascended the first tricky step.  He soon had a solid nut placement in and continued towards the first crux of the climb.  A tricky move round a block on this route can throw climbers off balance so Andy, with a spot of advice based on knowledge of the route from Al, placed a couple of good pieces before making the move.  The parallel sided crack to his right was perfect for a solid cam placement and he backed this up with a hex.  Al wasn't saying anything but that wasn't a bad sign.  He was watching carefully and hadn't felt the need to intervene.  Everything Andy had done so far was faultless.

The crack above led (stopping enroute to place another wire), to the real crux of the climb.  A well protected but off balance move pulling around a large block.  Andy became a little unsure of how best to protect this section and so Al gave him a few ideas.  Soon a great multi directional wire placement would ensure he could move across safely and Andy talked to him, before he clipped it to the road, about the benefit of extending the piece so the rope wouldn't drag around the block.

Al also knew, having climbed the route dozens of times, that stepping left at a slightly lower height allows the block to be overcome more easily.  A few words of advice to Andy and he had it nailed.  A final short well protected wall led Andy to the top of his very first lead climb.  His whoop of joy could  probably be heard in Hathersage!

Andy set up a solid equalised belay, positioned himself well, attached his belay plate and soon Sarah had followed him up.  You can't beat a good three way hug on top of a gritstone crag!  Now it was Sarah's turn........

Are you ready for your first lead climb?  No extra charge for the hugs!     

Posted by Cal