Leading climbing is a big step for many people to take, but it can also look pretty dangerous. Many consider rock climbing as a red alert sport, but lead climbing is considered one of the most dangerous among all the other types of rock climbing and it requires a skilled climber/belayer to be performed safely. So today we are going to tell you about all the top risks in Lead Climbing and how to avoid them.
Is lead climbing scary?
For starters, we will discuss whether Lead climbing is dangerous or not. Well, Lead climbing is considered a dangerous type of rock climbing. In fact, Lead Climbing is known as one of the most dangerous forms of rock climbing. It also requires a skilled climber/belayer to be performed safely and because of the increased fall distance and all of the risks associated with it, lead climbing is probably the scariest activity that most climbers will do. There is a risk of getting moderately injured and a real but manageable risk of getting seriously injured. To avoid these, you should make sure to only lead climb with highly experienced belayers. There are numerous risks in lead climbing.
Top Risks of Lead Climbing
So, let’s discuss some of the top risks of lead climbing. As you can already guess most of them, obviously, have to do with what happens when you fall. You can fall anywhere from 5 to 30 feet while lead climbing, depending on your clipping position and how tight the rope is.
Whenever you are falling that far, there’s going to be some risk involved and so we have sorted some top risks below.
A pendulum swing is one of the many risks of lead climbing, it happens when your rope is too tight when you fall, which causes you to swing like a ‘pendulum’ when you fall. It causes swinging back into the wall with incredible speed which is obviously dangerous because you are headed towards a very hard surface at high speeds and it causes deadly injuries. If you don’t get your feet out in front of you to cushion the blow, you could slam into the rock pretty hard which can cause concussions, bruising, or even broken bones if you do it wrong. We even heard of a story where a fellow swinging in so hard that he shattered his kneecap.
Avoiding pendulum swings requires a team effort between the climber and the belayer. The climber should always focus on overhung terrain and they should always avoid getting too high above your clip until you’re more comfortable controlling your swing. In the meantime, your belayer has to manage the right amount of slack in the rope to catch you when you fall so that they can cushion you and protect you from the dangerous injury and if they hold the rope too tight, it will make the pendulum motion worse.
This is why it is always recommended to have a competent and experienced belayer while lead climbing.
Danger feet or Toe tucking are one of the worst mistakes you can possibly make in lead climbing, and it is one of the most common ones that beginners make. Danger feet happen when your toe, foot, or entire leg goes between the rock and your rope. Well, now you can totally figure out the whole dangerous scenario. Here, your leg catches on the rope, spinning you upside-down and often crumpling you in weird positions which makes it basically impossible to control the fall, and it means that you’re far more likely to swing head-first into the hard rock.
Avoiding dangerous feet is totally a matter of experience. Initially, it can be difficult, and it will probably mess with your footwork a bit, but with time and some training and intentionally thinking, you will be successful in avoiding it but the most important thing to remember is that your leg should never, I repeat never, be between the rope and the wall. You want to try to keep the rope between your legs, but that’s not always possible so instead of that, just make sure it’s never behind the rope.
Your belayer plays a very important role in this as they need to be paying attention when you are leading and warn you any time you tuck your feet. With your belayer calling it out for you, it is quite easy to avoid committing this type of risk.
Decking is technically a climbing word for when you fall and hit the ground which in turn leads to an array of injuries from broken bones to spinal fractures, and it should be avoided at every possible way. In the case of decking, you are at very high risk of decking any time the distance from your to your last bolt is greater than the distance from your last bolt to the ground which basically means that if you fall, you will directly hit the ground before the rope has a chance to catch you.
Mostly decking happens on the first bolt and once you have clipped the second bolt on your route, you’re mostly in the safe zone. Until then, you need to be climbing with extra care, and your belayer should be spotting you; spotting in a lead climbing involves keeping your hands up and staying below them until they are totally out of decking danger.
It is important to note that your spotter isn’t necessarily trying to catch you, especially if they’re smaller than you rather, their job is to make sure that you land on your feet first rather than on your back or neck. Another thing which you can do to avoid decking is to use a stick clip, stick clips are a wonderful invention that every climber should use as they always allow the lead climber to clip the first or even second bolt on a route from the ground, removing the chance that the climber deck.
The belayer plays the most important role in our rock climbing life! However, they are especially important when leading climbing as they don’t only need to catch you when you fall; but also need to spot you, manage your slack, call out and danger your feet, and be actively involved in your whole climbing process.. If they mess up somehow then you are at serious risk of falling from tens of feet and hitting the ground which can cause deadly injury.
Like we have already said earlier that you should only be lead climbing with experienced belayers who have been taught by certified instructors. Yes, finding partners can be hard, but you need to make sure that you don’t cut corners here, you need to find someone with whom you can trust your whole life.
Finally, there are clipping risks that a lead climber should be aware of. There are two main things that a lead climber should look out for:
- Back Clipping
Back clipping is those type of unwanted situation which occurs when you flip the rope around to clip it, which means that the rope could actually pull open the carabiner when you fall, increasing your fall distance and the chance of decking and as always, your belayer should be looking out for you and calling out any back clips.
Here is a video to demonstrate back clipping:
Z Clipping is when you get your rope crossed and clip above or below your last clip. Z clipping always messes with the load distribution of your rope and can damage equipment, as well as further your fall distance, but as always the belayer should stay attentive.
Here is a video to demonstrate Z-Clipping:
How To Avoid Risks in Lead Climbing
So, now that we’ve covered all the top risks and now it’s time to know how to avoid them. The most important thing in lead climbing is to make sure that both you and your belayer are certified by a professional. Learn the moves on easy terrain and gyms and practice a few falls with a backup belay but always remember not to push your limits until both of you are comfortable.
Even once that’s taken care of, though, there are a couple more things that will help you to avoid the top risks:
Use a Gri Gri
There should be absolutely no excuse for not using a gri gri as your main belay device. The gri gri is excellent, and it’s been around for so long, that it’s become an established part of modern climbing culture and the best part is that everyone knows how to use one, and everyone owns one. We do know that gri gri’s are quite pocket pinching, which could be a barrier for some, but we highly recommend for saving up some money to buy one gri gri. We have from a lot of lead climber that they feel a lot better as both a climber and a belayer while the rope is running through a gri gri.
Work Your Way Up
Lead Climbing can be both fun and tempting as it can be to immediately throw yourself at the hardest route you can climb and taking it slow is the way to go. Although the routes may be the same, there is a lot of new skills that you need to learn when you switch to lead climbing as your footwork, clipping, and decision-making are all different. Falling is a skill of its own, but the thing is that you need to learn how to position yourself for when it happens.
This is why we recommend that you should spend about a month or two slowly integrating lead climbing into your climbing routine, instead of jumping right off the deep end.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):
What is the most dangerous type of climbing?
Rock climbing itself is a very dangerous activity, but Lead climbing is considered as one of the most dangerous forms of rock climbing, and requires a skilled climber/belayer to be performed safely.
Is indoor lead climbing dangerous?
Rock Climbing is inherently dangerous, but many of the risks are mitigated in indoor climbing as over the years there have been a handful of deaths in climbing gyms , climbing indoors is far safer than climbing outdoors and in fact, it has been heard that you can even climb pretty far into a pregnancy, but we totally advise you not to do any such activity.
Is rock climbing the most dangerous sport?
Rock climbing or Free-soloing, which means climbing over 40 feet above the ground without a harness, is one of the most dangerous sports resulting in many deaths. Deadly injuries can also be caused by rock climbing in a dangerous manner so yes we consider rock climbing as one of the most dangerous sports.
How do most climbers die?
Most climbers die due to the falls and the reasons that climbers fall are many, but some are hard moves, getting pumped, and broken holds. At times most of these injuries are caused by head-first falls or sideway falls that lethally injured internal organs or broke the neck and in many cases climbers have died.
How many rock climbers die each year?
On a average, if you ask, then there is approximately 30 deaths per year. We could see 150 climbing-related deaths per year if we extrapolate 30 deaths per 5,000,000 North American climbers to the estimated 25,000,000 climbers worldwide.
What rock climber just died?
Brad Gobright, an acclaimed American free solo climber, has died on 27th November 2019. The authorities said that after falling nearly 1,000 feet while rappelling a well-known route in Mexico with a rope.
What is Alex Honnold’s salary?
As per our sources say that Alex Honnold earns around $200,000 a year, although he is likely earned more from the release of Free Solo.
How do rock climbers die?
Rock climbers mostly die due to the falls and the reasons that climbers fall are many, but some are hard moves, getting pumped, and broken holds. At times most of these injuries are caused by head-first falls or sideway falls that lethally injured internal organs or broke the neck and in many cases, climbers have died.