New Years Resolutions

There is no better time to start a training regime or even simply a healthier lifestyle than a New Year. However we are all guilty to one extent or another at making ourselves empty promises. There are a few ideas about goal setting elsewhere on the blog. However here I’d like to concentrate on developing you new years climbing resolutions, so that you get the most out of it.

With this in mind get a piece of paper and write in the middle of it what your main climbing ambition is for the coming year. For me I’d like to get back to last years fitness level and climb Rainbow of Recalcitrance and Conan The Librarian. For me these routes are possible, if I was going as well as I possibly could and everything went right. It is important to keep them realistic and but still challenging. An analogy would be to imagine yourself at the climbing wall and you try three boulder problems, one too easy, the other impossible and a third that you see yourself being able to do with a bit of work.

Mind Mapping

The easy problem will have little effect on you, the likelihood of you disengaging from trying the what seems like ‘impossible’ route are high, however if you percieve the boulder problem or ‘short term goal’ to be possible, often you’ll find your behaviour changing to a semi-obsessive state. As such trying to find the right target to have as your goal for the year is very important, as it will affect your behaviour towards attaining it.

So having written your target in the middle of the page, write in a circle around it 5 or more things that might stop you reaching that goal (lack of stamina, inability to find rests, lack of confidence, lack of power endurance), anything that might be a barrier to your success. Circle each statement and link it back to the central goal.

Now for each one of those possible barriers to your goal, write a few things you can do to stop them being a barrier to your goals (Climb lots of easy routes, climb easy routes concentrating on finding and developing rests, practice placing gear). Again sometimes there might be another layer to this as something like practicing placing gear could be split into whilst walking along the base of a crag, whilst top roping a hard route and placing as much gear as possible on an easy route.

Eventually you have a mind map of several routes you can take towards you dream goal for the year, as well as activities to help get you there in the form of mini stepping stones.

There are a series of useful articles already on this blog, including subjects from:
Developing Confidence to Improve your performance
Developing Self Belief
How you learn technique
Goal Setting Skills
How to Apply Overload for the best Improvements
Developing focus and pre-climb routine for success
How to deal with Stress and Anxiety when climbing
Relaxation Techniques to reduce Anxiety
Using Planning as a Tactic for Success

If you’d like to be coach either face to face if you live in and around North Wales, or via online resources like skype, then you can contact Mark Reeves at his main website.

Free Christmas Video’s

Well I am in the process of getting all my films online. I recently got recommended Vimeo as an alternative to YouTube, and as it only has a weekly upload limit, and no limit on the length of clip I should over the coming week put up the films I have made over the years. The first one I am working on is called Fast and Free and only a few people saw this when I first edited on a Chris Slinn’s G3 Mac, and an external hard-drive.

A few more people have seen the shortened version of the fast and the free on Between the Rain, which will eventually be put online along with Duty Paid, Amateur Hardcore and other short films 5 have never previous released or shown to more than a handful of people.

This first film charts the progress of a expedition that was supported by DMM, Mammut and The Welsh Sport Council to conquer the Lotus Flower Tower and climb a new route in the remote and amazing Cirque of the Unclimbables. A simply stunning area of alpine rock climbing deep in the back country of Canada’s North West Territory.

Finger crossed I will get one of the films on line by Christmas!

Best Crag’s in the World: Rainbow Slab

Well I feel that I am getting carried away with this best crag in the world idea, as North Wales seems to have way more than its fair share of these iconic and classic crags. I find it hard to see any gritstone crags that ‘stand out’ whilst there seem to be many crags that do in North Wales. I have been suffering from George Smithitus, in that I have failed to travel abroad or even out of Wales for some time, so I can’t deny that I am bias.

However Rainbow Slab is a crag with world renown as one of the most ridiculously bolted venues in the whole of the world. The term designer danger was invented on this slab by two its key developers John Redhead and Dave Towse, who apart from being broke and having balls the size of watermelons, also as legend has it wanted to keep there routes in line with Joe Brown’s two pegs a pitch rule, but using bolts instead!

Whilst the Red and yellow… route is the easiest, it has been years since i had the balls to solo this frightening line, so for a warm up I now use Pull My Daisy, and awesome route with a technically challenging and well protected lower half and an easy and run out to the moon top half. After that the next easiest route is Poetry Pink, I have given it E5, at which it is low in the grade. I believe that it is probably E5. Which is a debate in itself.

Wes Hunter – Walking the architecture on Poetry Pink

Although not as big a debate as the grade I have given to Cystitis by Proxy, which by calling it E6 will not doubt bring into question my ability. Well I have climbed the route twice, once about 10 years ago and once last year. In the intervening years a RP placement that although tiny and certainly not essentially, has disappear, meaning that there is nothing to help you psychologically to commit to the lower crux of breaking out from the thin crack. This felt ridiculously bold the last time I did it. A few people that have climbed the Cad and this route think that they warrant the same grade. However don’t expect the grades to stay the same.

The very Big and the Very Small – The worlds hardest slab?

The final route I have put is Rainbow of Recalcitrance, one of the classic traverse line, that I have yet to climb, another project! Just like Gogarth the Slate is about to undergo a radical make over, when Ground up productions continue the work on the new guide. For more information of all things Slate there is of course the wiki.

Best Route’s In the World: Old Man of Hoy

Well after offering you some of the best crags in the which were notably around my home village of Llanberis, I thought I offer something different, in the form of the best route’s in the world. A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to climb the Old Man of Hoy, via the classic route. I wrote an article that was butcher in Gravity magazine as well as made a short video. If any of you read the gravity article you might not have realised they inadvertently cut out half the text from the middle, I also have a topo, video and pictures.

Stacked Up

Years ago I saw an old film about some crazy rock climbers who took it upon themselves to climbing a thin needle of rock reaching into the sky. I captured me for the entire show, watching them move further and further up this slender skyscraper of rock. For years I remembered the outline of this lonely finger of rock set against the backdrop of the see.

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It is over twenty years since I saw that programme on the BBC, I am a climber now and for years I have dreamt of a the Old Man of Hoy, Pictures, stories and films have all added to the mistique of the place. The thing is it has always been too far, would cost too much or the weather would be too bad. It was a pipe dream I suppose, a flight of fancy.

That was until someone pressed me for the routes that I would like to do this year. Not the cragging routes but the wish list to end all wish lists and it just fell out of my mouth, before Right Wall, before Positron, it was almost the first thing I said after the words Cerro Torre, but that is a dream!

A week or two later I was surfing the interweb, something that is a bit of a novelty,as I have only just got broadband at the house, and I came across a article by Chris Mellor, in which he had a selection of files that were essentially a complete guide to sea stack climbing in the UK. So now I had a dream route and the guide to climbing it, all I needed now was the time off and a partner to climb it with.

The problem was that as a freelance instructor my time is money, and I don’t get paid for holidays. So time off that conicides with a friend to climb with is a rare thing indeed, so rare I assume the dream would stay just that. Fortunately the work at the end of june dried up, and I had the time off.

It was only the week before my time off that the thought of scotland crossed my mind again as a possibility for the four days I had off. Fortunately one of the instructors I was working with also thought the idea was a good one, so at 9am Monday morning we decide to head up that evening.

Rapid packing and an understanding boss who let Sam escape early meant we were on the road by 5 o’clock that evening. Now from North Wales the Northern tip of Scotland is a very long way away. It took 15 hours of constant driving to finally arrive at Scrabster the port were the ferry to Orkney Mainalnd departs. We arrived at 3.30am just as the sun was rising, and managed a few hours of sleep, as some workmen drove back and forth in a dumper truck.

We got on the first ferry and headed to Stromness, the ferry takes you right past the Old Man of Hoy, and is an amazing site, set against St John’s head, the third highest sea cliff in the UK. As we steamed pass, the stack just gets bigger and bigger as the excitement of being so close grows.

From stromness we had a quick drive to Houton, where the earliest ferry was leaving for Hoy, It was after one in the afternoon that we arrived on Hoy, and 2pm when the taxi dropped us off in Rackwick Bay. A beautifully secluded sandy bay traped by towering sandstone cliffs that rear right out of the sea turquiose blue waters. This would be my dessert island.

By two thirty I was bored of waiting for tomorrow, to climb the Old Man, the skies had cleared and the crystal blue sea was merging with the sky. I simply had to go, and Sam once the idea was implanted suitably suitly was keen, so we set off. We were at the base of the stack by 3.30, looking up at one of the most intimidating climbs I have ever looked at. 5 long pitches as well as a complex abseil descent meant that the clock was going to be ticking, so there was no time for nerves.

Sam Moore climbing Pitch 1 Old Man of Hoy

Sam climbed the first pitch which for a Kayaking instructor, was perhaps the most adventurous pitch he has ever lead. With some predictable looseness that was more than avoidable. The next pitch is the crux, everything is hanging on me climbing it quickly and at the same time protecting sam on the descending traverse into the overhanging corner.

As I start the pitch I start to think that Sam may find this a bit intimidating, as I run it out on damp sandy rock so that sam can’t take a nasty pedulum into space. I cruse up an over a small overlap, and wide crack and tell Sam I have done the hard bit and it is not too bad, just as I look up an see the bombay chimney above. A deep slot, capped by a roof, with an offwidth above, I am in my element, but sam? Surely he would perfer to be sea kayaking around it!

The rock was no longer damp and sandy, just sandy. The slopers of the breaks in the sandstone only made the position more tenuous, and looking up the detritus of the first ascent make entincing hand and foot holds, but I am trying to freeclimb it and avoiding them is the hardest part of the route. Although clipping these antique wood wedges as runners makes the need for all the wide cams that are swinging from my harness less important, but still necessary.

As I start to bring sam up I feel for him, a VS climber stepping out on one of the most out their E1 pitches I have ever climbed. Because whilst not being too difficult the climbing takes in some territory, but the breaks despite make poor hand holds, make great footholds so most of the pitch is easily bridged.

Sam arrived at the belay look like he had put a lot into that pitch, but he had climbed it in a reasonable style and good speed. It was as we were changing racks over Sam announces that it was the hardest pitch he has ever climbed, and what a place to do it.

The next three pitches where mainly ledge shuffling, although the biggest risk was falling off as a Fulmar surprised you with a face full of oily puke. I had to stop at one belay that I was intending on by passing as a fulmar got me full in the face. Trying to wipe my face with the sleeves of my T-shirt and spitting out the bilious yellow fliud from my mouth, I had to take a moment to retch, but I have gipped whilst watch the bush tucker trails on I’m a celebrity.

The final pitch would be a classic anywhere, a 90ft plum verticle corner more than reminence of Cenotaph Corner on perfect sandstone. Jugs appear everywhere you need them and then the icing on the cake, half way up you start to see the daylight coming through the stack. If you look hard enough you can make out scotland on the Horizion.

The Author of the Blog Mark Reeves on the Summit of the Old Man

The summit is disapointingly large enough to walk around, but for the first time in a long time I celebrated an ascent in a world cup style, arms in the air shouting. A long standing ambition finally achieved. It was only as I started to turn round and take in the views that I realised that there were people watching from the cliff top.

The time had been flying by and when sam looked at his watch it was 6.30pm. A little later than 24 hours after we had left North Wales we were stood on the summit of the Old Man of Hoy. Now there are 1440 minutes or 86400 seconds in a day, how do you fill your time?

Hoy is achieveable in a weekend from anywhere in the UK, if you have the skills and desire to climb it. The question is whether you want it enough.

Post Script

After Hoy we left for the scottish mainland and made the 5 hour drive to the Old man of Stoer the following day, climbing that stack that evening. Meaning that in a very busy 48 hour period we had climb to classic Scottish Sea Stacks.\

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How to Climb the Old Man of Hoy in a day

Getting There

You have several options the most expensive but quickest is air the slowest is by road. It is possible to combine the two.

Drive to Scrabster and catch the ferry. It is possible to go as a foot passanger and leave the car at the port, as there is a taxi service from the right outside the port in Stromness to get to Houton and then onto Lyness, although over the summer there are ferries from stromness to Moaness on Hoy. It is possible to get a taxi on Hoy to Rackwick bay.

Fly – Drive

Fly to inverness and hire a car from the airport, and drive the remaining 3-4 hours to Scrabster.

Flying all the way

Fly to inverness with easyjet from London gatwick, Luton, Bristol or Belfast and then onto Orkney. All details of the various options including direct flights from london can be found at It will be possible to get a taxi to the ferry crossing to get to hoy

Staying There

There are a few options when you reach Rackwick Bay. There is a free Bothy, that has very basic facilities, as well as a hostel which at around £10 a night.

Food and drink

It is best to treat the stay on Hoy as a camping trip as the only shops are at the far end of the island. Although it is possible to get a taxi to the closes pub the Hoy Inn which serves lunch and dinner.


The aprroach to the Old Man of Hoy could be simpler, from the Hostel and the warning sign, follow the obvious well worn path up the hillside and over the cliffs to the Stack. About 3km or 45 minutes. From the view point, head further along the cliff top towards the impressive St Johns head, the highest cliffs on this island. After about 150 metres you reach a gully, descend the obvious descent path that weaves a divious line down to the base of the stack.

Route Description

The quintisencial sea stack climb has caputred the imagination of British and Foreign climber for decades. Beware of the Fulmars on all but the steep second pitch as they can surprise you! With 60 metres ropes the following pitches can be climbed. Without split the last pitch below the obvious final corner. It would also be a very good idea to take as many large cams as you can, the cracks takes up to a friend 5

1. 70 feet. 4b. A relatively easy pitch up sound, juggy, easy-angled rock. Ascend the shattered pillar rising from the boulder bridge up to a large ledge known as The Gallery.
2. 120 feet. 5b. The big pitch. After downclimbing a short way (there is at times a short rope for the second to safe guard the initial descent from belay) traverse right onto the east face for 30 feet to a big corner crack. Go up this passing through some steep ground by bridging ,jamming and Chimney upwards until a small ledge and belay can be reached on the right. If the going gets too tough the ancient wooden wedges can be used for aid and protection, which reduces the grade to HVS.(Leaving a rope on this pitch tied to the belays at either end is necessary if you do not have 60 metres ropes as it is necessary for the abseil descent.)
3. 80 feet. 4b. Go right and then move back to the left over ledges to regain the crackline. Follow it to another large ledge. Beware of the fulmars from here to the top.
4. 180 feet. 4b. Ascend the wall on the right then go straight up to the bottom of the final corner which is like some Orcadian version of Cenotaph Corner but not nearly so tough. Climb the corner. Towards the top where the stack is split right through a seeming gale can issue from the crack in the corner.

Descent: Two or three abseils down the face up which you have just climbed get you to the top of the big overhanging section – pitch 2. The next abseil involves descending below the overhangs and then swinging back in to a relatively small ledge, that is unless you have 60 metre ropes, in which case you can go from the top of the big pitch to the ground in one very long and out there abseil. Otherwise use the rope you left behind on that pitch (clip it into your harness) and thus pull yourself to the belay ledge. The last one down has the most fun as this guide rope has to be untied from the top belay leading to a real ‘out-in-space’ ab experience. Now abseil to the bottom of the stack.

Sam Moore make the final and exciting 60 metre abseil, from the top of the second pitch, without 60 metre ropes, some complex rope antics are required.

Party, Party, Party !!!

Well the season for merriment is well upon me, I went out Wednesday to celebrate one companies Christmas, manage to have Thursday off, before heading out Friday to listen to DJ Tom Booth spin some tracks at the Fricsan, till 2 am, followed by a long walk home. Forgetting that my car was at the pub I then had a long walk back to collect it Saturday night and then drove it even further away from my house to go to the Beacon Climbing Centre Christmas Do at the Caban.

The food at the caban is lovely and Moorish, unfortunately my second helping scuppered me and I was left bloated. I thought I’d escape the belly buster with a 30 minute walk back to the Gallt Y Glyn where Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team were having their crimbo bash it didn’t work. No free food here, but I did manage to get one free beer from the team before the £500 social fund was spent out. Alcoholics the lot of them. With no late licence in place I then moved on to a friends house to have some cheese and wine.

I eventually got home at midnight, where I was looking forward to a night off, however I then received an invite to another party tonight. I have also been invited Facebook Stylee to a “on sight” premiere, with Alistair Lee on Monday back at the caban. Not sure that I really want to spend a fiver to see a film I have already seen, even if the filmmaker is going to do a stand up routine afterwards. I might take the time to recover before I head to the fricsan for Christmas Eve carnage.

Anyway in a Bridget Jones style:

Alcohol Unit: too many
Mince pies: Zero
Snog’s: Zero

Best Crag’s in the World: Dinas Cromlech

Whilst many crags in Llanberis Pass are strafed with quality routes and stunning lines, none quite match the beauty of the open book corner of Dinas Cromlech, home a selection of best routes across the grades in this Valley, if not the UK.

Spiral Stair

For Beginners there is both Spiral Stairs and Flying Buttress, both outstanding outings at the VDiff grade. Flying Buttress was first ascended by Menlove Edwards, a notable homosexual and pioneer of rock in the early years. Menlove originally called the route Sodom, but the Climbers Club refused to publish the route under that name so instead the name ‘Flying Buttress’ was used. Which if you think of it as Flying But Stress will tickle you every time you climb it!

A Cunning rest of the uber classic Cenotaph corner

Above that grade there are several VS at the crag that are notably good, however the main events are the routes that surround Joe Brown’s ultra classic line Cenotaph corner, named along with its neighbour Cemetery Gates after the destination on front of buses (or was it Tram’s?) in Manchester. These routes often both get E1, however ‘The Gates’, is somewhat easier and the climbing more open, and being split by a belay on the girdle ledge, seems to make for a better climbing experience than the obvious corner.

Martin Chester runs it out on Cemetery Gates

After you’ve ascended Joe’s classics, then most people become fixed on Left Wall as the next goal. Yet another *** route that follows a slender crack, that dog legs it way up the wall to the left of the corner. Most people make it easily up the initial crack, but place too much gear, so abundant and enticing are the placements. You need to remember to save some of your guns for the final crack. Where despite the aesthetic direct finish, most climbers shuffle out left to the arete on some convenient jugs, before flopping exhausted and elated on the belay.

Left Wall

There are other bench marks on this cliff, Memory Lane, Foil and Resurrection that help bridge the grade gap, however none are as important to your climbing CV as Right Wall, I had put off this route for too long. After climbing it earlier this year after I was effective shamed into climbing it, I can say that the climbing is better than I could imagine, and the situation totally out there.

Nick Bullock ‘Warming up!’ on Right Wall.

To say I was ready for this route was a bit of an understatement. I felt like I levitated up, and actually savoured every move. The crux headwall seem float by and before I knew it I was alone hanging on jugs looking down the coolest wall in the world. An up turned football pitch and for that instance I was David Beckham, basking briefly in my own glory before topping out.

My glory was brief as Pete went onto to climb Atomic Hotrod and Tess of the D’erbervilles both E6! All climbers are equal some are more equal than others! (which film I have just watch?)

Private Guiding and Instruction

For private guiding, instruction or coaching up any of the Cromlechs many classic get in contact with Snowdonia Mountain Guides, we have professional qualified instructors who climb from up to E8.

UKC Article and a quick overview of my Blog

Well, I can’t pretend I am surprised as I did give Jack the photo’s. One thing exposure through UKC does is put a real spike in the viewer that I get through this blog. I actually see the visit dramatically increase, which means that if I want you guys to come back again I have to put in some real effort! My minimal research into writing for the web says that people prefer quick hits, of around 500 words, a few pictures and maybe even something interesting to watch. I shall have to dig out some golden olde’s for you on the video front, as I am sure there aren’t that many people who’ve seen some of my very early work

I do however have another Blog, aimed at coaching climbing, again there are some quick posts, as well as some long articles. If your new to this blog then I shall link to a few of what I think are the more interesting posts, to help you get a feel.

In Print – an overview of old school magazine covers

Escaping the system – rope rescue

Hollyoaks – Rigging Niall’s death

Portrait of a Climber – Another photo article on climbers

Very big and very small – video

Quality versus Quantity – A question of modern video

Coaching in Adventure Sport

How Confidence can improve your climbing – An article on how to build confidence.

When I am pumped/scared I lose my footwork

Abseiling off routes

Starting Out Indoors – Learning to Lead – No. 3

By its very nature lead climbing has inherently more risks to it than top roping, the potential to fall a great distance is vastily increased, as are the forces exerted on not only the climber but belayer as well. Meaning that there is a greater chance of failures within the belay system. Despite the added risk, for many climbers leading is the only way to climb.

There are a few consdierations that you need to take before you launch yourself head long into lead climbing. The first is are you really willing to accept that added risk, if the answer is no then you should not feel pressured into doing so. The next thing to think about is are you ready physically, lead climbing is more strenuous as you have to hang on with one hand as you pull the rope up and clip the rope through the running belays. At the same time many climb walls only have lead climbing on steeper routes.

Thirdly before you throw yourself in at the deep end, do you have the skills to do it safely. If you can’t answer that question the answer is probably no. This article is going to point out those added skills, techniques and equipment that lead climbing involves. Teaching you a safe way to progress these skills until you are ready for your first lead, an expereince that many climbers remember for a long, long time, often for all the wrong reasons.


Up until the point that you feel that you are ready to learn to lead indoors, all you would have needed was a harness, rock boots, chalk bag, carabiner and belay device. Dependant on which climbing wall you use there are one or two things that you will need to purchase in order to make the next step. These items are a rope and possibly some quickdraws, although most indoor climbing walls now have them in-situ.


The choice of ropes is going to be unfathomable as rock boots to be honest, probably even more so as there are some technical requirements that you need to consider in your purchase. These choice come down to thickness, length and the type of rope. A specialist shop would be able to help guide you through the choices, but it helps to have a little knowledge and to ask the right question.

Ropes are an expensive initial outlay, and climbing walls simply do not hire them out, due to the need to track the use and abuse. Initially you need to decide on thickness and type of rope. For indoor climbing you need to get what is refered to as a ‘full’ or ‘Single’ rope, which means that the rope can be used on its own. The other main type of rope is a half rope, and is used mainly outdoors in conjunction with another half rope.

A full rope was originally 11mm in diameter, however the advances in construction and polymers mean you can now get a full rope that is only 9mm thick. These ultra thin ropes have their place in high end sports climbing where every once of weight counts. They do however have a tendency to wear quicker than there thicker counter parts. A new rope is extremely ‘slick’ and therefore harder to hold a fall, with this in mind it is better to buy a rope that is at the thicker end of the spectrum of 10.5mm to 11mm. This will be easier to hold a fall with, and be more resistant to wear. Some ropes have stronger sheaths, others are dry treated, something which is pointless if you are initially to use the rope indoors.

Length is the next option, most walls are between 10 and 20 metres in length, so to climb to the top and lower off you need a rope that is at least 40 metres in length. However some newer walls feature routes that are 30 metres requiring a 60 metre rope. So dependant on where you climb, a 50 metre rope is recommended, however if it is a short wall, you can get away with a 30 metre rope.

Ropes are sold in 50, 60 or 70 metres lengths, so you can either buy a fifty metre rope for most wall, or even split the cost of a 60 metre rope with a friend and cut the rope in half for shorter climbing walls. You can get the shop to cut the rope for you with a specialist rope cutter, essential a ‘red hot knife’ that cuts and seals the rope at the same time.


If your climbing wall has these in situ you won’t need to pruchase any, however if it doesn’t, you will need to buy the neccessary number, to clip all the bolts to the top of the wall. To start off short quick draws of around 15cm will suffice, and ideally, having a way to decipher which end clips into the bolt, and which the the rope, this is because as you fall the carabiner attached to the bolt will become ‘nicked’ and if you subsiquently clip that damaged carabiner into the rope, you can damage the rope.

This is typically achieved by either having a carabiner captivated at one end for the rope, colour coded carabiners (red for rope) or by having a bent gate carabiner to aid the clipping of a rope into the quickdraw.

The Skills

In order to progress into lead climbing you need to build on the skills you already have in order to not only get the most from your climbing, but also do it safety. Those skills come down to learning to belay a lead climber, and learning to clip the rope into the quickdraws. You can of course jump straight in at the deep end and go for it, the big question is whether your belayer ‘winging’ it as well. If so could they hold a fall, and if not what are the consequences?

There are numerous ways to learn to lead, the most effective is to do it in a group of three or more. The reason for this will become apparent when I start to work through some of the progression to making you first lead. As well as some of the other exercises that will help you pick the skills up quicker, whilst practicing in a safe environment.

Clipping Quickdraws

Practicing clipping a quickdraw on the ground or just off will help you to do it quickly and efficiently whilst hanging off one arm, at the top of the wall looking at a long fall. The most important thing is not to ‘backclip’ the rope. If you see the two photos, the correct way is to have the rope coming from behind the carabiner to infront of it, not the other way rope, as there is a greater chance of the rope unclipping in a fall.

Exercise one

Put your harness on and tie into the rope and put a quickdraw within reach of the ground. Try clipping with your left and right hand, both to your side and then across your body. Now turn the carabiner around so the gate faces in the opposite direction and repeat the exercise. Remember to check your not backclipping the rope, becoming aware of it now, will mean it will become second nature in the future.

Now repeat the same exercise as above, but move the quickdraw up until you have to step just off the ground to clip it. Find a position that is in balance before you clip the carabiner, and repeat all the possible variations in the first exercise. Can you adopt a more restful positions?

Move the carabiner a bit higher and clip the bolt at an extreme stretch? How easy was it? Now try it by your face, shoulder, waist and feet. Which were easier?

Then try clipping a quickdraw across your body, by crossing through to clip?

Lead belay progressions

Now add a few more quickdraws to clip a mini route along a traverse, but this time get your climbing partner to try and belay you, as you traverse. This exercise is really for the belayers benefit, but helps the climber try and clip quickdraws as well.

The belayer should be trying to pay the rope out, whilst still keeping a hand on the ‘dead rope’. In essence it is the reversing the method of belaying a top rope climber, but instead of taking the rope in you are paying it out.

Simulated leading

In essence simulated leading is leading but with the safety of being on top rope, it allows someone to practice leading whilst another practices belaying a leader. A third person is needed to operate the top rope. This exercise allows you work on all the skill neccessary for leading.

After a repeating the excerise of simulated leading until everyone is happy that both ‘leader’ is not backclipping carabiners and the belayer is doing everything right, and one hand is always on the dead rope, the time has come to move onto ‘real’ leading.

‘Real’ leading

By this time you will have completed a few simulated leads on several routes, for your first lead you are best to climb a route that you have already practised simulated leading on. This means there won’t be any unwanted surprises, and you have the added confidence of knowing that you can climb the route ‘easily’.

Before you leave the ground check and double check everything, make sure your tied in correctly, the harness are on right and the belay plate attached correctly, and the screwgate is done up. It is easy to become complacent in an indoor wall, and there have been several incidents in the past of people not tying in correctly, harnesses not being fasten correctly, belay plates being attached to gear loops and screwgates not being secured. Some of these have led to some very serious accidents. You will probably be nervous, which may lead you to forget something that would otherwise be second nature. This checking and double checking is something that climbers of all levels should do, and is a very good habit to get into as one day it may save a live.

When you leave the ground, wait for the belayer to acknowledge they are ready to belay. Usually done by them saying ‘climb when ready’.

The climber replies with ‘climbing’ and the belayer confirms by saying ‘OK’. Only then do you leave the ground. Again this is a habit that will serve you well throughout you climbing career.

Now for the first few times someone belays a lead climber they need someone to tail the rope so that, should they have a momentary lapse in concentration or struggle with the belaying, then there is someone backing up the belayer by having both hands on the dead rope, and only keeping a minimal amount of slack in the system. The gauge for how much slack is enough to stop a fall quickly, but not too little as to interfere with the belayer paying out the rope.

The rope should go up to the climber, not to the floor, along the floor and then up to the climber! The belayer should also be within a reasonable distance of the base of the wall. If they are 5 metres away, that is potentially around 5 metres of ‘slack’!

Lower off’s

At the top of the climbing wall you will often face a choice of what to clip into. Whether you are simply lowering off to then pull the ropes, or leading to set up a top rope for your friends the safest thing to do is to take the time to clip the rope through the lower off. Most walls have a combination of screwgate and snap gates at the top of every route. This means that you should be easily able to clip the rope into both, and do the screwgate up, giving a belts and braces approach. Other belays are simpler back to back snap links.

The other concern is if setting up a top rope, the climber should climb on the rope that they have to unclip on to prevent nasty pendulums.

Falling Off

Whilst there is a slim chance that you might fall off when you go for your first lead, hopefully you would have reduced the odds by choose an easy route you have done before. There will be a time eventually when you can’t go up or down and a fall is inevitable. In the first instance you should be concentrating on routes well within your capabilities, so to avoid falling.

However starting to develop the instant reactions needed to hold a fall are crucial skills for being safe. In the first instance it comes down to communication. If your leading and your being pushed by the climbing warn the belayer by shouting ‘watch me’ and maybe add an explainantion ‘watch me, this is a tricky move/I’m pumped/I am gonna fall’.

The belayer should be watch at all time anyway, but to add confidence to the climber on those difficult sections reply with ‘OK, I am watching you’ or ‘Go for it, I’ve got you’. This will allow the climber to know you as the belayer are on alert. Get the dead rope in a position where it is locked off already, but also be ready to pay out some slack if they make the move.

You might want to practice this on an easy route, by having someone back the belayer up again, and on one of the penultimate bolt warn the belayer you are going to fall and then drop off the wall. I am not talking about taking a 20ft screaming lob down the wall, have the last bolt above your waist and a just a little slack in the system before you move onto larger falls.

Just like anything really, you need to build up from the tiniest fall, and let both the belayer and the climber get used to the sensation. All the while with someone tailing the dead rope. It is also better if you must practice falling to do so on steeper routes, as you are less likely to hit the wall or any large holds on your descent.

How do I progress?

From your first leads you need to start slowly working up through the grades, to start with try and tackle routes that are easy for you, this will help give you added confidence, as well as start addressing the need to stay relaxed when you are lead climbing.

The goal for any climber is to start from the ground and get to the top of the wall without falling off. The routes will be graded according to this. So doing a F6a with two rests simply isn’t climbing that grade. It is better to initially climb routes you can succeed on before trying to breach new grades. Think of a pryamid of grades, where by you need to succeed on ten or sometimes many more routes of a given grade before moving onto the next grade.

Further work can be done on your technique, so after having lead a route try top roping it, remember to do this on the end of rope that goes through the quickdraws other wise you might pendulum out across the wall potentially hitting other wall users, or even the ground if you fall off low down. This time see if you can find better places to unclip the quickdraws as you top rope the route. Look for more stable position, that means that you are better in balance.

Alternatively you can try and find better ways to grasp the handholds, often when starting out you may initial take the hold where you first touch then, and often this will not be the best way to hold the hold. Try three different ways to hold onto any grip and then choose the best.

If you over reached, or clipped a quickdraw at stretch could you have clipped it from a better position. Even if it meant climbing a move or two higher?

Added Safety

In the light of a few accidents that have involved a climber becoming detached from the rope through not tying in correctly there is very little that anyone can do for you in the time you might take to reach failure. In order to help yourself should you fail to tie in correctly and your belayer fails to spot it, it is worth taking a spare quickdraw or two. This would allow you to easy and quickly clip into an insitu bolt or quickdraw on a route. The added extension of a long quickdraw makes it easier to clip in…



There are many centres, walls and companies that offer this type of learning to lead indoor courses, that last for one or two session with a total contact time of around four hours. These courses are often staffed by SPA holders, who should have completed and logged specific additional training/assessment with a more qualified instructor, in order to prepare them for the demands of managing lead climbing sessions on indoor walls.

Alternatively courses can often be run by MIA/MIC/Guides who are all trained and assessed in how to teach lead climbing in any environment.