Why Should You Learn To Lead Climb?

Learning to lead opens up so many possibilities for new climbing adventures! Where can leading take you? - To the best climbing in the world!

Spot the climber! The only way to be able to climb the awe-inspiring towers of rock in Riglos is to learn how to lead . Photo by David Comer.

Spot the climber! The only way to be able to climb the awe-inspiring towers of rock in Riglos is to learn how to lead. Photo by David Comer.

Lead climbing opens up a whole new world of interesting routes, outdoor climbing and the best crags in the UK and the rest of the world!

Besides endless opportunities for adventure and travel to the world’s most beautiful climbing spots, learning to lead can massively improve your climbing.

When you’re climbing above the bolt, or your last gear placement, skill and technique matters so much more than on a top-rope. You can’t just lean back on the rope and have a rest, because you’ll likely take a fall if you stop. This allows you to work through your weaknesses - maybe even those you didn’t know you had! If your footwork is lacking, the added pressure will naturally inspire you to become less sloppy, you’ll be forced to improve quickly when every foot placement counts, and you’ll consider your technique more because it really matters. If your stamina is holding you back, you’ll be more likely to find the motivation to push through a move with the last of your strength if a possible fall awaits you otherwise, and you’ll be more likely to complete a difficult move that you would have shied away from on a top-rope.

Leading is more challenging and yes, a little scarier than top-roping. But leading can also help to gain confidence, both in yourself and your climbing - leading a difficult route will make you feel like a champion! Lead climbing can make you more independent - all of the decisions, from where to place your gear and which path to take to get up the route are down to you. You can take your new confidence and independence into situations outside of climbing. Managing a big project at work or having to lead a team? - No biggie, once you’ve climbed to death-defying heights!

Learning to lead climb is absolutely necessary if you want to climb outdoors (or forever rely on a friend to take you!)

If you want to start climbing outside, learning to lead climb is absolutely necessary (unless you intend to limit your climbing to bouldering forever). Don’t be stuck relying on your mates who can lead to take you out and set up a top-rope for you. Be the hero who can climb anywhere, any time!

A lot of the crags in the UK, including some of those closest to Worcester - such as the Wye Valley and Cheddar - are inaccessible to you unless you can lead. There’s no way to walk up to the top of the crag to set up an anchor for your top-rope in some places. Even on the crags that you can walk up to, leading is still a much better option. Having to walk up with the heavy gear and set up an anchor every time is time-consuming and a royal pain. The last thing we want is to lose climbing time constantly walking up to the crag. Somebody else may even jump on your route as you’re setting up your anchor!

Those who can lead climb can jump straight on routes without any hassle. At the top, they will either set up an abseil or walk back down. Being able to lead makes you more independent - if you can lead, you can pick any climbing partner to go with you (as long as they know how to lead belay). But if you can’t lead, you’ll have to rely on somebody who can if you want to climb outside.

You don’t have to go far to find awesome places to climb. This is Cheddar Gorge, only an hour and a half drive from Worcester. But you can’t climb in this beautiful place without someone who can lead.  Photo by Georgie Bull.

You don’t have to go far to find awesome places to climb. This is Cheddar Gorge, only an hour and a half drive from Worcester. But you can’t climb in this beautiful place without someone who can lead. Photo by Georgie Bull.

Learning to lead can improve your indoor climbing too!

Climbing outdoors can massively improve your technique as you have to learn how to route read and learn different footwork to progress on real rocks, something that will directly improve your climbing indoors as well. It’s also impossible for the rope to help you progress. So if you lead a route, you know that it was done under your own steam. It’ll improve your stamina and teach you how to climb efficiently. Vertical Limit has a variety of routes you can lead climb (sport) in the back room to aid your practice.

But I don’t climb hard, can I still learn to lead climb?

You don’t have to be climbing 6a+ to be able to lead climb. It’s a skill that’s independent of how hard you can climb. If you are competent at climbing grades F4/5 , you can definitely learn to lead! Your only restriction in climbing outside will be finding a crag or routes at the grades you can climb - and that’s not really a restriction for climbing spots in the UK and even in some parts of Europe. There are lots of crags with easier routes and plenty of variety there.

Where can I go, once I can lead?

The world is your oyster!

In the UK, some of the best climbing spots are:

  • About an hours drive from Worcester: Wye Valley, Windcliff Quarry, Ban-y -gor. These are nice sport climbing venues, with grades from F3-F7b.

  • Hour and a half drive: the spectacular Cheddar Gorge. Grades from F4-F8b and some sport multi-pitch climbing too.

  • Bit further afield and good for a weekend away: the Peak District and Portland, and there are hundreds of sport routes on the south coast of England. Climb by the sea - doesn’t that sound lovely?

In Europe, there’s insane amounts of sport climbing at every grade imaginable, single pitch and multipitch. Some of the best places to climb in Europe are:

Frankenjura (Germany), Riglos/El Chorro/Chulilla (Spain), Kalymnos (Greece - widely considered one of the best sport climbing destination in the world), Chamonix /Ailefroide (France - many 200m-500m fully bolted sport routes in Ailefroide at very accessible grades), Dolomites (Italy).

Even the behemoth of all climbing destinations, Yosemite, becomes a possibility open to you once you have started to lead.

Climbing in Spain.  Photo by David Comer.

Climbing in Spain. Photo by David Comer.

Awesome! So where can I learn to lead?

Vertical Limit have just started our new Rope Workshop, which includes learning how to lead climb as well as improving your overall skill in climbing. This 2-hour workshop is only £12.50 per person and includes all equipment needed as well as expert tuition by Vertical Limit staff. Yes, for just over a tenner you can open up the world! No excuse, right?

Vertical Limit offers the most realistic experience for learning how to lead indoors. There are multi-pitch walls, sport climbing walls, and you can learn how to top out as well. You can gain experience in leading for every variety of sport climbing crag you might encounter outside.

Vertical Limit is also a great place to train for climbing outdoors:

  • Every rope line is bolted.

  • There are bolts at ground level (by the fire escapes) for practising sport topouts.

  • Multi-pitch ledge lines for learning how to multi-pitch.

Why do I need tuition for learning how to lead?

Being taught by a professional is the only way to guarantee you will be safe and competent climbing outdoors. Lead climbing can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing, as can having a belayer who doesn’t know how to lead belay.

What experience do I need to learn how to lead?

You should be familiar with and have experience in top-roping. Lead climbing is a step up from top-roping so you should have experience in climbing with a top-rope first. You’ll also need to know how to belay.

Vertical Limit also offers 1-1 tuition in top-rope climbing and lessons to learn how to belay properly. Ask Dave Brown for more details on any of our climbing lessons or to check whether you have the experience for the Rope Workshop.

We’re finally starting to get some glorious weather in the UK. Learn to lead, before the summer is over!

Georgina Bull