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I have been climbing for about 3 years.

Jol found a 2 hour taster course at The Castle Climbing Centre, which I was not convinced about participating in at all but, in the spirit of trying new things and because Jol really wanted to, did.

The first time I tied in, I got about 5 feet off the ground and freaked out. (I am completely higher than I am tall! It’s like I am stood on my own head, only there is nothing below me! This is Not Natural!)

I persevered, partly because we were only about 30 minutes into the taster course, and partly because Olly, our instructor and a bear of a man, made it clear that I needed to keep going, that I was safe, and I had to… “Just Stand Up!” (The call of the Olly.)

Two hours later, with “Just Stand Up!” ringing in our ears we left planning to do the 4 week training course.

Taught by the lovely petit Susie (good for me, seeing how someone my stature climbs, rather than someone twice the size of me) over the next 4×2 hours she taught us all we needed to know to be competent and safe with Top Rope Climbing.

We were let loose in the centre. We started to climb regularly enough that instead of hiring gear from the shop, we bought our own. (Also, having your own shoes is so much nicer than borrowing rental shoes. You know?) I saw my grade rise from 3 to 6a. We started bouldering. The next step was clear.

Lead Climbing.

With Top Roping, you are tied in to the rope on your harness. The rope goes from you, up to a secure clip at the top of the wall, then down to your belay partner, who controls the rope as you climb. You are absurdly safe. If you fall, it might be about a quarter of a meter.

With Bouldering you do not wear a harness, there is no rope. The walls are shorter and you move around freely. Slightly scary without the safety of the harness, but since you are never very high the fall is never very far, the ground is very soft, and you learn what you can get away with.

Lead Rope Climbing is sort of a combination of these. You wear a harness and are tied to your rope. But your rope goes directly from you to your belay partner. The wall you are going to climb has clips running up it that as you climb, you hook your rope into. Your rope always behind you, rather than above you.

The first clip (called a quick draw) is often 8-ish feet off the ground. This means that for the first section of the climb you have no safety net (much like bouldering). You clip your rope in, and for a moment you have the sense of security Top Rope give you, but you quickly move on and then you have a floppy rope behind you till you reach the next quick draw.

What this means is every few meters you have to stop (hanging onto holds, arms and legs shaking), pull the rope up (which gets heavier the higher you get) and clip it into the quick draw. Which is exhausting. Then, if you fall, it can be a considerable distance. If you fall after just clipping in, it might only be a meter fall, but if you are between clips, or just below the quickdraw you are aiming for, it could be 5+ meters depending on the slack in the rope and the weight difference between you and your belayer.

And as a belayer, being pulled up the wall is not unusual.

Jamie, who taught me to Lead, explained how when he climbs with Olly (he of taster course and bear like stature) and is belaying when Olly falls, sometimes they can high five each other as, like pendulums, one goes down as the other goes up.

Lead Climbing is different to Top Roping. Having Lead only twice (combined 5 hours and about 10 routes experience) I am finding it difficult and terrifying. It pushes me right to the edges of my comfort zone.

It makes me love Top Roping all the more.

And still. And yet.

It reminds me of how I felt when I first climbed a Top Rope. The tension I am holding my body in is all to familiar. And so I want to do it more, because I feel like I am sort of starting to understand it. It is different; You have to climb differently, use your body a bit differently, learn how to stop with comfort while taking your own weight and not relying on the rope (and I do love hanging on the rope).

My grade has plummeted on Lead Rope, but you know what? When I practiced Top Roping I got better. Good even.

So… Here’s to the next Lead Rope session!

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