Lead Climbing and It’s Subjectnivness to Saftey

“Let’ts talk risk management….”

This was the response from the lead certification “pass granter” at the local climbing gym after I took my mandatory fall during a recent lead qualification test?

I knew the risk I had taken when I was above the 4th bolt, took slack to clip and then purposely fell. My rational was this is the best fall to simulate during a lead certification test, big falls = comfortable leader…right? As I explained this to the “pass granter” he was not comfortable with my decision making indicating that I was not using proper risk management critical to the leading process. Hanging there dangling above the second clip I was confused, I was expecting to get a…..

“Nice fall, now finish the climb to complete the test”

I explained to him that I actually had assessed the risk prior to taking my fall and that I purposely induced a large whip to show my understanding of the point of most exposure during a lead climb….but we agreed to disagree resulting in me only getting a temporary lead pass and having to come back to take re-take the test…I guess next time with a smaller fall.

This is not the fist time I have experience the subjectiveness of different climbing gyms. When living in Sweden my wife and I had to completely change our “American” belay techniques to get our top rope belay certifications. At other gyms in the US it was standard practice to take a “big fall” to become lead certified. Some gyms require in-depth discussion around the practice of Back Clipping and Z-Clipping…some (to my shock) don’t even ask about it. I’ve been in gyms that strictly require the use of ATC’s while testing, others let you bring your belay device choice and own lead rope, however, skip the discussion around minimum rope length for their gym or the benefits of different belay devices.

My point is for better or worse climbing safety both indoors and outcomes with an inherent subjectivity. One can easily argue that this is a problem with the exploding indoor gym scene, however, I have seen the same issues outdoors as well. At the end of the day it is your responsibility as a lead climber to consider the risks, techniques and know your own “bag of tricks” to ensure your own safety and safety of others.

Many times this requires putting yourself in these situations of subjectivity to better your decision making. Take these experiences to look at the big picture and compare it to your own safety standards. How does one gym’s testing procedure compare with another’s and how can you learn from that? How does one Trad leaders anchors compare to what you would do in the same situation, and what are the plus and minus of each.

One of the best lessons I have learned from working with different lead climbers is to be open to feedback, but also to question methods, techniques and decision making. Like the climbing rope we rely on for safety, leading is dynamic. A balance of risk and understanding, however, you must know the limits of your rope to safely complete the climb.

Happy Wildernessing,

Bostonia Outfitters

2 Replies to “Lead Climbing and It’s Subjectnivness to Saftey”

  1. Good post! I feel most Climbing gyms in the US are handicapped by their need to avoid legal responsibility.

    Transitioning from leading indoors to leading outdoors can be quite difficult because of the way things are taught and run at many climbing gyms.

    Liked by 1 person

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