First trad routes: 7 tips to stay alive

Posted by Sarah Stirling on 29/04/2016
Chalking up while leading at Stanage. Photo: Alex Messenger

We know you can't wait to get out on your first real rock trip, despite the unseasonably cold spring. But if it's your first time climbing outdoors, make sure it’s not your last! Read up on these seven tips to avoid injuring yourself and watch our videos to make sure you've got the skills.

Check or deck

It's one of the easiest mistakes to make, but also potentially one of the most deadly. Even Lynn Hill has come a cropper of not tying in and decked from a 70-foot fall, miraculously escaping death but dislocating her elbow in the process.

Get into the habit of checking your partner's setup before starting the climb. This means, checking the climber's knot and harness, checking the belayer has put the rope(s) in the right way, fastened the screwgate all the way, and anchored themselves if needs be. 

Gear gripes

Get to grips with your gear. And by that, we mean, make sure it's all fully functional and setup correctly. Even simple bits of kit like quickdraws can be setup incorrectly, such as the unfortunate incident which resulted in the death of 12-year-old Tito Traverso where only a rubber band was holding the sling to the carabiner. 

Learn what you should be looking for when you're looking at the equipment that will potentially be saving your life.

WATCH: How to check your camming devices on BMC TV

Placing protection

Before you go for a lead from which you might fall, practice placing protection as much as possible. Ideally, you should start off leading routes that you have almost no chance of falling on that are well below your onsight capabilities. Lace every route you climb with every bit of gear you have, if there are enough placements for them, and don't forget to keep one hand on the rock when you begin testing the gear; if it rips you might overbalance and fall off.

Many times we've seen almost all of a first time leader's gear rip when they begin pulling the ropes through. Being able to place bomb-proof protection comes from the experience of knowing where to look and how to use potential placements with the gear you have. It's useful to have an experienced mentor, but if that's not possible, you could book yourself onto one of the BMC's subsidised courses

WATCH: How to place a nut on BMC TV

Learn lead-belaying

Not sure what dynamic belaying is? Or don't know where you should stand or how much slack to leave in the system? Make sure you understand what the safest way to belay a lead climber is, especially a trad climber, and how to correctly belay with two ropes. 

Easy things to correct are: never let go of the rope, keep the rope locked off if not giving slack or taking in, pay attention and look at the climber, stay in the right position, communicate and tell the climber if they make a mistake. 

The art of falling

If you didn't know already, there is a certain way you want to fall, and ways that you most certainly want to avoid. The key thing here is to make sure you don't invert and descend in a head down position, which can and has ended disastrously for some climbers. 

The classic way that a climber might end up inverted is from placing their leg between the rock and the rope, so that their leg catches on the rope when they fall. When climbing, it's necessary to think about where you might end up if you do fall. Here we've got a video that demonstrates falling while leading, albeit indoors, but the principle remains the same. 

WATCH: How to fall off when climbing indoors on BMC TV

The freeze-thaw effect

Be particularly wary of snappy holds and rockfall in spring: harsh winter weather may have damaged or loosened the rock. It's more of a problem with softer rock like limestone, but be vigilant when walking and climbing under all crags and cliffs.

When climbing, look at each hold and assess whether it might be loose before trusting your weight to it. If uncertain, give it a few tugs to check and perhaps strike it with the heel of your hand, if it sounds hollow it might not be solid.

WATCH: How to spot loose rock on BMC TV

Bird attacks

You might think they're mostly harmless, but birds protecting their young can be extremely dangerous, especially if you're trying to hang onto a cliff! Even pigeons (yes pigeons) become frightening when you're half way up a lead and even more so if you're a little run out. Be a little wary when climbing around nesting times.

Crags are a popular nesting site as they give protection from predators. The BMC agrees voluntary climbing restrictions for a number of rare bird species that nest on crags: most commonly peregrines, raven, ring ouzel, choughs, and auk species. Keep an eye our Regional Access Database (RAD) for any temporary regional access restrictions.


BMC Travel Insurance has got you covered for Covid-19

Wherever the hot rock calls, make sure that you go prepared with travel insurance cover before you head off.

You can get cover with BMC Rock insurance from just £46* for a week

To make planning your international trips easier, we've added Covid-19 cover into all BMC Travel Insurance policies.

 

Our Covid-19 cover includes:

  • £5,000 cancellation cover if you test positive for Covid-19 within 14 days of departure
  • Medical and repatriation Covid-19 related illness
  • Being denied boarding if you test positive for Covid-19 prior to your return home

BMC travel insurance comes in five policies: Travel, Trek, Rock, Alpine and Ski and High Altitude. Read more about the Covid-travel FAQs here

* Policy details: £46.70 for 7 days European Rock policy up to age 69.  

For full terms and conditions see our Evidence of Cover

WATCH: BMC Travel Insurance built for the mountains


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29/04/2016
Why is the lead belaying video instruction demonstrating poor belaying?

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