Symonds Yat is a great venue for learning to trad lead climb especially if the forecast is dodgy as the crag stays dry even during a downpour.
Martin & Russell have become friends through climbing, Martin had previous experience and training whilst Russell was new to trad but had sport leading experience. As Russell was a trad virgin he started with the basics whilst Ali set tasks for Martin to demonstrate his knowledge of building belays, direction of force, creating a central point with a sling and equalising using the rope only.
Satisfied that both clients were ready for the next step they moved to a different area where they could develop their skills using a single rope – securing the belayer, placing trad gear on the lead, building a belay at the top of the pitch to bring the second up and setting up a retrievable abseil whilst keeping everyone safe. As Martin was the most experienced he lead first with Ali on abseil next to him all the way. It also gave Russell chance to familiarise himself with the route, removing gear and mentally preparing himself for the lead to come.
Martin climbed fluidly, his gear was well spaced and placed, ensuring he was in a good solid position each time he placed gear. His belay was solid, using 3 pieces of gear including a thread. Russell found the climbing easy but removing the gear whilst keeping in balance was trickier, but it was good practice for his first lead which he dispatched with finesse.
And on to Multi Pitch
Setting up a retrievable abseil can be quite daunting, but as long as you follow a set routine, do everything in the right order and take your time you will keep you and your partner safe. Practice makes perfect.
The next logical step is to lead using double or half ropes. Trad routes rarely follow a perfect line as sport routes tend to, but often meander up the wall, sometimes with a traverse or overhang. This means the rope management has to be perfect to reduce rope drag and ensure a tight rope doesn’t lift your gear out. Rope drag is reduced significantly as soon as you start using double ropes especially if you extend the gear appropriately.
Golden Fleece is a great route to lead on double ropes, as gear is to be found left and right of the central corner, there are good nut and cam placements and threads to be found if you look closely enough. Martin led first and although it is given HS 4b the fact that it is a corner ensures you are on your feet all the way up the route, always in balance – a great position to place gear. Martin has developed good footwork and climbs steadily with fluidity. His gear was good and both ropes flowed below him in 2 straight lines. Perfect.
Thoughtful Trad Lead Climbing!
Russell did equally well, especially as this was day 2 of his trad climbing career. His gear was excellent, but unsurprisingly he wasn’t quite as fluid or precise with his footwork. Sport climbers often rely on their upper body strength as a route is often over in minutes, and the bolts and often the quickdraws are already in place, whilst trad is a more thoughtful sport as you are always looking for and placing gear and it is often difficult to choose the right piece of gear immediately. You may also only be able to place a poor or marginal piece of gear that may not hold you if you fall so it may also take over an hour to lead one pitch.
The course finished with a recap of techniques and a demonstration of what happens to the belayer if they are not in line with the second should they fall off. Both Martin and Russell were surprised at how much force was suddenly placed on the rope and their belay which emphasised also that the belayer must always be tight on the belay and in line with the climber.
An excellent course with 2 outstanding clients who were enthusiastic, determined and great fun to be with. Their ability and confidence will develop as their experience and love of trad climbing grows.