Strengthening My Lead Head

Marianna a.k.a. "Rope Gun"

Marianna a.k.a. “Rope Gun”

“Do you want to take some jumps today?” That’s my friend and climbing partner, Marianna. We also lovingly refer to her as our rope gun. She’s a super strong climber, and she seemingly has a lead head of steel. Her idea of practicing lead falls at the gym is getting to the very top, not clipping, and having her belayer let out a little *more* slack before she jumps off the wall. Once she’s dangling comfortably from the rope, you can usually hear her laughing.

I’ve been working to build my lead head again lately. It was at a decent level, but a few months ago it tanked. I was back to the beginning, afraid to even fall from a clip. I knew I had to actively work on getting it back, and Marianna’s style of practicing falls just wasn’t right for me.

So, what have I been doing?

I started, not by taking huge falls, but by taking small ones. The first day, I would climb, clip my rope, and fall (and that was even hard for me mentally). On lead, this is usually still a bit of a fall, and has a different feel to it than falling on toprope. Every clip I would do the same. Climb, clip, take a fall. Climb, clip, fall, etc.

Once that felt ok, I took it one step further. I’d clip, make one move above the clip, and fall. Then two moves, and fall. You get the idea. I find that I’m surprised when the falls are just fine. Before I let go, my brain tells me it’s going to be scary and horrible and I just might die. And then I let go anyway and find that I’m very comfortably caught by my belayer and a stretchy rope. I like it when my brain is wrong about things like that.

The next step for me has been doing this kind of practice with different belayers. I’m very careful about who I’ll let belay me on lead, but the folks that I regularly climb with are all good, attentive belayers. The first few falls with a different person on the brake are always a bit unknown, but learning how their catches feel gives me a boost in confidence when I’m climbing.

I have a long way to go. I start from the beginning each session, but I feel myself moving through the falls more quickly every time, and my general confidence with leading is returning as a result. I’m not yet to the point where I can just go for a big move well above my last clip, knowing that it’s going to be ok if I fail. But, that’s where I’m headed. And my friend, Marianna, who likes to leap from the top of the wall, is happy to catch my comparatively tiny falls in the meantime, while I work my way up.