Diary of a Trad Leading Newbie: Part 2

I’m home after a week climbing out in Red Rocks, a beautiful park just outside of Las Vegas with climbing galore. It was a great trip, and a week of learning and growth on my part. One of my main goals was to get more pitches of traditional leads under my belt. Prior to this trip, I had only led one pitch on trad gear (traditional leading means that the first climber places pieces of gear for protection as they go. There are no bolts in the rock). Midway through our trip, I found myself struggling quite a bit. Read that post here if you haven’t had a chance.

Here’s how the rest of the week went:

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After I took a day off, three of us went back to the Willow Spring area. A few days previous, I had led the first half of Tonto and set up an anchor, turning the climb into a mini multi-pitch. It wasn’t a pretty lead, but it was a lead nonetheless. I went up a few pieces, I came back down to collect myself, I went up and down again, and finally pushed through and made it to my goal.

Bringing Russell up on Tonto

Bringing Russell up on Tonto

We were back at that same climb again after two days. I knew I could climb the route; I had climbed it a few times and led half of it already. So it seemed like a good place to work more on my mental game. It turned out that a day off had done me a lot of good. I racked up, took a deep breath, and led the whole thing. There was no whimpering; I felt calm and confident. I placed a lot of gear in the initial crack and ran things out on the easier stuff up top. I kept breathing, I kept my focus. It felt amazing to get to the top and yell “Off Belay!” because I knew that I had just busted through a big mental barrier.

I brought up my other two partners, set up a rappel, and we all returned safely to the ground.

The next day, the three of us tackled a bigger objective. Solar Slab Gully. This is a five pitch climb (a pitch is the distance between where the first climber starts climbing and when they stop to set up an anchor and bring up the rest of their climbers), 540 feet total. The plan was that Russell would start us off, and we would decide leads as we went. He was prepared to lead the whole thing if necessary; we were just going to wait and see how I was feeling.

Oak Creek Canyon, our approach to Solar Slab Gully

Oak Creek Canyon, our approach to Solar Slab Gully

Zack starts the first pitch to Solar Slab Gully

Zack starts the first pitch to Solar Slab Gully

Russell led the first pitch, and I’m glad he did. It was a bit hairy in spots (spicy, as our guidebook liked to say), and scared me a bit even on toprope. We got to the top and I decided to take on the short second pitch. I geared up, made the crux move (the hardest move of the pitch) right at the start, climbed to the anchors and brought up my climbers. That felt pretty good, so I decided to keep leading. The third pitch was a long one, probably 180 feet. The first half is a really nice little chimney with a big exit move up top. Then it continues with quite a bit of slabby climbing and a short chimney to finish. That pitch felt really good, too. From there, we could see the top. So, after Russell and Zack joined me at the anchor, I led the last two short pitches.

That took us to the top of the climb. I realized then that I had just led all but the first pitch, and that all three of us were safely at the top. Mentally, it had all felt pretty solid. There were a few places that I had to breathe and take a moment to stay focused, but that’s part of the game. I was all smiles.

At the top of Solar Slab Gully

At the top of Solar Slab Gully

High fives were exchanged, smiles all around. It was a fun climb. After a short time at the top of Solar Slab Gully (and the base of the much bigger climb, Solar Slab), the three of us worked our way down to the rappel bolts. We teamed up with a pair from Germany, and three rappels later we found ourselves back at the bottom, packing our bags for the hour-long hike back to the car.

All in all, I led six pitches this trip, after feeling halfway through the week that maybe I wasn’t destined to be a trad leader at all. I learned, once again, that the process of moving through something that’s scary is not a straightforward one. This week was a very clear example of that. I pushed myself through something that felt really tough mentally. And from there, I actually needed a day to back away, process, and recover from that push. Once that happened, I was ready to take a step back and start again.

I emerged from this week as a more confident trad leader, and that was exactly what I was hoping for. I’m at the beginning, and there’s a long way to go, but it’s a solid start.

A big thanks to Seth and Russell and Zack and Paul for cheering me on, supporting me, and respecting my process. What a fantastic week of climbing it was.

2 thoughts on “Diary of a Trad Leading Newbie: Part 2

  1. Eileen

    I loved reading both parts of this, way to make progress!

    Congrats on your leads, Multi-pitch is a big step and you’re doing it the right way in my opinion 🙂

    1. Elizabeth Post author

      Thanks, Eileen! I’m pretty cautious, but I guess I’d rather that than to get in above my head. I’ve loved reading your trad posts throughout the years.

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