Novice Lead Climber


Having the green tape indicates that a member is a competent but novice lead climber and belayer and that they are able to clean a route by lowering off or by rappelling. During club events or activities they will be allowed to lead climb with another member with red tape or higher, or with another member that has the green competency while under executive supervision. Members with this competency will be gathering experience to: get a “feel” for how much slack to give in all situations; to be able to predict when their climber needs slack to be taken up or given; and wrote learn the communication and procedures performed when route climbing.


Instruction and Progression

You can seek instruction for the skills in the green competency from members with the red competency or higher. To obtain the green competency you must be assessed by an executive or approved instructor. The best way to do this is to attend a lead workshop when we next hold one!

Practical Requirements

Member must have read through and understood the required theoretical material below.

Member must be able to safely catch a climber’s fall, regardless of weight difference.

Member must know how to clip a quickdraw correctly into a bolt.

Member must know how to clip the rope correctly into a quickdraw.

Member must be able to clean a route, by lowering off and rappelling.

Member must understand when and how communication is important on a route.

Able to reliably and safely belay a leader that they may not have climbed with before, if required to do so.

Theoretical Material

This section will go over the theoretical background necessary for this level, but you will need to practice with someone who has a higher level of competency to understand the process fully. How to perform the skills required for this competency is covered in the practical assessment, while the reasons why we use those skills are covered here.

Lead Belaying

The key differences between lead belaying and top rope belaying are: rather than taking in slack while the climber progresses on a route the belayer must instead give slack. The belayer feeds slack as the climber carries the rope upward. Though this may feel awkward at first, like top rope rope belaying, it quickly becomes second nature.

New lead belayers should pay careful attention to the amount of slack in the system, and aim to understand how much slack should be out and when. The slack hanging between the belayer and the wall is often called a “cow belly” (figure 1) and this amount of slack is usually sufficient to catch a fall . There are certain factors which will effect the amount of slack you put in your cow belly: the weight difference between the climbers; the position in which the belayer is standing; whether the climber is clipping; distance from the ground; and the direction and end-point of a potential fall from the climber. If you are lighter than your climber you may not give as much slack because upon arresting their fall you will be pulled in and up the wall by their weight. Conversely, if you are heavier than your climber you may give a little more slack as you will not get pulled up the wall.

Why do we give extra slack?:

  • When a climber is leading, having a tight rope can prevent them from climbing and clipping (known as short-roping) which throws the climber off balance.
  • In the event that a climber does take a fall, there is more rope available in the system to stretch, decreasing the force felt when they stop falling and their swing into the wall.

As the climber falls there is a certain amount of potential energy present depending on their weight and the length of their fall. At the point that the climber’s fall is stopped by the rope, that energy can be transferred to: the rope, the closest bolt, the climbers harness and the climbers swing into the wall. The energy directed to the bolt and the climber is known as the impact forceBy giving more rope, we give more material to the system that can stretch and take some of that energy, meaning less energy is directed into the impact force. Its all about directing as much of the energy of the climbers fall into the dynamic rope rather than into their swing or their harness.

Petzel has a great little guide to explain the concepts of impact force and fall factors:—theory?ActivityName=Rock-climbing

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Fig. 1a This is great!

Fig. 1b This is ridiculous!

The idea of giving slack may feel counter-intuitive when transitioning from top rope belaying (where taking in slack will protect the climber) to lead belaying, but not having the appropriate amount of slack out when belaying a lead climber increases the risk of climber injury. Do not skimp on the amount of slack given just because falling further is scary!

Note the position of the lead belayer is important, you want to stay close to the wall to be pulled up and not forward when the lead climber falls.

Soft and hard catches

When catching a falling climber as a belayer, you can give them a soft catch or a hard catch. A soft catch is a fall in which the belayer provides extra rope to the climber at the very point at which the rope is arresting their fall by ‘going with the fall’ and not ‘resisting the fall’. A hard catch is the opposite. The point of a soft catch is to remove some of the energy from the climbers swing into the wall and in almost all situations a soft catch is preferable, but there are situations where the benefit of the short fall of a hard catch outweighs the risk of injury to the climber. As a lead belayer, prepare yourself to be pulled up in the air when the climber falls, that is totally normal for a soft catch.

To give a soft catch you have to adopt a dynamic style of belaying. This means that you are always watching, adjusting the amount of slack give and positioning yourself in positions in which you can easily give slack quickly. When your climber falls, right after the moment when their rope and harness catches their fall but before they begin to swing into the wall, you provide more rope and stretch in the system by jumping upwards. This can also be done by stepping in to the wall at this same point. If you are lighter than your climber then this is quite easy to do, as you will be pulled up the wall regardless and you just have to be ready. In situations where you are heavier than your climber, it is important to hop up or a soft catch will not be given.

Whenever possible, give your climber a soft catch. There are two scenarios which you are likely to encounter that are the exceptions to this rule:

  • The climber’s fall will cause them to hit something if it is too long
  • The climber’s fall will drop them into empty space

The first case you will encounter almost every time you lead, because climbers are often at risk of hitting the ground (a ground fall) after they clip the first bolt. Your options are limited; Your climber is between a rock and a hard place. To stop them from hitting the ground you must give a hard catch. This also applies to similar situations further up the route: If there is a ledge large enough for your climber to fall onto, you will have to give them a hard catch.

The second case applies to overhung routes. The risk of injury when giving a hard catch is from the climber hitting the wall, but when the wall is above your climber, and they are falling away from it, then hard catches are less of an issue.

Dangers to the climber

As a climber, your safety is mostly in the hands of your belayer, so be sure that you can trust your belayer. There are some things you will need to be aware of though, like how to correctly clip quickdraws. The most common errors made when clipping quickdraws are described below.

Other things to be concerned of while climbing:

  • Having your foot behind the rope – When a lead climber has their foot between the wall and their rope when climbing above their last bolt, there is the potential for them to invert as they fall. This is because the rope going taught will push their leg upward and flip their body.
  • Skipping bolts – It is never a good idea to skip bolts, but sometimes it does happen. You can prevent this by being a aware of where run-out sections of a climb (larger than normal span between bolts) are before climbing, so that you can differentiate climbing a run-out section from missing a bolt. If you take a fall from above an unclipped bolt, see an exec as soon as possible, as that kind of fall can potentially damage your rope.
  • Going off route – Straying to far left or right from the route of the climb. This can make it hard to return to your route the higher you get and cause big swinging falls which have more potential for injury.

You should be aware of all of these hazards not only as a climber but as a belayer. Let your partner know if they are doing any of these things before the situation gets worse (but do so calmly and kindly; panic only further escalates these kind of situations).

Apart from that, your judgement as climber, assessing the safety of positions, moves and routes, plays a big part in your risk of injury and is something that will grow as you learn and understand more about climbing.

First clip dangers and when to stick clip

Until your climber has reached the first bolt, they are climbing unprotected.  Apart from, feeding out slack until you feel it is enough for them to freely reach the first clipping point, it is your job to “spot” them until they reach their first bolt.  To spot a climber simply raise your arms up with your hands cupped like spoons ready to protect their head and dampen the impact of a potential ground fall. Once the climber clips the rope into the first quickdraw, you will immediately take in any excess slack and call out “On belay”. As a lead climber, you generally want three points of contact on the rock until the first bolt. This means if one point slips, you still have two points to catch yourself. Also, try to stay in a position where you would be able to downclimb to the ground in case it gets too sketchy to the first bolt.

If the first bolt is exceptionally high or you feel you cannot make it to the first bolt without falling, many climbers choose to “stick-clip” the first bolt.  Even if you are feeling pretty confident but just want to be sure not to ground fall, by all means, stick-clip that first bolt. The end goal is to have the first quickdraw with the rope attached before leaving the ground.  The actual method of stick-clipping involves 1 of 2 devices: 1) a specially engineered plastic bit for holding your quickdraw attached to an extendable pole  or 2) an actual stick, a pebble, and some climbing tape.  By now, you can probably guess the club favours the latter option.  Rather than explain all the fiddling, best to learn more practically at KP sometime.

After the first bolt is clipped, and before the climber gets to  the second bolt, you should, as a belayer, be aware of where the length of rope between you and the first bolt will be if the climber were to fall. This length of rope will not be parallel to the wall when under tension. If the rope is directly beneath a climber who falls after the first bolt, they may hit it as it becomes taught. To prevent this you should belay slightly to the left or right of the first bolt and fairly close to the wall, usually until the climber has clipped the second bolt.

Back and Z clipping

Back- and Z-clipping are the two ways in which you can clip you rope into a quickdraw incorrectly.

Z-Clipping occurs when the climber reaches below the last clipped quickdraw to grab the rope to clip the next quickdraw.  When the climber tries to progress, the rope will form a Z-shape going from the quickdraw above to the quickdraw below to the climber moving upward (Figure 2).  In most cases the bolts are too far apart for this to be plausible however Z-clips do occur and should be fixed as soon as its noticed to reduce friction.  Simply let your climber know and they can clip/unclip the necessary draws.

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Fig. 2 If Z-clipped, the path of the rope will look like this.

Back-clipping is more concerning and occurs pretty commonly with inexperienced climbers. At all times, the climber should clip the quickdraw in an orientation that leaves the rope with the climber’s side coming out of the quickdraw and the belayer’s side running down the wall.  If done backwards, it is called a back-clip and it makes it possible for the rope to unclip itself from the quickdraw in the case of a fall.

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Fig. 3 (Left) Backclipping!! (Right) Correctly clipped!

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Fig. 4 If backclipped, the rope can come out of the quickdraw as the climber falls.

Cleaning an anchor

There are two methods for cleaning a climb: rappelling and lowering off. These methods are best learned practically, so we will not be teaching you how to perform them here.

Lowering off is used most often by the club to clean, as it is the quickest to set up, and involves feeding the rope through the chains of an anchor and reattaching yourself. Normally a bight is what is fed through the chains in this process, but where a bight cannot fit there is an alternate form of lowering off where the end of the rope is fit through the bolts.

Rappelling is a little slower to set up then a lower off, as the rope has to be fed down. The main benefits of rappelling are:

  • It is done independent of your belayer
  • The rope is static: it does not run through the anchors as you descend

There is a huge range of situations in which this technique is useful but in the case of cleaning a route you would use this method if: you were to encounter a set of anchors where you think running your rope through them has potential to damage it and in situations where your belayer may need to come off belay (or if your belay is unfortunately otherwise preoccupied). When rappelling it is important that you always tie knots on both ends of your rope. These knots are to prevent the ends of the ropes from slipping through your belay device, a mistake that is very often made by rappellers (usually due to an underestimation of how much rope is needed to rappel to the bottom of a cliff).

Both these methods, and many other on the-wall-situations, will require the use of a safety. This is a length of material that can be used to attach yourself to a bolt or chain on the wall, and is used as a restraint (the same role as a prusik as discussed in the Blue competency). This means that it’s role is to prevent you from falling, but it is not meant to catch a fall.

The two most important things to remember while setting yourself up to clean a route is to have two points of safety and to communicate. To have two points of safety means that at no point in the process of cleaning are you attached to less than two points from which your fall could be arrested. While cleaning, these two points will usually be your figure-8 knot and your safety. By communication, we mean you explicitly inform your belayer (and others near you if necessary) of what you intend to do and what you are doing. While cleaning, this communication will mostly be letting your partner know when you are and are not safely attached to the wall on your safety.

If you do not neglect these two concepts then you can make as many mistakes as you want and at worst you will still be safe on the wall and rescuable.

Test Questions

During the practical assessment for this level, your assessor will ask you a minimum of two questions from the following to test your understanding of the theoretical material:

Q1: How can you provide a soft catch as a belayer? In what scenario should you give a soft catch?

Q2: What is back clipping? Why is it bad?

Q3: What are the benefits of rappelling?

Q4: What are the main differences between top-rope belaying and lead-belaying?

Q5: How can you provide a hard catch as a belayer? In what scenario should you give a hard catch?

Q6: What is Z-clipping? Why is it bad?

Q7: What is a situation which you would preference rappelling over lowering off?

Q8: What is a safety? Can it take a fall?

Q9: What should you be doing as a belayer when your climber hasnt reached the first bolt?

Q10: What is the quicker way to clean a climb, rappel or lower off?

Q11: What are the two most important things to remember when cleaning an anchor?

Q12: What is the impact force?

If you do not understand any of the questions or you are unsure of an answer, discuss it with one of the executives before you do your test for the competency!