Crash Course in Sport Climbing: Leading, Belaying and Everything In Between

Hanging on to the anchor after my first sport lead! (M. Bracken)
Today was a monumental day - I completed my first lead belay and first lead climb, and did it outdoors. I was only able to do so thanks to friend Matt , a climbing instructor I met at my local climbing gym, Go Vertical. He offered to give me a crash course in leading outside, an offer which I happily accepted. 

He's an incredibly trusting soul, considering the only exposure I had to real sport climbing was watching other people do it. But as I've learned, with climbing in particular, people who are passionate about it are always eager to pass on the knowledge they have.

We drove an hour west of Philly to Birdsboro, PA. It used to be a rock quarry, which translates to some relatively long walls, and a bit of loose rock, but generally great climbing. I was happy to see a couple of familiar faces from Go Vertical throughout the day. We started with Sultans of Swing (5.7) on the Orange Sunshine Wall, which Matt lead after giving me a crash course in lead belaying.  I went up on toprope after him and he taught me how to clean the route on the way up. I did a few more topropes and a bit more route cleaning, at which point Matt decided I was ready to lead.

He picked an easy scramble, Sultans of Swing (5.6), with five bolts, which was perfect to learn on. I was able to focus on clipping properly without worrying about falling. He sent me to the top with slings, a bunch of extra carabiners, an ATC, and some words of encouragement. With a bit of coaching, I was able to climb up, clip in, rappel down, and clean the route as I went. Su

My first lead climb, despite the easy grade, left me with an incredible feeling of self-reliance and accomplishment. I assume it'll grow as I try harder routes, and as I get more comfortable with the new-to-me discipline. Truth be told, I was nervous all day. Transferring from gym climbing to outdoors is difficult; no tape to tell you where to go, feeling around for holds, numb hands from cold rock, and rough edges. But I forgot to be nervous while leading, I was much more concerned with finding the next bolt and clipping in.

Even better was the feeling of actually being a climber, and being part of the community of climbers I was a part of today. We spent quite a bit of time trading belays with another couple, with whom we shared beer and the tiniest wings known to man at a dive bar after packing up. It really is a community, a group of people who care about each other, and their environment. No one starts out knowing how to climb, knowing everything - everyone has to be taught, and that overarching sense of neighborly cooperation proliferates. It is unique to the climbing community, and makes me even more proud to be a part of it.

What's something you've shared with a friend that you're passionate about? Leave a comment!


Grazi said…
I do love your text... Congrats!

Katie said…