Transitioning from top rope climbing to lead climbing is a massive step in a climber’s journey and can be scary because of the added risks that come with lead climbing. Ensuring you are ready to start lead climbing and know how to do it safely is essential to your future success.
We are here to help you feel comfortable clipping while lead climbing. From the most common techniques used to the biggest mistakes made and how to avoid them, this article will give you all the information you need to feel comfortable clipping when lead climbing.
What is Clipping in Lead Climbing?
Clipping in lead climbing refers to the act of taking a quickdraw off of your harness, clipping it into a bolt or piece of gear in the rock, and then clipping your rope into the other side of the quickdraw. This action is the most dangerous time in lead climbing since you are the farthest you will be from your previous protection and have the most rope and slack in the system. Falling while clipping will result in a significant fall.
Lead climbing has a lot of very specific terminology, so here are some of the words you might come across in this article:
- Quickdraw or draw: This describes two non-locking carabiners attached to a dogbone or sling. It is used to connect the climbing rope to the bolt or gear in the rock.
- Dogbone: The webbing that connects the two carabiners to create a draw.
- Gate: The piece of metal that swings to open the carabiner.
- Sport climbing: Sport climbing is a style of climbing that uses fixed bolts in the rock as protection. As you climb up the wall, you bring the rope with you and use quickdraws to attach it to the bolts to keep you safe.
- Trad climbing: Trad climbing, or traditional climbing, is similar to sport climbing, but instead of using bolts for protection, you bring gear with you to place in the rock and protect you from falls. This style of climbing takes a lot of practice and has lots of risks associated with it.
Types of Clipping Techniques
In general, there are only a few lead clipping techniques, and they depend on which side the gate of the carabiner is on in relation to which hand you are using. The easy part is figuring out how to clip the draws into the bolt. As long as you loosely clip the carabiner attached to the dogbone into the bolt, you are good to go.
This isn’t necessarily a specific clipping technique, but your clipping stance or how you are standing while clipping is essential to clipping. Making sure that you are in a safe and stable stance on the rock and are comfortable only holding on with one hand will help minimize the chance of injury significantly.
Clipping Techniques on Lead Climbing
There are two main quickdraw clipping techniques in lead climbing, and which one you use is totally up to you. Some people prefer one to the other, while other climbers don’t have a preference. Here are those lead climbing clipping techniques are broken down in detail:
- Same side (gate facing the same direction as the hand you are using)
Using your right hand when the gate is facing to the right or your left hand when the gate is facing to the left is referred to as same-side clipping. In this style of clipping, you use your thumb to brace the carabiner and keep it still while using the knuckle of your forefinger to push the rope into the carabiner.
- Opposite side (gate facing the opposite direction as the hand you are using)
When you use your right hand and the gate is facing left, or your left hand and the gate is facing right, it is referred to as opposite side clipping. To do this, you use your middle finger in the base of the carabiner to help stabilize it. Then, you push the rope into the carabiner using your thumb and forefinger.
What are Some Common Clipping Mistakes?
Here are some of the most common lead clipping mistakes and how to avoid them:
- Back clipping
Back clipping refers to clipping the rope in the carabiner the wrong way. To clip safely, the rope should look like it is coming from the rock, through the carabiner, and then coming to you. A back-clipped draw will look like the rope is coming from you to the rock and then through the carabiner. This can be super dangerous since certain falls can accidentally unclip a back-clipped carabiner.
To avoid this, practice clipping correctly to get the muscle memory down.
Z-clipping is most common in gyms where the bolts are close together, but it can also happen outside. It is caused by grabbing the rope to a clip from below the last clipped bolt, thus creating a lot of drag that will impede your climbing, a longer fall because the lower of the two bolts is now what will catch you, and a Z-shape in the rope that gives it its name.
To avoid this, always grab your rope starting at your knot when you reach the clip.
- Skipping bolts
Skipping bolts is a challenge because it can lead to what is known as a run-out climb. A run-out climb is one where the space between the bolts is so large that any fall would be really dangerous.
To avoid this, make sure you know how many bolts you should be looking for and pay close attention when you are climbing.
- Holding the rope in your mouth
Ok, so this doesn’t directly relate to the act of clipping, but it is something that people tend to do when they are clipping and can be super dangerous. Pulling up the slack and then holding it in your mouth is dangerous for numerous reasons. First, you are putting a dirty rope into your mouth. Second, if you do fall, you will likely cause major damage to your teeth and mouth.
Just don’t put your rope in your mouth to avoid this common mistake. It’s pretty easy to avoid.
How to Practice Clipping Quickdraws
The best way to practice clipping quickdraws is by clipping quickdraws! It might sound silly to say aloud, but there really is no other way to practice other than by doing the action. You can repeatedly clip quickdraws in a few ways to safely practice your clipping skills.
First, you could find a bolt that is close to the ground or place a piece of trad gear close to the ground and use that to practice. The benefit of this is that you are on the ground and safe while you are practicing. The challenge with this is that you have to be near a rock with a low bolt or be able to place trad gear in order for this to work.
Another option to help you practice clipping for sport climbing is to buy a bolt and mount it on a piece of wood. This takes more work to set up but also allows you to practice clipping while sitting on your couch at home. You can even use a bolt from the hardware store since you won’t be climbing on this bolt.
You could also find something in your home to mimic a bolt. This could be the back of a chair, the handle of your microwave, or the railing of your stairs. You just need a fixed object with enough space for you to clip a carabiner into it. You can use this to help you practice clipping even if you don’t have a bolt at home.
The last tip is to practice mock leading. This is one of the best lead climbing tips because it will help you practice your climbing and clipping while remaining safe. To do this, you will climb on top rope while trailing an extra rope below you. Pretend that this extra rope is your lead rope, and use it to clip into the bolts on the wall as you climb up. Don’t worry; you’ll be on belay from your top rope the whole time.
Wrapping Things Up: Lead Climbing Clipping Techniques: What You Need to Know
Understanding how to safely clip a rope into a draw and avoiding back clipping and z-clipping is only one part of the equation. We can tell you how to clip safely while lead climbing, but it is up to you to go and practice it! As with any other new skill in climbing, make sure you talk to an expert or take a class before trying it yourself, but practicing on the ground before you start leading is a great way to help build your confidence and make sure you are prepared when you do start leading.