Mock leading is a great way to lead with ‘training wheels’. You can practice as if on a true lead, but with a solid back up while you gain confidence and proficiency. 

We're republishing an excellent series of climbing articles by Ken Hamel of R&W Rope Outdoors. Call Ken for great  advice and answers about rope and gear for climbing, work and safety, 800-260-8599.

So you’ve been climbing for some appreciable amount of time. You have some experience, you’ve climbed outside. Perhaps you’ve led some sport routes, followed some trad, and maybe multi-pitch. Now you want to start placing protection and learning to lead trad.

Although it is all roped climbing, most ‘mortals’ consider trad to be a whole different ‘kettle of fish’. The ‘head’ (confidence) really comes into play when your safety is solely based on the gear (‘protection’) you place in the rock. Trust it, and you’ll climb confidently, don’t trust it and you’ll be wondering about your gear the whole way up. I know an experienced climber of 5.13 sport, that leads 5.8–5.9 trad…big difference!

I am frequently asked how to make the leap to leading trad, because there are so many basic systems and techniques you need to know first. My best advice is:

  1. Pick up a book. One I recommend is “ Rock Climbing The AMGA Single Pitch Manual”, by Bob Gaines and Jason D. Martin. This book is a great starting point, and will educate you with easy to read ‘how to’ sections, complimented with informative pictures.
  2. Find a guide to show you the proper way to set up and build the systems you’ve read about, as well as how to place good gear. Another option would be to locate an organization that teaches seconding and beginner leading on climbs…i.e. some of the chapters of the Appalachian Mountain Club offer this. Lastly, find a mentor. Someone with proven experience and who is up on the latest systems, to show you how to lead climb, and all that you need to know.
  3. A mentor/partner(with similar aspirations) is good to have for continuing practice, someone who is patient and wants to see you succeed, and/or wants to learn and grow with you.
  4. MOCK leading. Invariably you will want a safe way to practice, when you start out. Most every crag has an easy, gear friendly route. If you set it up on top-rope, you can climb with safety(on top-rope) and drag a rope for your lead simulation, placing gear along the way, and clipping the rope your dragging into the protection. When you’re done and being lowered, you can actually test your gear, and/or have your partner remove and objectively critique it.

Mock leading is a helpful way to utilize ‘training wheels’ of sorts to make the transition to leading trad. You get to practice as if on a true lead, but with a back up while you become more proficient. Treat it exactly as you would a true lead, make thoughtful, good placements, and always wear a helmet. You can even incorporate a 2nd belayer, for your mock lead rope, and everyone gets practice time. Practice good habits in the start, and you’ll just keep building on them.

When I first started out, I mock led a bunch of things and eventually, when I was leading on my own, would continue to practice every chance I got on easier routes. Practice, practice, practice.

Once you are confident that your gear is safe, reliable and will offer the protection you need, you are free to explore and expand your trad leading capabilities.

Climb on, and seek qualified instruction when and where it’s needed. Never stop learning.

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