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Learning to trust pro

Original Post
Chris Fedorczak · · Portland, OR · Joined Dec 2016 · Points: 0

Hey everyone,

I've been sport climbing on and off for almost 15 years, but I went trad climbing for the first time yesterday at a local crag (Broughton) and had a really good time. I was following an experienced climber who I trusted implicitly to place gear, but psychologically, the idea of taking a whip on pro kinda freaks me out.

Any thoughts on how to get more comfortable?

Note: I'm not asking HOW to place gear. I know I need to put in a lot of time to do that safely (mock leading, etc). For me, it's also the mental aspect of trusting even what I know rationally to be bomber placements.

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

Lots of time, lots of mileage.  Your first few leads will feel like free solos, and likely will be, depending on how much time you spend practicing/evaluating placements and following.  Some people advocate practice falls with a TR backup or aid climbing...if that works for you, go for it.  What helped for me was when I got horribly sandbagged fairly early on and had to take and weight the gear for the first time.

Erik Sloan · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 135

Toprope aid leading a short crack can do wonders for your trad confidence - both in showing you how well you placed your gear, and also that properly placed pieces are super bomber. It's an unconventional suggestion, but if you have a friend who could set up a toprope on a crack for you, and instead of practicing just placing gear actually stand on each placement, you'll learn tons and feel a lot better - especially when you jump up and down on a piece and can't get it to move.

Woot! Erik -

Andrew G · · Silver Spring, MD · Joined Feb 2013 · Points: 303

Classic catch 22: don't wanna fall on gear because you can't trust it, don't trust gear because you haven't fallen on it.

Aid climbing on TR is good, but requires you to also learn aid shenanigans and either find a partner who'll patiently belay you for an hour as you aid your way up a 5.7 splitter or learning solo techniques.

The answer for most people is really just to invest the time. Climb a lot of easy stuff that allows you to focus on gear placement rather than climbing. Follow and clean for more experienced climbers. You'll develop a sense of what good gear is. Once you have that sense, then you can start working on the trust. Best way I've found to break the cycle of that catch 22 is to just keep upping the difficulty. Choose routes that protect well and have clean falls. Climb a 5.8. Didn't fall? Climb a 5.9. Didn't fall? Climb a 10a. Keep going til you fall. Try not to shit your pants, but it's ok if you do. The next time you fall won't be so bad.

You can also take intentional falls on gear. Start small and work your way up. This allows you to precisely choose a spot with a clean fall and good gear, but it also requires you to take that initial leap of faith. Resist the urge to build a multi-piece anchor (but do back up the piece you're falling on with another good piece right below it).

There are a few ideas, pick whichever suits you best.

topher donahue · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2007 · Points: 185

Erik's advice to go aid climbing is really good. Just remember that a piece that holds body weight, even jumping on it, does not always translate into a piece that will hold a 30 foot whipper, but aid climbing does provide the perfect baseline experience for learning to evaluate traditional gear. A bit of a shameless plug for my book, but Advanced Rock Climbing: Expert Skills and Techniques has a ton of information on how to get to the point you can treat trad gear with the same confidence you now treat bolts. The advice in the book is not just from me but also Sonnie Trotter, Steph Davis, Tommy Caldwell and other better climbers than I.

Maybe the best advice on learning to use trad gear I ever had was from my dad: "When you're learning to place gear, you can challenge your ability with the gear, or challenge your ability with the climbing, but not both at the same time!"

Daniel Joder · · Barcelona, Spain · Joined Nov 2015 · Points: 0

If you do the aid climbing thing, or just stand on a piece and jump on it to test it, protect your face in case it pops. 

Brandon.Phillips · · Portola, CA · Joined May 2011 · Points: 55

Go out with a more experienced climber, find a crack (or some feature that takes gear really well) that has clean falls - and take some falls.  Sew it up with a little nest of gear that you feel confident about (have your partner verify), climb above it a few feet, place a single piece and fall away.

I think aid climbing is a great way to learn the ins and outs of gear, but I never felt confident until I had taken some lead falls. 

Patrick Beeson · · Portland, OR · Joined Sep 2016 · Points: 50

I'm a few months into learning how to trad climb. My path has been to follow an experienced leader, cleaning their placements, while also having them follow me checking my own.

I've mostly stayed in the 5.6 to 5.9 ratings for trad; basically a guaranteed onsight range to build my confidence.

I started hanging on gear this weekend at Leavenworth after getting sandbagged on a few routes (found that I also need to work on my crack climbing). Everything felt solid, which did wonders for my mental game.

In addition to following/cleaning with more experienced climbers, I recommend lots of reading and placing gear on TR.

Keep it up! Trad climbing is a blast.


Chris Fedorczak · · Portland, OR · Joined Dec 2016 · Points: 0

Thanks all. I really appreciate the thoughts and advice. 

Alex Ghiggeri · · Denver, Colorado · Joined Jul 2015 · Points: 5

 Let's keep this conversation going. I feel the exact same way he does I think it's funny how you can climb sport in the 11s and almost 12's but when it comes to trad climbing to 5.4 or 5.5 can freak you out, And play so many mental games when it comes to trusting your gear.  Last week I had to bail on a climb in Boulder 8 feet from the summit because I could not place anymore gear in the last 15 feet.  In my mind I was in total freak out mode.  My last placement was a body length and a half below me and it was just a small x4.  Standing on a tiny ledge 95feet in the air I did the math if I slipped in the last 8 feet I would take at least a 25 foot whipper if not more on that tiny cam placed in a what I felt was a bomber crack.  But the mental overcame my own balls, and I was soon down climbing carefully.   Now I like to say to myself to keep my confidence from the climb that it was the right thing to do. Maybe not maybe I should've just grown a set and pushed for the finish but I care about my life and I feel that with trad Climbing you have to take things  more seriously when considering your route. While climbing you have to constantly assess where you can place gear and how strong Will it hold, and if you don't think it will you have to make a conscious choice of knowing if it's worth your life or not to push forward.   That for me is the hardest part of trad climbing.

Nick Sweeney · · Spokane, WA · Joined Jun 2013 · Points: 653

Another vote for practicing aid climbing on top rope!

Turner · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2011 · Points: 155

The Rock Warriors Way is a good resource. 

Old lady H · · Boise, ID · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 290

All of the above is great, and what I'll be heading for.

Experienced folks have also urged me to learn gear placements early on. With their encouragement, I have just started placing gear when I can, on sport leads (bare bones beginner on lead). 

A lot of our bolted routes take gear well, this is just an idea the trad guys gave me to do, and is part of my plan now. 

I will say, I blew about the third or fourth placement while on lead, lol! So, I got a nice unexpected sport/gear fall. That, being unexpected, really helped a bunch. Both on the suckage of that placement, but also a clean sport fall almost first time out. 

For myself, practice, practice, practice. Find the best people I possibly can to get out with and follow, aid, rack up as much time as my short life span still allows, and go for it. 

And yes. Listen. Balance the attitude.

From my first grade report card, first comments from school (exact quote): "Had to knock her ego down a bit"

Yeah. I think that climber I only discovered three years ago was there all along. At least the smartass little brat found her community. Thanks, all. 

Best, Helen

Carson Baker · · Portland, OR · Joined Dec 2012 · Points: 10

Hey Chris,

We go climbing at Broughton every Wednesday after work. My friend James has been working on aid climbing some of the cracks to feel better about trusting pro. I think he's in the same boat as you. If you want to join, shoot me a message on Facebook, and I'll add you to our little group page for scheduling.



Matt Himmelstein · · Orange, California · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 125

I have never taken an intentional fall on gear.  I have also never done it on bolts.  I have done it from time to time in the gym, but not often.  You can't get hurt in the air, but you are eventually going to hit something.

Now, I have fallen, I just don't do it intentionally, and I don't think I would recommend it on gear.  Every placement is unique, so having a piece hold in one placement is not really going to translate to how it holds in another placement.  I am an engineer, so I understand the physics behind how trad gear works, which makes it more comfortable for me to trust.  You just need to understand how to place gear, and then simply trust that it wil hold, within the parameters in which you placed it.  Set anchors and have knowledgable folks evaluate them, do a lot of following and when you pull a piece, analyze how and why it was placed.  Think about how you would have placed it.  Then have good climbers follow your lead to give you feedback on your placements.

BJB · · Texas · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 195

Easy aid climbing will do a lot to boost your confidence in pro.  You'll get better at placing it and you'll realize how well it holds.  

Healyje · · PDX · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 295


I'd be willing to take you out for a few goes out at Beacon and Dropzone. 

I'd personally say skip all the TR/mock leading as way, way counterproductive. Do the aid thing instead if you want to just practice placements, but seconding competent, experienced leaders is what you want and really learning the how/what/where/why of every placement while you're at it. Understanding the choice of placements and rationale for each is that first step in trusting them yourself.

Healyje · · PDX · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 295
Patrick Beeson wrote:

I started hanging on gear...

Glad it held, but this is a bad idea in general and not a habit you want to form as it will bite you sooner or later...

eli poss · · Durango, Co · Joined May 2014 · Points: 456

The only way to truely trust your gear is to actually fall on it, so start flying. Don't start flying, though until you and an experienced mentor both agree that your gear placements are good. 

As for how to fall your option are practice falls or just climbing harder grades. The first option will be easier and quicker, but you have to actually force yourself to fall, which is gonna be pretty hard if you don't trust your gear. If you can't do that then just read about and/or watch something inspiring and then just go climb something that's a grade harder than the hardest lead you've done on gear, and eventually you're gonna fly. Clean falls and hard rock are preferable.

Benjamin Mitchell · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 0

Go climb routes that are really hard for you and offer great protection and cleans falls. 

Healyje wrote:

Glad it held, but this is a bad idea in general and not a habit you want to form as it will bite you sooner or later...

Why do you say this? How is hanging on gear on a G-rated climb particularly dangerous? Is aid climbing not an entire genre of the sport which revolves around hanging on gear? Genuine question cause once in a while I get in over my head and I'll back up a good piece with another good piece and rest for a minute. 

Healyje · · PDX · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 295
Benjamin Mitchell wrote:

Why do you say this? How is hanging on gear on a G-rated climb particularly dangerous? Is aid climbing not an entire genre of the sport which revolves around hanging on gear? 

In aid climbing you never get on gear you haven't tested (and you're supposed to be hanging on gear) - hanging on gear free climbing the gear has not been tested in that way. Lot's of folks get hurt this way - treating gear like bolts.  Again, it's a bad habit you don't want to develop. And if you do weight gear for any reason and then plan on climbing past it again you'll want to check the piece and, if necessary, reset the it before climbing on. 

Benjamin Mitchell wrote: 

Genuine question cause once in a while I get in over my head and I'll back up a good piece with another good piece and rest for a minute. 

All of the above and the fact you aren't trad climbing at that point; you're sport climbing on gear or 'sprad' climbing and it will bite you as sooner or later you'll rest on a piece of pieces that blow, be runout with no pro available, be in a place where you can't back up a marginal piece to rest on it, or be in some other less-than-desirable situation where you can't rest on a piece and now don't have the wherewithal to deal with such situations due to the crutch developed by dogging on pieces.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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