Mountain Project Logo

Am I ready to lead adventure style trad.


Original Post
Wesley · · Sequoia National Park, CA · Joined Nov 2016 · Points: 437

Based on my experience, listed below, I have 2 questions:

  1. Am I ready to embark on more big adventure climbs in and around Sequoia/Kings/Yosemite with someone of similar skill level? 
  2. Am I ready to embark on more adventure climbs with a beginner following me?
I assume that if the answer to both of those questions is no, I should seek out more experienced partners for a little longer. If that's the case, how much longer?

My experience:
  • Followed a few single pitch trad routes in the 5.7 to 5.10 range. 
  • Bought a rack and have lead a few (~10-12) single pitch routes in the same range. Focused only on routes that have "good protection" in the description.
  • Followed two big adventure routes. Lead a few pitches on these, but mostly just followed.
  • Lead one 3 pitch climb in the back country of Sequoia (Duet at Chimney Spire).
My skill sets
  • How to build a master-point or quad anchor.
  • How to do a basic belay from above with an ATC guide or similar device. 
  • Basic gear placement.
My climbing ability: 
  • Sport, Overhung, vert and slab are all equal for me. I'm flirting with some easy 12s, but mostly I'm an 10+/11- climber. The exception here is friction slab, which I have little experience on. 
  • I've lead some 5.8-10a cracks both bolted and gear. Almost all of them kicked my ass. Overhung hand cracks seem to be my nemesis. Dihedrals come a little easier for me (maybe every one?).
My concerns
  • Lack of knowledge of alternate systems for belaying and building anchors
  • lack of experience with complicated rappelling
  • Lack of experience navigating routes that "wander"
  • Lack of experience in off-width climbing. I've done exactly one that I can think of
I hope that's sufficient detail! I am moving to Sequoia when I finish my master's in the spring. My main climbing partners will all be less experienced than me.
Gavin Towey · · Bend, OR · Joined Oct 2015 · Points: 0

You're ready when you think you are

Gunkiemike · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 2,800

Is going "adventure" with someone with much more experience than you not an option? They would be in the best position to assess your readiness to lead/share such an outing.

Wesley · · Sequoia National Park, CA · Joined Nov 2016 · Points: 437
Gunkiemike wrote: Is going "adventure" with someone with much more experience than you not an option? They would be in the best position to assess your readiness to lead/share such an outing.

Hi Gunkiemike,

It would be an option occasionally, and I'll absolutely seek that out whenever available. However, most of my readily available climbing partners include my fiance who has only top-roped, plus some of her guy friends who are mostly beginning to intermediate sport climbers. I will be living and working in the park, so I don't have access to a large metropolitan population to pick and choose more experienced partners from. 

I'm trying to maximize my climbing, obviously, but without endangering the lives of others. There isn't a lot of sport cragging available in the park, so if I want to keep climbing bunches, I have to start hitting those big multi-pitch climbs. Which I am EAGER to do anyway!
Ben Molloy · · Keene, NY · Joined Mar 2018 · Points: 0

Wesley, I think the most crucial skill to go adventure climbing is having the intuition and willingness to back down, as well as the skills required to do so. Adventure climbing (as far as I've experienced) only endangers the lives of the climbers when the climbers push their own capabilities just to summit. There is definitely an adrenaline rush that comes with barely making it out of an adventure climb, but as long as you are able to see, predict, and avoid the danger then you will be fine. Like Gavin said, you're ready when you think you are, just know that you can always bail and tackle it another day with a more experienced partner or under better conditions.

Todd Ra · · Golden · Joined May 2014 · Points: 50

Just go for it. It's rock climbing. A bunch of us are just out to have fun and do stupid shit. You can place gear, build an anchor, and belay. Done. Start easy and plan on taking MUCH longer than you think you'll take. Start learning more advanced techniques as you have time. Read a bunch. Ask people. Go for it. If you have to bail and lose a bunch of gear, lesson learned...

I'm sure many replies are gonna say you're not ready. Whatever. Sometimes getting in over your head is a great learning experience. It has been for me. 

Harumpfster Boondoggle · · Between yesterday and today. · Joined Apr 2018 · Points: 113

YGD™.

curt86iroc · · Lakewood, CO · Joined Dec 2014 · Points: 53

you had me at "i know how to build a quad"

master gumby · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2016 · Points: 152

This feels like an elaborate troll...

Quad anchor, flirting with 12s but a 5.10/11 climber, doesn't know how to rappel, BOLTED F****** CRACKS WTF........

If it is not a troll, the only way you will find out if your ready is by going out and trying. No matter what anyone says on MP you wont know until you go do. let us know what happens  

Nick B · · Anchorage, AK · Joined Jan 2016 · Points: 61

You have climbed 10-12 easily protectable single pitchs and want to climb hard adventure/alpine routes?   The fact you are asking this question on a forum should tell you the answer is prob no.   It shows you don't know enough yet to be a good judge of your own skill set and don't really know what you might run into.  I am all about just jumping in, but you are risking your life and your partners as well if you get in to far over your head.   Take your time and learn the craft, trad climbing is not sport climbing and the consequences of be uprepared and generally much higher.  

Wesley · · Sequoia National Park, CA · Joined Nov 2016 · Points: 437
master gumby wrote: This feels like an elaborate troll...

Quad anchor, flirting with 12s but a 5.10/11 climber, doesn't know how to rappel, BOLTED F****** CRACKS WTF........

If it is not a troll, the only way you will find out if your ready is by going out and trying. No matter what anyone says on MP you wont know until you go do. let us know what happens  

It's not a troll. In your paraphrasing of my words, you misquoted me. I think you just read a little too quickly. Thanks for your input on just getting out and trying it though. 

1.) I didn't say I don't know how to rap. I said I don't know how to do complicated rappels. To expound: using a tag-line, or route finding my way down long routes that require multiple rappels that aren't all in a line.

2.) If I'm onsighting 10+, redpointing 11a/b, it's not terribly shocking that I'd be hang dogging up 12s. Physical fitness may not be as important as knowing my systems, but it certainly has some affect on the overall safety of climbing in unfamiliar territory.  

3.) Yes, cracks are bolted. Especially in crags that are mostly sport and mostly limestone. I know that ruffles feathers, but I didn't bolt them. I don't have an opinion on the matter other than I find it funny how sensitive adult males are about it.

You seem like you are in a bad mood, and I hope that you have a much better day. I know life sucks some times. 
Wesley · · Sequoia National Park, CA · Joined Nov 2016 · Points: 437
Nick B wrote: You have climbed 10-12 easily protectable single pitchs and want to climb hard adventure/alpine routes?   The fact you are asking this question on a forum should tell you the answer is prob no.   It shows you don't know enough yet to be a good judge of your own skill set and don't really know what you might run into.  I am all about just jumping in, but you are risking your life and your partners as well if you get in to far over your head.   Take your time and learn the craft, trad climbing is not sport climbing and the consequences of be uprepared and generally much higher.  

I should expound on what I mean by hard, I guess. I can see what you mean.

I mean harder routes that are still easily protected. Separate from hard, what I mean by adventure is just bigger routes, not necessarily difficult. Hard to navigate, perhaps, but not necessarily technically difficult.

Thanks for pointing out that confusion. And I appreciate hearing your more "cautious" opinion.

jessie briggs · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2016 · Points: 235

After a brief look on Mountain Project, there appears to be quite a lot of roadside climbing, with opportunities for shorter multi pitch routes. Check those out, climb a lot, and learn as much as you can. You’ll have plenty of fun, and after a while you’ll probably feel ready to tackle the remote big routes in the area. Have fun! 

abandon moderation · · Tahoe · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 138

If I were you I would probably keep cranking in single pitch climbs to get more experience. 10-12 leads isn't a whole lot to learn what you don't know yet.

For #2 I think the thing with a less experienced partner comes down to: Are you ready to be the one responsible to get you and your partner out safely if things don't go as expected? The shift from being able to rely on someone more experienced to being the one relied on isn't always obvious until you find it happening.

This could be as simple as a pitch your partner can't lead. Maybe it started raining, or the pitch is too hard/runout for them, and it's up to you. Or as bad as your partner (or you) getting injured.

These aren't such a big deal on a single pitch route, but if you've made it a few pitches up something retreat is not always easy. I would take potential partners out single pitch climbing first to make sure they're capable of doing the route you want. Once again, they're likely to rely on *you* to judge whether or not they're capable, they won't know for themselves.

Ryan Hill · · Oakland, CA · Joined Dec 2009 · Points: 30
Wesley wrote: Based on my experience, listed below, I have 2 questions:

  1. Am I ready to embark on more big adventure climbs in and around Sequoia/Kings/Yosemite with someone of similar skill level? 
  2. Am I ready to embark on more adventure climbs with a beginner following me?
I assume that if the answer to both of those questions is no, I should seek out more experienced partners for a little longer. If that's the case, how much longer?

No to both questions.

It isn't a case of how much longer, but what type of training and preparation you should be doing.

Without going into too much detail, my plan, if I was in your shoes:

1. Identify a handful of routes I want to do in SEKI/Yosemite
2. Focus on traditional climbs in my area, increasing my knowledge of gear placement, climbing styles/techniques, and becoming better at rope management.  Seek out a mentor or do a lot of homegrown research to increase your knowledge...practice the shit out of that stuff.  
3. Work on overall fitness.  SEKI is a massive park with big elevation gain.  The routes out there involve a lot of hiking and gear, chances are this will cause more pain and suffering than the actual climbs you are looking at.

A lot of this depends on what routes you want to do.  Climbing 5.5 ridge lines is going to be different than climbing moderate multi-pitches in Yosemite is different than established backcountry big walls is different than first ascents in some back corner of the park.  Without specifics of what you are wanting to do there is really no way a bunch of hooligans on the internet will help you, other than by saying you aren't ready or yer gunna die!
SeƱor Arroz · · LA, CA · Joined Jan 2016 · Points: 10

I'd say that your biggest likely weakness is route finding. Both up and down. Sierra granite multi-pitch is nothing like the climbing you're doing back east. It's a SEA of granite and options once you dive deep into that terrain.

 What you lead on sport is pretty much irrelevant, I think. You should focus on getting in more pitches on adventure routes with someone who knows their game. And practice all your other skills on some of the great 1-2 pitch climbs in the park. You're going to love living there for a while. Beautiful place.

Mark Andes · · Golden, CO · Joined Jun 2016 · Points: 26
Wesley wrote:

I should expound on what I mean by hard, I guess. I can see what you mean.

I mean harder routes that are still easily protected. Separate from hard, what I mean by adventure is just bigger routes, not necessarily difficult. Hard to navigate, perhaps, but not necessarily technically difficult.

Thanks for pointing out that confusion. And I appreciate hearing your more "cautious" opinion.

Do you have a target in mind?

Rod Shaftmoore · · Boulder, CO · Joined May 2008 · Points: 100

It sounds like you have enough experience to take a less experienced partner up a lot alpine routes in the 5.5 - 5.6 range, and do OK.  You'll probably be a lot slower than you'd expect, but that's normal for new trad leaders.  The problem is, what happens when something goes wrong (weather, rock fall, injury to you, injury to your partner, etc).  In your list of experiences you didn't mention anything about self-rescue.   Unfortunately, I think a lot of climbers don't know much about self-rescue, and just get by because they haven't had anything go wrong yet.  Honestly, I could stand to brush up a bit.

You mentioned that you have followed 2 alpine routes.  Be honest, would you have been totally screwed if your partner on those routes was less experienced an had a minor injury (sprained ankle, and can't climb anymore without assistance)?  I'm not trying to bust your balls.  I think this is a really common situation with new leaders, myself included.  It's kind of like how every one of us should have died in a car accident our first year of driving, but didn't.  Looking back, I'm amazed I lived to see 18.

If I were you, I'd keep it low commitment (1-3 pitches, short approach, easy grade) when climbing with less experienced partners, and save the more adventurous stuff for days you can line up a more experienced partner.  On those days focus on transitioning from following, to swinging leads with your partner.  Once you're comfortable swinging leads with a more experienced partner and learn a bit about self-rescue, look at being the leader for a less experienced partner.

Or.  Fuck it.  Just dive right in.  Be warned though, if you epic with your fiance, you'll never live it down...

Idaho Bob · · McCall, ID · Joined Apr 2013 · Points: 450

There are a couple of other skill sets that you might want to consider:  route finding (no chalk to guide you),  first aid (accidents happen),  bivy skills (delays happen).
use of twin ropes (increases rappel options)

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 210

What, exactly do you mean by “big adventure routes”?

rgold · · Poughkeepsie, NY · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 526

I'd guess most of the older climbers around here (including me) headed out on relatively large "adventure" climbs with no more and possibly less experience than you've accumulated.  You should understand that you are far from competent (same for us) and that means the activity is going to be, in principle, a lot riskier than the shorter bolted pitches you're most used to.  We old folks had the advantage of being terrified from the outset, but I think many contemporary climbers don't quite realize the jump in risk going from sport cragging to multipitch trad.  You ought to be climbing well within your abilities, at least for a while, which from what you've said suggests capping the difficulty at no more than 5.8.  I'd suggest keeping well below that at first.  The other thing besides difficulty is length; you should be working your way up the length scale slowly enough to get dialed all the things mentioned below before the size of the route makes them really matter.

In addition to climbing in full control, you'll want to be efficient with gear and rope handling.  Inexperienced climbers who can climb the individual pitches of a route sometimes get into trouble because they take way too long to do everything.  Work on efficiency on shorter routes before tackling longer ones.  You shouldn't be experimenting with multiple gear sizes at every placement, should be able to set up belay anchors quickly, accomplish belay changeovers with a minimum of fuss, and shouldn't be getting ropes crossed, twisted, and tangled.   See how long you are taking on shorter routes and extrapolate. remembering that fatigue and route-finding can slow you down.  Given that time will almost certainly be an issue, make sure you get the earliest possible start and at least have some headlamps stashed in your gear.

I don't think you need to start out with a book's worth of self-rescue skills (many of which you'll never use and some of which don't even work in most situations), but you have to have some ability to get out of jams.  A second who can't get up something or who falls and swings over rock they can't climb should be equipped with the gear and knowledge to prusik up the rope and not take all day to do it.  The only thing that is practical for most parties in case of an injury is a retreat, so you should know how to set up and do a tandem rappel (both climbers hanging from one rap device with the brake strand managed by the uninjured climber).  Make sure you know how to achieve appropriate friction for the higher loads involved, and realize that you may have to construct all your own rappel anchors, which places a premium on improvising natural anchors as much as possible.

Still on the subject of getting out of jams, one of the big  changes in contemporary climbing is that direct aid is no longer a basic skill learned early in the process.  This is unfortunate, because if you run into difficulties that are too much for you, either because you misjudged your abilities or got off route or the conditions are poor or bad weather set in, then being able to efficiently improvise a direct aid ascent (without the paraphenalia used for big walls) is what will get out of a potentially bad situation.  This is also something you can practice on small crags in non-stressful situations.

All this is predicated on your being with someone with at least the same level of skill and knowledge.  In my opinion, you absolutely should not be taking out beginners, or anyone whose knowledge is inadequate to either take over leading or manage a retreat (at the level you are at).

As for some of the finer details, you should know how to rig belays with just the rope and should know how and when to use harness belays rather than guide belays on the anchors.  There isn't all that much to rappelling, but remember that in addition to figuring out where you are going, you have to attend to where the rope is being placed and how to make the pull-down as easy as possible.

All these topics expand into descriptions that fill books.  By all means acquire them and read up.  Then build up from shorter and easier to longer and harder, take you time to enjoy what you are doing, and remember that tomorrow is another day.

Edit: routefinding has been mentioned.  I don't know any way to learn about this except through experience, and even after years of experience, some people are a whole lot better than others.  Once again, short routes before long routes is the key to reducing the likelihood of a major epic.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

Trad Climbing
Post a Reply to "Am I ready to lead adventure style trad."

Log In to Reply