Lead Climbing Will Always Scare The Shit Out Of Me, And That’s Why I Love It

“Do one thing everyday that scares you.”

That’s what they say. Who’s they? Eleanor Roosevelt I think, but lots of people say the same thing. Yet, not a lot of people really do this. In general, we live in a world of comfort.

And that’s why I love to get out lead climbing…

Because it scares the shit out of me.

If it scares you, it’s worth trying. When you will yourself to take that step, to put it all on the table and say “fuck you fear,” that’s when you accomplish great things. So swallow the anxiety and push past your comfort zone, or always wonder “what if?”

This philosophy manifests itself in many shapes and forms throughout my life, and lead climbing is certainly one great example, representative of the greater picture.

If you don’t know what lead climbing is, I’ll explain. It’s when you ascend a route without a fixed anchor above you. The rope is not run overhead like at most climbing gyms. Instead, it falls from your waist back to the ground and to your belay partner. And if you fall, you fall. That is unless you’ve managed to clip into quickdraws or other placed protection along the way.

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There’s a certain metaphorical beauty in lead climbing that just resonates with me. You have to go past where you’re protected. For 5, 6, or maybe 10 feet, you just have to climb exposed, knowing that slipping from 10 feet above your last clip means falling at least 20 with rope stretch.

There’s a risk—it’s simple, it’s terrifying, and it’s wonderful.

A couple of weeks ago, I went up to New Hampshire’s White Mountains with my friends, Ethan and Ryan, and this was the first time the three of us reunited for a wilderness adventure since coming back from Between The Peaks. Long overdue. And we kicked it off on the cliffs of Rumney Rocks.

I hadn’t climbed outdoors since the ice melted this season, but the guys hadn’t climbed much at all in the last year, so I stepped up to lead the first route. It’s in those first moments before you begin that you have to find the right mind state.

You chalk up your hands before they start sweating just thinking about what’s ahead. You do your best to calm your breathing, your heart rate, and zone in. You focus, and then you go for it.

Starting is the easy part

The thing about lead climbing that will never feel comfortable to me, is climbing above your protection. There are those moments when your toes are pressed into the tiniest little notches on the rock, and your finger tips are jammed into a crack you have no business putting your body weight on, and you have to just trust yourself to push onward. To keep going and get to that next clip.

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Once you’re close enough to reach the bolt and place the quickdraw, you find yourself in that always precarious position of letting one hand go to fiddle with your rope and place that protection. You hang on just a few fingers with all you have until you’ve successfully clipped in, or you slip and take a nice big whipper and hope you’re climbing something vertical enough that you have clear exposure and don’t hit anything below.

These are the moments that scare the shit out of me, and they are the moments I keep coming back for. The more you learn to face fear and push yourself beyond your comfort zone, the more you grow as a person. What happens to your body and mind during a lead climb is a simple metaphor for anything you pursue in life.

Chase the things that heighten your senses. Attempt what you think you could never do. Go out, scare yourself, and push past it. It will always be worth it when you get to the top.

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Jonathan Ronzio
Jonathan Ronzio

Founder & Host

Founder, Explore Inspired | CMO, Trainual | Co-Host of The Stokecast Podcast | Mountain Athlete | Award-Winning Adventure Filmmaker | Keynote Speaker

2 Comments
    1. Thanks a lot Christy! I have climbed trad once, a 2-pitch route on Independence Pass out in Aspen, CO. It was another level of exhilarating for sure – and something I’d love to do more of in the future! This season I invested in my ice climbing rack, but trad gear will certainly come into play down the road. Thanks for reading!

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