Do you remember your first lead?


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Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Nov 19, 2018 - 04:58pm PT
I don't know if I remember my first lead, at least a real free lead where I knew what I was doing.

But once I had half a clue, I remember leading Bishop's Terrace on day and then heading over and somehow found myself at the base of Serenity Crack. I had no idea what climb it was but it looked low angle-ish and set out on the first pitch (which is now rated 10a I think)

I had few to no cams and sewed it up as much as possible anyway thus leading to my calves being on fire by the time I reached the anchor.

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 11, 2018 - 02:58pm PT
Through this thread I have learned that in SuperTopo standards I am probably considered young at the ripe age of 30.

Trad climber
Apr 18, 2019 - 10:41am PT
I remember mine. It was a 50' climb maybe 5.7ish 5.8-? In West Nanticoke Pa. I had a few slung stoppers with not much idea of what was "good". I wore wrestling shoes, showed my partner how to belay and essentially soloed it. I was a dumb young buck age 15 with a lot of energy. 86' I believe

Stephen McCabe

Trad climber
near Santa Cruz, CA
May 30, 2019 - 12:35am PT
First lead: Off-width, Face, chimney, or Rotten Log?

I had great respect for the older climbers who were teaching the climbing class at UC Santa Cruz. It took me a while to realize that these future founders of Marmot Mountain Works were only 19 and 20 years old.

They had taken us to Goat Rock and Castle Rock where I had done a few 5.4s and a 5.6. Learning to rappel on campus was pretty scary, stepping off the 50' high footbridge near the UC Health Center. So, with that rappelling practice, a couple of belay lessons on the ground, and a session on how to tie your own harness from 22’ of 1” webbing, we were off to Yosemite in the spring. It was intimidating huffing up past the bright white boulders under the looming monolith of El Capitan. As we approach the base, I hear cursing as our instructors, Dave Huntley and Eric Reynolds, realize that someone has jumped the new route they were working on on the Captain. Jimmy Dunn of Colorado was soloing up a bit above their high point on a route he would end up calling Cosmos. Later stories I read about this speak mostly of Bridwell and company being upset that a Colorado climber was taking their route, without a mention of Dave and Eric, who had actually started the route.

While most everyone in the class went to do the Left Side of La Cosita, I went off with a TA to do the Left Side of Little John. With 2 minutes of ground school about crack climbing, specifically wide cracks, I was heading to what later became part of the off-width circuit. After Little John, on La Cosita my lack of expertise showed as I was having a tough time until I realized I had to unclip the piton before I passed it. I felt like an idiot for trying to climb up while the belayer was yanking me down. Later we went to Manure Pile Buttress and I top-roped the first pitch of After 7.

Around the campfire Huntley said, “Do you want to do a multi-pitch climb tomorrow?” I replied, “Yes… What’s a multi-pitch climb?” After their explanation, I figured that the climb called Royal Arches must be three pitches or so. We got up early and I took a wool shirt for warmth, but no food or water. On the easy, usually un-roped section above the first pitch Chimney, the leader Dave (not Huntley), veered from the route and started up the main steep wall before becoming stuck and having to retreat back to the main ramp. We continued up for quite a while to the next real climbing, which was a face move off a huge ledge. This Dave had only been climbing a couple of months and could not do the move. The other beginner on the climb, Mary Lou, and I stood on the ledge and held our hands above our heads and against the rock for Dave to step on to do the 5.6 or 5.7 move. After helping Mary, I did the move myself without assistance and began to worry a bit about the strength of the team. Just before doing the pendulum we discussed bailing off the route, but we were all intimidated about what that might involve.

We had to climb up, clip in, untie, retie, unclip, lower and pendulum. It took us noobs quite a while. Being spring of a wet year, where I belayed was running with water and my shirt became fairly wet just as the sun was sinking. We traversed across that narrow ledge and then to the tree covered ledge, Dave took one look at the Rotten Log and said, “I’m not doing that!” So there was no way up and it was too late to go down. Later, we split an apple and a small sandwich and maybe a bit of chocolate that Dave had brought for our only food for the climb. We sipped from water running down the mossy rock of the traverse.

I really didn’t get how far up we were until the lights started coming up in the Valley. I was in awe of being half way up the wall in Yosemite.

Dave and Mary Lou might have been keen on each other, because when it was time to hunker down against the cold, those two snuggled and I was solo with a nice rock for a pillow. The colder it got, the more it annoyed me. In the morning Dave wouldn’t even consider the Rotten Log. My argument was that we had put in a lot of work, spent a miserable, cold night on a ledge and we weren’t even going to finish the climb? How much longer could it be? He was adamant, but offered me the gear. The Rotten Log had been there for decades. All the bark was gone and it was slick as a park slide with many knots sticking out where the wood had worn away. It spanned a chasm at a steep angle. I asked Dave about tying a sling around the trunk and clipping that, so that if I fell off, I wouldn’t plummet 50’ or more onto granite. He sagely advised not to do that because if I fell off, I wouldn’t want to pull the huge log with me would I?

I dealt with the slickness of the tree by putting my arms to the farthest around knot/stub that I could reach, so that I was sort of bear hugging and climbing the knots at the same time. Very airy. Very hairy. As I approached the far side, I was scared, but ok because the climbing wasn’t too difficult. There was a place a few feet before the end where the log was near the rock, then away from the rock for a few feet. Almost done! I thought, I’ll try my jamming technique and put my foot where the log and rock almost touch. Yaaaaah! Imagine my surprise when the log started to move! Just a bit. Just enough to make me freeze in near panic as I moved my foot away from the gap. Breathe deep. Breathe calmly! And then I made the awkward last moves to ledge. Whooo! What do I do? “Put in a pin!” This was when pitons were still standard protection on any climb. He described the ascending pinging noise I should hear as I placed my first piece of protection ever. I added a pin, hoped they’d hold and brought them across.

On the pitch above the log Mary Lou started falling repeatedly and needing help from the rope. The rest of the day I belayed the leader, climbed and hammered out over-driven pitons, or belayed and hauled the follower, while each of them got a rest while I belayed. Dave used aid for a few feet on one of the pitches above the log. The last traverse at the top was terrifying given the few piton placements, I was looking at 50-60 foot pendulums in places if I slipped on the sandy traverse moves. It was sandier than others may have experienced because of how early it was in the season. It didn’t look like it had been climbed that year or at least since the last storm. We kept Mary Lou between us, so she could have a rope on either side for safety. She was a trooper, considering how tired she was and Dave got us to the summit in spite of a very limited amount of climbing experience before that week-end.

The only information that I had remembered from the instructors was after finishing whatever you do, don’t start the descent too early. They had friends who were feeling around in what they thought were bushes, but were actually the tops of oak trees growing off of little ledges at the top of Royal Arches. They almost took the big plummet. We by-passed this to safely reach the notorious North Dome Gully, the site of many end-of-day accidents, and made it to the Valley. Hearing the shuttle, we ran the last 150-200 yards in near darkness through the rocks to barely catch the last shuttle, 38 or 39 hours after we left the valley floor. At the cars, I was so tired and hungry that I couldn’t stomach the thought of the beer they tried to give me. I had to collapse in a chair and start with water and juice.

After that week-end we went to Castle Rock one more time. I think my next climb was in the fall. It was my second lead, Church Bowl Chimney, after being shown in an office at UCSC what nuts were and how a Chouinard catalog said they could be placed.

A couple of years later Wayne Harriman and I did Royal Arches, including the gully descent and got back to the deli in around 4.5 hours(?) after we left the valley. Not exactly NIAD, but a lot faster than the trip on which I did my first lead.

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
May 30, 2019 - 05:35am PT
Still trying to remember. I recall pounding some pitons on the sharp end at Devils Lake, when I was like 11. But not the details of what the routes were or difficulty. Didn’t really make the distinction, between leading and other climbing, as that significant back then. It was all just climbing.
Gunks Guy

Trad climber
New Paltz
May 30, 2019 - 06:19am PT
1984 - Gunks - Frogs Head
Led it in Converse sneakers with a handful of stoppers because I was too cheap to buy Friends and climbing shoes.
mike m

Trad climber
black hills
May 30, 2019 - 08:11pm PT
Holy terror in the needles 1993. One bolt a twenty foot sling and balls.

Trad climber
May 30, 2019 - 08:50pm PT
I’ve posted before about the 5.9 Galwas Crack at Mission Gorge (San Diego) being my first lead. One friend had taken me top-roping a few times, and taught me to set up natural anchors. Between that and reading Freedom of the Hills, I was ready to try leading. I went out with another friend and we just tried it and didn’t fall or die.

But the climb that sticks in my memory right now, is Solid Gold at Joshua Tree. I had the climbing magazine calendar that showed a great picture of the climb. It looked giant. I wanted to do multi-pitch climbing, and we couldn’t find much of that at Jtree. So we first did it in some contrived way to make a 2 pitch climb out of some 5.6. But then we headed out to Solid Gold.

I was really not ready. Having had no mentors for lead climbing, I had no sense of style or ethics. I got up that thing through Herculean efforts from one bolt to the next, where I would sag and hang at each bolt and recover my wits after the last run-out. So I basically made every bolt like a separate pitch. Pretty funny!
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