How to Lead Climb Indoors

Your first time in a climbing gym, you'll probably climb on ropes hanging across or through anchors near the ceiling. This is known as top-roping. If you feel the need to push yourself to the next level of climbing, climbing gyms offer a controlled, relatively safe environment to start learning about lead climbing. For lead climbing, you, your belayer and the rope all start at the bottom of the wall. Then you "lead" the rope up the wall as you climb, periodically clipping into protection along the way.


  1. 1
    Check with your local climbing gym about their lead climbing policy. Most climbing gyms require you to have a lead card or certification, but the specifics of how they carry this out vary between facilities. In particular:
    • Most gyms offer lead climbing classes to educate the beginner. But you might need to be able to climb at a certain level, or have certain gear, before joining the class.
    • If you're already an experienced climber, ask if you can demonstrate your lead climbing ability without having to take the entire class.
  2. 2
    Expect to pay a small fee for the class and/or certification test.
  3. 3
    Many gyms have quickdraws permanently attached to the walls. However, you may occasionally see gyms where you must provide your own quickdraws and clip them into bolts in the wall as you ascend.
  4. 4
    Most gyms provide lead climbing ropes for you, but occasionally you may need to provide your own.
  5. 5
    Check that your harness is properly buckled, and the waist belt fits above your hip bones. Tie into one end of the climbing rope, then double-check your knot.
  6. 6
    Ensure that your partner is ready to belay you. Her belay device should be clipped to the rope, several arms-lengths away from where you tied in. Double-check that her harness is also attached correctly.
    • Your partner should be double-checking you at the same time. 2 pairs of eyes are always better than 1.
    • If you're significantly heavier than your belayer, she might want to clip into a ground anchor before you start climbing.
  7. 7
    Examine the route before you start climbing, thinking through not just the moves of how to climb it but looking at where each clip-in point is located. Considering which holds you'll use and how you'll position your body to make each clip.
    • Remember, you have to pull extra slack up to make each clip. Until you actually clip the rope into the carabiner, the extra slack increases your chances of taking a bigger fall and even hitting the ground. Limit your fall potential by clipping from a secure stance, with your hips as close to the clip as possible.
    • Sometimes you can choose from more than 1 clip-in point. Try to plan your clip-ins so that the rope "follows" you up the wall in as straight a line as possible; excessive zig-zagging creates a lot of rope drag.
  8. 8
    Tell your partner that you're about to start climbing, and wait for her go-ahead before you proceed.
  9. 9
    Grasp the climbing rope near your harness and clip it through the first quickdraw. One popular rope clipping technique is using your middle finger to stabilize the carabiner as you use your thumb and forefinger to guide the rope into the carabiner.
    • The rope should run up through the carabiner from behind, then out toward you; if the rope enters the carabiner from the front and then exits (up) behind the carabiner, this is known as back clipping and could cause the rope to come unclipped if you fall.
  10. 10
    Continue climbing and clipping into each protection point as you go. When you reach the top, clip the rope into the uppermost anchor point and signal for your partner to take up the slack. Once you can feel her holding you up, sit back and prepare for her to lower you.


  • Climbing, even indoors, is an inherently dangerous sport. Always connect with gym staff to learn the specifics of lead climbing in a particular facility, and always have an experienced climber double-check your lead climbing technique, and your partner's belaying, until you both feel confident. Even once you have some experience under your belt, you and your partner should still be vigilant for potential hazards such as backclipping the rope.

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