Projecting a Trad Climb

Amity Warme Dec 6th 2023
  • Amity Warme climbing Tainted Love
  • Photography by Rachel Ross

Projecting a trad climb can be an extremely fun, rewarding, and engaging process, but it can also seem more intimidating than projecting a boulder or well bolted sport climb. There are often more logistics involved in terms of gear, safety, and tactics. Here is the typical process that I go through when projecting a trad climb, including an example of how I applied this process on Tainted Love, a 5.13d R trad route I climbed in Squamish, BC this past summer.

I generally start with a series of questions:

Is it safe (easy to protect with good gear) or is it too risky for me to lead without knowing the gear placements before attempting a lead go?

  • If it looks straightforward to protect with good gear that will hold any falls then I am more likely to lead it ground up without rehearsing it on top rope first. If the gear seems finicky or marginal, then I am more likely to rehearse the climb on top rope before leading it to make sure I reduce the risk of injury were I to fall.
  • Example: Tainted Love receives an R rating which indicates that the gear is sparse or marginal leading to a higher risk of injury if I were to fall. When I see an R rating on a climb that will be hard for me, I know that I will want to analyze and dial in the gear placements before attempting it on lead.
  • Amity Warme climbing Tainted Love
  • Photo taken by Rachel Ross

Is the route well within my ability or closer to my limit?

  • If the route is well below my max ability, then I feel more comfortable leading it first go even if the gear is tricky or not that good.
  • If the route is going to be challenging but takes good gear, then I will likely give it a flash attempt.
  • If the route is near my limit or challenging for me and has sparse or marginal gear then I will likely explore it on top rope first.
  • Example: Tainted Love is one of the hardest trad routes I have ever done so I knew I wasn’t likely to flash it and I wouldn’t have much margin to figure out gear on an initial lead attempt. These two factors made it a great candidate for sussing out first on top rope.

How is it accessed?

  • Some routes are approached from the base and do not have easy top down access.
  • Other crags and routes are accessed by rappelling in from the top.
  • Example: Tainted Love can only be accessed by rappelling in. It is located at the very top of The Chief - a large cliff in Squamish, BC and there is currently no way to approach it from below. This, plus the difficulty and the small, finicky gear all led me to try it first on a top rope so I could sort out gear and dial in beta.
  • Amity Warme climbing Tainted Love
  • Photo taken by Rachel Ross

Then it's time to try!

Once I’ve assessed gear and safety and tactics, it’s time to give it a go.

  • If I am giving a flash attempt on lead, I focus on staying relaxed and climbing smoothly between rests or gear placements. At each stance, I try to visualize and then execute the next sequence without a lot of hesitation. If I hesitate for too long, I waste precious energy so I do my best to climb decisively. I try to follow my intuition and ‘let my body climb’ without overthinking it.
  • Once I fall, then I go into energy conservation mode. Instead of trying to fight the rest of the way up and getting too pumped or using extra energy, I start going piece to piece or stance to stance, taking breaks at each placement. I try to figure out and memorize the most efficient beta and placing positions.
  • After climbing on it, I then assess how much work I think it will take me. Does it feel like I could do it in the next couple of tries or do I need to spend quite a bit more time learning and refining beta? If it feels like it will take me multiple days of work then I have to figure out if I have a partner who is also interested in the same climb or a climb nearby. Or will I be asking someone to come out just to support me. This is worth considering, especially if the approach is long or conditions at the wall are not that fun. If I don’t have a partner who is keen on climbing at the same wall, then I will likely figure out a set up where I can practice the route as a TR solo until I feel close to sending it. Then I will ask a partner to come out and belay me for lead attempts.
  • Example: I TR soloed on Tainted Love a couple of days before asking a friend to do the hour and half uphill approach with me to belay a lead attempt. I got to share beta and notes with a friend who was also trying the route, but I wanted to make sure I felt confident with the moves before leading it, given the R rating.
  • Amity Warme rock climbing
  • Photo taken by Rachel Ross

Staying in the process:

  • Each time I try the route, I focus on learning something new. That might be a more efficient sequence or a better stance for placing gear or just the flow and pacing of the route. I continue to refine my movement and gear each time on the route and take notes at the end of each day to help me remember.
  • If any of the gear feels questionable, I’ll test it in a controlled setting before taking any real falls on it. To do this you can be backed up on a TR belay and take a practice fall on the gear to make sure it holds and feels solid.
  • Progress isn’t always linear. As with any project, I’ll have both good days and bad days on the route. Some days will feel like big progress while others will feel like regression. It can be tough mentally to keep believing I am capable. But despite the highs and lows, continual, intentional effort almost always sees me through to the send. My mantra is to ‘just keep showing up’ because I know that hard work pays off.
  • Example: After practicing Tainted Love on top rope a couple of days, I felt like I was ready to give it lead burns. I thought I had my gear and beta dialed. But the day I hiked up to try and lead it, the conditions were terrible! It was unbelievably hot. I gave a couple of good efforts and performed alright, but the whole thing felt pretty desperate. It felt like I could slip at any second, which wasn’t ideal given the marginal gear that would be catching my falls. I didn’t end up sending it that day and even decided that I needed to reevaluate the gear I was placing in the crux (because it wasn’t that good) and smooth out my beta even further (because it was too strenuous). After reworking these things, I came back another day, refreshed mentally and physically. Conditions still weren’t great, but I was able to stay relaxed, climb smoothly, and send this beautiful route!

Projecting a trad climb can feel daunting at first, but breaking it down into manageable, bite-sized steps can help it seem more attainable. The experience often requires you to learn new skills and improve as a climber. This growth can be incredibly rewarding and even open up new doors in your climbing repertoire. If you’ve been wanting to try projecting a trad climb, I encourage you to pick an inspiring line and pursue your goal!