What's Different about Trad Climbing?
Traditional climbing has a reputation for scaring climbers new to it. Suddenly it is up to the climber to find the way now, no bolts lead the way anymore and it's important to stay on route, as climbing off route is a journey into the unknown. Trad climbers must place appropriate protection themselves, while the possibilities for protection may not always be good. Difficulty ratings are notoriously stiff (on historic trad routes) and climbs can be long to the point where just to retreat is a challenge in itself. In all, climbers new to the sport, who have only had to worry about their climbing movement ability to execute climbs thus far will invariably end up with a lot on their plate when starting to venture out on trad routes.
Perhaps the biggest difference with trad climbs is that routes are not always apparent and require climbers to find their way on their own. Fixed gear is often absent from the rock or in limited quantity consequently leaving it up to the climber to decide where to actually go. There is a talent to reading the rock from below, envisioning where the truest line at the posted grade was established and seeing what to do before attempting to do so. The trad climber should be climbing in a manor where he leaves himself options to adjust should he need to change his course or even down climb. Trad climbers should have constant tabs on their situational awareness, scanning the landscape ahead looking for the correct features to ascend and the places that will help protect the required moves.
There are often parts of trad routes where you really don’t want to take a fall. Sometimes a route description with a sub-par gear rating is telling of unique challenges on route, but often times if only a section of a climb is run out between gear, often where the difficulty is below that of the posed grade, then it isn't deemed to be a concern. In these cases it is imperative to not make the climbing any harder than it needs to be by staying on the intended line and only having the potential to fall where there is reliable protection not far below.
It is also important to note that removable protection, such as cam and nuts, which are commonly used while climbing (clean) traditional routes are only as solid as well as they are placed, and also only as solid as the rock is which they reside. To place effective gear requires precision by a lead climber and even when placements are good a worst-case scenario should always be considered. Gear is fallible and if the wrong gear fails, such as in the case of a single piece protecting the possibility of a ground fall while a climber is low on a route, it is worth considering back-up pieces or being extra careful not to fall.
Be safe. So many of the tasks we complete while climbing have great consequence if completed improperly. Take the time to ensure systems are in-tact, focus on tasks at hand and double check your work. When possible add redundant systems to safe-guard potential oversights. Tying knots in the end of rappel lines a hundred times may just save you on that one hundred first time you or your partner loose control. The list of ways to making climbing and long climbs safer far exceed what I can post here today but the key is to do your homework, realize your limitations and act accordingly. Mentorship from reliable sources can be a great help for most in learning the ropes; per-say.
Trad climbing is truly adventurous; it is a foray into the mountains with only the support that is provided within a given small team of climbers. There are few activities as uniquely self-determinate. True skill is required to safely work through the puzzle of a difficult climbing route and consequently few activities are as rewarding.
Whether you are new to the game or looking for tips on adding safety or efficiency to your trad climbing systems we are here at The Backcountry Pros to help you along the way. This summer we have clinics and private instruction available for all abilities here in the Wasatch!