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Unsent: An Honest Guide to Your First Trad Lead

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Unsent /un-sent/ 1. To have failed so badly on a route you had previously climbed that you negate your redpoint. 2. A humor column.

Unsent First Trad Climbing Lead Cams Nuts Rock Funny
Protect the climb, not the move—but not so much that you run out of gear.Kevin Corrigan (@kevincorrigan)

Stop crying. That comes later.

You’ve prepared for this. You’re ready. You’ve spent an hour placing cams and nuts on the ground, yanking on them, questioning if they’re good, and settling on, “I guess—probably?” You’ve read John Long’s Climbing Anchors, and in a no-stress environment can easily recall some of it. You’ve been “mentored” by that guy who carries everything he needs to build a 3-1 pulley on his harness while bouldering at the gym. You’ve prepared enough that it’s turned into procrastination. Suck it up and start leading. Here’s how:

1. Rack up

You’ll want a lot of gear on this 30-foot, roadside 5.4. Double cams from 00 to No. 4, plus offsets. Double nuts from 1–13. Double offset nuts 7–11. Tricams. Enough Hexes that the local rancher thinks his herd escaped. Also, two 25-foot cordelettes, 12 alpine draws, five slings, six double-length slings, two prusiks, two rap devices in case you drop one, and 20 lockers because who knows?

2. Start climbing

Decide that you’re not ready, and never will be, then start climbing anyway. There’s no pro in the first five feet, but it’s going to be OK. The first bolt on sport climbs is regularly 15 feet up. Just get past this five feet of third class to that corner system.

3. Sew it up

You’ve reached the crack. Now you can protect to your heart’s content. Place a cam for your first piece. It’s multidirectional! You read on a forum how this is important because of fall factors or “zippering” or something. Hmm. The .75 seems OK, but it is cammed one degree past the optimal range. Double it up. OK. Bomber. But the rock sounds sorta hollow. Place a nut in that V-slot, too.

4. Run it out

You’ve placed 10 pieces in the first 15 feet, and you’ve been on the wall for 30 minutes. This is ridiculous. Space out your gear a little more. Get into the movement. Notice how easy the route is. Look down and realize you’ve climbed 10 feet without gear. Now freak out: Oh, my God, I’m free soloing! Place as many pieces as possible. Will the gear even hold? There’s no way that stupid little nut could hold a fall. Or that big nut. Or any cams. It’s a free solo. No falling. Aaagh!

5. Cry

Now it’s time to have a good cry. Sit on a ledge and let it out. You’re definitely going to die on this route six number grades below your onsight level. Write letters to your loved ones—roll them up and shove them in a Hex. This was a bad idea. You should’ve stuck to ledgy 5.10 sport routes, where it’s safe.

6. Finish the route

Since you’re definitely going to die, you might as well try to finish. You will be Bhodi from Point Break—this 5.4 is your 50-year storm. You will go down in a blaze of glory yarding on jugs before your foot slips and you zipper dozens of pieces. It will be tragic, yet triumphant.

7. Build an anchor

You’ve finished the pitch! Didn’t expect that. Now build an anchor. You’ve placed all 59 pieces except for one micronut. So, place that, sling that enormous tree, then equalize them, just like the forum experts say.

8. Celebrate your great success

Congratulations! You’ve narrowly survived your first trad route. Immediately yell, “Sport climbing is neither!” at anyone who will listen and start planning your next climbs: the Diamond, El Cap, Trango Tower, etc. Then go back to bolt clipping for a year before you get up the courage to do it all again.

Read more Unsent. For Kevin’s non-humor columns, see Noon Patrol.