Use these tips to keep calm and climb strong during your lead test.


By Joseph Legotte

There’s one route in the gym that looms dark over the minds of all aspiring lead climbers. One glance at the overhung 5.9 in the Arch at Mira Mesa or the Great Prow in Mission Valley can have a new leader’s palms sweating and nerves quaking. I’ve been asked many times for tips and tricks to assist in passing the climbing portion of the test. I find that too much information can overload a climber at the onset of the test, so these concepts are short and easily practiced. Below is a compiled list of valuable elements that will help you calm the nerves, fight the pump, and climb your way to a lead climbing certification!

Remember to breathe. Remember to breathe deeply. This will encourage relaxation. Breathe while you clip. Sink into your skeleton, feel your weight in your feet, and relax. Consciously breathe from start to finish. And if necessary, take a nice deep breath prior to taking the plunge at the top if you’re particularly nervous about the fall.  

“There is no failure in climbing except the failure to leave the ground. Everything beyond that is a succession of small successes.”

Positive Thinking
Leave the ground knowing you’ll finish the climb. Remind yourself at every clip, “I can do this; it’s easy.” Or, find your own helpful personal mantra to use whenever you start to feel nervous or scared; everyone can find something that resonates well with them during stressful moments on the wall. Also, visualize being at the top. Visualize the laminated lead certification card you’re doing it for. Positivity will carry you further than anything.

You love to climb. Let your passion for climbing carry you up the wall. You know how to climb; you likely climb much harder than 5.9, so simply climb. Remember that you’re being tested on something you know how to do; this isn’t a pop quiz and you have as much time as you want to study the material and as many attempts as you want to pass the test. So, in reality, there is no “failing” the lead test. Rather, you gain more knowledge and experience for your next go. Ask for feedback from the testers to increase your chances of passing next time.

Fumbling with clips will allow fear and doubt to creep in. The longer you stay locked off trying to clip, the more energy you waste. Practice clipping at home with both hands and in both directions. Practice with your eyes closed. Practice, practice, practice!

Have Fun and Smile
Right before you leave the ground, take a breath and smile. If you fall before you make it to the top, smile. There’s no failure in climbing except the failure to leave the ground. Everything beyond that is a succession of small successes. So smile, crack a joke, laugh a bit, and start your journey to become a Mesa Rim-certified lead climber.

So, the next time you tie in below the lead test route and the front desk team member says, “You’re good to go,” remind yourself of these five elements, take a deep breath, smile, and climb your way to personal glory.


* These tips are designed to help the climber with the mental and physical aspects of lead climbing. Proper knowledge and understanding of safe lead climbing practices are the most crucial elements to master first, and the tips in this article cannot take precedence over that. Happy lead climbing!  


Interested in lead climbing? Mesa Rim offers a variety of instruction to get you prepped to take the next step in your climbing journey. Learn more here.

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