To Leash or Not to Leash

November 29, 2008

Reading Time: 503 minutes.

Now a year ago if someone was to ask me whether or not leashless climbing was going to catch on I probably would have said no, because at that time I just couldn’t see most climbers viewing the technique as applicable to what they did. I did write about how great it was, how much easier it felt and all the other stuff that people who’ve tried ditching their leashes say but, unfortunately, unless you’ve tried it then those words just sound too good to be true.

Since then I’ve gone more and more leashless, on both Scottish routes and Alpine climbs and the thing is that I’ve now changed my mind - not that leashless climbing is the way forward - but that it will catch on. The reason is that leashless is just SO much better, so much easier, so much safer and, most of all, so much more fun that I’m now convinced that the answer is YES. Because going leashless is the only way forward and although it may take some time, I think the majority of climbers will agree with me once they give it a try.

One of the major things that convinced me was trying the Croz Spur on the Grandes Jorasses last Easter with Paul Ramsden. Now I don’t think Paul was all that convinced about this leashless business and, in fact, had only just swapped over to clipper leashes (he is a Yorkshireman after all).

Nevertheless we both set off up the route with our leashes clipped to the back of our harnesses, but with our tools tied to our rucksack straps so as not to drop them. By the end of the day, having climbed some pretty tricky mixed waterfalls (Easter turned out not to be a good time to visit the Croz) and dry tooling, we found ourselves a third of the way up the route. It was only then that Paul realized that he’d climbed the whole way without once clipping in his leashes - something he wouldn’t have thought possible. To Paul this was pretty astounding and what’s more he’d found the climbing easier, less cluttered and more fun without being strapped to his tools and so, overnight, Paul went from sceptic to total convert.

The option of clipping in leashes is a good way of playing it safe in this area, as you can either stow your leashes away until you feel you need them, or put them on your wrists, but tuck the clipper part into your Velcro fasteners until they are needed, or allow you to clip one and leave the other one free. Clipper leashes work best, but ordinary leashes can also work, being set up to be lark’s footed into the head when needed (lighter and cheaper). To begin with, I wouldn’t advise anyone to go cold turkey with their leashes, but switch between the two, going leashless when climbing below your limit and switching back when that limit is reached. What will probably happen is that you will find that very soon you’ll find that that limit becomes higher and higher, until clipping the leashes in becomes a hindrance to performance rather then a benefit. As I mentioned in the grip section it’s vital that the axe is set up to allow you the greatest ease when going leashless - meaning a significant ‘hook’ on the bottom.