I just returned from teaching two back-to-back clinics at Rifle and Maple Canyon where the primary objective for our participants was either learning to lead or becoming a more confident lead climber on sport routes. And did they ever. At the Maple clinic, Tracy Martin and I, the two instructors for the program, didn’t lead a single route all weekend; the participants did all the rope gunning. They chose the routes, they hung draws, they cleaned the anchors when finished and moved on to the next climb. It was so gratifying to see everyone taking charge of the situation.
Clipping bolts can seem pretty basic, you just clip and go. However, there are a couple of pitfalls you need to be aware of that will need fixing on the fly. Let’s talk about the most common mistake and how to fix it quickly, the back-clip.
What is a back-clip?
A back clip is when the rope is clipped into the bottom gate of the quickdraw, well… backward. This means that the rope from your knot runs through the carabiner toward the rock, instead of away from the rock. (See Figure 1)
How it should look:
Once the rope is clipped into the bottom carabiner of the quickdraw, the rope should run in a straight line all the way back down to the belayer. There shouldn’t be any twists in the rope or the quickdraw it’s clipped into. (See Figure 2)
Why does it matter if you’re back clipped or not?
The rope can unclip itself from the quickdraw should you climb above it and fall! (See Figure 3)
How to Fix a Back-Clip:
There are a couple of different methods to remedy this type of mistake, so let’s look at a few ways. The general rule of thumb is to add before you subtract for optimal security.
Clip the second quickdraw behind the first and then remove the offending quickdraw that is back clipped. By adding the second one behind, you stay clipped in at all times and no slack is created. This is the best method if the clip is at a hard section of the climb or anytime you’re not feeling confident.
Unclip the top carabiner that is clipped to the bolt hanger and rotate that carabiner in the proper direction and reattach it to the bolt hanger. You need to use your eyes and pay attention to which way to rotate the carabiner. With this method, the rope stays clipped into the bottom carabiner of the draw and you don’t end up dropping any slack down to your belayer. This a good method if you have a very secure stance and the climbing isn’t challenging for you.
Unclip the rope and reclip it correctly. I used to do it this way myself until I learned better. This is the LEAST preferred method, but for some reason, it’s the one you probably see most commonly at the crag. The reason I don’t recommend this method is that you are the least secure for the longest period of time. Undoubtedly you’ve already back clipped, then you fight to unclip the rope from the bottom carabiner, your belayer quickly takes in that slack to keep you from taking a bigger fall then necessary, then you have to ask for slack again, possibly getting short-roped by your belayer, FINALLY you reclip.
Sigh of relief. Sounds stressful right? That’s because it is, for both you and your belayer. Use method 1 or 2 and you’ll feel much more confident on the sharp end.