Back clipping is the most common mistake when learning to lead climb. Part of being a safe leader means having the skills to fix a back clip mistake on the fly.
What Is Back Clipping?
Back clipping is when the rope gets clipped into the bottom gate of the quickdraw, well… backwards. 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 a Lead Climbing Rope 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)
What’s Wrong With a Back Clip?
The rope can unclip itself from the quickdraw when you climb past it. Back Clipping is particularly dangerous on traverses and if you were to fall from above! (See Figure 3)
How to Fix a Back Clip?
I recommend two different methods to remedy a back clip but the general rule of thumb is to add before you subtract for optimal security.
Back Clipping Fix 1- Second Quickdraw Method
Clip a second quickdraw behind the first. Then remove the offending quickdraw that is back clipped. By adding the second one behind first, 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.
Back Clipping Fix 2 – Unclip and Rotate Method
Unclip the top carabiner from the bolt. Then rotate the biner and draw so the rope runs properly. Re-clip the bolt. You need to use your eyes to pay attention to which way to rotate the carabiner.
With the Unclip and Rotate 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.
Use the Unclip and Rotate method when you have a very secure stance and the climbing isn’t challenging.
Back Clipping Fix 3: – Unclip & Re-Clip – The wrong method!
Unclipping and re-clipping a back clip is the LEAST preferred method of fixing a back clip but for some reason, it’s the most common. In fact, I used to unclip and re-clip all the time when I first started leading.
Then I realized that unclipping and re-clipping, I was least secure for the longest period of time.
A back clip meant I wasn’t climbing well to start. I was making mistakes. Then I’d fight to unclip the rope while my belayer fought to take-in the slack. Then I’d get short-roped by my worried belayer as I struggled to re-clip.
Sigh. Trying to fix a back clip by unclipping and re-clipping is stressful for you and your belayer!
Feel more confident fixing back clips on the sharp end with the Second Carabiner or Unclip & Rotate methods described above. The common Unclip & Re-Clip back clipping fix is stressful and dangerous.
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- Become a more confident lead climber on sport routes.
Participants often do all of the rope gunning–choosing the routes, hanging the draws, and cleaning the anchors.
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