MACS Participation Statement

Royal Holloway MACS recognises that climbing and mountaineering are activities with a danger of personal injury or death. Participants in these activities should be aware of and accept these risks and be responsible for their own actions.


This is a sequel to a previous guide to leading.

Step A - Choosing Your Leader

It is a commonly held myth that the leader selects the second. Thankfully due to the powers of free choice you do have a say in it. When choosing who to climb with, there are a few questions you can ask yourself. Is this person going to show me a good time? (I know Woof woof etc.) Has this person actually led before? Is the facial tick and maniacal laughter they emit at all significant?

If suitably satisfying answers arise and they are still on the A list, then pick one climbing at the grade you want to second at and approach them. This is best done just after they wake up and are at their most malleable, gifts, promises, offers of beer / money / carnal acts generally do the trick.

Step B - Bottom of The Crag Duties

It is the second's responsibility to do their best to prevent the leader from sudden amalgamation with the ground. To prevent this, proper rope management is required. The rope is the most important piece of gear and should be loved, cuddled and never left to lie in the wet patch - a damp rope is an unhappy rope. Care should also be taken to prevent slicing, dicing, grinding and above all Stepping On The Rope.

It is usually up to the second to unwind and feed through the rope while leaders play with their nuts. Contrary to popular opinion leaders dislike kinky ropes and so this feeding through of rope is important. Once everybody's ready to get going the second can stick the rope (the bit attached to the leader) into the belay device. This could be an ATC, Bug, GriGri, Fig-ra-8 or sticky plate - they all serve to distort the rope, providing friction, and hopefully stoppage power. Sticky plates and ATC's are the most common belay devices and brake when the ropes are pulled apart, making it really hard to feed it through.

Once leaders have exchanged salutations and you have given him enough slack to proceed the process is fairly straight forward; feed out the rope at the same speed the leader climbs and obey their every command. This may vary from:

Slack - a term used to signal an inattentive second that the rope is not flowing very freely and will shortly be residing around their neck if not reorganised.

Tight - A flippant remark at the second's generosity with money and drinks, it is often responded to by attempting to pull the leader off the rock.

Ohshitohshitohshitimgonnadie - A term used to describe the feeling that occurs before significant lobbage. This last one is the most important and is responded to by applying a brake to the belay device, and possibly running away / jumping of cliffs. This response may be valid if there is a tremendous amount of slack in the rope or if the fall was your fault.

Once the leader yells the cheery, sometimes slightly inaccurate phrase "SAFE!!", you are freed of your life saving obligations and can yell "OFF BELAY!!" while doing so.

Step C - Tying On

This is the bit referring to your safety, a poor attachment to the rope will result in at least serious ridicule by your leader and at the most permanent rock implants. The most common method is the figure of eight knot (not to be confused with the Fig-Ra-8). First take the end of the rope and pull it over your other hand (No.. your other hand!) and wind the end that is in your hand around the bit that is in your leaders hand, then feed it back through the hole under your other hand. (see fig a)* This should provide you with a figure of eight with a long tail. Put the tail through your leg loops and waist belt and follow the figure of eight back round. Confused? Good.

Step D - Removing Gear

This is the real reason your leader brought you along. Once the slack in the rope has been omitted and the cry "climb when ready" has been heard from somewhere, you can ascend the climb till you reach the first piece of gear. It is your job, should you choose to accept it, to extract this fiendish device that has welded itself to the rock.

The easiest way to remove these buggers is to work out which way they went in and retrace that path back out. Nuts and hexes often need a little tap with a nut key (the leader did give you one didn't they?) to loosen them and then they can be guided free, friends involve pulling on the trigger while depressing the stem without pushing it in further, or perhaps jamming it so weirdly that a professor of abstract mathematics couldn't even establish how it got there. Once removed they should be clipped to your harness and the climb resumed. Oh yes, bolts require a spanner.

* Omitted on legal reasons.


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