There is a lot of confusion at the beginning regarding top rope and lead climbing. Before spending time on any other terms, let’s see how and why are they different from each other.
Top Rope Climbing: In this form, a strong anchor is always in place at the top of the route from which the rope passes with one end of the rope being attached to the climber’s harness and another end to the belayer. As the climber proceeds, belayer actively belays and protects the fall of the climber. As you can see in the image, an upside down V of rope is formed. Whenever the climber falls there is no fall factor or sudden body tension.
This is the safest method, therefore, it is suggested to beginners to get used to the holds, the techniques etc. In the climbing world, Top Rope is not considered a real climbing kind. Hence, in Sports Climbing Competitions Top Rope is not included.
Lead Climbing: This is the most popular and daring form of climbing. In this one rope end is attached to the climber’s harness and another end to the belayer, but the rope is not passed through an anchor at the top. As the climber proceeds, he/she secures his/her fall by passing the rope through quickdraws (QD) attached to the bolts in the wall. Each time the climber passes rope in QD his fall up to that height is secured.
Consider the image on the right side. The climber passed rope in QD and climbed 2 holds up. If the climber falls then his fall only till the height of QD will be safe. For the distance above the QD, his falling will be unprotected. Therefore, lead climbing is risky if one climbs with improper knowledge of the route. Also, passing rope in QD requires standing on the wall with only one hand, while another hand is busy passing the rope (this is called clipping). So, lead climbing demands high strength and awareness.
Lead climbing is considered real climbing where it tests your strength and removes height fear. In Sports Climbing Competitions a separate event of Lead Competitions is undertaken. When a climber climbs on a new route (mostly on natural rocks), he/she first try the route with top rope technique and then try lead climbing. This is to resolve all the unknowns of the route, get acquainted with it and then do the real climbing.
Let's all climb together!