Multi pitch Muddles


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Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Topic Author's Original Post - Nov 3, 2011 - 12:36pm PT

My first climb was multi pitch and , since my partner had a bit of acrophobia, was also the occasion of my first lead(s). Sure, it was easy, but that's the point- climbing in the 60's was all about SLOWLY working your way up thru the grades and learning experientially. The mantra "the leader must never fall" kept our attention given the equipment available at the time. Progress was slow but the learning curve and the developing ability levels were pretty much in synch. 
Today's typical beginner develops climbing ability (thanks to gyms and sport climbing) far quicker than he/she learns the needed skills to fully actualize that ability. In a nutshell: climbers are stronger than ever but the overall climbing IQ is at a low ebb. Nowhere is this more evident than in the dreaded transition from single pitch cragging to multi pitch routes. Time after time I am caught behind (or witness to) multi pitch muddles by newer climbers who have the climbing ability but not the tactical savvy for the route they are on. Volumes could be written on the subject but I would like to pass along a few helpful hints when considering your next (or first) multi pitch climb keeping in mind that on longer routes speed is a critical ingredient:

Too much (way too much) gear. If you THINK you need something you don't: if you KNOW you need something you do.
     I recently witnessed a group of three on the Kor/Ingalls route on Castleton Tower, a three pitch route that should require under two hours to negotiate. The two seconds had bulging packs with water, extra clothing, food and who knows what else far in excess to what was actually needed. One of them even had hiking boots dangling from her harness. Keep in mind that the descent required rapping the route. I have seen climbers on the Steck Salathe with so much extraneous gear hauling became mandatory- fun stuff in chimneys. My gear for a Grade IV or V is a small 1.5 liter hydration pack, a lightwt. shell around the waist, My lightest approach shoes on the harness and a headlamp, matches and a few power bars in my pockets. Hauling should be reserved for routes with PLANNED bivouacs otherwise that bane of climbing, the unplanned bivvy, might well be in your future.

Too much (way too much) time building belay anchors and going from "off belay to "on belay."
     Often I see climbers moving at a reasonable rate until they disappear onto the belay ledge. Remember that extra time spent setting up the belay has a multiple factor on longer routes. Saving time setting up belays is critical and easy to do. Three equalized anchors is rarely (very rarely) needed. I normally suffice with two solid anchors and I would hazard a guess that I have set up more belays than 99.9 percent of American climbers and I'm still here. Also, look for natural anchors first. I once came across a guy who was feverishly trying to get in three equalized anchors next to a perfectly healthy tree with a 10 inch diameter. "You're allowed to use them?" was his comment when I pointed out the tree. Another thing to keep in mind is that stretching a lead beyond a good belay ledge often wastes rather than saves time. I am also not a fan of 70 meter ropes on long routes. They are heavier, require bringing more gear and lead to stretching pitches onto sometimes uncomfortable stances. Multi pitch adventures require honing your skill in setting up belays before you leave the comfort of your local crag.

No sense of urgency. Bring a watch- dammit!
       Develop a sense of urgency, pretend you are trying to reach a Patagonian summit before that storming coming in off of the ice cap hits. Check, your watch, monitor your progress and you won't have to use that headlamp or those matches you have in your pocket. Believe me, avoiding climbing or descending by headlamp, or (worse yet) an unplanned bivy can add a lot of safety and comfort to the multi pitch climbing experience.

Trad climber
It ain't El Cap, Oregon
Nov 3, 2011 - 12:41pm PT
Welcome to old school climbing 101... this is all good shite here.

Read it... learn it... live it.

Trad climber
Nov 3, 2011 - 12:42pm PT
Thanks for the post, Jim. Good stuff!
scuffy b

dissected alluvial deposits, late Pleistocene
Nov 3, 2011 - 12:44pm PT
I have seen climbers in Yosemite carrying a pack for two pitches of climbing.

Big Wall climber
Nor Nev
Nov 3, 2011 - 12:45pm PT


Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Nov 3, 2011 - 01:16pm PT
Occupy Castleton Tower!
The Larry

Moab, UT
Nov 3, 2011 - 01:19pm PT
Occupy Castleton Tower!

Hell yeah, noobs protesting the .1% that place more anchors than the 99.9% of us chuffers.


Trad climber
30 mins. from suicide USA
Nov 3, 2011 - 01:24pm PT
Thank you sir.

Trad climber
Mountain View, CA
Nov 3, 2011 - 01:25pm PT
What Donini said. Sometimes it is so sad that I don't even want to call myself a climber.

I would go so far at to say that many of the modern climbers who come out of the climbing gyms are not looking for the same experience when they are in the out of doors as I am.

Trad climber
Phoenix, AZ
Nov 3, 2011 - 01:31pm PT
Good stuff. I find it's very useful to have the follower begin getting ready to move when the leader arrives at the next belay or even slightly before. With a backup knot for the belay, you can get your shoes on, clean unecessary gear from the anchor (use good judgement here), drink some water if needed, chalk up, and be ready to climb as soon as the leader calls on belay.

As a leader, if we are swinging leads, I try and get the anchor organized for the followers arrival (think about where the follower will anchor, stand, and where the next pitch goes). If swinging leads, I'll move and sort the gear to an easy spot on the anchor for my partner to rack up when he arrives.

Trad climber
Fresno CA
Nov 3, 2011 - 01:42pm PT
As usual, Jim, your climbing advice is spot on, although I shudder at some of the single-piton anchors on which I relied in my earliest days as a climber. As someone else put it, "Good training if you survive."

I think my generation had one generally unacknowledged advantage in keeping the amount of gear down. In the days of pitons, ten or twelve pins was about the most I could carry and still free climb reasonably well (those who've climbed with me might object that I never climbed reasonably well). When nuts became popular, we were reluctant to carry more than about 15 just out of habit from the piton protection days.

The fact remains, though, that the skill set needed for efficient multi-pitch climbing differs from that needed to do most hard gym climbs, and about the only way I know to acquire that skill is to practice. I guess that means I need to be patient when a noob is practicing on my desired objective.

Inner City

Trad climber
East Bay
Nov 3, 2011 - 01:47pm PT
Some good points here Jim. Thanks for making them.

I was on a beginner route at Lovers this summer and a new leader was ahead of us. OMG, that chick took 2 1/3 hours to lead one pitch. I learned to climb in a way where you don't ask to pass people, you wait for them to offer. They never did. The whole experience turned into something regrettable. In the future I won't be so polite! Yikes.


Gym climber
Nov 3, 2011 - 01:47pm PT
Notice that Sergeant Latok here is not framing this as a gripe-fest about noobs, but as concrete items of advice. Good stuff. I hope more will be added as in ChampionSleeper's post, so I can learn.

About the too-much-gear, though. When we gym-strong noobs are on routes well below our climbing abilities, it may be amusing how much gear we rack and pack, but it's pretty rare to be slowed down by it. Squeeze chimneys, sure. (On the other hand, I think I can recall parties even of experienced Patagonia alpinists who were glad to have brought warm things up the Steck-Salathe.)

The Warbler

the edge of America
Nov 3, 2011 - 01:51pm PT

If you always climb with too much sh#t for a rack, you never learn how to climb if you don't have sh#t for a rack.

Trad climber
El Dorado Hills, CA
Nov 3, 2011 - 01:52pm PT
Donini... Pffft... What does he know.

mike m

Trad climber
black hills
Nov 3, 2011 - 02:04pm PT
Jim, I forgot to give you back your cordelette.
Spider Savage

Mountain climber
The shaggy fringe of Los Angeles
Nov 3, 2011 - 03:33pm PT
Climbing mult-pitch is certainly more fun if you are quick, organized and know your stuff.

I once spent nearly an hour trying to sort out the mess at a hanging belay (Little John Right) when both I and my parter failed to stay organized. It was quite scary because if you unclip the wrong thing you might die.
Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
Nov 3, 2011 - 04:33pm PT
I can't believe he didn't mention the Blue Donini, and its uses on the Third Pillar.

Trad climber
Sun Coast B.C.
Nov 3, 2011 - 04:51pm PT
Some good info!

Having "muddled" extensively...

Perhaps a good way to massively minimize multipitch muddle... is to try and incorporate your climbing rope as much as possible @ belays. Often, the rope is simpler to equalize an anchor... que no?

Whenever I rope up w/ someone and they got all the daisy doohicks, webbolenghs, and such for anchors... I start muttering... muddlemuddlemuddle...

uh boy...


Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Nov 3, 2011 - 05:18pm PT
Ooooh! get the popcorn! Riley's gunnin' fer Donini!
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