Climbing – Things to consider before tackling your first multi-pitch lead

David Ferguson
 
 
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Climbing is growing in popularity. It seems that the more I go to my local rock gym or local crag the more I meet people that are new to climbing.

The idea of sport climbing and learning to lead tends to be very appealing to new climbers and as they grow more comfortable with their skills, the heights involved in sport routes, and the gear they are using, the idea of climbing higher and higher becomes more appealing. That’s where multi-pitch climbing comes into play.

Each sport route is generally considered a pitch – meaning, from the ground to the first set of double anchors is one pitch. A multi-pitch is, as the name suggests, multiple pitches in a row.

 

A Climber leads the first route while a belayer offers them a catch. As the lead climber reaches the first set of anchors, they secure themselves to the bolts and set up a belay rig to allow their belayer to become the climber.

This pattern repeats as the climbers progress up the pitches – at each set of anchors they can switch between climber and belayer. This process allows the climbers to ascend routes thousands of feet tall without having to carry thousands of feet of rope.

Multi-pitch climbing is a progressive skill in a climber’s repertoire and a skill that is exciting to learn. However, there is a lot to learn before jumping into it – the following points should be addressed when preparing to tackle your first multi-pitch climb.

1. Can You Tie In?

If you can’t tie into you harness with a figure-8 knot or equally secure knot then go learn that now! If you can tie in, then you’re on your way.

2. Can You Lead?

 

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Assuming you already know how to belay on a top rope and can lower a person safely, the question “have you lead a sport route before?” comes into play. If you answered anything other than, “YES!” to that question then perhaps you should head to the local rock gym and take a ‘lead’ course or learn from an experienced climber.

Lead climbing, unlike top-rope, requires a little more concentration and skill to achieve. Clipping into bolts, understanding proper foot placement and rope management are all a part of lead climbing and ultimately will play a huge part in your multi-pitch climbing.

 

3: Do You Have A Route In Mind?

 

Planning your first multi-pitch can be a tiresome task. Routes range from two pitches to dozens of pitches and thus should be planned out before hopping on the wall.

If you are unsure of the logistics of a route – anchor placements, how many pitches, length of rope needed, number of quick-draws needed, rappelling the route, etc. It would be best to research the route beforehand so you can rest assured you make to the top and back down without an issue (other than the grade of the climb).

Additionally, making sure you can climb each pitch on the route is something to take into account. Each pitch may have a different grade and if you are uncomfortable or lacking in strength or skill to climb a certain grade on the route, it would be best to choose an easier route to avoid any issues while on the wall.

4: Can You Rig An Anchor?

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Okay, so you have learned to lead climb and you have a route in mind, the next step is to understand how to tie an anchor rig.

Generally speaking, using slings or a daisy chain and locking carabiners to hold you to the wall is a good start. Attaching one of the ends of your slings to your harness tie-in loops (via a through loop or locking biners) is a start. The other ends of the slings or daisy chains should be attached to the double anchor bolts at the end of the pitch via locking carabiners.

Once your slings are properly secured to your harness and locked into the bolts, the next step is to ask for a little slack in the line to test your anchor without the risk of falling. Anchor systems are useful for any type of climbing, being able to set up a proper anchor can be the difference between life or death.

 

5: Can You Set Up A Top-Rope?

A climber ascends a route via a top-rope Photo Credit

While on the wall you will have to belay as well as climb, though not at the same time. Unlike single pitch routes, where you climb to the top then get lowered by your belayer or rappel yourself down, multi-pitch routes require the climber to then become the belayer as the person below climbs the route and retrieves the gear left behind by the top climber.

This requires being able to set up a top-rope rig. Setting up a top rope can be done a few different ways, but generally speaking, using locking carabiners, a few slings (or properly tied cord), is safe and easy to manage. Learning to set up a top rope is an absolute must for multi-pitch climbing.

 

6: Can You Rappel?

 

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When both you and your climbing partner are at the anchor rings at the top of one pitch or at the top of the tenth pitch, the final thing to consider is being able to rappel.

Rappelling consists of lowering yourself from the anchor rings or chains and removing all gear from the wall as you do so. Rappelling requires that your rope is properly fed through the anchor rings or chains while you are anchored in, the ends of the rope are then thrown down the route toward the ground so that you can lower yourself without the use of a belayer.

In The End…

Climbing is inherently dangerous and should be done with extreme caution.

The points mentioned above are all worth considering before tackling your first multi-pitch route. What should be considered above all else is the option of having an experienced multi-pitch climber show you the ropes (pun intended) of multi-pitch climbing before you jump into anything.

Learning from an experienced multi-pitch climber is the safest and most productive way to learn.

 

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