Advanced techniques in traditional climbing - multipitch climbing

Advanced techniques in traditional climbing - multipitch climbing

Climbs of more than one pitch are called multipitch. Longer climbs pose different problems for the climbing team - in particular, speed is paramount to safety and success. This article covers basic ropework and stance organisational skills to increase climbing efficiency and maximise success.

It is true to say that the more competent you are at the actual skill of climbing, then the more efficiently you will ascend. But this is not the only consideration. Having good ropework and stance organisational skills will increase efficiency considerably and might in some circumstances make up for moving more slowly on the actual climbing.


By far the most effective way to climb multipitch routes is to 'lead through'

Leading through

By far the most effective way to climb multipitch routes is to 'lead through'. This is where the 'second' on one pitch becomes the 'leader' on the next. The advantages are numerous. There is no complicated manoeuvring required at stances to change gear and ropes around between climbers. The second arrives at the stance, clips into the anchor using a cowstail or sling, and begins to re-sort the rack of gear immediately. Once sorted, he (or she) can then set off without further ado.

If one person leads the entire climb positions on the stance need to be altered, all the gear needs to be re-sorted and the ropes run through so that the leaders end runs off the top of the pile. This is fine on large and commodious stances, but on small, hanging stances where there is nothing more than a foothold to share, it can become very messy. 

Anchoring techniques

You should nurture sound belay and anchoring techniques from the earliest days of your climbing. Normally on a stance you will have more than one anchor point. When you climb on double ropes you will most likely clip one rope into each anchor - maybe one rope on two and the other on a third.

It is worth considering a simple but effective technique of linking multiple anchors to one central point using a sling. This is done with two anchors by taking a long sling, tying an overhand knot in the middle and clipping an end into each anchor. You then take a screwgate krab and pass it through each of the loops that are formed up against the overhand knot. If the anchors are not equally loaded at this point, move the overhand knot along the sling towards the anchor closest to where you will stand until the tension is equal. You can now tie in to one point with a screwgate krab. If you have other anchors you could do a similar thing a second time or use the rope directly into them.

When descending attach a 'cowstail' to your harness
AbseilProtect the belayer

Whenever you set off to lead a pitch it is essential to arrange a solid early runner so that if the leader were to fall they would not fall directly onto the belayer and put extra strain on the anchors. This is not always possible but it should be considered ideal.

Descending

A similarly systematic approach should be adopted for multiple abseil descents. The potential for things going wrong is huge. Whenever you make an abseil that doesn't go to the ground you should tie a chunky knot in the end of the rope. When you reach the end of each abseil you will need to clip in to the anchor (if it's there in situ). Arrange a cowstail before you set off.

Cowstail

Take a long sling and larks foot it around the harness tie-in loops. Tie an overhand knot into the far end, creating a small loop, and then clip a screwgate karabiner into this loop. Take this around your waist and clip it back in to itself or onto the harness. It is a simple matter to deploy when you need to clip in at the end of the abseil. If you have to rig anchors on the way down, it is vital to ensure that load is distributed evenly between each anchor, so that if one were to fail there would be no shock loading on the others.

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