Technical issues- leading and seconding

Technical issues- leading and seconding

Once you are using a rope on scrambles it is essential to have a system that is simple, logical and properly understood by all members of the party. This includes; good communication, familiarity of climbing sequence, climbing calls, and experience of how to belay from below and above.

The leader and second should be able to communicate easily but in practice this can be hard to achieve. If you are not in line of sight just a light wind can make it impossible to talk with out shouting, by just moving around a corner you often can't hear anything at all. This situation is improved by:

  • Keeping pitches short
  • Staying in line of sight
  • Keep calls simple
  • Waiting for lulls in the wind before shouting
If it is obvious that you're going to lose communication, sort out a system beforehand. This involves watching and waiting for tugs on the rope, or being aware of what is going on by how much rope has paid out and at what speed. This requires familiarity with the climbing sequence.

If it is obvious that you're going to lose communication, sort out a system beforehand

If you are moving up the scramble in short sections or pitches you are essentially using a climbing system. This involves:
  • Tying onto an end of the rope.
  • Deciding who is going up first and last. These are known as the leader and second.
  • Second makes himself or herself secure by attaching to an anchor.
  • Second belays the rope as the leader climbs up ready to arrest a fall.
  • Leader reaches the top of the section, attaches to an anchor and shouts 'Safe!'
  • Second takes the leader off belay and waits for the rope to be taken in.
  • Leader pulls up all the extra rope shouting 'Taking in'.
  • Second shouts 'That's me' when the rope is tight.
  • Leader belays the rope to the second and shouts 'Climb when you're ready.'
  • Second detaches from the anchor, shouts 'Climbing!' and sets off.
This is a recognised climbing sequence using established climbing calls. If you stick to this pattern it makes it possible to predict what is happening even if you can't see or hear your partner. At first, it may seem rather regimented, but in fact it is streamlined and effective, as well as tried and tested.

Belaying

To control the rope in the event of a fall the rope must be paid out and taken in using a friction device. This could be a waist belay where the rope is wrapped around the body and twisted around one arm. This is effective, but not particularly comfortable for the belayer. However, it is quick and can be appropriate on scrambling terrain.

Alternatively, an Italian hitch with a pear-shaped karabiner can be used. This is simple to learn and straightforward to operate with careful practise. Experienced climbers may opt to carry and use a belay device instead.

Belaying a leader

The second should be attached securely and tightly to an anchor, standing or sitting in a position where they are comfortable, can see the leader and are able to arrest a fall should they need to. The braking arm should not be trapped against a wall for example. They should pay the rope out through the Italian hitch at a pace to match the speed of the leader. A hand is kept on each side of the rope as it is fed out.

Belaying the second

Once the leader is secured to an anchor at the top of the pitch they feed the rope through the Italian hitch as the second climbs up, ensuring they don't lose control of the rope at any time. Ideally, they will be able to see their partner and offer help and advice about which way to go, etc.

Just because the leader is out of sight, don't assume they are safe

Holding a fall

A fall or slip can happen at any time, often without any warning, so the belayer must be attentive and prepared for this. Just because the leader is out of sight, don't assume they are safe. A hand must grip the dead rope (the side of rope on the furthest side of the friction device) at all times. Tempting though it often is, the belayer should avoid doing other things at the same time like reading the guidebook or unwrapping a biscuit.

Conclusion

Leading roped sections of scrambles requires good communication, familiarity with the climbing sequence and climbing calls and experience of belaying from above and below. It is a good idea to practise these techniques somewhere safe before attempting to lead a serious and exposed scramble high on a remote mountain.

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