Trip Report > Did You Pack a Headlamp?

Multipitch rock climbing

We were 'somewhere' on Squamish's Grand Wall.

Multipitch rock climbing rappeling

It was a straightforward climb.

Multipitch abseiling

With a quick and easy descent. Just six simple abseils to the ground.



Night climbing

We didn't need things like jackets or headlamps...

...right?

Rock climbing bivi

I re-ascended to the anchor and we settled in for a good nights sleep.

But pretty soon the cold Canadian night persuaded us to move.

Aid climbing technique

With the light from our phone, I aid-climbed up the mystery pitch which we had abseiled down...

Multipitch rock climbing

...for the whole night.

And then we abseiled the right way.

We all make mistakes. Of course, it could have been worse. But it could have been a lot better. If you're not sure whether to pack a headlamp or some warm clothes for that long multi-pitch, just remember this story.

Or at least practise holding a phone in your mouth all night before you go!

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Like this story? Support VDiff by downloading an e-book, or buy me a coffee. Your donation keeps this website running, and means I can have more epics and write more stories.

- Neil Chelton
VDiff Founder




Multi-Pitch Sport Climbing

'Multi-Pitch Sport Climbing' is part of the book - Sport Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to sport climb e-book book

A multi-pitch route is one that is split into two or more pitches. This may be because it is longer than your rope, or it could be a wandering route that would involve a lot of rope drag if climbed as a single pitch.

Due to the length and complexity of multipitch routes, you should develop your problem solving and self-rescue skills before embarking on this kind of adventure. Learn more about problem solving.

Multi-Pitch Sport Climbing: What To Bring

On long multi-pitches, it's wise to bring the following equipment in addition to everything you would normally take on a single pitch.


Extra Climbing Gear
You’ll need two anchor kits for a multi-pitch route. Make sure you bring:
- Two cordelettes/ long slings
- At least six spare screwgates
- Two belay devices

If the descent from your route involves abseiling, make sure to bring ATC style belay devices and prusik cords.


Route Description
On a single pitch, it's easy to remember where to climb. However, on a multi-pitch you may have forgotten the details by pitch six, particularly if two different routes branch off the same anchor.

Bringing the whole guidebook is a bit excessive. But a route description (or topo), neatly folded in your pocket, will help show you the way.

Multi pitch climbing

Clothes
Any comfortable all-cotton clothes will suffice for single pitch cragging, especially venues with a short approach. For multi-pitch routes, or for any climbs with a long approach, wearing synthetic clothing is a better choice. Synthetics insulate much better than cotton in wet or cold environments.

If you expect cold temperatures, bring a pair of gloves so you can belay with warm hands and then take them off to climb. A thin hat that fits under your helmet is a very lightweight way of keeping you warm too. If the descent is long, it's nice to bring a comfy pair of shoes.

A warm/waterproof jacket, or even a thin wind-proof layer, can make multi-pitches more comfortable when it gets windy and the sun disappears, especially for the belayer.

Down jackets are a poor choice unless you’re climbing in dry climates below freezing. Most down jackets will repel a small amount of moisture, but the feathers will clump together in a storm and you’ll freeze. They also tend to rip very easily on rock.


Headlamp
Headlamps are essential on long multi-pitches. Finishing a climb, or trying to descend in the dark can be incredibly difficult and dangerous.

The VDiff team once got stuck 200 meters up a multi-pitch in the dark with no food, water, jackets or headlamps. It was a long, cold night.. Read the full story here.


Food and Water
If your multi-pitch is likely to take more than a few hours, consider bringing food and water to snack on at the belays. Many routes have luxury belay ledges, so if you're not in a rush, why not have a vertical picnic?


Extra Rope
You’ll need to bring a second rope if your route involves an abseil descent where the anchors are more than half of your rope’s length apart (i.e: you can only abseil 35 meters with a 70 meter rope). You will also need a second rope if climbing as a team of three.


Backpack
All this stuff can be put into a small backpack and carried by the second.

Depending on the route and your tolerance of suffering, you may not need any of it. For routes that are difficult to return to the base, you'll need to bring everything up the route with you. Plan before you go.



Multi-Pitch Sport Climbing: Belay Changeovers

Efficient belay changeovers will speed up your ascent, making you less likely to get benighted or stranded in a storm.

Sometimes the more experienced climber will lead every pitch. Other times, each climber will choose which pitches they prefer. A common tactic is to swing leads (lead alternate pitches). Be aware that easier pitches may be runout.

Swinging leads is the most efficient. The rope is already stacked with the new leader’s end on top and the gear from the previous pitch will be racked on their harness.

It’s much more efficient if both climbers can go hands-free during the changeover. How you do this depends on who will lead the next pitch. Two methods are described below.

Hands-Free Method 1 – Tie-Off Your Belay Device

The Overhand Tie-Off
If alternating leads, the easiest method is to tie-off your belay device. Tie a simple knot (such as an overhand) in the rope beneath your belay device. If the climber falls, the knot will jam into the belay device and stop them.

When the leader is ready to climb, simply unfasten the knot and they will be on belay immediately.

This works well if there is a small ledge to stand on. If not, you may prefer to attach to the central point with a sling.

Multi-pitch sport climbing

The Releasable Tie-Off
The above method of tying off a belay device works well for most belay changeovers.

However, if the rope becomes weighted when using this method (e.g: if the leader falls), it will be almost impossible to release the tie-off.

If there is any chance of this happening, you should instead use a releasable knot.

Multipitch sport climbing tie-off belay device

Hands-Free Method 2 – Attach to the Central Point

If the same person is leading every pitch, the second will have to attach to the central point. They can do this in the same way as the leader.

Use separate screwgates to attach the second's rope to the central point(s). When they are attached, they can be taken off belay.

Remember - The leader will need to be put on belay before they detach from the anchor.

Multipitch sport climbing


Multi-Pitch Sport Climbing: Leaving the Belay

It's a good idea for the leader to clip an anchor bolt as their first piece of gear. This eliminates the chance of a factor two fall.

It's also much easier for the belayer to hold a fall this way.

Learn more about fall factors.

Multipitch sport climbing belay

Multi-Pitch Sport Climbing: Rope Management

Stacking or coiling the rope neatly so it doesn’t tangle is important on multipitches. If the belay ledge has a flat area, simply stack the rope onto it in a place where it won’t slide off.

If there isn’t a suitable area to put the rope, you can stack it in neat coils across the rope which goes between your harness and the anchor (lap coils).

Alternatively, stack it through a sling. Either way, the first coils should be the longest, with progressively smaller coils added on top. This ensures the rope feeds out well on the next pitch.

If it is windy or there are bushes or loose rock below you, make sure to keep the coils short enough so they don’t get stuck.

Multipitch sport climbing coiling rope

Multi-Pitch Sport Climbing: Time Budget

Make a realistic estimate of how long the route might take. Figure out what time you need to have finished the route (to avoid thunderstorms or darkness etc..) and then work backwards from there.

Break the climb down into pitches and figure out how long each one will take. Remember to add time for approaching and descending the route and for belay changeovers. Be conservative with your estimations – it’s much easier to lose time than gain it.

Multi-Pitch Sport Climbing: Retreat Options

As part of your time budget, it’s smart to figure out places where you can switch to an easier route if you are running low on time, or places where you could easily descend without leaving most of your slings and carabiners behind.



Multi-Pitch Sport Climbing: Teams of Three

In most situations, a pair of climbers is faster than a team of three. But having someone to chat with at the belay makes climbing as a three more social.

It also means you have an extra person to help carry the gear and lead some of the harder pitches. There are many ways to connect three climbers to the rope. Two popular methods are described here.

Caterpillar Style

Step 1
The leader climbs a pitch with one rope.

Multipitch sport climbing three people

Step 2
The second climber follows on that rope, but trails another rope (Both ropes are tied into the harness tie-in points).

The second climber unclips the quickdraws from the first rope and clips it to the second rope beneath them. This ensures the third climber is protected from a swinging fall if the pitch traverses.

If the pitch is straight up, the second climber could remove the gear.

climbing multipitch sport climbing

Step 3
When the second climber has reached the belay, the third climber starts up.

The third climber removes the gear as they follow on the second rope.

climbing multipitch with three people

Double Rope Style

Step 1
The leader climbs with both ropes. They clip alternate quickdraws to each rope.

The leader can be belayed by both climbers with a GriGri each, or by one climber with an ATC.

Three person multi pitch climbing

Step 2
The second and third climbers follow, keeping around 5 meters apart from each other, while the leader belays them both at the same time.

It is highly recommended to belay with an auto-blocking belay device directly from the anchor, such as an ATC in guide mode.

When communicating, finish the command with the rope colour, so the belayer knows which rope you mean (e.g: slack on red rope!).

Multi pitch climbing

Common Mistake
Clipping both ropes into a carabiner causes the ropes to rub against each other if a climber falls while leading or following.

This could damage your rope or even cut through the sheath.

two ropes in one carabiner

If you need to clip both ropes to a bolt (e.g: to protect both followers on a traverse), use two quickdraws of different lengths as shown.

These quickdraws are then removed by the third climber.

clipping two ropes to one bolt


Multi-Pitch Abseils

Attaching to the Anchor

Attach to the next anchor with two slings girth-hitched to your harness.

You can attach to the chains or the bolts to save space for your partner.

Multipitch sport climbing abseiling rappel

If there is only space for one climber to attach, the other climber can clip directly into their partner’s screwgates as shown. However, this means that the climber who descended last must descend first on the next abseil.

Multipitch sport climbing rappel abseil

Removing your Belay Device

Once securely attached to the next anchor, you can remove your belay device as follows:

Step 1
Unfasten the screwgate. Unclip the device’s cable and both ropes from it.

Step 2
Re-clip the cable. This ensures that you can’t drop it.

removing belay device

Step 3
Pull the ropes out of the device.

climbing harness and belay device

Threading Ropes

Thread the rope through the next anchor and tie a stopper knot in it before you pull it down.

Tie the stopper knot big enough so that it cannot fit through the main abseil point. This ensures that you cannot lose your ropes.

Alternatively, tie the rope to yourself so it cannot be dropped.

thread climbing rope through anchor

Multi-Pitch Trad Climbing

This 'Multi-Pitch Trad Climbing' article is part of the book - Trad Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to trad climb e-book book

A multi-pitch route is one that is split into two or more pitches. This may be because it is longer than your rope. Or it could be a wandering route that would involve a lot of rope drag if climbed as a single pitch.

Multi-pitch climbing combines many skills: placing gear on lead, building belays, route-finding, rope management and (often) abseiling down after you reach the top.

Due to the length and complexity of multi-pitch routes, you should develop your problem solving and self-rescue skills before embarking on this kind of adventure.

Multi-pitch: What To Bring

Extra Climbing Gear
You’ll need two anchor kits for a multi-pitch route. Make sure you bring:
- Two cordelettes/ long slings
- At least six screwgates
- Two belay devices

If the descent from your route involves abseiling, make sure to bring ATC style belay devices and prusik cords.

Food and Water
If your multi-pitch is likely to take more than a few hours, consider bringing food and water to snack on at the belays.

Many routes have luxury belay ledges, so if you're not in a rush, why not have a vertical picnic?

Climbing a multi-pitch

Clothes
Any comfortable all-cotton clothes will suffice for single pitch cragging, especially venues with a short approach. For multi-pitch routes, or for any climbs with a long approach, wearing synthetic clothing is a better choice. Synthetics insulate much better than cotton in wet or cold environments.

If you expect cold temperatures, bring a pair of gloves so you can belay with warm hands and then take them off to climb. A thin hat that fits under your helmet is a very lightweight way of keeping you warm too. If the descent is long, it's nice to bring a comfy pair of shoes.

A warm/waterproof jacket, or even a thin wind-proof layer, can make multi-pitches more comfortable when it gets windy and the sun disappears, especially for the belayer.

Down jackets are a poor choice unless you’re climbing in dry climates below freezing. Most down jackets will repel a small amount of moisture, but the feathers will clump together in a storm and you’ll freeze. They also tend to rip very easily on rock.

First Aid Kit
A small first aid kit can be useful, along with a pocket knife for cutting anchor webbing or stuck ropes. Make sure the knife has a folding blade which is impossible to accidentally open when attached to your harness.

Route Description
On a single pitch, it's easy to remember where to climb. However, on a multi-pitch you may have forgotten the details by pitch six.

Bringing the whole guidebook is a bit excessive. But a route description (or topo), neatly folded in your pocket, will help show you the way.

Another option is to take photos of the topo on your phone. Make sure you don’t run out of battery though.

Take descriptions from adjoining routes too, as this can help you figure out where you are.

multi-pitch trad climbing

Extra Rope
You’ll need to bring a second rope if your route involves an abseil descent where the anchors are more than half of your rope’s length apart (i.e: you can only abseil 35 meters with a 70 meter rope). You will also need a second rope if climbing as a team of three.

Headlamp
Headlamps are essential on long multi-pitches. Finishing a climb, or trying to descend in the dark can be incredibly difficult and dangerous.

If you take spare batteries, tape them together in the correct orientation, so you can just plug the whole block in at once. This also means you won’t have random batteries floating around your bag and no idea if they are full or empty.

Backpack
All this stuff can be put into a small backpack and carried by the second.

Alternatively, the load can be split between climbers so neither climber has a particularly heavy bag.

Depending on the route and your tolerance of suffering, you may not need any of it. For routes that are difficult to return to the base, you'll need to bring everything. Plan before you go.

We All Make Mistakes
The VDiff team once got stuck 200 meters up a multi-pitch in the dark with no food, water, jackets or headlamps. It was a long, cold night.

Read the full story.

multi-pitch rock climbing


Multi-pitch Anchors

If the leader falls on a single pitch route, the belayer is often pulled up off the ground when they hold the fall. On a multi-pitch, the belayer would instead be pulled out of position.

This could potentially pull out part, or all, of the anchor if it was built to only hold a downwards force.

Climbing a multi-pitch belaying

For this reason, you should build multi-pitch anchors with both an upwards and a downwards pulling aspect.

If the last pitch traverses into the belay or the next pitch traverses away from it, the anchors could get loaded with a sideways pull. Build the anchor to be strong in any conceivable direction of pull.

How to climb a multi-pitch

If the best upward-pulling gear is just below the downward-pulling anchor pieces, you can incorporate it into the anchor with some cordelette craft to make it multi-directional.

There are many variations to this. One is to tie clovehitches on the lower two pieces as shown.

multi pitch trad anchor

Multi-pitch Belay Changeovers

Efficient belay changeovers will speed up your ascent, making you less likely to get benighted or stranded in a storm.

Sometimes the more experienced climber will lead every pitch. Other times, each climber will choose which pitches they prefer.

A common tactic is to swing leads (lead alternate pitches). Be aware that easier pitches may be runout.

Swinging leads is the most efficient. The rope is already stacked with the new leader’s end on top and the gear from the previous pitch will be racked on their harness.

It’s much more efficient if both climbers can go hands-free during the changeover. How you do this depends on who will lead the next pitch. Two methods are described below.

Method 1: Tie-Off Your Belay Device
If alternating leads, the easiest method is to tie-off your belay device. When the leader is ready to climb, simply unfasten the knot and they will be on belay immediately. This works well if there is a small ledge to stand on. If not, you may prefer to choose method two.

How to tie off a belay device climbing
Climbing a multi-pitch tying into the anchor

Method 2: Attach to the Central Point
If the same person is leading every pitch, the second will have to attach to the central point, in the same way as the leader.

Use separate screwgates to attach the second's rope to the central point(s). When they are attached, they can be taken off belay.

The leader will need to be put on belay before they detach from the anchor.

Guide mode belaying

Method 3: Using Guide Mode
If belaying with Guide Mode and swapping leads, you'll need to change from Guide Mode to normal belaying when the second has reached the anchor.

To do this, put the second on belay as normal with another belay device, then remove the Guide Mode setup. It's better if the next leader removes the Guide Mode setup so the belayer can keep both hands for belaying.



Multi-pitch: Leaving the Belay

It's a good idea for the leader to clip a high point of the belay as their first piece of gear. This eliminates the chance of a factor two fall should they fall before finding protection on the next pitch.

It's also much easier for the belayer to hold a fall this way.

How to climb a multi-pitch trad climbing

You can reduce the fall factor further by extending the belayer's anchor attachment.

This puts less force on the first pieces of gear if the climber falls.

multi-pitch fall factors

Where To Belay

Recommended belay stations will be described in the guidebook. You don’t have to belay there, but they are usually the best spots.

Experienced climbers often stretch pitches to the full rope length to reduce the number of belay changeovers and therefore speed the climb up.

Teams with an inexperienced partner may do shorter pitches so they can communicate more clearly.

When looking for a belay, choose a place which:
- Has cracks for solid gear placements
- Has protection from rockfall (especially if there are climbers above)
- Does not cause the rope to run across loose rocks
- Allows communication between partners
- Provides a comfortable stance for belaying, if possible

Hanging Belays

If there is no belay ledge, you will have to create a hanging belay. Try to create this in a place which at least has some good footholds.

It can be unnerving at your first few hanging belays, because you must completely trust your anchor and lean all your weight on it.

The key points are making sure the anchor is bomber and having the central point at chest level or higher so you can lean out comfortably.

For long belays, keep moving your feet around to stop your legs from going numb, or stand in a sling to get the weight on your feet if there are no footholds.

Rope Management

Stacking or coiling the rope neatly so it doesn’t tangle is important on multi-pitches.

If the belay ledge has a flat area, simply stack the rope onto it in a place where it won’t slide off. If there isn’t a suitable belay stance to put the rope, you can stack it in neat coils across the rope which goes between your harness and the anchor (lap coils).

Alternatively, stack it through a sling. Either way, the first coils should be the longest, with progressively smaller coils added on top. This ensures the rope feeds out well on the next pitch.

If it is windy or there are bushes or loose rock below you, make sure to keep the coils short enough so they don’t get stuck.

If climbing with half ropes, treat them as one rope and stack them together in the same way.

multi-pitch rope management

Time Budget

Make a realistic estimate of how long the route might take. Figure out what time you need to have finished the route (to avoid thunderstorms or darkness etc..) and then work backwards from there.

Break the climb down into pitches and figure out how long each one will take. Remember to add time for approaching and descending the route and for belay changeovers.

Be conservative with your estimations – it’s much easier to lose time than gain it.

Retreat Options

As part of your time budget, it’s smart to figure out places where you can switch to an easier route if you are running low on time, or places where you could easily descend without leaving most of your rack behind.



Teams of Three

In most situations, a pair of climbers is faster than a team of three. But having someone to chat with at the belay makes climbing as a three more social.

It also means you have an extra person to help carry the gear and lead some of the harder pitches.

There are many ways to connect three climbers to the rope. Two popular methods are described here.

Caterpillar Style

Step 1
The leader climbs a pitch with one rope.

multi-pitch rock climbing with three people

Step 2
The second climber follows on that rope, but trails another rope (Both ropes are tied into the harness tie-in points).

The second climber unclips the gear from the first rope and clips it to the second rope beneath them.

This ensures the third climber is protected from a swinging fall if the pitch traverses. If the pitch is straight up, the second climber could remove the gear.

multi-pitch trad climbing

Step 3
When the second climber has reached the belay, the third climber starts up.

The third climber removes the gear as they follow on the second rope.

multi-pitch rock climbing

Double Rope Style

Note
This technique is often employed with half ropes. However, half ropes are not designed to be used individually when following a pitch. For this reason, it is recommended to use two single rated ropes instead.

Step 1
The leader climbs with both ropes. They clip gear alternately to each rope.

multi-pitch trad climbing with three people

Step 2
The second and third climbers follow, keeping around 5 meters apart from each other, while the leader belays them both at the same time.

It is highly recommended to belay with an auto-blocking belay device directly from the anchor, such as an ATC in guide mode.

When communicating, finish the command with the rope colour, so the belayer knows which rope you mean (e.g: slack on red rope).

multi-pitch climbing with three people

Common Mistake
Clipping both ropes into a carabiner causes the ropes to rub against each other if a climber falls while leading or following.

This could damage your rope or even cut through the sheath.

It also reduces the ropes impact absorbing capabilities, and therefore puts a lot more force on the gear. This makes the gear less likely to hold the fall.

multi-pitch rock climbing with three climbers

If you need to clip both ropes to a piece of gear (e.g: to protect both followers on a traverse), use two quickdraws of different lengths as shown.

These quickdraws are then removed by the third climber.

multi-pitch rock climbing with three


Attaching to the Anchor

After abseiling, attach to the next anchor as described here.

For bolted anchors, make sure to attach to both bolts independently.

multi-pitch abseiling

If there is only space for one climber to attach, the other climber can clip directly into their partner’s screwgates as shown.

However, this means that the climber who descended last must descend first on the next abseil.

multi-pitch rappelling

Removing Your Belay Device

Once securely attached to the next anchor, you can remove your belay device as follows:

Step 1
Unfasten the screwgate. Unclip the device’s cable and both ropes from it.

Step 2
Re-clip the cable. This ensures that you can’t drop it.

rock climbing belay device atc

Step 3
Pull the ropes out of the device.

belay device climbing

Threading Ropes Through the Next Anchor

Thread the rope through the next anchor and tie a stopper knot in it before you pull it down.

Tie the stopper knot big enough so that it cannot fit through the main abseil point. This ensures that you cannot lose your ropes.

thread climbing ropes through anchor

Alternatively, tie the rope to yourself so it cannot be dropped.

clovehitch rope to harness

How To Be a Better Belayer

'How To Be a Better Belayer' is part of the book - Sport Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to sport climb e-book book

Just as people pick up ‘bad habits’ after they pass their driving test, climbers often get lazy with belaying once they have learnt the basics. Here are some tips to keep your climbing partners alive.

Watch and Listen

Keep an eye on the climber so you can brace yourself if they fall, or give slack at the exact same time as they are clipping a high piece. If you can’t see the climber, listen for commands from them and watch for movements in the rope.

Pay special attention when the leader is clipping the rope into a quickdraw. The extra bit of slack you have out makes the leader vulnerable to a longer fall if they slip just before making the clip.

You cannot give complete attention to the climber if you are talking to someone else. Likewise, avoid starting a conversation with someone who is belaying, and walk well around them so you don’t compromise their belay.

How to be a better belayer rock climbing

Don't Let Go of the Rope

Sounds obvious, but it's amazing how many experienced climbers let go of the brake rope for a brief moment while belaying. Letting go of the brake rope is like letting go of the steering wheel while driving on a fast country road. Avoid the temptation to loosen or release your grip, even just for a second.

Use your other hand to wave to friends, get something out of your pocket or scratch your butt. Or better yet, just wait until you’ve finished belaying.

This is a common problem with assisted-braking belay devices, where people get comfortable using them and forget that they do not always auto-lock.

The bottom line: If the climber falls while the belayer’s hand is loose or off the rope, they probably won’t catch the fall.

Bad belaying


Be Ready

You should stand in a "ready" position, so that if your climber falls or needs some help, you can react quickly to the situation.

Inform

Let the climber know about any dangers or mistakes they are making. Look out for back-clips, if their leg is around the rope or if they should extend a quickdraw.

Keep an Appropriate Amount of Slack

When lead belaying, the rope should always travel outwards and upwards from your belay device to the first piece of gear. Lazy belayers often give too much slack so they can wait longer before having to deal with the rope again.

This can be incredibly dangerous for the leader. Take and give slack as your climber moves to maintain the correct arc in your rope.

When top rope belaying, keep the rope fairly tight on the first few moves so the climber doesn’t hit the ground if they fall.

How to belay better

Close the System

If you are not certain how long a pitch is, or how long your rope is, you should tie into the bottom end of the rope. This ‘closes’ the system.

When the climber is tied to one end, and the belayer is tied to the other, it is impossible to lower the climber off their end.

Alternately, tie a knot in the free end of the rope.

Close the system climbing

Communicate

At a busy crag, the climber and belayer should call each other by name. This confirms that any shouted commands are actually meant for them.

You won’t always be able to see or hear your partner very well. Shout the climbing commands loudly to be clear.

You and your partner should have a pre-arranged signalling system for situations where you can’t hear each other.

One common method is for the leader to give three sharp tugs on the rope to signal they are off belay. The belayer then gives three sharp tugs back to let them know they are about to be taken off belay.

The problem with this method is that it is possible to mistake a leader’s jerky movements or tugs for slack as the off-belay signal. If there’s rope drag it can be even more difficult to decipher these movements in the rope.

Keep the climber on belay until you’re certain they are safe. When you feel the same signal repeated many times, you’ll know what the leader is trying to say.

The bottom line: Never take someone off belay until you’re sure they are off.

Stay in Position

You should stand in a position fairly close to the wall where you can take a few steps forward or backward to give slack or take in while still locked off. Don't sit down, lie down, or face in the wrong direction.

If the climber is to the left of the first piece of gear, you should stand to the right to avoid being hit by rocks, dropped gear or their feet.

How to belay rock climbing


Soft Catches

On steep routes, a ‘soft catch’ is a common technique which makes the fall much more comfortable for the leader and stops them from slamming into the rock when the rope gets tight. The leader will fall further during a soft catch, so make sure to only use this technique on steep, overhanging routes where you are certain the leader cannot hit anything.

To soften a fall, belay with your knees bent. Straighten them during a catch, allowing the weight of the falling climber to pull you upwards slightly. You could even take a small hop just as the rope begins to pull tight.

However, there are many situations where a dynamic belay is unsafe; A lightweight belayer might be pulled upward into a roof or a piece of gear which could disengage a belay device, or the extra rope could cause the leader to hit a ledge or the ground. Watch your partner carefully and learn to recognize how much of a dynamic belay (if any) is appropriate.

Soft catch belaying rock climbing

Weight Differences

If the climber weighs more than the belayer, a fall usually lifts the belayer into the air, naturally softening the fall for the climber. However, if the climber weighs significantly more, a fall could cause the belayer to slam into the rock or be ‘sucked in’ to the first piece of gear. There is a real danger of losing control of the belay if this happens.

To combat this, the lightweight belayer can anchor to the ground. This technique, however, reduces the belayer’s ability to move around the base of the route and give a soft catch.

A good compromise is to attach to a ground anchor with enough slack to move around and give a soft catch if needed, but not so much slack that you would be sucked into the first piece of gear.

Belaying rock climbing

Belaying Runout Routes

On ‘runout’ routes where a fall onto a ledge or the ground is possible, the belayer can run backwards away from the route if the leader falls. Remember to keep both hands on the rope in the locked-off position as you do so. This takes rope out of the system far quicker than pulling slack through a belay device, which means the leader will fall less distance.

This technique is best used on sport routes, rather than trad, since it puts a lot more force on the top piece of gear and could 'pluck' out the bottom piece. It results in an uncomfortable, abrupt fall, but it is far better than hitting the ground.

Routes like these, however, are best avoided.

Belaying a runout rock climb

Before the First Piece of Gear

Before the leader reaches their first piece of gear, you'll need to 'spot' them, just the same as if they were bouldering.

Make sure to have enough slack in the rope so they can climb up to their first piece.

Spotting rock climbing

Belayer Check

Make it a habit to check yourself and your partner before each climb.

rock climbing safety checks

The Munter Hitch – How To Belay Without a Belay Device

Uses:
- Belaying without a belay device
- Abseiling without a belay device
- Creating a releasable knot when escaping the belay

The munter hitch tends to 'kink' the rope when used for abseiling or belaying. It can also cause slight abrasion to the rope's sheath, especially if the leader falls.

It is a useful skill to know, but is not intended for long-term use.

drop belay device climbing

How To Tie a Munter (Italian) Hitch

Step 1
Clip the rope through a large, pear-shaped (HMS) screwgate. Smaller screwgates work too, but will make belaying more difficult.

Munter italian hitch rock climbing

Step 2
Twist a loop in the climber's end of the rope as shown.

How to tie an italian hitch rock climbing

Step 3
Clip the loop into the screwgate.

How to tie a Munter hitch rock climbing

Step 4
Clip the carabiner to your belay loop and fasten the screwgate.

Munter hitch belaying

Warning!
Make sure the brake strand is on the 'spine' of the screwgate. If the brake strand is on the 'gate' side, it could rub against the gate and potentially open it.

Italian hitch belaying

Step 5
Test the knot by pulling tight on either end of the rope. The knot should flip through the carabiner easily both ways.

Munter italian hitch rock climb belay


Belaying With a Munter Hitch

Belaying with a munter hitch is similar to using an ATC: you must keep hold of the brake rope at all times. The main difference is that you 'lock-off' in the opposite direction (see below). This goes against a climber's natural reaction, so make sure to practise this technique well before using it.

When bringing up the second on a munter hitch, it's easier to belay directly from the anchor (if your anchor setup allows), rather than from your harness.

Italian hitch belaying top rope

To Lock Off
The Munter hitch creates a lot of friction. Depending on the situation (rope thickness, weight of climber, rope drag, etc..), it can be locked off in any direction. However, for maximum friction, you must hold the brake rope forward (so that both strands of rope are parallel to each other).

Munter hitch belaying

To Give Slack
Hold the brake rope loosely and pull through slack rope, similar to giving slack with an ATC.

Italian hitch belay

To Take In
Pull the brake rope so that the knot 'flips'. More rope can now be taken in by continuing to pull rope through forwards.

Munter italian hitch rock climb belay

To Lower
Lock the rope off in the maximum friction position described above. Slowly move the rope back and lower as you would with an ATC. It can be tricky to find the 'sweet spot', so make sure to move position slowly.

Munter italian hitch belaying


How To Tie-Off a Munter Hitch - The Munter-Mule-Overhand

Uses:
- Tying off a munter hitch when belaying or escaping the system.

Step 1
Form a loop in the brake-strand of rope as shown.

Munter-mule hitch rock climbing

Step 2
Feed a bight of the brake rope around the climber's rope and through the loop as shown.

Pull the knot tight, either by easing the climber's weight onto the rope if they are weighting it, or by pulling up on the climber's strand of rope if they're not weighting it. The munter hitch is now tied-off, but not backed-up (see next step).

Munter-mule hitch belaying

Step 3
To complete the knot, you must back it up. One way of doing this is to tie an overhand around the climber's strand of rope. To start, wrap the loop around the back of the rope.

Munter-mule hitch

Step 4
Then feed it back through as shown.

Munter-mule hitch climbing

Step 5
A carabiner completes the hands-free munter-mule-overhand.

Munter mule overhand knot

To Release
Unfasten the overhand knot Then pull forwards on the brake strand of rope until the knot pops free.

If the rope is weighted, you can expect a few centimetres of rope to slip through the munter hitch. Prepare for this by holding the brake strand tight with both hands.

Munter-mule hitch release


Munter Hitch Belaying - Top Tips

When using a small diameter rope, it's worth using two carabiners to increase belay friction.

Munter hitch belaying skinny rope

To belay the second with half ropes, you can treat them as one and tie them together in the same munter hitch. If you need to pull one rope through faster than the other, you should use two separate knots (see next tip) instead.

Munter hitch belay two ropes

To lead belay with half ropes, you'll need to use two separate screwgates with a munter hitch on each. This can be difficult at first, especially giving slack on one rope while simultaneously taking in the other. Practice well before you use this technique.

Munter hitch two rope belaying

Leading > Pendulums and Tension Traverses

This article, Pendulums and Tension Traverses, is part of the book - The Trad Climber's Guide To Problem Solving.

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

Pendulums and tension traverses are great techniques for moving sideways across a section which is too difficult to climb.

A pendulum involves swinging across the wall to reach a certain point. A tension traverse involves climbing across while assisted by a tight rope.

Knowing how to ‘bail sideways’ is a good skill to have. Maybe you’ve climbed off-route and now have a blank expanse between you and the right route, or maybe you’re halfway up a pitch and the climbing gets too difficult. Your problems may be solved if you can swing across to easier ground.

Pendulums can also be used when abseiling (see our article here).

Step 1
Place a piece of gear which can hold a downwards and a sideways pull (you may want to equalize a few together). This gear needs to be bomber, and you may not be able to retrieve it later.

Step 2
Clip your rope into the gear and get your belayer to take you tight on the rope.

rock climbing cam

Step 3
Get your belayer to lower you. If you plan to pendulum, you can start swinging as you are being lowered. Do this by running sideways across the wall. Communicate with your belayer so you don't get lowered too far – make sure you know where you're trying to swing to!

Step 4
Keep your momentum and swing a little higher each time. Often, you'll need to grab a hold at the pinnacle of your swing, so be ready for this.

Once you've stuck the pendulum, continue climbing as normal, making sure to extend the next few pieces of gear after this to reduce rope drag. A tension traverse is similar but involves semi-climbing across with some of your weight on the rope.

tension traverse pendulum rock climbing

Pendulums and Tension Traverses > Top Tips

* Your partner will need plenty of slack rope to follow the traverse (around twice the diagonal distance of the pendulum). This usually isn't a problem, but if you climb a full rope length with a pendulum at the start of a pitch, your partner won’t have enough rope to follow it safely.

* If using half ropes, clip one to the pendulum point and the other to the pieces after the traverse. This will reduce your rope drag and make it easier for your partner to follow.

tension traversing pendulum rock climbing


Following Pendulums and Tension Traverses

Following is easy if the leader did a short traverse and extended gear well afterwards. Just follow the pitch as normal and gently swing/tension across the traverse section.

If the traverse section is long but easy enough to climb, you may choose to use the simpler
back rope technique.

However, for longer traverses across unclimbable terrain, you won’t be able to remove the gear which the leader traversed from or else you'll swing uncontrollably across the wall. To avoid this, you'll need to do a 'lower out'. It’s important to communicate well with your partner during this process.

There is no completely safe way to follow a long traverse because there is always the danger of the lower-out piece failing. Using a belay device as described on the following pages significantly reduces the consequences of a fall if the piece fails during the lower out. If it fails, your belay device (in most cases) will lock, stopping you from falling to the end of the rope. You will still swing across the rock, but much less than if you had lowered out without a belay device.

GriGri’s (or similar) will lock in the majority of cases that they are suddenly loaded. However, they are not actually designed for this. Depending on the distance, difficulty and consequences of the traverse and the quality of your lower-out piece, you may want to backup your attachment with a prusik.

Step 1
When you reach the gear which the leader traversed from, clip into it with a sling. If you have a good hands-free stance, you don’t need to clip in. Make sure the gear is still bomber after being pulled sideways by the leader. If you’re not certain about it, back it up with another piece.

Step 2
Attach an assisted-braking belay device to the rope as shown.

tension traverse climbing

Step 3
Tell your partner that you are ready to lower. They will pull in the slack so the rope comes tight.

You can now remove your clip-in sling if you are using one.

Step 4
Communicate with your partner as they lower you down and across. If semi-climbing (tension traversing) across, your partner may have to alternate between taking in and lowering out.

pendulum rock climbing

Step 5
Once you make it across, you’ll need to retrieve your rope from the lower-out point and then transition back to normal climbing. This is much easier if you have a hands-free stance. If you don’t, you could clip directly into a piece of gear to un-weight the rope. Either way, tie-off your belay device and remove any prusiks.

Step 6
Untie from the end of the rope and pull it through the lower-out point. Make sure to remove the knot before you let go of the rope!

tension traverse pendulum climbing

Step 7
Tie back in to the end of the rope.

Step 8
Release your tied-off belay device and belay the slack rope through while your partner takes it in at the same time. This protects you from falling to the end of the rope should you fall at this point.

Step 9
Remove your belay device once your partner has taken in all the slack. You are now ready to continue following as normal.

If you have lowered down too far, or still cannot climb the pitch, you can prusik up the rope until you reach easier ground. It may be possible to retrieve the lower-out gear by penduluming to it when you are higher up.

Improvised Aid Climbing

This article, Improvised Aid Climbing, is part of the book - The Trad Climber's Guide To Problem Solving.

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

* This article is about using improvised basic aid techniques while trad climbing. To learn more about aid climbing on big walls, see our articles here.

Using protection pieces as hand or foot holds is generally regarded as a poor style of ascent.

But using this simple technique to get yourself out of trouble is very good style.

Many alpine routes have sections that, in poor weather, may be impossible without using aid. Just a few aid moves may be all that is needed to reach a summit or a safer descent.

Knowledge of aid techniques can also provide a way to safely move up or down a crag in an emergency.

basic aid climbing

French-Free

This is the most basic form of aid climbing which means grabbing hold of a piece of gear and pulling on it to miss out a move. You could also clip a sling directly to the gear to use as a foot loop.

If you think your partner may struggle to follow a section of the climb, you can help them by placing gear frequently enough so they can pull from one piece to the next.

Times when you might french-free:
- To avoid a tough move
- If you need to move quickly and don’t have time to figure out a crux sequence
- If you think you’ll fall while clipping a piece of gear. You can hold onto the gear, then clip, then continue climbing

Basic Aid Climbing Setup

Aid climbing is more efficient when using daisy chains and etriers, but these are not worth taking on a climb unless you specifically plan on aiding sections.

aid climbing setup

Here is an improvised set of ‘aiders’:

* Two double-length slings girth hitched through tie-in points (or belay loop), with overhand knots tied at intervals. Knots are offset so the loops stay open (improvised daisy chains).

* Two long slings/pieces of webbing attached to daisy chains with a carabiner. Offset overhand knots are tied at intervals (improvised etriers).

* Carabiner attached to belay loop. This is used for shortening the daisy chain or clipping yourself directly into gear

basic aid climbing

It’s better if the daisy chain is on the spine side of the carabiner, and the etrier is on the gate side.

This allows your daisy to slide up the spine (rather than get stuck in the gate, or unclip from it) when you stand up high.

basic aid climbing


Basic Aid Climbing Technique

Step 1 – Place Gear
Place a piece of gear and clip an aider to it.

basic aid climbing

Step 2 – Test Gear
Unless you've just clipped a bolt or an obviously bomber piece of gear, you should test it before fully committing. How you test it depends on what the gear is.

First, ease your weight onto the piece, until the majority of your body weight is on it.

Nuts, slings and pitons can be ‘bounce tested’. Do this by bouncing your weight on your top daisy, with a slightly increased force each time. This puts more force on the piece than just your bodyweight will, so if it survives the bounce test it's unlikely to randomly pull out when you're weighting it. If it fails, you'll swing gently onto your daisy on the lower piece, which should still hold because you bounce tested it – right?

More easily damaged or low-strength gear, (such as cams or micro nuts) should only be very gently bounced.

basic aid climbing

Tiny cams or skyhooks shouldn't be bounce tested, as they would be damaged over time. To test, weight them and press your body away from the wall to generate a little more force than bodyweight without the harsh impact of a bounce. Move side-to-side and outwards from the wall a little, too. This simulates the direction you might pull the piece when you're higher up on it.

Try not to look directly at the piece you are testing – if it fails, it'll hit you in the face! Look away, and wear a helmet.

Step 3 – Commit
Once you're happy that the piece will at least hold your weight, it's time to commit. Shorten your daisy or clip in directly to the piece so you can sit in your harness.

Step 4 – Reset
Reach back down and clip your lead rope into the lower piece. Then remove your aider from it.

how to aid climb

Step 5 – Get High
Getting as high on your top piece as you can means less moves to the top.

On slabby terrain, use the steps of your aider to walk upwards. With practise you should be able to stand in the top step. Your daisy will slide up the spine of its carabiner. Adjust your daisy shorter to give you some downwards tension for balance. This also means that if you lose balance you won't fall the full length of the daisy.

Vertical or overhanging terrain is more strenuous. Pull on the gear while walking up the steps until you can clip directly into the gear with the carabiner on your belay loop. Once you are as high up as you can get, it's time to place a piece of gear and repeat step one.

Basic Aid Climbing > Following

To follow a section of aid, you can either prusik up the rope or aid up using the same technique as the leader. Make sure to communicate with the leader so they know whether to belay you or fix the rope to the anchor.



Removing Gear while Prusiking

If the rope isn't pulling tight on to a piece of gear, you can simply unclip the gear from the rope and remove it. Make sure to unclip the gear when your prusik is still a few inches below it; your prusik will jam into it if you go too close.

Often, the rope will be pulling the gear tight and it is very hard to unclip. In this situation:
- Weight your lower prusik
- Remove your upper prusik from the rope
- Re-tie the prusik on the rope above the gear and weight it
- Now you can more easily remove or unclip the gear

how to aid climb

Sometimes, this results in your lower prusik getting ‘sucked in’ to the piece of gear (particularly if the route is slightly traversing or overhanging). For pitches like this, it is useful to have a belay device (GriGri’s work best) setup on your belay loop. Here’s how:

Step 1
Prusik close to the piece.

Step 2
Pull slack through your GriGri and weight it.

Step 3
Remove both prusiks (one at a time) and re-attach them above the piece.

how to prusik

Step 4
Release rope through your GriGri so that you are weighting the prusiks.

how to prusik aid climbing

Step 5
Now you can remove the gear.

how to prusik trad climbing

Basic Aid Climbing > Traverses and Overhangs

The system for aiding a roof is basically the same as a traverse. Just place a piece, reach as far sideways as you can, and place your next piece.

It's hard to transfer your weight to your new piece to test it, so try stamping in your etrier instead of weighting your daisy. Remember that your follower will have to clip from piece to piece to clean the pitch, so don't back clean them!

To clean a traverse or a steep overhang, you'll need to take your prusiks off the rope and clip directly into the gear that the leader placed. Effectively, you are 'leading on top rope’. Simply clip across the pieces, removing the ones behind you as you go. Make sure to re-adjust your back up knots frequently, so you won’t fall far if a piece fails.



Basic Aid Climbing > Top Tips

* When leading, clip as high on the piece as possible (e.g; in the plastic thumb-loop of a cam, rather than the sling). This gives you more height, meaning quicker overall progress.

* Always use a back up (such as a clovehitch attached to your belay loop with a screwgate) when prusiking up a rope.

* It's better to use a 'keyhole' style carabiner for your aiders, as it will be less likely to get stuck on slings and wires than a 'nose' style carabiner. You can use either a snapgate or screwgate.

* When switching from aid to free climbing in the middle of a pitch, attach a sling to your top piece. This will be your final foot step before you free climb. Make sure to clip your aiders and daisies away on the back of your harness so you won't trip over them.

aid climbing carabiner