Top tips for your first multi-pitch adventure

Posted by Will Harris on 24/07/2014
Make the step up to multi-pitch climbing this summer. Credit: Alex Messinger

Led a few single-pitch trad routes and feel ready to move on to bigger and better things? Follow these seven simple tips for a stress free progression to the exciting world of multi-pitch rock climbing.

1: Have your single-pitch skills dialled

Before heading onto multi-pitch routes you would ideally like to be confidently leading single-pitch trad. Having key skills wired, such as placing bomber gear, will mean that you can concentrate on the additional challenges presented by climbs that are more than one pitch long.   

Watch: How to lead a trad route on BMC TV:

2: Start easy

It's always best to practice new skills in a friendly, low stress environment. The place to learn how to multi-pitch climb is on shorter two or three pitch routes, with easy access and simple descents. By picking multi-pitch routes that are a few grades below your single-pitch limit you can concentrate on getting your systems right without worrying about whether you can do the moves.

Watch our multipitch trad climbing skills video series:

3: Choose easy to follow routes with big belay ledges

Working out which way to go on a big, complex cliff can be a real challenge. Strong route finding skills will come with experience, so when starting out choose routes that follow obvious features, such as cracks and corner systems. For your first multi-pitch climbs choose routes that have large, obvious ledges to belay on giving you something to aim for. Leave those awkward, exposed hanging belays for once you are confident in your multi-pitching skills. 

4: Know how to abseil

The weather has taken a turn for the worse, someone is injured or the climbing is just harder than expected. Sometimes even the best-laid plans come unravelled, and the prudent thing to do is to run away. Knowing how to abseil safely is your get out of jail (for almost) free card when multi-pitch climbing.

When setting up an anchor to abseil from remember to properly equalise all pieces of gear. If abseiling from in-situ gear check it thoroughly before trusting your life to it. Leave as many pieces of gear as necessary to make sure that you will be safe. If in doubt leave behind that extra wire: how much is your life worth?

Always back up your belay device with a prusik loop. Tie knots into the ends of your ropes to ensure that you cannot abseil off them; people have died after falling from the ends of their ropes. 

Watch: How to abseil on BMC TV:

5: Carry the right kit

Multi-pitch climbing can use a surprisingly large amount of kit. Not only do you need sufficient gear to lead each pitch, but also enough to build a solid belay at both ends of the rope. Carrying a double set of wires, along with your usual set of cams and/or hexes is a good idea, as is throwing in a couple of extra slings.

Make sure that you carry a copy of the route description to help you to get back on track when you get lost (see tip 3). It is also worth taking a spare layer - a thin windproof can make all the difference to your comfort for very little extra weight. Long descents in cripplingly tight rock shoes are the stuff of nightmares, so carry light approach shoes to make descents less painful. On longer routes the second often climbs with a small sack containing essentials such as extra layers, a few sips of water and more essentially a couple of head torches. 

6: Be belay savvy

Good stance management is the difference between a faff-free day on the rock and an afternoon of tying yourself in knots. The first consideration has to be safety. When placing gear to build your belay consider the direction of pull that it will have to hold, both when bringing up the second and when belaying the leader on the next pitch. You might be at the belay for some time, so try to build your belay in a way that will let you get into a comfortable position.

Make sure that you stack the rope in a neat, tidy way so that it will run out smoothly when belaying the leader on the next pitch. Either stack the rope onto a convenient ledge or flake it over the end connecting you to the belay. Don't let loops of rope fall down the crag, as given the opportunity they will get tangled on downward-pointing spikes, causing a world of problems.

Think about where your second is going to stand when they arrive, making sure that it's easy to make them safe. Consider which direction is the leader going to head off on the next pitch.

7: Place a runner above the belay

Finally, when leading off from a stance make sure that you place and clip a piece of gear as soon as possible. If you fall off before placing a piece of gear your weight will come directly onto the belayer, generating massive forces and potentially causing injury to both you and belayer. It's also a good idea to think carefully about how you protect a pitch to make sure that you won't hit belay ledges should you fall off.


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