How to Multi-Pitch Climb

How to Multi-Pitch Climb

Regardless of how easy social media makes multi-pitch climbing look, it actually requires a great deal of knowledge and expertise to successfully climb one pitch after another. To help new rock climbers learn how to multi-pitch climb, we’ve created a comprehensive guide that entails everything you need to know about it.

What Is Multi-Pitch Rock Climbing?

Before we begin, you need to have a fair idea of what you should expect on your multi-pitch rock-climbing trip. As the name suggests, in this type of climbing, you’ll be ascending multiple pitches, each divided by stops along with a belay station on the same trip.

The main purpose of these stops is to allow climbers to reach a station where they can exchange the leader, take a break to hydrate themselves, and lay down a path for the remaining journey.

How to Prepare for Multi-Pitches

Just like any other adventure activity, multi-pitch climbing shouldn’t be taken lightly. You better be well prepared before you set out on your journey. In fact, the preparation should start months in advance. So, here’s a blueprint of how to prepare yourself for successful multi-pitch climbing.

How to Multi-Pitch ClimbOnce you’ve begun your rock climbing journey, you might want to level up with each climbing session and try something new and advanced. Multi-pitch climbing might be your next target. After all, the pleasure of venturing into places that are too difficult for ordinary folks to reach gives you a different kind of thrill. And when you get to experience that high longer with a multi-pitch climb, then the joy is extra sweet.

1. Start With Rigorous Training

A multi-pitch climb will not be as straightforward as regular rock climbing. Hence, you should train yourself specifically for this climb. Your basic training should focus on increasing endurance, strength, and practical knowledge of how to carry yourself while climbing a rock. Start with smaller climbs and check how long you can go without running out of energy. Pair a minimum 6-week training schedule with a well-balanced diet.

You also need to work on your finger strength. The hands of rock climbers should have healthy fingers with some serious strength to them. You need to keep up with your finger exercises to develop climbers’ fingers. Along with your entire body, these exercises will decrease the difficulty in climbing rugged rocks. Developing healthy calluses during a constant full-body workout will also improve your grip better than callus-free, fresh skin.

2. Do Your Homework

Once you’re physically prepared to go on a multi-pitch climb, it’s important to research route descriptions. If you’re doing it for the first time, it’s always recommended that you bring an experienced climber along to lead you on a familiar multi-pitch route. However, if you want to explore an untraveled route, make sure you research well before setting foot on it.

Your research should include the starting point of the climb, the point where it ends, the approximate time required to complete the climb, the kind of terrain one can expect on the route, and how you can descend.

All this information will also come in handy to prep climbing gear and equipment for the trip. Make sure you keep a copy of a map or guidebook to be on the safe side.

3. Plan According to the Weather Forecast

It’s no secret that a change in the weather can severely impact your multi-pitch climbing plan. That’s why you need to plan ahead and brace yourself for the worst-case scenario. Try to pick a date with suitable weather and fewer likelihood of unexpected rain.

Sudden storms and downpours will make your route slippery. The wet rocks will disrupt your climb and also pose a serious risk of accidents.

Along with checking the forecast, don’t forget to bring sufficient food, water, and blankets to keep you warm in case you get stranded in bad weather. The issue with multi-pitch climbing is that when you’re devoting a long time to climbing, you increase the risk of potential weather fluctuations. Also, depending on the route you selected, the weather might naturally get cold as you ascend.

4. Keep A First-aid Kit On Hand

Rock climbing is not an easy sport. Minor abrasions and bruises are fairly common. However, you shouldn’t take safety lightly. That’s why you should always carry a first aid kit with adequate sports meds in your backpack to tend to unexpected injuries.

After all, multi-pitch climbing can result in a scary situation in which no one can come get you if you’re injured and stranded. You’ll have to climb down yourself. This makes having a first aid kit at hand indispensable.

What You Need For Your Multi-Pitch Climbing Tour

Here’s a checklist of everything you’ll need on your multi-pitch climbing expedition:

1. Ropes & Anchor Supplies

The ropes and anchor supplies form the crux of your climbing gear. While some expert climbers often go solo and climb without ropes or anchors, we don’t recommend this for beginners. Get a sturdy rope that’s strong enough to be your weight and doesn’t wear out from friction against the rock.

It should also be tough enough to bear the pressure of a climber in case they fall. Other essential supplies include slings and carabiners to install anchors and prevent deadly falls.

How to Multi-Pitch Climb

2. Protective Helmet

When you’re out climbing a multi-pitch, you simply cannot afford to compromise with protective gear. Every climber needs to wear a strong and protective helmet to cover their heads from unexpected falling rocks.

When the climber ahead of you is ascending, the pressure their feet and hands exert on the rock might send down some loose stones. Without a helmet, those smaller rocks will smash right against your head and lead to a grave injury.

3. Comfortable Shoes

Multi-pitch rock climbing puts a lot of stress on your legs, so you’d better bet on comfortable shoes that don’t add to that strain. Keep in mind that, when you’re moving up, you’ll need to use your foot to balance against the rock or use it as a launching ground for your next move.

In both scenarios, a comfortable shoe will help you put in your maximum strength in ascending. When you’re out climbing rocks, you cannot afford to tire out your legs.

4. A Belay Device

A belay device is essential to manage the rope during belaying. It’s essential safety equipment that, along with a stopper knot, holds a climber’s rope. It utilizes friction and acts as a brake system.

The device has been purposefully designed to stop climbers from falling without their partners having to risk their own safety. In fact, If you choose a suitable device, even a low-weight climber can easily stop the fall of a heavy climber.

5. Food and Water Supplies

When you’re climbing up a rock, you should always be prepared for the worst. This includes stocking up sufficient food and water in case of emergencies en route.

At the same time, you cannot afford to burden your bag with supplies. Here, you need to think before making the right call and deciding on the appropriate amount of supplies you might need on your adventure.

6. Ascender for Emergency Purposes

Whether you might need it or not, it’s always better to keep an emergency ascender on hand to help you climb up the steep rocks more quickly and easily. An ascender gives you a better grip on the rope, which accelerates the process of climbing. Climbing with the help of ascenders is also much safer, considering it minimizes the chances of accidental slips.

3 Things to Learn for Successful Multi-Pitch Climbing

Multi-pitches involve much more than just ascending a rock. There are several technicalities that you need to be aware of for a successful climb. Below are the top 3 things you need to learn for successful multi-pitches.

1. Installing Anchors

Installing anchors is crucial for fall protection and a safe climb. You can either use natural anchor points like trees and rocks, or artificial, pre-fixed anchor points that you’ll easily find on sport climbing routes.

The key to identifying a suitable anchor point is to check if it’s strong enough to bear your weight if you fall. This means the anchor points have to be corrosion-free, strong, and firmly fixed in place.

Once you’ve identified a perfect anchor point, you need to connect to it. Generally, these anchor points consist of 2 or 3 points, among which two are for managing downward pull, and one is for upward pull. You need to bring these three points together to form a master anchor.

You need to stabilize this point for better fall protection to ensure that your weight is distributed evenly among them. Once the three anchor points have been connected, you can attach yourself to the anchor using carabiners.

2. Handling the Belay Device

The belay device is also a crucial component of fall protection, just like anchors. The only difference is that, instead of having anchors installed on the rock, your partner handles the belay device.

The belaying technique will vary depending on the type of belay device you choose. If you opt for a tubular belay device, you need to insert the rope through the tubular closet and lock it in with the help of carabiners.

Always remember to close the system with stopper knots at the end. Otherwise, the rope will freely slip through the device, and your partner will plummet straight to the ground.

If you’re planning to belay someone heavier than you, then opt for a grooved belay device. The grooves will increase the friction and grip on the rope, ensuring your safety.

3. Tying a Stopper Knot

Whether it’s your anchor or belay device, both would be of no use without a stopper knot. This all-important knot prevents the rope from slipping through the anchors and holds the climber in case of a fall. There are various types of stopper knot, and this is the easiest technique to tie it:

  • Take the rope in your hand at least 16 to 18 inches from the end. Next, wrap the remaining length of the rope around your hand to form a loop.
  • Once the loop is formed, take one end of the rope and pass it through the loop. Pull the tail of the rope out of the loop and wrap it across the loop before passing it through it once more.
  • Finally, pull both ends of the rope to tighten the knot. You’ll find double knots placed adjacent to each other. Together, they’re known as stopper knots. This knot is big enough to block the rope from slipping through anchors and belay devices.

How to Multi-Pitch Climb: A Step-by-Step Guide

Now that you know exactly what you need to do on a multi-pitch climb, it’s time to see how you should carry out the climb. Although you’ll require practical experience and the supervision of a trained climber, this guide will help you better understand the multi-pitch climbing process.

1. Scale the First Pitch

Reaching the first pitch of your multi-pitch climb is just like your regular climbing trips. You need to scale the rock and place gears for security all the way as you go up. Once you reach the first pitch, you need to install the first anchor.

Generally, you can choose the type of anchor system you want on your climb. However, if you’re sport climbing, you’ll probably have to go for a two-bolt anchor. After you’ve installed the anchor, you need to attach it to yourself with a hitch knot. The first part of your climb with you in the lead ends with reaching the first pitch and securing yourself with the anchor.

How to Multi-Pitch Climb

2. Bringing Up Your Partner to Join You

Once you’ve secured yourself and placed the anchor, it’s time to update your partner and allow them to join you. For your pal to climb up, you’ll need to pull up the remaining part of the row before they tie in.

However, this can be a little difficult if your partner is still belaying you. While verbal communication is certainly a way to ask them to take you off the belay, sometimes the pitches are set way apart for your words to reach your buddy. In this case, you can either use a walkie-talkie or pre-decided rope signals to communicate.

Remember, these signals are time-sensitive. If your partner takes you off the belay before you’re done climbing, it can turn an accidental fall into a disastrous accident.

3. Pulling Up the Rope

Once your partner has taken you off the belay, you need to coil up your rope so that they can begin climbing. While pulling up the rope doesn’t require much expertise, it’s managing the extra rope that poses the real challenge.

The most common question that amateur rock climbers have is where they should keep the coiled-up rope. While you can simply let it hang, it’ll be a headache later when the coils tangle.

The easiest solution is coiling up the rope and putting it down on the belay ledge of the first pitch. Generally, the stops for every pitch will have a little overhang you can use to balance yourself and put down your coiled rope.

Just make sure you wind it in neat coils with zero chances of tangling. If there’s no overhang, gently pull up with the extra rope and wrap it around the rope you’re tied into.

 4. Belaying from Above

Once you’ve reached the rope’s end, you need to communicate the same to your partner. This will allow them to prepare themselves for the climb. But before that, you also need to get ready to belay them.

Belaying from above requires belay devices that are exclusively designed for these circumstances. Once you have the device, you can either belay them using the harness or directly from the anchor.

Belaying with the anchor is a widely popular choice. In this arrangement, you need to connect the belaying device with the anchor using a carabiner.

Here, again, communication is essential. You cannot let your partner start climbing before you’re ready to belay. Make sure the carabiner is securely locked in, and then signal your partner to begin climbing.

5. Transitioning After the First Pitch

After the signal, your partner will begin the climb and soon reach you. You can use the first pitch as a quick resting spot once the two of you are together. Use the stop to hydrate yourself and re-rack the gears. Once you feel ready, it’s time to plan the next climb and prepare the next belayer.

It’s also important to decide who will be the leader and who will follow at this stage. There are two ways to go about this. First, you can try the traditional swinging leads method. That’s when partners will alternatively lead the climb. For example, if you led the climb from the foot to the first pitch, it’s your pal’s turn to lead you to the next pitch.

You can also choose to lead in blocks involving one climber leading for several pitches while the other simply follows. The best option depends on you. For example, if one of you is a more experienced climber, then it makes sense for them to lead the climb. Similarly, if you believe that leading should be shared, you can go for swinging leads.

You need to keep repeating the above steps until you finally reach the peak. Whether you’re following or leading, it’s equally important for every climber to be highly attentive throughout the climb. Rock climbing, especially multi-pitch climbs, requires a great deal of patience and fluency with the equipment to ensure a safe journey up the rock.

What You Need to Know As the Climb Leader

As prestigious as the title of a climb leader sounds, it comes with a fair share of responsibility. Leading a claim is not everybody’s cup of tea since it requires substantial experience of rock climbing. Here’s a list of things that every climb leader must know:

1. Rope Management

The entire climb is supported on the ropes. Hence, as a climb leader, you must know how to manage the rope. Rope management includes efficiently coiling up the rope, managing the transitions, belaying your partner, and anchoring with the help of the rope.

Along with managing the rope, you also need to know a variety of knot styles that you’ll use to fasten the anchor or belay devices. Remember that the knot needs to be strong enough to bear the weight of your fellow climbers in case they fall.

2. Knowledge of Rock Climbing Equipment

Every climber is required to have in-depth knowledge of all rock climbing equipment they’ll be using. This includes the carabiner, anchors, harness, ascender, and belaying device. Each of them has an essential role in facilitating the climb. However, as the leader, it’s your responsibility to have additional and in-depth knowledge of each of these devices.

Also, since you’re leading the climb, it’s likely that a few of these tools, like the anchors, will be exclusively handled by you. This makes it all the more important for you to be fluent in using them.

3. Terrain Management

One of the biggest responsibilities of a climb leader is to check out the climbing route before ascending. To do so efficiently, you need substantial knowledge of the terrains and climb routes.

You also need to judge the entire route and the possible hazards you may face before making a move. These include water hazards, avalanches, and uneven paths that can make it impossible to climb.

4. Crisis Management

No one should go for multi-pitch climbing unless they have basic knowledge and experience in crisis management. This includes handling uncertain weather fluctuations, dealing with a shortage of food, water, or supplies, and caring for an injured climber in case of an accident.

However, being the leader, your responsibility to manage an emergency is even more serious. Your job isn’t just to know basic safety protocols, but to have a backup plan for every possible scenario.

5. Leadership Skills

Along with the technical skills, climb leaders are required to be proficient with multiple soft skills. This includes leadership and team management. Leading a climb can be exceedingly stressful, especially in multi-pitch climbing, where the track is longer than regular climbs.

However, as a leader, you’ll need to stay calm throughout the journey and keep the team together as you climb up. Rock climbing is a team sport, and every climber needs to be on the same page for a fun, frictionless climb.

How to Descend a Multi-Pitch

Many climbers tend to avoid rappelling right after they’ve completed a multi-pitch climb. Since multi-pitch climbing requires climbing up a longer route, it’s way more stressful and exhausting than a regular climb. Also, rappelling can be as challenging and arduous as climbing up the rock. This’ll drain your energy and strength and make you want to take an easy hike down the rock.

However, if you’re left with no option but to rappel after a multi-page climb, you need to check out this quick guide that’ll help you understand how to nail it.

Circumstances When You Might Need to Rappel

Experienced climbers often choose routes with a hiking trail that can be stress-free to descend after a multi-pitch climb. However, there are circumstances under which you’ll have no option but to rappel.

1. Uncertain Weather

Sometimes, you might get stuck with a major storm and heavy downpour while you’re still climbing. In these scenarios, going up the rock would be a foolish move. The storm can not only blind your vision, but the wet rocks will make it dangerous for you to continue the ascent. If the storm rages for long, the only option is to go down rappelling.

2. Medical Emergency

If you or your partner is injured from a fall and have sustained injuries with which you can’t move forward, then rappelling is the only option available. After all, going on with the climb with an injured partner will not only risk their safety but also your security when they’re belaying you. An injured partner might not be able to secure your fall and might take both of you down the rock.

3. There Are No Other Ways to Descend

If you’ve done your research well before going on the climb, this one shouldn’t be an issue. However, if you realize that there’s no top-out or hike trail to descend the rock after beginning the climb, then rappelling is your only choice.

However, we recommend that you do thorough research on the climbing route to avoid circumstances like this. After all, multi-touch climbs are physically exhausting and when you’re climbing up and down rocks, you cannot risk setting out with diminished energy or strength.

Circumstances In Which You Should Avoid Rappelling

Rappelling will always be the last resort to descend. However, some climbers might be motivated by the high of a multi-pitch climb and might want to go down the same way. However, despite your enthusiasm, there are circumstances under which you should avoid rappelling:

1. When You Have Climbers Beneath You

When you’re rappelling, you put pressure on the rocks to balance your body and give yourself a platform to hold you steady for your next move. This pressure on the rocks sometimes causes big chunks of loose stones to roll down. It wouldn’t have been a big issue if you were climbing alone. However, if you have climbers under you, it can cause serious injuries or even throw them off balance.

All climbers will have a protective helmet around their heads for protection against accidents like these. However, they certainly won’t be able to keep their balance if chunks of rock keep hitting them.

2. If It’s Forbidden In the Guidebook

Despite your experience as a climber, it’s better to stick to what the guidebook says. These books have been prepared with substantial research on each climbing route. So, if the book states that it’s unsafe to rappel a particular climb route, definitely avoid it.

In spite of your skills and expertise, rock climbing is something you can’t take risks with. One wrong move can trigger tragic consequences.

How to Rappel a Rock: Two Common Techniques

There are two ways to rappel a rock. While you certainly have options, your resources and the climb path will also determine the rappel technique you choose.

1. Double Strand Rappel

Double strand rappel makes the process of climbing down a hill super easy. With a double-strand rappel, retrieving the rope is more convenient because it allows you to coil up your rope without the fear of a cord blocking it or getting the rope stuck between anchors.

Once you and your partner have descended a pitch, you can easily undo the knots and coil it up for the next rappel.

Using a Double Strand Rappel

Now that you know why double-strand rappel is an ideal choice to descend, it’s time to learn the technique behind it:

  • Tie two stopper knots on each end of the rope and then pull it up through the anchor until the middle marker is positioned at an equal distance from the two anchors. After that, you need to use a rappelling device to secure yourself. You’ll also need a prusik knot to support the rappel.
  • Once the path is laid, one of you can rappel and descend to the next pitch. Next, you need to inform your buddy and signal them to come down. Make sure that at least one of you is always attached to the rope. In this case, a descending partner should be attached to the rope while the one who has reached the anchor point can detach themselves.
  • Once both of you have rapelled, you need to pull the rope and prepare for the subsequent descent. Ensure that at least one of you is secured to the rope when you pull it. Also, before retrieving the rope, remember to untie all the knots. Otherwise, they can be stuck in the anchor points, making it difficult for you to retrieve them. Repeat the process until you reach the foot of the rock.

Situations When a Double Strand Rappel Won’t Work

Although double-strand rappel is preferable for climbers, certain situations might not allow you to practice it:

1. Insufficient Rope

For a double-strand rappel, you’ll need to fold the rope into two equal parts. Generally, the longest rope you’ll find will be around 80 meters. Once you fold it in half, it’ll have a vertical length of 40 meters.

Sometimes the pitches in the climbing route might be set far apart, exceeding the 40-meter limit. In this case, you’ll have to use a single strand rappel to descend.

2. Incompatible Belay Device

Even if you have an adequate supply of rope, you might not have a suitable belay device that can facilitate a double-strand rappel. Some belay devices are only designed to allow a single strand rappel, leaving you with no other choice.

2. Single Strand Rappel

Using a single strand rappel is not that different. However, in this case, you’ll need a retrieving cord along with the rope to pull back the rappel line. All you need to do is tie the retrieving cord to one end of the rappel line and pass it through the anchor point. Then you can use the retrieving cord to pull back the rappel line once you’ve descended a pitch.

The retrieving cord is generally lighter and has a smaller diameter than your main rope. It’s also important to keep in mind that when you tie it to the rappel lines, it should not be connected to the side with knots. Attach it to the other side so that it comes down with a flick when you pull the rope, without getting caught in the anchors.

Using a Single Strand Rappel

Here’s how you can rappel using single strands:

  • Start by passing the rappel lines through the anchor and attach them to the retrieval chord. Make sure you remember that the knot connecting the retrieval cord and the rappel line is the only thing that’ll hold back the rappel lines at the anchors.
  • After that, you need to tie yourself with the rope and attach the rappelling device to the rappel line. Don’t attach the device or yourself to the retrieving cord. These cords are extremely thin and lightweight. They’re not designed to bear human weight.
  • The rappelling process remains the same. Once you and your partner have descended, you need to pull the retrieving cord that will drag the rappelling line along with it. Be sure to untie the knots before doing this so that the cord doesn’t get stuck in the anchor. Then you can coil up the rope and prepare for the next rappel.

5 Things to Keep in Mind While Training Your Hands for Rock Climbing

How to Multi-Pitch Climb

Along with a full-body workout, you need to put extra focus on your hands for better grip. Here are a few things you need to keep in mind while training your hands:

1. Thick Skin

A tough skin is a badge of honor for climbers. Dry skin with calluses can actually increase your grip strength. Practice and working out with weights automatically makes your skin tougher and adds a rugged layer above your skin surface for proper grip.

2. Preparing For Sweat

Excessive sweating is another obstacle that can hinder your climb. An easy solution is to dip your hands in chalk to increase the friction. Chalk is made of magnesium carbonate, which improves your grip. The measure of bone strength will be of no use without a good grip. If your hand is constantly slipping, it’ll put a lot of pressure on your hand’s interphalangeal joint.

3. Strength Training Your Fingers

The fingers of rock climbers need to have strong joints to hold your body weight. Whether you are an Olympic or a recreational rock climber, your styles of climbing and intensity will be greatly influenced by your finger strength.

That’s why you need to learn how to toughen up your skin. Keep your skin healthy and get the hands of climbers. Starting from the strong middle finger to the weak ring finger, all 5 of them require serious training.

4. Practicing Climbing With Straight Hands

Although bent arms allow you to exert more strength and allow for more range of motion, it also puts a lot of stress on your arms and causes fatigue sooner. Hence, even if it’s a little uncomfortable initially, you should always climb with straight arms instead of experimenting with an array of angles. You should devote at least 2 hours of hand training 2 to 3 days a week.

5. Skin Care

You might not want to have permanently rough hands. So, between your climbing sessions, you can try to soften your hands a little. You can use a little coconut oil as a natural skin softener to replenish dry skin cells. It will also heal any blisters and keep your skin hydrated.

Wrapping Up

Learning how to multi-pitch climb will deliver an unforgettable adrenaline rush. However, whether or not you want to be a performance sport climber, practice remains the number one mandate of this sport. So, get out there, train hard, and hone your climbing skills, and when you’re 100% prepared to scale a multi-pitch climb, you can set out on this exhilarating journey with confidence.