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How To Climb Faster On A Multi Pitch Route

Updated: Jan 5

There is nothing more frustrating than moving slowly on a long multi pitch route. Saving a few minutes on each pitch can often mean the difference between spending an unplanned night out, getting caught by a change in the weather or making it back to camp early with enough time to be rested for the next day of climbing. Learning how to safely increase your efficiency and speed on a multi-pitch route will also open the door to longer challenging climbs.

Here are my favourite 10 time saving tips. None of these have anything to do with actually climbing faster. These are all tips that can be useful regardless of your actual climbing ability.

1) Shoes. Believe it or not you do not need a super tight shoe to climb hard. It is rare on any long multi pitch route that you will be onsighting or red pointing your absolute limit. Therefore your super tight sport climbing shoe designed for mega overhanging caves can safely be left at home. Instead go for something comfortable that you can wear all day without having to take it off. Not taking your shoes on or off at a belay will save you a minute or two every pitch.

2) Belays. Even when I cannot hear my climbing partner I know that within 30 seconds of the rope going tight I am on belay and can start climbing. The reason is simple. When you arrive at a belay stance and before pulling up the rope ensure your belay is built, your pack is off and everything you need to do is finished before you pull the rope. Once you have pulled the rope instantly put your partner on belay. This way they know once the rope is tight they can start climbing right away.

3) Never use your climbing rope to attach yourself to the belay. I know this one might sound strange, especially to the mountaineering types who think that by saving the weight of a daisy chain or anchor sling they will move faster. The reality is that most people wait to remove themselves from the belay until their partner has pulled the rope and put them on belay. When you tie into the anchor with your end of the climbing rope as a means of securing yourself to the belay it often happens that when your partner pulls up the rope they make it very difficult for you to undo the knot in the rope that connects you to the anchor. If you are not within ear shot of your partner asking for slack and trying to undo your rope from the anchor wastes valuable time.

4) Build your belays with an equalised central clip in point. This allows your partner, or partners to also arrive at your belay and clip in quickly. Insist that every climber in the team has a sling or daisy chain to secure themselves to the anchor. Do not rob quick draws from the rack to secure yourself to the anchor or build the belay. Always carry two suitable slings or cordellettes with at least two carabineers each for this purpose. If weight is a worry to you, go with a light sling and two light weight snap lock carabineers for each anchor.

5) Communication. To climb safely on a multi-pitch route you actually have to say very little to your climbing partner. “On Belay”, “Off Belay” is all you need. I try not to say anything else. I know that if I hear a fait yell in the wind and the rope has stopped moving its most likely “off belay”. If the rope then gets pulled up and I hear another fait call it's likely “on belay” and I can start climbing. Less is more. Recently when climbing Half Dome in Yosemite we passed a father son team who yelled a constant steam of communication at each other. Most of this could not be heard by the climber at the other end of the rope. They therefore wasted several minutes per pitch trying to figure out what the other one was saying. If they had just stuck to saying nothing but the basics, “off belay” when the climber was safe and “on belay” when they were ready to climb, they would have saved a minimum of 5 minutes per pitch. Half Dome is 24 pitches you do the math.

6) Building the belay. Eye the pitch ahead. Try to build the belay with the gear that will least likely be used on the following pitch. Two well placed equalised pieces are sufficient in most situations. If you have good gear there is no need to go overboard with three or four piece anchors. Often when I arrive to a belay stance I do the following. Place one good piece, clip directly into it and call off belay. This then allows my partner time to get ready to climb while I build the rest of the belay and pull the ropes.

7) Moving as soon as you are on belay. There is no reason why you should not be able to start climbing the second you hear the on belay call. No excuses, if you are mucking around with shoes, breaking down the belay, having a drink, putting on your pack you are simply wasting time. Ensure everything you need to do is either done while belaying or while the rope is being pulled. That includes, eating, drinking, pissing, getting your pack on or off, and breaking down the belay.

8) Breaking down the belay. Provided you are not at some sketchy bad hanging belay once your partner has called off belay it is usually fine for you to start breaking down your own belay. I generally do this by clipping directly into the most solid piece of gear or a bolt if there are bolted belays. Then while my partner pulls up the remaining rope I take out the other gear, rack the belay sling and get ready to climb. I then remove the final piece when I hear the on belay call. If I happen to be standing on a large ledge and for example it has been a long pitch and there is plenty of gear between me and my climbing partner I will sometimes remove the entire belay before I hear the on belay call.

9) Racking gear. If you are leading in blocks i.e. you plan to second the pitch and not lead the following pitch then the most efficient way to rack the gear is by putting it all onto a shoulder length sling. This way when you arrive to the belay you can simply drop the sling and gear over your climbing partners head and shoulders allowing them to quickly rack up and get ready to lead the next pitch. If however, you plan to lead the following pitch ensure as you clean the gear it gets racked on your harness exactly as you need it for leading. There should be no double handling of gear moving it around to its correct position on your harness once you reach the belay.

10) Last but not least is keeping your ropes stacked in a tidy order. If you happen to be on a nice ledge then use it. There is no need to have your hopes hanging at the belay if you are at a ledge. Just pile them neatly on the ground. If you are at a hanging belay then ensure your ropes are stacked neatly and do not hang down where they can get caught on something below you.

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