Getting Along on Popular Multi-Pitch Climbs


Original Post
Mike A. Lewis · · Estes Park, CO · Joined Jan 2011 · Points: 1,540

Due to some excellent feedback, I have edited the following post. What you are reading is a new version, so some of the comments from others will not make sense...

Many classics have become crowded with lines of climbers wanting to get on them. There tend to be climbers who are very aware of others and want to make sure everyone is having a good time, and then there are a few who tend not to be as aware, and can have a negative affect on everyone else out there that day.

Just today, I witnessed a group of four young women climbing in one group inching their way up a popular route with many folks waiting behind. They tied two dogs to some boulders at the base - the dogs were very stressed, barking and whining. The folks on the ground were trying to console the dogs with food and petting, but nothing was working. I had already finished the route and was rappelling down. I mentioned to the women that they might want to send one of their climbers back down to take care of the dogs - they didn't really seem to care.

Over 25 years of climbing, I have seen many situations like this. A dog has pissed on my pack at Smith Rock while the owners continued to belay and climb with no apparent remorse. A friend of mine got involved in a rescue on Crimson Crysalis (Red Rocks) because a team of two was simul-climbing and trying to pass the 5-6 parties already on the route. The leader clipped one of the protection bolts that another leader was already using as he was leading the pitch. The passing climber took off to the side and tried to pass and ended up taking an 80-footer, getting really badly hurt, and requiring everyone on the route to stop what they were doing to rescue these climbers.

I am a climber and a guide, so I spend a lot of time on trade routes. I am often the first person up a route and the first one down (I tend to get up early to beat the crowds to avoid getting entangled in many of the below situations), but I still end up seeing other climbing teams getting in trouble, compromising other people's safety, or simply making the experience of the cliff that day unenjoyable for everyone else. And, when I began climbing, I definitely did my fair share of being "that guy," too! I specifically remember in 1996 when two friends and I tried to climb the Nose of El Cap for the first time. We took ALL DAY to get to the top of Pitch 4 - Sickle Ledge. There were some guys behind us that were very polite, never pushed, but I am sure they could have done it in a few hours, and I never offered for them to pass. I still feel guilty for that day and wish I could find those guys and apologize.

Here are some things I'd like to share about how I try to approach the day to make the day go smoothly for me, my partner, and for others en route, as well as some things that have been stated many times in climbing magazines, online chats, and among the climbing communities I have been a part of...

1. Dogs. If your dogs bark and whine when you leave the ground, then please rappel back down to take care of it. Other climbers are trying to enjoy the wilderness, their time with their climbing partner, and the route - they don't want to hear dogs barking all day or spend their time consoling them while you're up there having fun. Consider leaving your dog at home or with your parents. I have two dogs and only bring them cragging a couple of times per year.

2. Parties of two. Climbing goes faster in parties of two versus larger groups of three and four. There is less likely to be a bottleneck if folks are climbing in smaller teams. Guides and more experienced climbers know how to use belay systems that enable them to belay multiple climbers at one time - this can work just find if you know how to do it. If you are climbing in larger teams, consider letting the smaller teams pass or start in front of you.

3. Keep the flow going. On popular moderate multi-pitch routes, I try to move quickly and efficiently so others are not waiting in the blazing sun or the cold longer than necessary. One of my approaches to this is to not get on something that I know is going to be so hard for me or my partner/client that we take a really long time to get up that pitch. For example, if my partner can barely squeeze out a 5.10a toprope climb, I will take that person up a 5.8 or easy 5.9 multi-pitch route (if it is a busy day on a popular route - if not, it doesn't matter what you are climbing).

4. Let Others Pass. If you are moving considerably slower than other teams, let them pass. It might mean that you will have to chill at a belay station for 20 minutes or so, but in the end you won't have this person riding your tail all day - which can be annoying and create stress for everyone (which gets to my next point)...

5. Don't Always Expect to Pass. Sometimes I can get behind someone who is moving slower than I would, but not by much. It's easy to want to pass - but really, it's not worth the potential for conflict, and it's probably my own lack of patience creating the problem anyway. So, that's when I have to take a breath, relax, enjoy the view and the conversation, and realize I might get home an hour later than expected. It's my fault - maybe I should have gotten up earlier.

6. Take Advice From Others. As typical Americans wanting to get out there and challenge ourselves, we rock climbers look forward to the onsight and learning through experience - we aren't often planning to be getting advice from others out on the cliff that day. When there are more people behind, and maybe there is potential for poor weather to come in, it becomes a larger team effort for everyone to get up and out of there. So, being open to someone who has done the route already sharing beta can really help things move more efficiently. Example: a guide friend of mine and his client were behind some folks on the Petit Grepon in RMNP. The folks clearly didn't want my friend to pass, though he was much faster with his client. The other team was moving very slowly, stopping in the wrong places to make belays, and doing a lot of up, down, left, right looking for the route. Eventually, my friend offered some advice on how to lead a given pitch, where to go, and where the belay stance was. The other team didn't want the help and tried it there own way, trying to link two pitches together, which gave them a lot of drag, and the guy had to climb back down anyway. At that point, the other team started taking more help from my friend.

7. Guides & Mentors. I mentioned this already sort of, but here's another way. I often see new guides as well as folks out there who want to take a friend who is new to climbing up a route. Often the guide/mentor is trying to create the perfect flow experience, but often, the guide/mentor takes their friend on something way too hard for them. The friend is maxed out, stressed, not having fun. And now that is happening to all the other teams behind as well. I try to choose a multi-pitch route that is well within the abilities of the climber for their first m-p route, especially if we are getting on a popular route.

8. Rappels. All the same ideas apply from above - be efficient, let others pass if they move much more quickly than you do. Consider sharing rappels with others. Also, toprope climbers - make sure you are not TRing on rappel anchors that are meant to be used for multi-pitch routes/rappels, unless of course no one is around and needs to use the anchors (ex: Recon and Bomb anchors on the Wind Tower in Eldorado Canyon).

9. Racking Up. I have been in the situation a few times here and there where someone else gets to the base of a climb first, and they are in a relaxed mood - going to pee, having a sandwich, looking at the guidebook, and eventually getting their rope out and gear on. When I showed up only moments later, my partner and I already had our gear on, I knew the route, and we were a rope's flake from being ready to get started... but the other team was energetically claiming the route, or verbally. I could feel the vibe, so I relaxed and had a seat, had a snack, etc. The original team never shifted their mood and kept moving at a Sunday pace. By the time they finished racking and started the pitch, my partner and I could have been up and out of there... So, if it's a popular route, I try to get to the base, get racked and get going so as not to start the day out on that route with an immediate bottleneck... or let others go ahead if they are ready before me.

10. Tone of Voice and managing conflict. When I ask to pass, I ask nicely, maybe have a conversation first - I ask where they are from and what their favorite route is there - and I actually want to know and am interested. Different situation: If you shouldn't pass because the team in front of you is only slightly slower than you, then consider getting to know each other, enjoy the view, take a deep breath, relax and let go of your goals for a faster time. Another situation: Sometimes folks are just going to pass without talking much about it. They might be using a variation to the pitch and they simply know they can do it without getting in your way or slowing you down (classic ex: Royal Arches in Yosemite which has many variations). If they are moving quickly, I tend to trust them and let them do their thing. If they are truly putting my safety in jeopardy, like when I was on the Grand Teton this past summer, then I hold a boundary and ask them to please wait until we get to a better place for them to pass.

Finally, let's all try our best to have fun, be safe, and be aware of other people around us. I realize that some readers may not agree with the approaches I have offered here. There's always room for diversity.

BTW: Here is a quick list of routes that are classic bottlenecks:
1. Cat in the Hat, Red Rocks
2. Crimson Crysalis, Red Rocks
3. Epinephrine, Red Rocks (I am surprised when I hear about people needing to bivy unplanned on this route - they definitely over-estimated their abilities or under-estimated the route)
4. Walk on the Wild Side, Joshua Tree
5. Casual Route, the Diamond on Longs Peak
6. Petite Grepon, RMNP
7. Kor-Engalls & North Chimney, Castleton Tower
8. Ancient Art, Fisher Towers
9. South Six Shooter, Indian Creek
10. Rewritten, Eldorado Canyon
11. Looking Glass Rock, NC - many routes
12. Serentiy Crack to Sons of Yesterday, Yosemite
13. Pretty much everything in Yosemite, especially The Nose, Salathe, Prow, South Face of the Column, etc.
14. Complete Exum & Owen Spalding, Grand Teton
15. Recompense, Cathedral Ledges
16. and so many more...

ViperScale · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 230

I will climb with groups of 3 or 4 or 8 all day long if I want. Noone gives you the right to the route.

You seemed to miss one big one though. Don't top rope on a rap route for a multi pitch area that only has a single rap route.

Alexander Blum · · Charlotte, NC · Joined Mar 2009 · Points: 143

Why not? No one has a right to that rap route.

john strand · · southern colo · Joined May 2008 · Points: 1,640

Gotta love rules...I say piss on your rules !

t.farrell · · New York, NY · Joined Aug 2016 · Points: 60

Curious as to what happened to make you want to post this.

Greg Maschi · · Phoenix ,Az · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 0

Blow it out your @$$ , I will climb any way I see fit.

Mike A. Lewis · · Estes Park, CO · Joined Jan 2011 · Points: 1,540

ViperScale, I agree about not TRing on a Rap route. Classic example and a local ethic - The Wind Tower in Eldorado Canyon. The bolted anchors there are for rappelling (top of 1st pitch of Recon, top of Bomb). Top-roping on these anchors is a local no-no, unless of course, there is absolutely no one else around that will want to use them for rappelling. Good call!

Em Cos · · Boulder, CO · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 5

You've got some self-contradictory advice here.

Kevin MP · · Redmond, OR · Joined Nov 2013 · Points: 193

It seems like a pretty big stretch to call most of these rules ethics. Etiquette sure, but who made you the rulemaker?

Here's one: If you can't deal with long lines of beginner climbers moving slowly, start earlier or even better, don't be climbing that classic moderate multipitch route on the weekend, expecting everyone to hurry the fuck up and let you pass.

Spiny Norman · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2015 · Points: 0

A statement of ethics? Here are some ethics: With all due respect, bite me.

Dana Bartlett · · CT · Joined Nov 2003 · Points: 890

Have you considered taking anger management classes instead of yoga?

NickO · · Utah · Joined Apr 2011 · Points: 35

Do: Have Fun and Be Safe

Don't: Let your self righteous ego ruin the experience of others with your rules!

will ar · · San Antonio, TX · Joined Jan 2010 · Points: 250

I generally agree with most of these points. A lot of people are going to complain about someone else trying to tell them how to climb, but it's like driving slow in the left lane. You can if you want, but it's still rude. Be courteous and remember that we all have to share the rock.

Mike A. Lewis wrote:2. Climb in PARTIES OF TWO! You don't have to tell this to climbers who climb 5.9/10 and higher. For some reason, beginning leaders who lead 5.8 Trad and below want to take all of their beginner friends up the moderate classics on a Saturday. Please stop doing this!
If you can belay 2 followers in guide mode you can move as fast as most 2 person teams. I often suggest this to groups of 3 and the usual response is "one of the people in our group is inexperienced" but I think it's actually safer with an experienced climber close behind the noob. This way you can coach the new climber through harder sections instead of yelling at them from the belay.

As a side note, climbing harder let's you avoid most of these issues.
Michael Schneider · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 735

So many great responses!

Colonel Mustard wrote:There's only one rule I see: Climb something else if you can't handle being around other people or see some big SNAFU in the works. Most areas I go to have those extremely popular routes surrounded by climbs that are just about as good but for some reason (runouts, difficulty, etc.) that shuts down the less experienced they don't get climbed as much. 25 years of climbing should lend you the experience to do those more adventurous routes and avoid the clusters. Really, running up some other party's ass puts you in the dick position and you take every disadvantage on yourself by choosing to get on the route despite a pileup. Workarounds include early/late season ascents. Waking up early. Climbing in the midweek. Doing those routes later in the day after the conga has ascended. Going to areas with a big hike in and commitment. Scoping out for those other routes that are likely just about as good just not starred up like a barista with a hefty tattoo budget. Who wants to be sitting at the base of a climb or stuck at some hanging belay when you could just open your mind up a bit and adjust your plans? edit: I get it though, maybe throwing out some ideas that foster a little conscientiousness isn't a bad idea. And I understand you are an accomplished climber whose job puts him in the thick of it, so you have no choice. We can't expect everybody to adhere to our ideas of good behavior, unfortunately. Also, what I said about running up the ass makes you a dick was really funny in a hurr hurr sort of way. You're welcome ;).
Em Cos wrote:You've got some self-contradictory advice here.
We were all No0Bs once, don't rush up

Adjust to a location don't get in line for a route

stop AGRANDIZING some climbs
Making a pitch into the end all and be all....

man ?
Really?

You appear to be the definition of an arrogant entitled wanker overpaid to climb rocks guy
maybe you are the best guide in the west it is not your place to tell others how to get after their personal blss....
Very nice edits, but it is you as the paid for person to stay away from the circus not try to be the ring master

I've been on both sides,
can see that in some cases you're safety is compromised buy slow groups.
Poorly skilled climbers or climbers who are 'weaker links'
Mis-matched climbers on routes that they might not be ready to tackle.
The things some people love, taking all day to climb two pitches.
All of the above is why you get paid to use your skills to avoid and not Engage with Not Your Clients.

While some climbers literally count on "amg-azz" "Professionals being present on "classics"
So that if the scale tilts to needed life saving stepping in or stepping up.
The person helping , offering to rope gun whatever is "credentialed . ( a smart safe way to go )

Many climbers are doing this to achieve or fail on their own. Don't want any body adding rules of fair play. Even when they make it better for everyone.

Especially from you full time or elite whatever

Some people get very little time to climb and hire you to maximize the time they get to get after it.

Some people have more money than sense. They have no business multi-pitch climbing
would never Be able to even safely Top Rope with out your supervision and don't belong on the routes you have dialed in.

I'm not going to say it again as there is at least another post from me somewhere

taking people climbing right away, sharing showing them the ropes
The blind leading the blind
Is that what you're complaining about?

Beginners, the nerve of them, not to hiring you and following your rules!

- Insta-guide,-
That is the cause of the problems, - you are right.

just like the people you're frustrated by, soon it will be the same folks you're
exuding pride over while obstructing, clogging routes with Client - type climbers,
That will be the climbers moving to slow trying to figure it out with out you.

They will be On beginner or straight-forward routes, where you took them.

everything is
so below your ability that, wait , you deserve special rules?

The idea that you will curtail our freedom.
I add my voice to the chorus. No !

I get that this is in response to the accumulation of frustration.seeing the lowest common denominator on those routes for exactly that reason; many Good, Lmited, Safe climbers moving at their own pace. Making good safe choices for themselves, in your way .

Let's call them : GLS climbers., . . ,. Do you see where this sort of thinking could lead?
Do you want to help write rock climbing regulation?
Do not restrict my religion!
Freedom of the Hills!

Ive got to say, you in charge ?
Wow, I'd like to see that! NoT!
s.price · · PS,CO · Joined Dec 2010 · Points: 1,348

Some backstory would go a long way. Right now you sound like a whiny guide whos day got screwed by another party.
Your ability to determine who should be on a route at any given time is astonishing, damn near narcissistic.

matt c. · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 155
Spiny Norman wrote:A statement of ethics? Here are some ethics: With all due respect, bite me.
Haha +1

Mikey, you seem really full of yourself.

Also, if you are ever waiting for me as a work climb, please never give me unsolicited advice, it's kinda a dick move.
Gunkiemike · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 2,740

I'm reminded of my Three Facts of Driving Ethics:

1. The guy driving too slowly in front of me is holding me up and doesn't get the hint that I'm trying to get around him. He's an asshole.

2. The guy riding up my rear bumper is an asshole.

3. I'm always going the proper speed. I'm never an asshole.

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

Was going to say...you can't find ANY other route to get on in Red Rocks than Cat in the Hat?

Honestly, the only relevant ethics concern passing and being passed. As long as you're safe and cool about it, what's the big deal?

ViperScale · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 230

Well at a local crag we had a group that setup a top rope (without draws which in our area is not the ethic) on the only rap route for 20 common 2 pitch routes. They were cool about it and let everyone rap off their ropes but I think they were regretting trying to top rope it. Before everyone was down there was like a line of 10 people trying to rap.

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

Yeah, taking up a rap anchor for TR is a dick move. I've had that happen to me before as well.

Gavin W · · Surrey, BC · Joined Feb 2015 · Points: 178

Climb 1-2 grades higher? Why?

Tell you what, if you climb at 5.11, why are you trying to get on "moderate trad classics"?

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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