Multi-Pitch: Silent, Non-Visual Safety Communication


Original Post
Sam Fearer · · Costa Mesa, CA · Joined Nov 2015 · Points: 115

How to communicate when you can't see or hear?

Easy (as long as rope drag isn't too bad). After looking into others' solutions to the problem, I couldn't find consensus on the issue. So I came up with this cheat sheet for climbing with new partners, as a quick way to get on the same page before tying in.

The following can be utilized as a user-friendly, on-hand guide and refresher. It isn't comprehensive, it still requires discretion, and it may not be for everyone, but it works. Feel free to share!

Silent communication cheat sheet.

Short Fall Sean · · Flagstaff, AZ · Joined Sep 2012 · Points: 5

I like it.

I think whatever the system is, it makes a lot of sense to make it clear before leaving the ground and to keep it as simple as possible. I climb at Lovers Leap a decent amount and it's ridiculous to hear some of the less experienced parties shouting back and forth: "You're on belay!!!" "What, am I on belay?!?!" "OOON BEELAAY!!!" "WHAAAAT?!?!?"

A basic understanding of the process of climbing multi-pitch routes is paramount in keeping the system simple and effective. I tell my partners that I will never delay putting them on belay once I have all the rope pulled up. So if they've been tight on the rope for more than 30 seconds or so, then they know that I've got them on belay. If I want to take my shoes off or eat gu packets or jerk off or whatever, I either do that before pulling up the slack in the rope or concurrently with belaying (preferably with an auto block).

Ian Machen · · Reno, NV · Joined Sep 2016 · Points: 35

Text message.

John Wilder · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined Feb 2004 · Points: 1,530

No tugs, they never really worked for me.

I operate on the keep the leader on until you're out of rope principle.

Leader doesn't pull up rope until theyre ready to put the second on belay. Once the rope is tight, count to 10, belay is on.

Second climbs cautiously until they are sure they are on either through verbal communication or the feel of the rope being taken in is consistent with being on belay.

Bill Lawry · · New Mexico · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,497

It is good to keep verbal communication to a minimum.

Case in point: Once in the middle of a multi-pitch climb in the middle of a lead, leader talked for about a paragraph about how bad the rope drag was and could the belayer (100+ feet below) do anything about it like undo a sling from first piece. Next words from belayer was "You are off belay!"

Tugs are even less dense in terms of content (hope that makes sense). Keep it to just what is critical. For me that is feeling three or more tugs from the leader means that she has put me on belay. No other tug commands.

And if tugs are not practical, it is as others have said above ... a decision to climb assuming I and my partner know each other well enough.

Robert Michael · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 116

I use the three-tug system and go over it thoroughly with my partner before I start up.

JohnReg · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2015 · Points: 15
John Wilder wrote:No tugs, they never really worked for me. I operate on the keep the leader on until you're out of rope principle. Leader doesn't pull up rope until theyre ready to put the second on belay. Once the rope is tight, count to 10, belay is on. Second climbs cautiously until they are sure they are on either through verbal communication or the feel of the rope being taken in is consistent with being on belay.
+1
Jplotz · · Wenatchee, WA · Joined Sep 2011 · Points: 950

If I anticipate communication problems on a pitch, then before leading off I tell my second that when the rope comes tight, that means you're on belay and you should start climbing. Because, what the hell else are you going to do?

George W · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 8

That's basically the strategy I've used with my partners. Perhaps the most important thing I maintain is that if the belay is in doubt, just keep feeding the slack as it gets pulled. I'll never get mad at my belayer if they don't take me off. Safety first!

Also, I will occasionally use some very lightweight little radios that cost ~$25

Nick Goldsmith · · Pomfret VT · Joined Aug 2009 · Points: 440

3 tug system is totally usless and a recipie for misscomunication and death.

1. The most important thing is for the leader to not pull up the rope untill they are ready to put the 2nd on belay. Make your anchor, put on your belay jacket and Then pull up the rope. Put the 2nd on belay imeadiatly after pulling up rope.

2. belayer, if there is any doubt keep the rope running through the belay device untill it is mostly gone or super super obvious that it is Only being yanked up in rythmic arm lengths and not just the leader running it out fast on easy terrain or yanking a few times to get slack for a move. Safest is to feed it all the way through the devise.

3. Belayer. when all the rope is gone and it keeps tugging on you, you are either on belay or simo climbing. Do Not fall as you leave the belay. Most often if for some reason you are simo climbing it will only be for a short bit untill the leader gets an anchor. Climb slow as you leave the belay and make shure the rope keeps going up.

Go over it before you leave the ground. When all the rope is gone you are on belay. KISS. Leader Do Not pull up the rope and then get side tracked into another task. Put the 2nd on belay Imediatly.

climber pat · · Las Cruces, NM · Joined Feb 2006 · Points: 215

Like others above, I do not use the tug method of communication because it does not work well; also yelling off belay for an hour does not work well :).

Instead, I call explicitly for "Windy day rules" on days when I suspect communication will be difficult. Windy day rules means the leader puts the follower on belay before pulling up the slack rope. The follower starts climbing when the rope goes tight. The follower is either on belay or simul-climbing. I know belaying the slack of the rope is a pain and takes a couple of minutes longer than just pulling up the slack, but I think knowing the situation is well worth the a minute or two of pulling slack through a belay device.

don'tchuffonme · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2014 · Points: 25

I agree with what others have said regarding tugs on the rope. All it takes is a wandering pitch and/or the leader to not have extended as few as 1 or 2 pieces like they should have, and that method becomes useless. And let's face it, most of the time when your leader is out of sight, it's either because they went over a roof(s) or because the pitch wanders.

The main takeaway is to A) know that verbal communication can become futile- a lot of people just assume that they'll be able to do it, and that simply isn't true. B) With the knowledge that it might and probably will become necessary at some point, to make sure that whatever system you have worked out is well established and understood by everyone in the party before you leave the ground.

A method should be instituted so as to leave very little doubt to the follower that they are actually on belay when they begin climbing.

McHull · · Fairfield, PA · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 250
climber pat wrote:Like others above, I do not use the tug method of communication because it does not work well; also yelling off belay for an hour does not work well :). Instead, I call explicitly for "Windy day rules" on days when I suspect communication will be difficult. Windy day rules means the leader puts the follower on belay before pulling up the slack rope. The follower starts climbing when the rope goes tight. The follower is either on belay or simul-climbing. I know belaying the slack of the rope is a pain and takes a couple of minutes longer than just pulling up the slack, but I think knowing the situation is well worth the a minute or two of pulling slack through a belay device.
this ^^^
Tom Sherman · · Bristol, RI · Joined Feb 2013 · Points: 416
Ian Machen wrote:Text message.
APACHE HELICOPTER
Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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