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Scary multipitch experience -- how was it avoidable?


eli poss · · Durango, Co · Joined May 2014 · Points: 507

I don't buy it. The last thing I want my belayer to be doing if I'm out of sight is tugging on me. A particular stance on a tunnel vision in red rocks comes to mind, where I had to stop climbing and just hold on for dear life because the winds were trying to knock me off in a no fall zone 20' above a purple TCU.

If my belayer had tugged on me because I wasn't moving for a while, I probably would have gone splat. No thanks.

Russell Bangert · · Salt Lake City, UT · Joined Jun 2011 · Points: 52

you both seem to be ignoring the part about not having to pay out slack for an unreasonably long amount of time. I don't think there's anything odd about assuming that because you haven't had to pay out slack for a while when your climber is out of sight, that you should check to see if they're down climbing. i think it's a very safe assumption that if you've been hanging out there wondering what' the hell is going on, that something is up and you should check. I've saved my buddy from taking a 50+ foot winger down a slab by doing this.

Thinking about it, all the times I've caught a ton of slack in the system like this, it was on slabby routes in LCC, so maybe it's dependent on drag across slabs, but I'll always recommend giving a pull to see if there's a ton of slack building up in the system if you haven't had to pay out slack for a long period of time. it doesn't take very much to see if the rope starts feeding back to you. 

Russ Keane · · Asheville, NC · Joined Feb 2013 · Points: 160

You keep saying, if there's drag in the system.  So I assume when you pull to check you're going to feel a bunch resistance.  How do you know if its drag or your climber?  In other words you're sitting there tugging at some pesky snag and it turns out you are pulling on the climber.  With no sight confirmation of how the rope is running there's a lot you don't know.

climber pat · · Las Cruces NM · Joined Feb 2006 · Points: 241
rgold wrote:

Re: option one, note that you can manage a tie-in one-handed with a clove hitch. Clip a biner (preferably locking but beggars can't be choosers) to the belay loop, clip the lead rope in, pull it up through the biner until all the slack is out, and then throw on a clove hitch. (I'm amused to be recommending this, since in another thread I argued that there is no need to be able to do that.)  Even fancier, a munter mule can be tied one-handed too.  If you did this, then any place you could get a hand free (and not get too pumped) you could pull up the slack you created by down-climbing and so keep the slack out of the climbing rope.

As for the belayer, I  wouldn't ever want my belayer tugging, even lightly, on the rope when I'm leading, as there are too many times when I could be in a precarious position and get pulled off by such a tug, even a light one. And if friction has made the rope pile up on a ledge, then tugging is the only way to detect this.  This is not a situation that could have been solved by "better" belaying!

A PAS can also come in handy here, depending on how hard the climbing is for the leader.

Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 11,460
Zac Hummel wrote: Hi All,

I had a scary experience the other day that I felt was worth sharing. We were 3 pitches up on a moderate multi-pitch route on a windy-as-shit day.

About half-way through the pitch I reached a ledge (out of earshot of my partner). A dirty, flaring crack with a few face holds went straight up and left to what looked liked a nice hand-crack 20ish feet up. I began pulling the moves up the crack, thinking to myself that it felt significantly harder than 5.8, but that I would just get to that nice looking hand crack above. I placed a couple decent nuts, pulled another few moves, and just as I got within clear site of the hand crack it hit me how dumb I had been. The beautiful-looking hand crack was, of course, not beautiful, but even more flaring and dirty than the crack I had been climbing. I had no way of getting more protection in and was so pissed at myself for climbing the dirty looking crack in the first place. No biggie, I'll just downclimb to the ledge and see where I had gone wrong.

Yet, as I reversed the moves and began downclimbing, the rope was not feeding down to my belayer. Instead, I could see it accumulating into a nice pile on the ledge I had just passed 20 feet below me. Enough slack had built up that the two nuts I had placed would not have been enough to keep me off the ledge if I popped off. The pump-clock was screaming. I knew I just had to keep calm and make absolutely certain that I didn't fall off.

With a huge sigh of relief I reached the ledge and saw that I had taken the wrong crack system to get here -- I was about 10ft' left of the actual route. The rest of the day went like clockwork.

After running the situation through my head hundreds of times, I can't help but think that (aside from the rope piling up on the ledge) there wasn't a whole lot I would have done differently. I really should have seen beforehand that the rope would not feed back to my belayer if I was to downclimb (hindsight is 20/20) -- but until I had this experience, how would I have been able to envision that? Especially when in the moment I genuinely thought I was on route. After all, I was confident in the nuts I had placed, and there was nothing wrong with me climbing up to the beautiful-looking-hand-crack as long as I knew I could climb down and also be somewhat protected while doing so. Instead, all of the sudden I was 20+ feet off the deck completely unprotected.

Obviously, it's completely my fault for putting myself in that situation, but thought it was worth sharing with people so others can learn from what could have been a terrible experience. Instead it was an awesome day of learning -- is it messed up that I kind of just want to do it again?

Cheers

Should have belayed at the ledge.

Climbing will throw your curves constantly, always error on the safe side.

Duh.
Russell Bangert · · Salt Lake City, UT · Joined Jun 2011 · Points: 52
  1. Russ Keane wrote: You keep saying, if there's drag in the system.  So I assume when you pull to check you're going to feel a bunch resistance.  How do you know if its drag or your climber?  In other words you're sitting there tugging at some pesky snag and it turns out you are pulling on the climber.  With no sight confirmation of how the rope is running there's a lot you don't know.

Well been climbing for a couple decades now, and I've never pulled anyone off the wall or gotten complaints about this. Slowly pulling, instead of violently tugging, isn't going to be felt by a climber at all on the other end of a rope when they're fighting drag. If ya don't buy it, don't buy it, I'm done auguring, but I'll leave you guys with saying that I most likely would have figured out there was a bunch of slack in the system in this instance. Think whatever you like about it. 

Zac Hummel · · Denver, CO · Joined Dec 2017 · Points: 0

Thanks for the input everyone. Going in direct was certainly an option but in the moment I really just wanted to be back on that ledge. Belaying there was definitely my best bet. 

I understand your point Russell, but in this case it doesn't really apply since the whole downclimbing part occurred within 30 seconds. I don't think the belayer could have done anything. 

Kev V · · The mitten · Joined May 2013 · Points: 10

There seem to be two separate issues arising out of this post.

One is what should the climber have done: Clued into the dirtiness of the crack and reassessed? Built an anchor at the ledge? Gone in direct to a piece and rest?

The other is whether the belayer should have done anything different. The belayer was not, in fact, paying out more and more slack. The rope piling up on the ledge was entirely due to the leader downclimbing (this part was missed by a lot of you posting). Should the belayer have been "feeling the climber"? Mixed reviews here - some warn that it could pull the leader off a precarious position, others suggest it is good practice.

highaltitudeflatulentexpulsion · · Colorado · Joined Oct 2012 · Points: 35

Depending on your gear, it seems pretty reasonable to aid down. I've done it a lot, usually when I've bitten off more than I can chew.

If you don't know how to do a rough and dirty aid (up or down), with just two or three slings, I highly recommend it. It'll come in handy occasionally.

Colonel Mustard · · Sacramento, CA · Joined Sep 2005 · Points: 1,186
eli poss wrote: I don't buy it. The last thing I want my belayer to be doing if I'm out of sight is tugging on me. A particular stance on a tunnel vision in red rocks comes to mind, where I had to stop climbing and just hold on for dear life because the winds were trying to knock me off in a no fall zone 20' above a purple TCU.

If my belayer had tugged on me because I wasn't moving for a while, I probably would have gone splat. No thanks.

You pay out slack, you take in slack. It’s subtle, the belayer shouldn’t be trying to set a hook. 

Not that I fish, but I picture it as a similar journey of the imagination to speculate what’s happening at the other end of the line, and that journey is not one of simply doling the rope out.
Jaren Watson · · Idaho · Joined May 2010 · Points: 2,395
Colonel Mustard wrote:

You pay out slack, you take in slack. It’s subtle, the belayer shouldn’t be trying to set a hook. 

Not that I fish, but I picture it as a similar journey of the imagination to speculate what’s happening at the other end of the line, and that journey is not one of simply doling the rope out.

The way I fish, this is precisely what it is.

Harumpfster Boondoggle · · Between yesterday and today. · Joined Apr 2018 · Points: 113

As others have posted at any time the conditions create a communication problem the leader has to stay in control and consider belaying short. Never climb higher into uncertainty as a newbie on the route.

Learn to route find. Obscurities may be dirty (bad choice for conditions prevailing) and trades *may* look dirty from below but all the holds will be clean. Moss can grow back remarkably fast but lichen is extremely slow growing. Anytime you find lichen on the holds you step into the unknown and are off route.

zeb · · Atlanta, GA · Joined Feb 2016 · Points: 5

should have brought your shortwave radio. But seriously, walkie talkies are handy.

Robert Hall · · North Conway, NH · Joined Aug 2013 · Points: 16,373

On Multi-pitch trad routes...."Always look "around the corner" / "further right/left along the ledge" THAT's where the route might go.  Think like a first ascentionist...would you have gone up that ugly, flaring crack if there'd been anything better looking nearby?  Looks like you eventually did do that.  Good lessen to learn, and it cost you very little.

As for the immediate situation you found yourself in...

1) Somewhere during the downclimb, could you have pulled up the coiled rope and then flipped it back down so it fell over the edge?  Then the slack might have found its way down enough for your belayer to see / feel / "sense" it.  

2) If one of your nuts/protection was good (preferably the highest one!) , stay clipped into it for the downclimb (or even use it for a hand-over-hand assisted downclimb if you really trust it.) and then when you get to the ledge, untie and pull the rope through and then "carry on".  Yup, you lose a piece but cut the potential length of a fall.  If you're really "sketched out" leave both in (which also saves the energy of pulling and racking)   The $$$'s you "lose" with the piece & biner(s) can be thought of as just an extra payment to your health insurance policy.

Others have suggested belaying on the ledge so the belayer is close by for the "cruxy" section.  Agreed !  Somehow, at least for me [and I don't know why] belaying seems to increase the chance of "looking around the corner" ...maybe the act of belaying gives a chance for your mind to change its focus away from the immediate problem of "getting up this crack" to the larger issue "does the route really go up there?"  

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

Trad Climbing
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