How to prepare for a long multipitch climb
So you had been sport climbing single pitch routes for a while now. And you are keen to explore something bigger and higher. Something that is more of an adventure than just hard sport climbing. A wall that is big enough for you to spend an entire day on with your buddy. If that is what you are looking for, then multipitch climb is for you.
Unlike spending an entire day at the crag climbing single pitch sport route. Multipitch climb requires a lot of planning and logistics. So instead of just picking a multipitch route. Pack your gear and just take on the climb. You need to consider a few things and draft a plan before you dive in headfirst.
When you need to spend many hours on a climb the environment will be a huge factor to consider. On the wall, there is no place to hide be it rain or shine. So this is a list of environmental factors you need to consider when going on a long mulitpitch climb.
The weather is a key concern when comes to climbing outdoors. This is especially true when you and your buddy will be on the wall for numerous hours. If the weather turns bad there is nowhere to hide. So it is important to get a good reliable weather forecast before heading out.
Climbing in Southeast Asia means you have to deal with the monsoon season. The monsoon season generally begins in mid-May and ends in late October/early November. Although the start and end times vary based on location. The months that typically get the most rainfall are August and September so plan your climb accordingly.
As for climbing in regions with 4 seasons, you’ll need to factor in the weather conditions, temperature and hours of daylight per day. Spring and autumn seasons are the best time to be doing most outdoor activities.
The duration of daylight
Climbing a big wall can take many hours. In some cases, you will need to hike for hours to get to the wall. Thus you’ll need to know how long it takes to get to the wall. How long it will take to climb. What is the time to start descending from your climb and hike out back to civilization. You do not want to be abseiling and hiking out in the dark.
The direction of the Sun
When climbing mulitpitch there is no place to hide from the weather. If it rains you’ll be attached to the wall by your rope. You’ll just be standing in the rain with no place to go. Hence it is good to be climbing when the weather forecast states that it is going to be a sunny day. However, you’ll need to check if the face you are climbing is exposed to direct sun. Spending numerous hours on the wall in the sun can be just as miserable as in the rain. Most online climbing guides or guidebooks will highlight the sun direction on the rock face at different times of the day.
There are many multipitch routes to climbing simply by browsing the web for information. However, if you are just getting into multipitch climbing you should attempt a route that is easy for both you and your buddy.
Apart from the grade of each pitch. You’ll need to find out as much information about the route. Such as the type of anchor used and the number of bolt hangers for each pitch. What is the best way to decent either by topping out and hiking down or abseil down to the ground.
Websites such as mountainproject.com and thecrag.com have up-to-date information regarding the route including warnings of damaged anchors or loose rocks. So make sure you factor those warnings into your preparation work.
Getting to the wall
Getting to the wall may not be on the mind of most leisure climbers. However, that may change if standing between you and the wall is some epic difficult terrain. There are many big walls that are located in somewhat remote areas. Getting to the wall may require many hours of jungle trekking. Thus, you will need to make provisions for food and water and maybe shelter if you can’t make it back before dark.
Information on the route
The height of a multipitch route is important as it will determine how long it’ll take to get to the top. You need to have a rope that is long enough for each pitch of the route and for abseiling back down. Check for information on the number of bolts on each pitch. So you can bring along sufficient draws and also a couple of extras. It is necessary to equip yourself with quickdraws of different lengths and a couple of extendable ones. Especially for routes that zigzag along so as to reduce rope drag.
How to decent
Getting to the top of the multipitch route is great. But you are only halfway up. Now you need to get down. Depending on the route, climbers can choose to top out and hike down or to abseil down.
Most climbing accidents occurred during abseiling. This is likely because most climbers have much abseiling practice when climbing single pitch routes. Abseiling accidents happened when climbers did not do a proper safety check prior to descending.
Climbers attempting multipitch climbing need to be knowledgeable when it comes to climbing gear. You need to know how to set up anchor, belay from the top and abseil. Let’s take a look at the list of gear you’ll need to pay attention to when climbing multipitch routes.
Ropes are important when it comes to any form of climbing. But when it comes to multipitch climbing. You’ll need to know much more about the features and technical specifications of climbing rope. For single pitch sport routes. All you need is a dynamic single rope with sufficient length to reach the top and lowered down to the ground.
For multipitch routes, you’ll need to consider the type of rope to use (single, half or twin rope). If the route zigzags and goes around aretes you may have to consider using half ropes. The diameter and weight of the rope can be a factor. Especially if you want to keep the overall load down because the heaviest equipment is your rope. Ropes that are frequently exposed to the elements will wear out significantly faster. Climbers should use dry treated rope climbing ropes for outdoor climbing.
Dry Treated Climbing Ropes
View the list of dry treated climbing ropes for outdoor climbing
Cordelette (or accessory cord) is a piece of gear that sport climbers hardly use. It is a circular cord with a diameter of around 6mm. The cordelette is connected to form a loop using a double fisherman’s knot. Cordelette is commonly used to tie an autoblock during abseiling and prusik knot for rope ascending. The length of the cordelette may vary depending on its use.
Climbing a long multipitch route weight can be a concern. You do not want to climb a big wall with gears that are heavy. All-around quickdraws can save you significant weight compared to sport climbing draws. An all-around quickdraw is made up of 2 lightweight wiregate carabiners connected by a skinny Dyneema dogbone.
Having quickdraws with different lengths is important for multipitch climbing. For routes that traverse left and right you’ll have to reduce rope draw by using long quickdraws. Equip yourself with 2 to 4 extendable quickdraws will be very useful.
View the list of all-around quickdraws for outdoor multipitch climb
Belaying a climber on a multipitch route can be challenging. Once the lead climber is on the top of pitch number 1 it will start to get complicated. Any belay device can be used to do that. However, there are 3 methods to belay the second climber from the top of the pitch. The 3 methods are, direct belay, indirect belay and redirect belay. Each method has its pros and cons. Unfortunately, not all belay devices can be used for all 3 methods.
It is necessary to learn all 3 methods of belaying and be familiar with the use of your belay devices. To perform a direct belay a guide mode belay device is required. Assisted-braking Belay Devices (ABD) can be used for belaying. However, most ABDs do not have a guide mode and can only accommodate a single rope which cannot be used for abseiling on 2 ropes.
When climbing multipitch climbing, the belay device is used for belaying a climber and abseiling during descent. Each climber should have at less 2 belay devices. A conventional tubular belay device such as an ATC guide is necessary as a backup which can be used for belaying and abseiling.
ABDs with Guide Mode
View the list of Assisted-braking Belay devices with guide mode for direct belay.
Gear for building anchor
For mulitpitch routes with solid equalized steel chain anchors. Climbers will not need to build an anchor for belaying. Unfortunately, this may not be the situation and climbers may just find 2 bolt hangers at the end of the pitch. Thus, the climber will need to build an anchor. The gear required for building an anchor is a sling and 3 to 4 locking carabiners.
Lights and sound
Climbers unforeseeably spend more time on the wall resulting in descending after nightfall is common. So always equip yourself with a headlamp whether you think you need it or not. You do not want to be abseiling and trekking out of the jungle in the dark without a headlamp.
When technology fails having the most primitive gear can save you. If your mobile has run out of juice or there isn’t any cellphone signal. Having a whistle can be useful in attracting attention when you need help. An insignificant plastic item that can just save your life.
Food and water
Spending an entire day on the wall requires lots of logistical planning. Apart from climbing gear, food and water are another major concern. If the wall is in a hot and humid region like Southeast Asia. And getting to the wall requires a couple of hours of jungle trekking. Having sufficient food, especially water is going to be a top priority.
To lighten the load you need to carry, pack calorie-dense food. Dried fruits, Musli bars, candies, cookies and chocolate bars (only for climbing in a cool climate). These food are energy-dense, compact and do not need any preparation which is convenient for a 1-day climbing trip.
Water is heavy and can take up a significant volume in your backpack. The good thing is, it’ll get lighter after you’ve consumed it. A great way to create more space in your pack is to fill water into flexible water bottles. Flexible water bottles take up less volume and can be flattened after the water had been consumed.
In case shit happens, which it can. Both your climbing partner and you need to know who to contact in case of an emergency. If you are climbing overseas, you’ll need to get the local emergency service number and a local contact if possible. Always share your itinerary with people you know.