Multi-pitch Climbing: Back to Basics

We walked up to the crag at Lovers Leap–the only party without helmets. We flaked out our rope and racked up for a three pitch classic in the area called Haystack (5.8). This was Dave’s fourth day of multi-pitch trad climbing. We had already climbed Bears Reach (5.7) that morning, and from that climb it didn’t seem that there was anybody else on the wall. My experience thus far at the leap had lead me to assume that there is not a whole lot of early starts going on. And by early start I mean 5 AM wake up and starting the first pitch, which isn’t really all that early considering other disciplines of the sport. I was surprised when there were two other parties on route, because I hadn’t heard a thing while on Bears Reach, which is 100 yards right of this line.

I was really dialed in and climbing fast. Efficient transfer and gear swaps at the belays, and being that I was the first person Dave ever trad or multi-pitch climbed with, our commands were really ingrained in our climbing practice. I sprinted up the first pitch and caught the party ahead of us, but I figured that would happen and was polite. While we were talking the lady’s partner called down that she was off belay. The lady shouted back “Off belay.” She was soon off and climbing through the crux section of the climb.

I built my anchor and tethered in and called down, “Dave, I’m off belay!” Dave returned, “Josh, you are off belay!” We went through all of our commands making sure to identify each other before calling out. He climbed the pitch, we did our transfer, and I was off leading the next pitch. Once again, I caught the party ahead of us and just chilled at a stance chatting it up. Again, the leader called down, “Off belay,” and I told the young woman at the belay that I thought her partner had yelled down to her. She didn’t know who was calling to who, or if that was her partner or not until the rope started ripping through the device as the leader pulled it. She followed up the last pitch and out of sight and I soon had Dave up at the belay.

When we topped out the climb Dave told me that he really liked that I called out his name before issuing a command from above, and that it made it a lot less confusing on the wall. That was when it dawned on me that for the last three days we’d been the only party identifying each other when communicating on the wall. The whole crag was just a bunch of random shouts that could only be identified as male or female, but never by name. This is one the the first things I learned in multi-pitch climbing, and one of the practices that I’ve held as a standard in the discipline: identify the person you are speaking to!