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October 2023

Communication in Rock Climbing

October 25, 2023 fmg-adminGuides' Tech Tips Rock Climbing

Communication is an essential component of rock climbing. For decades now climbers have been using a system of commands to manage the inherent risks of climbing. Paul Petzoldt a legendary mountaineer and founder of the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) developed this system of voice signals sometime during the mid 1920’s to 1930’s. He had come to the realization that it is difficult to understand and hear the human voice in mountainous terrain. So, instead of trying to use sentences, Paul came up with a system that is brief and utilizes syllables which can be counted. For example, “Tension” vs. “Slack.” Tension has two syllables while slack has one. So, even if one can’t hear the words clearly, they should be able to distinguish the syllables. While this system works well it still has its limitations. Additionally, climbers have developed other commands over the years which can be unclear in their meaning and aren’t cohesive with Petzoldt’s syllabic system. It’s also important to recognize that climbers may have differences in dialect, may not be able to hear, speak, or see, yet they are still able to communicate.