“Plus Clipping” to Manage Risk in Multi-pitch Climbing

Having a factor 2 fall is a concern unique to multi-pitch climbing. As we teach students in our Rock 401 course, this situation occurs if the leader leaves the anchor and falls before placing gear. The scenario creates the highest possible forces an anchor can see and can lead to a host of problems. Plus clipping is a way to mitigate this risk.

First, a primer on fall factor (FF): fall factor is the ratio of distance fallen to amount of rope out. The largest possible fall factor is 2, and it creates dangers for the leader, the anchor, and the belayer because of the forces generated. This would occur if the climber fell before placing any gear. Ex: A 10ft fall on 5ft of rope-10/5 is 2; we know that as a FF of 2.  Larger forces on less rope puts more resultant force onto the belayer. This is a concern when there is hard climbing right off the belay. It only takes 3-4 kN to displace a belayer; and at a cramped stance, that displacement can get violent – violent enough to cause them to lose control of the brake strand of rope (due to their displacement into the rock).

Introducing more rope into the system can alleviate this problem – it’ll reduce the fall factor, protect the belayer and anchor, and give the fallen climber a softer catch. I typically introduce rope through a technique called “plus clipping.” It’s similar to the idea of stick clipping in a single pitch sport climbing, something climbers are likely familiar with.

When I arrive at an anchor in a multipitch context, I clip it and climb past it into the next pitch.  I’ll keep climbing until I can get a good piece/pieces of protection in(8-12 ft or so, if possible).  I’ll then downclimb/lower back to the established/determined belay station, build my anchor, and attach myself as usual (clove hitch).  When it’s time for me to lead the next pitch, I’ll go back on belay, but I now have a top rope for the first 8-12 feet of the next pitch.  If I fall, it’s reduced force on the belayer, me, and the gear in the system.  I dig it. 

example of a plus clipping about the anchor

Other benefits: 

-if it’s tricky, i can leave my pack at the anchor to pull those moves with tons of rope in the systems, rehearsing the moves so I can send with my lead pack on.

– I can omit clipping a leg of the anchor, a strategy people sometimes use to avoid factoring the anchor. I typically try to avoid doing this, and I see a lot of people overuse this technique. Remember that belayer displacement? Belayers can be displaced right into that clipped leg of the anchor: A. impacting the anchor[ouch], B. potentially defeating whatever sort of ABD they’re using [you belay with an ABD, right?], and C. putting significant force on half (or ⅓) of the anchor. Don’t we use master points for a reason?  If you’re tied to clipping the anchor, use a different system like the fixed point lead(banshee) belay.

 Remember, climbing is dangerous. Even on a good day, things go wrong. Place good gear, practice good rope management and stance organization, and practice this down low before you commit to it up high.

Dan Riethmuller, AMGA Apprentice Rock and Alpine Guide and Certified Ice Instructor

The Munter Mule Overhand (MMO)

The munter hitch or Italian hitch is a foundational tool that can serve many purposes in the rock and alpine climbing environment.

belayed rappel with MMO know

It can work as a belay tool in the off chance that you accidentally drop your device, and it can be used to lower a climber or even rappel. When tied off with a mule hitch and backed up with an overhand, the munter-mule-overhand or MMO becomes a great releasable hitch that is integral to effecting any rescue involving a rope.

The MMO is material efficient, requiring a single HMS style carabiner and a rope, and it is easy to construct with some practice. 

Tying the MMO is simple yet should be practiced many times before being used in an actual scenario. You’ll start by tying a munter hitch in the loaded position, or lowering position, instead of the belay position. Next, you’ll use the brake strand to create a mule hitch around the load strand. Once you’ve created the mule hitch, you’ll need to pull enough slack through to then finish with an overhand around the load strand.

Now you have a MMO which essentially fixes the load strand of rope but allows that fixed strand to be released under load. This ability is what makes the MMO invaluable for rope rescue systems. Since the MMO is primarily used for rescue, it is important to learn how to construct it under the supervision of a trained professional.

Now, let’s imagine a scenario where you’re a couple pitches up a route and you’re belaying from a plaquette style device attached to the anchor. Often people refer to a plaquette style device as a guide style device. These devices work great for belaying from above because they automatically block the brake strand of rope. (Please note that these devices are not meant to be a hands-free device and if you’re taking your hand off the break strand for longer than a few seconds you should tie a knot in the brake strand to back it up.) So, you’re belaying from above and your partner gets hit by rockfall and is unconscious. While there are many ways to release the device to effect a lower, let’s remember that we are more than a rope’s length from the ground, and our partner is unconscious. So, what do we do (after calling for rescue assistance)? Well, the first thing we need to do is get the device out of the system. How do you do that when your partner is not able to unweight the rope? Here’s where the MMO shines.

This scenario and many others are reviewed and practiced during our Rock 402, Rock Climbing Self Rescue course. This course focuses on all the fundamental tools needed to perform a “self-rescue.” While calling for a rescue is often a good idea, it’s also important to know how to get yourself and your partner to ground.   

Forrest Stavish

Assistant Rock Guide, Wilderness EMT,  AIARE Level 1       

Belaying Two Followers: Split Rope Technique

As an ice climbing guide, I often use a split rope technique for belaying two followers (primarily to keep two climbers climbing simultaneously far enough away from each other to avoid being hit by ice). Recently, I’ve been using it while guiding rock as well, as I’ve found it to be a useful technique to streamline my systems.

For context, let’s first discuss belaying two followers at a time, in a parallel fashion, on rock. Typically, we as guides (and competent climbers) have used a plaquette style device (Reverso, ATC Guide, GiGi, etc) with both strands through one device. Simple, right?  It’s straightforward, until you need to manipulate the system in any way. That’s why I consider it a contingent system. Both ropes rely upon a single blocking carabiner that holds both of them in place within the device. In order to remove one rope, we need some sort of terminal closure to keep the other climber safe while removing a strand of rope.  The system gets complex quickly, and there is space for error in the potential mess. On top of this, the two-ropes/one-device system has a significant failure mode if used on a traversing pitch. The self-braking advantage of these devices are defeated if the ropes are spread too far apart. 

This is where I find the split-rope technique useful. To rig it, I typically use one rope in a plaquette device, and one rope in a Grigri style device.  I already have both of them on my harness, and it keeps those ropes separate (and organized.) In addition, it saves my elbows. Pulling rope through a single plaquette over a dozen pitches destroys my joints. It’s a lot of friction, and my body knows it. 

climbing anchor showing the split rope technique for belaying two followers.

This system also frees me up to have my followers climb on two separate routes. This is invaluable in places like Looking Glass Rock, where the wall is a sea of climbable eyebrows, and multiple contiguous routes are plentiful.

Two climbers being belayed using the split rope technique.

Each device (and rope) gets its own route, and I don’t need to worry about a falling climber compromising the other person’s security, which could happen if I was using a plaquette device.  On top of those solutions, escaping the belay is straightforward. I can release or haul or whatever on each device, and the other system is untouched.

To recap:

  • Two ropes in one device: more friction on elbows; complex belay escape; necessitates detailed rope organization,
  • Two ropes in their own device: Less elbow friction; each device can be escaped independently; and stance organization can start when you put folks on belay, rather than when they get to the anchor. 

Sure, it requires another device to use on the wall, and you need to manage both brake strands (but you were already doing that with a reverso, right?) This isn’t alpine climbing; we can afford to bring along an extra device, especially if that means simplifying a rescue or assist. Let’s face it, most people don’t practice rescue skills like they should, and I want to make those situations a little bit less stressful should you find yourself in one.

Is split rope technique a tool for every route all the time? Maybe, maybe not. It IS, another tool to have in the toolbox if you find yourself dreading belaying that long, wandery pitch you just led.

If you want to learn more, hire a competent instructor who can show you the ins & outs of this technique.

Dan Riethmuller, Certified Ice Instructor, Apprentice Alpine and Rock Guide

Layering: How to Dress to Stay Warm in the Winter

Whether you are ice climbing, skiing, or hiking, the key to staying warm outdoors in the winter is layering. With so many options these days for technical outdoor wear, it can be daunting trying to figure out how put it all together. As long as you keep in mind the types of layers you need, you easily can find pieces that will help you stay comfortable in even the coldest temps.

In this cheeky video, AMGA Certified Ice Instructor Dan Riethmuller shows you a typical layering system for ice climbing. Critical layers include the following:

  1. Baselayer to wick moisture away from skin. It should be wool or synthetic. Absolutely NO COTTON! You also want to make sure it’s not too heavy given the conditions, or you’ll end up too warm.
  2. Midlayer, which is a light insulative layer too keep you warm while you’re moving. Fleece and lightweight puffy sweaters work well.
  3. Shell layer to protect from wind and moisture. Depending on just how wet it is, you can choose a “soft shell” or “hard shell.”
  4. Belay parka for maximum insulation during long periods of inactivity.

These same principles apply to your hands, feet, and head! For the hands, a lightweight glove liner under a heavier pair of gloves or mittens; for feet, thin socks under a heavier pair in boots appropriate for the conditions; for your head, a beanie under a hood (or three).

example of layers of clothing

For additional tips on staying warm during winter sports, check out this post.

Staying Warm for Winter Sports

It’s officially winter now, and many people are eager to get outside to enjoy the beautiful winter scenery, either by skiing, ice climbing, or just hiking. No matter the activity, staying warm is essential to an enjoyable outing. With a little bit of planning and diligence we can turn what could have been a cold, miserable day into a fun, memorable experience. By following a few basic principles, we can begin to develop good habits which will help keep us warm while out ice climbing or enjoying any cold weather activity. For this blog I’m going to talk about ice climbing, but again these principles work no matter what cold weather activity you are doing.    

clothing for staying warm ice climbing dracula in New Hampshire

To keep it simple and easy to remember, I’ve broken it down into three principles or guidelines: 

  1. Maintain calories and hydration
  2. Dress appropriately: layer & stay dry
  3. Anticipate conditions

Maintaining Calories and Hydration

To efficiently produce heat, your body needs to be well nourished and hydrated. Before a day of ice climbing, I like to eat a dinner high in protein along with some carbohydrates. I also try to drink plenty of water to get ahead of the hydration curve. The day of, I eat a breakfast high in fat and protein of at least 1000 calories, which is much more than I would typically consume. This gives me a nice foundation of fuel for the day. I also try to consume a liter of water before hitting the trail. 

Throughout the day I will snack on quick fuel such as energy gels, bars, chocolate, or candy. My hydration goal is to drink at least ¼ liter of water per hour while I’m out. I will also pack a thermos of hot tea sweetened with honey as a nice warm way to hydrate and get a few extra calories. I leave one to two liters of water and some food in my truck for the ride home. This is what works best for me and everyone has their go-to snacks and drinks, but the key point here is that if you’re dehydrated, undernourished, or both it will be harder for your body to produce heat. 

Dress Appropriately: Layer & Stay Dry

The goal when dressing for winter activities is to stay warm but not so warm that you sweat, because sweat will quickly conduct heat away from your skin. Any winter sport enthusiast knows layering clothing is a key staying warm because heat from your body gets trapped in between each layer of clothing creating insulation from the cold. By having several layers of various weights, you can add and subtract a layer as you warm up and cool down throughout the day. You want to stay warm enough to be comfortable, but you also want to stay dry.

Staying dry is simple, avoid sweating. When you leave your vehicle and begin the approach you should be slightly chilly, but as you begin hiking, you’ll quickly warm up. It’s hard to step out of a warm car into the shock of the cold and not want to put on all your layers, but as the saying goes “be bold, start cold,” and it’s true. 

staying warm hiking through the snow to ice climb

I’ve noticed that most people don’t want to start off cold but once they begin hiking, they quickly get too warm and need to shed a layer. Often, they don’t want to stop mid approach to shed a layer so, they end up sweating out their base layer and getting cold. This leads to a potential case of hypothermia or at best, a miserable day out. So, throughout the day I’m adjusting my layering system based off the conditions and my activities. It’s ok to sweat a little, but you should wear a base layer that will wick sweat and dry quickly….more on that in an upcoming post. 

Anticipate Conditions

Perhaps the most important principle is anticipating conditions so that you can best implement the previous tips. For any type of mountain sport, it’s important to be aware of the weather forecast, and there’s certainly no exception for ice climbing. The night before and the morning of I will be looking at forecasted conditions and planning my day accordingly. If it’s going to be brutally cold, I’ll pack more layers and bring an extra thermos filled with a warm drink. 

Once I’m out on the trail approaching the ice and while climbing, I will continue to monitor the conditions and adjust my layering system based on what I’m anticipating. Not only am I monitoring the weather, but I’m also anticipating what I will be doing next. Maybe I’ll be belaying the next pitch, in which case I will put on my warm puffy belay jacket and thicker gloves. Or maybe I’m leading the next pitch, so I shed the puffy in favor of a light soft shell over my base layer and a thin pair of gloves instead of my thick ones. Regardless of what I’m doing, I’m constantly anticipating the next move so that I never get too hot or too cold. 

appropriate clothing for staying warm ice climbing

Final Word

Maintaining warmth in the mountains requires a holistic system. We can have the best clothing possible, but it won’t matter if we aren’t regulating our temperature to avoid sweating too much. It’s also important that we maintain a healthy level of hydration and nutrition. If we are under-fed or dehydrated it will be much harder for our bodies to stay warm. With a little planning, you can set yourself up for a successful, memorable winter adventure.

Forrest Stavish, AMGA Assistant Rock Guide

The Figure Eight Follow-Through Knot

Why do I choose to tie in with the figure eight follow-through knot? Well, that’s easy: it’s the knot we all know and can readily identify! The figure eight follow-through knot has many great attributes. It’s simple, strong, self-cinching; it takes two complete motions to untie; it’s fairly easy to untie after being loaded, and most importantly, it’s easy to identify and therefore double check! That ease of identification is my number one reason for using this knot.

Over the last eleven years of climbing I’ve dabbled with quite a few tie-in knots, and I always find myself coming back to old faithful. I’ve gone through the phases of finishing my eight with a Yosemite finish or even the Kentucky tuck. I’ve tied in with rethreaded bowlines and even the brotherhood knot. I’ve been told and heard all sorts of reasons why these knots are all better for sending or climbing above your limit. Things like, the bowline is much easier to untie after loading it versus an eight or, the “bro” knot is way more streamlined and keeps your tail out of the way when clipping. Yeah…..those things might be true to an extent, but do the pros outweigh the cons? 

I’ve never met an eight that I couldn’t untie, even some poorly dressed ones. I also have never clipped the wrong side of my eight while leading. With a six inch tail I find it almost impossible to miss clip my tail end instead of my lead end. With that said, a poorly dressed eight is a bad, bad eight. I recently saw a young lady climbing in the gym and her eight was so far from her tie in points that she couldn’t clip the lead end of her rope. My heart was racing watching her struggling to “not” take that whip! Don’t even get me started about why the “backup knot’ is a major concern as well.

Some of my experiences with other methods of tying in have led me back to the figure eight follow- through. For example, I have had a rethreaded bowline come fairly loose while climbing at my limit. Now that was terrifying! I once was a big Yosemite finish kinda guy but after many gym sessions struggling to get my eight untied, I had the realization that maybe this method of finishing is harder to untie than just tying the thing correctly  Let’s not forget about the brotherhood knot only being an overhand with a follow through. One motion to untie! Add to that the difficulty in being able to easily double check these other knots, and the cons of other knots outweigh any perceived advantage.

My climbing experience has led me to be an advocate for tying in with the figure eight follow-through. In my guiding experience I can’t imagine teaching guests to tie in with anything else. The ability for me to be able to double check with ease is invaluable. Fast, simple, safe!

Petey Guillard

AMGA Assistant Rock Guide

Fundamentals Fridays: A Back-to-Basics, KISS Resource for Rock Climbing Information

With the social media explosion in the last decade and the attendant perceived need to constantly create new content to stay relevant, we have seen post after post on Instagram with climbing “tech tips.” Some are solid, but more often than not, they are just “clickbait”–some new slick trick to make you like a post, but not something you should necessarily be incorporating into your climbing repertoire, especially if you are new to climbing.  Given the limits of the forum , you are not likely to get all the caveats of a particular application or appreciate the qualifications and motivations of the person posting. 

Our goal with our Fundamentals Fridays series is to introduce you to (or reacquaint you with) tried-and-true fundamentals of climbing: simple systems, redundancy, back-ups, and preparedness, rather than showy, slick-tricks designed to get clicks. The reality is, most people just want to have a fun, meaningful, and safe climbing outing. We seek to provide you with basic knowledge that will apply in most situations rather than esoteric techniques that have limited value at best and could be dangerous if misapplied. Call it the good old KISS (keep it simple, stupid) principle.

For our first Fundamentals Fridays, guides Forrest Stavish and Dan Riethmuller showed a simple way to make sure your carabiner is oriented correctly in your master point. It’s what they call “clip and flip.” You can see their video here, and be sure to stay tuned for upcoming fundamentals.

pre-rigged rappel

We have also created a “Fundamentals Fridays” category on our blog so you can search through past posts that focus on climbing fundamentals. You see important topics like the tethering, first aid, rappelling, and more.

Climbing First Aid Kit

A climbing first aid kit should be one item that gets packed in your climbing kit no matter what……or your mountain biking kit, hiking kit, etc; basically a first aid kit should be an essential part of any kit for venturing into the wilderness. However, WHAT you put in your first aid kit can be tricky. There are plenty of kits out there that come pre-loaded with many of the essentials, but often there are items either missing or items that are not necessary.

The longer I have been climbing the less I want to carry to the crag or up the mountain. Over the years I have worked on dialing in my climbing kit which includes my first aid. I used to just buy one of those pre-loaded kits and throw that into my pack, but I started to realize that there were items in those kits that I didn’t need and they lacked items I deem essential. For this blog I’m focusing on a basic first aid kit for a single day out cragging or multipitch climbing. If you’re planning longer trips, the items below will provide a good foundation to add to. 


Before I get into discussing the contents of my first aid kit, I’d like to emphasize that prevention is the best first aid. Of course things happen, which is why it’s important to carry first aid supplies, but by maintaining a level of diligence we can prevent many accidents and illnesses. Outside of my first aid kit I will have preventive items such as sunscreen, lip balm, and electrolyte replacement tabs. I’ll also remind myself to drink water and eat throughout the day. Before long days out I try to get a good night’s rest and stay well-hydrated. These simple items and actions help prevent the need to pull out the first aid kit.

The Essentials

I like to divide my first aid kit up into categories of essential items and build from there. The categories I use are: bleeding control, medications, splinting, and tools. I find this system helps to keep me organized and covers everything I need without carrying excess. It’s also nice to pack items that don’t just serve one purpose. You’d be surprised by what you can do with just a roll of tape. For example, I can use a roll of tape to help stabilize an ankle or to make an improvised band-aid. However, there are some items I find are important to bring that are designed to do only one thing, but they do that one thing very well. 

Bleeding Control

This category needs to cover every end of the spectrum when it comes to bleeding whether it’s just a small scrape or a life-threatening arterial bleed, so this section of kit contains the most items. Here’s what I carry: 1 roll of athletic tape, a 2” roller gauze, a couple 2”x 2” sterile gauze pads, a couple 4”x 4” sterile gauze pads, a 4”x 4” pressure bandage, a CAT (Combat Application Tourniquet), and a couple pairs of nitrile gloves.

The gloves are important anytime you’re dealing with bleeding. It’s critical that you don’t touch someone else’s blood or other bodily liquids with bare hands. The CAT tourniquet is a specialty item, and sure, I could improvise a tourniquet, but I think when a tourniquet is necessary you should be able to just get it on without wasting time. The CAT is easy to apply and can even be applied one-handed if you need to put it on yourself. Arterial bleeds can be life-threatening, so having a way to stop it quickly is vital. As mentioned before, the tape can serve many purposes and is a nice improvised band-aid when combined with a small piece of gauze. 


The list of medications could change depending on the needs of you and your climbing partner. Think epinephrine for anaphylaxis, glucose for a diabetic, or any prescribed medicine that needs to be taken at certain intervals. However, my list of meds is very simple and covers pain management, cardiac related events, and allergies.

So, for medications I carry Benadryl (diphenhydramine) and Aspirin. I may also carry Tylenol (acetaminophen) for pain or headaches. If I’m with someone who got stung by a bee and turns out to be anaphylactic and we don’t have epinephrine, I can still give them Benadryl if they are able to swallow. This will help minimize the allergic reaction but it won’t reverse the symptoms of anaphylaxis which are life-threating. So, if you do have access to epinephrine, I would encourage you to carry it as it is a lifesaving medication. The aspirin can be used for someone who is having chest pain or for someone who just has a headache. I don’t bring many of each of these medications, maybe one to two doses. 


There’s a lot that can be improvised when it comes to splinting such as using sticks laying around, extra clothing, slings, backpacks, etc., yet I still find it nice to carry a SAM splint, a triangular bandage, and a roll of elastic bandage. These items combined with gear already on your person go a long way. Do understand that we are just splinting to minimize movement of the extremity and reduce pain. Often, fractures are not life threatening unless a major artery has been severed (think femur), so focus on what the priorities are before spending a lot of time splinting. Also, be prepared with the training on how to splint appropriately. 


I carry five tools or instruments in my first-aid kit. The first is an emergency satellite communicator, in my case a Garmin inReach Mini. I also carry tweezers, trauma sheers, an emergency blanket, and a small headlamp. A lot can be achieved with these five items: contacting search and rescue, providing light, removing bee stingers or ticks, cutting away clothing to expose a wound, and offering a bit of shelter from the elements.  

Final Word

While carrying a first-aid kit is important, it is certainly more important to know how to use the items within the kit. You should seek the appropriate training in first aid before heading outside to climb and should consider a climbing self-rescue course particularly if you are doing multi-pitch climbing. There are many providers of wilderness first aid across the country. Courses range from Wilderness First Aid (Basics), Wilderness First Responder (Industry standard for guides), to Wilderness EMT. The Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course covers the basics over the duration of two days, while the Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course is usually 7-10 days long, depending on the provider. 

Keep in mind that prevention is the best first aid. Having a solid set of technical, physical, and psychological skills as well as practicing good self-care goes a long way in preventing accidents and illness.

Forrest Stavish

W-EMT, Assistant Rock Guide

Second Coming: An Example of How to Manage Risk when Climbing

A few weeks ago, myself and another guide were climbing with guests and witnessed an experienced climber fall and break his ankle at the crux section of Second Coming, a popular 5.7 multi-pitch climb at Looking Glass Rock in North Carolina. We managed to get the climber to the ground, splint the ankle, and help him walk down the trail to meet with the local rescue squad. While the injury was not life threatening, it resulted in surgery and an estimated six months of recovery for the climber involved. While climbing is an inherently risky activity, this particular accident could have been prevented. Read on to find out how.

The Route

Second Coming follows a beautiful crack system for roughly 300 feet up the south side of Looking Glass. The first pitch starts off easy as 4th class terrain, but around halfway up it begins to steepen gradually. The top of the first pitch is guarded by the technical crux of the route which has some polished foot and hand holds and is steeper than the terrain below. Depending on conditions and overall comfort level, this is where you’re most likely to fall, which is roughly 80 feet off the ground. In the case of the climber whose fall we witnessed, the rock was damp that morning from a storm that had passed through earlier, making those polished holds extra slippery. After pulling the crux bulge you end up on a decent-sized ledge for a belay. The remainder of the route is much easier and straight forward and is typically done in one long pitch. 

The Problem

Because of its moderate grade, Second Coming is particularly attractive to newer trad multi-pitch leaders, but when preparing to climb the route, they are confronted with warnings from multiple sources. The first comment on Mountain Project states, “Second Coming has scored numerous injuries from people blowing it at the crux and tumbling down the slab. Make sure your gear is solid before you commit.” A popular local guidebook has a similar statement about Second Coming claiming the most broken ankles at Looking Glass and advising climbers not to be complacent with their protection.

While the recommendation about having solid gear is a good one, that is good advice for any climb you choose to do and doesn’t address the real problem with blowing the Second Coming crux: rope stretch. The climber who sustained the broken ankle a few weeks ago had placed solid gear, and the piece that held the fall was a cam placed just under the crux sequence. The issue wasn’t that he placed bad gear, but rather where his belayer was positioned and how much rope was in the system. 

The Solution

We use dynamic ropes for climbing because we want a nice, soft catch in the event of a leader fall. While this works well in steep terrain, it can be a problem when the terrain is lower angle or ledgy. The stretch of the rope during a lead fall is referred to as dynamic elongation and is measured as a percentage. Without getting lost in the weeds, just know that dynamic ropes are designed to stretch (hence the name dynamic) and that the stretch is a percentage of the amount of rope in the system. For example, if a rope has 25% dynamic elongation it will stretch an extra 25 feet per 100 feet of rope during a lead fall. This number is based off an 80 kg weight so it will depend on the situation and how much the leader weighs. The big take away is that the more rope out in the system the more it will stretch in a fall. So, how do we solve this problem?

Well, in the case of Second Coming, instead of leading all the way up onto the ledge above the crux, splitting the first pitch into two smaller pitches reduces the amount of rope in the system thus reducing the length of fall and in turn keeping the leader from hitting the slab below if they blow the crux. The way myself and other guides manage Second Coming specifically is to lead up the 4th class terrain, stopping on a ledge just before the climbing starts to get steeper. We build an anchor here, bring up our guests, and then lead through the crux to the standard belay ledge (see topo below). We then may choose to split the last pitch into two pitches as well just to maintain a closer distance to our guests and to minimize static elongation in our rope. This protects our client from hitting a ledge below if they slip while following the pitch. Static elongation for single ropes is usually around 10%, so much less than dynamic elongation, but still something to consider. 

second coming topo

Final Word

As guides our job is twofold: we must provide a quality experience for our guests while also managing risk for ourselves and clients. Usually, the quality experience piece is straight forward – we take you climbing, and you have fun (of course there’s more to it than that, but you get the point). The risk management piece can be a bit more nuanced, requiring a comprehensive understanding of the equipment, terrain, conditions etc… So, next time you’re out climbing, think about how you’re managing risk for yourself and your partners.

I’m not saying that you need to be like a guide, but I am advocating for gathering as much information as possible and in turn applying that information to make good decisions while out climbing. Guidebooks and Mountain Project are great resources, but that is all they are. You must be able to use that information to make your own decisions in the field. Just because the guidebook tells you where each pitch ends doesn’t mean that is the only place to build your belay station, or necessarily the best. Try to avoid sticking with absolutes and think about the big picture. If you’ve heard that a specific route has been the location of many accidents, find out why, and then determine the best way to manage for that situation.  If you need advice, don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our guides; we’re happy to share our beta and help you have a great day in the mountains!

Forrest Stavish,

AMGA Apprentice Rock Guide, Wilderness EMT

The Pre-rigged Rappel: What is it and Why Should You Use it?

Most people know what rappelling is, but are you familiar with the pre-rigged rappel, what it is, and why you should use it? Essentially “pre-rigged rappel” means that everyone who will be rappelling from the top of a climb sets up their rappel device before anyone leaves the rappel station. For example, if you are in a party of three at the top of multi-pitch climb, all three of you would set up your rappel devices on the rope before the first person rappels. Why would you want to do this? We’ll explore that below and also discuss how to set it up.

Rappelling Fundamentals

When I’m teaching newer climbers, one of the first questions I ask is, “what is our primary level of security when climbing a route?” Most times, people will answer “the rope.” Though the rope is certainly an integral part of climbing, it is only a backup to our movement. Our ability to climb is our first level of security, and then the fall protection system (rope, bolts, gear, belay, etc…) is in place to arrest a fall. While climbing up, the rope is just a component of the backup system we have in place. This totally changes however when it is time to descend: when we rappel, we are now fully trusting the rope as our primary security, along with some form of anchor.

For most climbers rappelling is a fundamental skill, and there are several ways we can go about it. When I first started climbing, I rappelled with a tube style device like the ATC clipped directly to my belay loop. I didn’t have any back-ups in place or knots in the ends of my rope. As I gained more experience and starting going through AMGA programs, I learned that backing up the rappel was critical. Remember, the rope is just our backup on the way up, but on the way down it is our primary, so it needs to be backed up. I also learned that keeping the system “closed” by tying stopper knots in the ends of the rope was essential to prevent you from rappelling off the end of your rope, which could happen if the rope ends weren’t even or you rappelled to the ends without paying attention.

Backing up Your Rappel

Before we go into the pre-rigged rappel setup, let’s first talk about how to back up our rappel as well as how and why we should extend our rappel. There are a couple ways to back up the rappel. The primary method is to attach a friction hitch to the rope strands below the rappel device. This back-up is also called a “third hand.”

The auto-block is probably the most commonly used hitch for a rappel backup. While its one of the weaker friction hitches, it’s certainly sufficient for a rappel backup and has the advantage of being very easy to tie. When positioned below the device, its primary function is to keep the rope strands down in the brake position, so it doesn’t need the holding power of a stronger hitch such as the prusik. Because it will serve as our back-up, it should be attached to a strength-rated loop, i.e. the belay loop, rather than to a leg loop.

Extending Your Rappel

Since the third hand is connected to our belay loop, we need to extend our rappel device, essentially creating another belay loop further away from our harness so that the the third hand backup doesn’t interfere with the rappel device. There are several effective ways to extend a rappel. Here is link to various options. This extension can also conveniently serve as a tether when making multiple rappels. (see my blog post on tethering for more information on this topic). 

Setting up the Pre-rigged Rappel

Now that we have discussed the importance of backing up our rappel, closing the system, and extending the rappel device, let’s dive into the pre-rigged rappel. Once we have arrived at the top of the climb it is time to transition from climbing to descending. There are several ways to go about this transition, and the simplest will be safer and more efficient. Since we’re tied into the rope ends, we need to be able to free up these ends in order to feed them through the rappel rings.

I start by rigging my rappel extension/tether while my partner does the same. Then I clip the tether to the masterpoint of my anchor and untie the rope from my harness. Now I can feed the rope into the rappel rings, either tying it to another rope or feed it to the center mark. (I prefer bi-pattern ropes because the center mark is easily identifiable.) I make sure to tie a stopper knot in the ends of the rope before tossing the them down the cliff.

After the rope is in the rappel rings and ready to go, I attach my third hand backup, load my rappel device, and then my partner’s device onto the ropes above me. Now we are pre-rigged, and we can check each other’s devices to make sure they’re loaded properly before committing to the rappel.

When I first started multi-pitch climbing, I rigged my rappel, rappelled to the ground or the next rappel station and then yelled “off rappel.” Afterwards, I waited for my partner to rig their rappel device hoping that they rigged everything correctly. Climbing is already a risky endeavor so why go with this “faith-based” approach? Instead of hoping that my partner is rigged appropriately, I would rather know beyond a reasonable doubt. 

With the pre-rigged rappel, we can increase the security of our team while also making the descent more efficient. When I rappel down and yell “off rappel,” my partner can begin rappelling while I give them a firefighter backup. I can also begin feeding the ropes for the next rappel. Again, climbing is inherently risky, so why take unnecessary risks? If I can increase the security of the team while also being more efficient, why would I do anything else? These are the questions you should be asking yourself the next time you’re out climbing. By building good habits, we can continue to do this fun sport for a long time. So, let’s make it a habit to pre-rig our rappels, back them up, and close the system.  

Forrest Stavish, AMGA Apprentice Rock Guide