Choosing Your First Multi-pitch Climb!

Choosing Your First Multi-pitch Climb!

September 27, 2021 fmg-adminGuides' Tech Tips Rock Climbing Route Beta

We recently posted a photo of a party doing their first multi-pitch climb with us and had several calls from people wanting to do the same. While climbing your first multi-pitch climb with a guide is a great way to get started, not everyone wants to hire a guide; they would prefer to tackle their first mp climb on their own. With that in mind, we have some suggestions for how to choose your first multi-pitch climb because finding a route that is appropriate for a climber who is just starting to break into this terrain is a bit more complicated than finding a long, easy line: the YDS grade isn’t everything!

Following are some criteria to help you have a positive experience when you leave terra firma behind:

Easy Route Finding

Getting off route exposes the entire party to greater hazard. There may not be protection, the climbing could be much more difficult than anticipated, the consequence of a fall can increase significantly, and it wastes time (there are only so many hours of sunlight in a day).  Being able to easily follow a route saves time and frees up mental bandwidth to problem solve team protection and stance organization. It’s also less stressful and generally more fun.

Good Belay Stations

When choosing a route, look at the belay stations at the top of every pitch. Are they bolted? Are they on a big ledge? Is there space for everyone in the party to move around? Aim to answer Yes to as many of these questions as possible! Being comfortable at a belay stance increases our comfort and organization and is particularly important for newer multi-pitch leaders as rope management is often the most challenging aspect of mp climbing.

Having bolted belays is ideal when you’re starting out multi-pitch climbing because you can pre-tie quads and save tons of time on route. Ring anchors (which most bolted anchors are these days) also facilitate easy retreat if weather moves in, the sun gets low in the sky, or it’s beverage o’clock.  There is no shame in bailing, and retreating is often a good option. 

Ease of Communication

The ability to communicate with your partners is a big deal. I see many parties shouting across entire crags just trying to figure out if the leader is still on belay or not after leading a pitch. It’s distracting for other parties, disconcerting for the belayer, a time waste for the leader, and potentially dangerous if there is a serious miscommunication. Choosing a route where you can see and communicate with the rest of your party increases your efficiency, safety, and level of enjoyment.

Issues with communication can be mitigated by having an alternate means of communicating like using Rocky Talkies, so if want to climb a route where it’s hard to hear your partner, definitely consider getting some! I know several of us at FMG have been happy to have them with us when we needed them most!

Route Recommendations

With all that in mind, here are some routes we recommend to people when they ask us what a great first multi-pitch lead climb would be:

Table Rock

Jim Dandy & Cave Route

Climbing Cave Route as a first multi-pitch climb

With it’s generous belay ledges and bolts, the two-pitch Cave Route makes a great first multi-pitch climb!

Rumbling Bald

Fruit Loops (consider Rocky Talkies for this one)

Climbing Fruit Loops as a first multi-pitch climb

Fruit Loops has great gear and bolted belays, but the cave at the beginning of the second pitch can make communication challenging without radios.

Stone Depot

Dave’s Delight & Ruthie’s Commitment

And the corollary to that of course is what we absolutely would NOT recommend for a first multi-pitch climb! We get SO many calls from people asking for beta on climbs in the Amphitheater for their first multi-pitch foray, and we categorically try to dissuade them from considering them. With easy, approachable grades, the Mummy and Prow are alluring for the budding leader but their grades belie their actual difficulty. They are remote, route finding and gear placement can be challenging, communication difficult, and there is nary a bolt to be clipped. We give the same advice for Shortoff and even suggest people think twice about doing a climb at Looking Glass as their first multi-pitch lead.

Let us know what YOUR first mp lead was, and feel free to hit us up for beta on climbs you are considering. We hope to see you out there!

Dan Riethmuller, AMGA Apprentice Rock Guide

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