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

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

June 23, 2023 fmg-adminFundamentals Fridays Guides' Tech Tips Rock 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

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