Tethering on Multipitch Rock Climbs

Tethering on Multipitch Rock Climbs

December 15, 2021 fmg-adminFundamentals Fridays Guiding Rock Climbing

When multipitch climbing, it is imperative that we attach ourselves to the rock with some form of tether. After I first got into multipitch climbing, many people were using daisy chains as a method of securing themselves to the mountain. Due to my lack of experience at the time, I assumed that this was a standard and safe practice. Fast forward a few years, and I learned that daisy chains are intended for aid climbing and are not designed to be used as a personal anchoring system (PAS), and in fact can be dangerous if used as such. I ditched my daisy chain and started attaching myself with a sling, or sometimes two slings. While not an unsafe practice, I learned that this system is unnecessary, inefficient, and creates clutter at the anchor. Eventually I learned the practice of anchoring myself by tying a clove hitch into the rope I’m attached to and securing the clove to a locking carabiner on the master point of the anchor. 

Clove Hitch Tether

When I first discovered using the clove hitch, I felt stupid for not learning it sooner. “How simple but utterly genius!” I thought. By attaching yourself to the anchor with the rope, you are using one of the strongest components of the system. Additionally, the rope is dynamic which helps reduce shock loading to the anchor if, for instance, you had some slack between you and the anchor and slipped. Using the rope you are already tied in to keeps clutter at the anchor minimal and makes transitions more efficient. Finally, the clove hitch is adjustable, so that you can have more freedom of movement depending on your stance. With all that said, there are situations where I may opt to use some fashion of a PAS to make a transition.

Often, when multipitch climbing your party arrives at the top of the climb and in order to get back down you must rappel. This is when I choose to use a PAS or double length sling to tether myself. I know at this point I must rappel, so I need to free up the ends of the rope. I also know that I should have some sort of third-hand backup on my rappel ropes in order to rappel safely. When using a third hand backup it is important to have your rappel device extended. This extension maintains separation between the backup and the rappel device. Without separation the third hand can easily be defeated by riding up into the device. So at this point I can “kill two birds with one stone” by creating a rappel extension that also serves as a tether. 

There are many ways to do this with different types of materials, so I won’t go into detail about how to make a rappel extension (read our blog dedicated to rappel extensions here). Whatever rappel extension you choose, make sure that it has a leg that can be clipped to an anchor without removing the ropes from the rappel device. I’ve been using a Petzl Connect Adjust recently which I find works well as a rappel extension and a tether. See the photo below for how I rig my Connect Adjust.

                Rappel Extension and Tether using the Petzl Connect Adjust

Rappel Extension and Tether using the Petzl Connect Adjust

So, let’s break it down… I’m out multipitch climbing with a partner. We arrive at the base of the route, flake out the rope(s), rack up our gear, and begin climbing. I climb the first pitch, construct the anchor, and secure myself to the masterpoint of the anchor with a clove hitch. I then belay my partner up and clove hitch them into the anchor. At this point we are both secure to the mountain and can begin preparing for the next pitch. We repeat this process to the top of the climb, but now we need to descend. There are many ways to achieve this transition. I could rig my rappel extension as soon as I arrive at the anchor, or I could belay my partner up first and then both of us could rig our extensions. The big take-away here is that I am now transitioning from ascending to descending, which means I am also transitioning from tethering myself with the rope to tethering myself with a PAS or sling. 

One way to make this transition is to clove hitch yourself to the anchor that you will be rappelling from just as you have done on the previous pitches. You then belay your partner up clove them in as well. Now you both can rig your extensions, attach the extensions to the anchor, untie from the rope, feed it through the anchor, and rig your rappel devices. Once you have rappelled to the next anchor, you simply clip into the anchor. What I like to do when I know that my rappel station consists of two bolts with rings is have a quad anchor ready to clip to the rings. From here I have a way to create redundancy by clipping myself to the masterpoint of the quad rather than a single bolt. Another thing that can be helpful is to pre-rig every one’s rappel device. Pre-rigging is widely used among guides but rarely applied in recreational climbing. There are a couple of benefits to pre-rigging a rappel. First, the pre-rig allows everyone to check each other’s system which provides an extra margin of safety. Second, it can speed up the process of descending, especially if you’re bailing due to an incoming thunderstorm. Stay tuned for the next blog which will discuss the pre-rig rappel in depth.           

Forrest Stavish
AMGA Assistant Rock Guide, Ice Instructor, WEMT-B

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