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Multi-Pitch Communication - When you can't quite hear, or see!
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By jarthur
From Westminster, CO
Apr 9, 2010
My dogs got ups yo!
Last week a friend of mine came up from Asheville, NC to climb for a week in Colorado. We hit the traditional sport climbing areas of Clear Creek and Shelf Road. Our third day on we decided that a trip to the Front Range would not be complete without hitting up the Bastille Crack in Eldorado Canyon on Monday.

My friend is an experienced Trad climber having done plenty of climbing around Looking Glass, Laurels Knob, Table Rock, and even the mother of all beasts Whitesides among others. Myself not so much. Shameful, but my experience on trad is really just to get my tradsters buddies to belay me on sport, but keeping them interested in climbing with me I will very seldomly go trad climbing with them if they can't get anyone else. Don't get me wrong I do love multi-pitch trad, but it's been very few and far between in my 12 yrs of climbing.

Back on point. We attempted and very much succeeded in doing the Bastille Crack on Monday. We combined the 1st and 2nd pitches into one to conserve time. He placed all gear on lead and I followed every pitch and cleaned the gear.

Problem #1: I couldn't see, or hear him from the road with the river in the background. So I pretty much had to wait 20mins for him to set up an anchor and feel the rope go tight and I eventually started climbing and he was taking in rope.

Problem #2: On getting up pitch 3 he set up an anchor and same thing. I couldn't see him, or hear him and I had a major problem. The sheath of the rope was cut about 3 feet above my knot. Well this time he pulled the rope incredibly tight and I kept yelling to inform him of the predicament and he just kept pulling thinking I was climbing. Well like a DA that I can be sometimes I said well I'm going to be here forever so I started climbing anyways and got to the top of the 3rd pitch and told him of the problem (nearly wanting to vomit since I felt like I just soloed the pitch). We ended up fixing that problem and finished the 4th and 5th pitches. Typically climbing a 5.7 pitch is not a problem (My sport level cap has been 12c for the past two yrs), but I broke my back in Feb of 09 and coupled to that I noticed a cut in the rope the crux of pitch 3 scared the hell out of me and felt much, much harder. Plus it's Eldo!

I'm sure many of you have done the Bastille Crack so I'm hoping to hear someone speak from experience since I feel that route is a good example. So how do you typically communicate with your belayer, or climber when it is impossible to hear, or see one another?

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By Kai Huang
From Thornton, CO
Apr 9, 2010
walkie talkies for the win.

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By jarthur
From Westminster, CO
Apr 9, 2010
My dogs got ups yo!
Yeah about that. I got some walkie talkies for X-Mas and of course when we got home and told the wife about our day she said, "You should have taken the walkie talkies!" Definitely an option for the future.

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By Jordan Ramey
From Calgary, Alberta
Apr 9, 2010
What was left of the rack when I topped out on the last pitch of Snake Dike on Half Dome.
1. Discuss a setup and do rope tugs.

2. Only the leader tugs! or you might yank him off and that would be unfortunate that they chose you as a partner.

3. Crazy erratic tugs means the leader needs slack.

3. Leader does 3 long hard tugs.... On.. Be-...lay... when the belay is setup and ready to go.

4. Second starts climbing.

Keep it simple and check your setup before the leader takes off. This is a really common problem that drives me nuts when the leader and belayer are screaming at each other for half an hour on the climb next to me for no good reason. If you're going to yell, only yell commands (i.e. on belay, belay is on, climbing, etc.... Not full sentences asking for 7 more minutes and 13 feet of rope so you can eat your sandwich and update your twitter). I climb with a semi-deaf friend and it's much nicer to do rope tugs.

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By Jordan Ramey
From Calgary, Alberta
Apr 9, 2010
What was left of the rack when I topped out on the last pitch of Snake Dike on Half Dome.
the batteries are always dead.... always.... It's like murphy's law of walkie talkies. But they can be nice.

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By stredna
From PA
Apr 9, 2010
Top o' the Preist
when the rope comes tight, start climbing. (ok maybe wait 20 seconds for them to hook up belay device and lock biner).

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By Kyle Wills
From San Diego CA
Apr 9, 2010
Cams are over rated.
Do walkie talkies really work well in multi-pitch situations? I always fear the reception would be terrible considering in some routes your leader might quite realistically be behind tons of granite. I would hate buying and carrying them out there only to get really shabby reception.

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By Terry Fisher
Apr 9, 2010
Me on a problem at Horsetoote Resevoir
When communication can be an issue I always make sure that my partner and I are on the same page that when the rope comes tight the second is on belay. This can be a pain for the leader if the pitch is short and they have to take in 100+ ft of slack through the belay device but it's a sure thing that way. Walkie talkies are great but after my tie in loop on one broke and sent it about 300 ft to the deck I gave that one up.

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By Chase Yarbrough
From Denver, CO
Apr 9, 2010
profile pic
Yeah, but what's the rope signal for "give me some effin slack so I can retie above the torn rope?"

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By Terry Fisher
Apr 9, 2010
Me on a problem at Horsetoote Resevoir
Yeah good luck on that! lol Guess if you noticed it before he pulled up the slack you could have clove hitched a length off to the anchor then retied in past the cut, but if not you're screwed without walkie talkies

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By John Farrell
From Phoenix, AZ
Apr 9, 2010
Having fun at the Enchanted Tower.
Whistles work really great. I have gotten in the habit of taking them on multi-pitch climbs. They aren't bulky, battery dependent, and work really well in wind.

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By Steven Lucarelli
From Moab, UT
Apr 9, 2010
Showing off Johns almighty poop tube on the top of El Cap, after climbing the Nose.
stredna wrote:
when the rope comes tight, start climbing. (ok maybe wait 20 seconds for them to hook up belay device and lock biner).


I agree, this is what I do.

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By Ryan Fischer
From Boulder
Apr 9, 2010
sunset on Sundance Buttress
I second the 3 tugs method. Eldo is frequently windy, the creek makes a ton of white noise, and the nature of the tiered rock makes communication extremely difficult. Do not just guess, wait for the leader to give 3 LONG and SPACED tugs so that there is no doubt that you are on belay before you start climbing. I always make sure my second understands this if we haven't roped up before. I also give 2 initial tugs to let them know that it is ok to take me off belay, so they have time to clean the lower anchor.

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By Jim Amidon
Apr 9, 2010
J TREE
Walkie Talkies suck. Don't rely on technology to help you out especially when it's not needed.

Come up with a commuication set of signals before your partner leaves the ground then stick with the plan.....

Oh and Whistles will confuse for some one lost and in need of a rescue

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By Tea
Apr 9, 2010
just Jong it!
+1 for the three tugs method.

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By Price
From SLC, UT
Apr 9, 2010
I go with the 3 tugs method. Usually works, except this one time, I was trying to figure out the number of tugs to signal "I just kicked open a bee hive. You're f*cked cleaning this route."

(I ended up getting stung twice, partner got 25ish)

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By Chris Plesko
From Westminster, CO
Apr 9, 2010
OMG, I winz!!!
Price wrote:
I go with the 3 tugs method. Usually works, except this one time, I was trying to figure out the number of tugs to signal "I just kicked open a bee hive. You're f*cked cleaning this route." (I ended up getting stung twice, partner got 25ish)


Post of the day. LMAO!

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By JJNS
Apr 9, 2010
Ok, what if you just stayed clipped in at the top of pitch two and untied your rope? It would probably freak your buddy out but he would figure it out.

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By smassey
From CO
Apr 9, 2010
Rope tugs don't work anywhere the rock has friction, aka Red Rock. Have a plan beforehand for communication. Clear, simple communication is paramount for multipitch climbing - much like any relationship. I can't count the amount of couples I've seen trying to have a conversation from 40m away. Doesn't work. If you need to communicate something more than two words, you're on your own. If you persist in trying to talk to a partner who can't hear you, get divorced.(for your own sake, as well as everyone climbing around you...)
If you can't hear your partner say "off belay", keep paying out rope til there isn't any more. Then take them off. If the rope comes tight, start climbing in 30 seconds. If the rope doesn't keep coming tight, wait until it does. Simple. If it take more than 30 seconds to put your second on belay, practice more on single pitch routes with less ambient noise.
If your rope is hit by a falling rock and coreshot, you will have to figure out how to deal, in ways mentioned above. If you haven't been paying attention to the condition of your rope and all of a sudden notice there's a coreshot, take up a different hobby, like knitting. not to put knitting down in any way - it takes more talent than I have...

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By boydpainting
From Estes Park CO
Apr 9, 2010
Leader tugs, 2 off,3 on, and radios. Never had both fail. Plus side you get to listen to the idiots two routes over, argue on channel 2.

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By j fassett
From tucson
Apr 9, 2010
mountain golf
jarthur wrote:
We combined the 1st and 2nd pitches into one to conserve time.

Here in lies the problem. Linking pitches together doesn't guarantee saving time. Hone your transition skills and there is almost no reason to link pitches. More often than not, shorter is faster. (can open worms everywhere!)

JF

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By Patrick K.
From Bozeman
Apr 9, 2010
Me cleaning at neat rock on the standard route in the madison valley, Montana
Do people often use radios? i have never seen or heard of it. The rope tugs work great, but occasionally radios would have been nice. Is that just geeking out too much

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By Joshua Balke
From Colorado Springs
Apr 10, 2010
Ingraham glacier
smassey wrote:
Rope tugs don't work anywhere the rock has friction, aka Red Rock. Have a plan beforehand for communication. Clear, simple communication is paramount for multipitch climbing - much like any relationship. I can't count the amount of couples I've seen trying to have a conversation from 40m away. Doesn't work. If you need to communicate something more than two words, you're on your own. If you persist in trying to talk to a partner who can't hear you, get divorced.(for your own sake, as well as everyone climbing around you...) If you can't hear your partner say "off belay", keep paying out rope til there isn't any more. Then take them off. If the rope comes tight, start climbing in 30 seconds. If the rope doesn't keep coming tight, wait until it does. Simple. If it take more than 30 seconds to put your second on belay, practice more on single pitch routes with less ambient noise. If your rope is hit by a falling rock and coreshot, you will have to figure out how to deal, in ways mentioned above. If you haven't been paying attention to the condition of your rope and all of a sudden notice there's a coreshot, take up a different hobby, like knitting. not to put knitting down in any way - it takes more talent than I have...

+1 there are too many factors to rely on things like walkie talkies or rope tugs. I climb often along rivers and when linking pitches its rare that you will hear your partner or be able to tell the difference between 3 rope tugs and the need for slack. My method is to use the standard 3 tugs method but more often than not it comes to realizing when you have lost communication. I shout out the half point and if I've lost communication at that point my partner will know well before getting to the end of the rope etc. Then I know that when they stop for a moment (presumably to build a belay) and then rapidly take up all the rope I can take them off belay. When they yard me up the rock by taking up slack I can then break down my belay and start climbing. If they keep taking up slack your good. If not you might need to rethink things.

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By Boodge Nomchompski
Apr 10, 2010
Ancient wall art
My wife and I use Motorola "walkie talkies" with absolutely no problems. She has a major hearing loss, so verbal communication on multi-pitch would be impossible without them - hell it's nearly impossible when we're in the same room sometimes (though I concede that could be because we're married). We've never had any issues with reception or anything. One nice feature that the radios have is beeping...which you could use like "rope tugs" in the event of inaudibility I suppose. Regardless of reception, the beep tones would work. But I reiterate that reception has never been a problem - at most, you're only 200ft away from each other.
We just clip them onto a shoulder length sling and carry them over our shoulders, and have not had any issues with them getting in the way...and she can hear me loud and clear even on long pitches where we're out of sight of each other.

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By Tim McCabe
Apr 10, 2010
This is what my wife and I worked out when we first started doing multi pitch. Granted it only works if you have a second rope.

I would lead with the tag line as long as both ropes are moving she knew I was climbing. Once the tag line take off alone I must be off belay. Then I pulled up the slack and put her on belay she would just wait 30 seconds as mentioned above then dismantle the anchor and start climbing. I would wait a minute or so and start taking up slack. Always worked no yelling to tugging (as mentioned tugs may not work in high friction)(we mostly climbed at RR and Cochise both high friction areas).

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By Julius Beres
From Boulder, CO
Apr 10, 2010
Rewritten
Yes, sometimes you have to work out a set of signals and figure out how to communicate. But in this case the mistake was linking pitches.

When you link two pitches together, the only time you are saving is building the anchor and removing it. To save that time, you are sacrificing communication and adding rope drag along with possibly making building the next anchor slower because you have less gear to chose from.

Don't get me wrong, I like linking pitches, especially when it avoids an uncomfortable belay ledge. But in the case of the Bastille, I would say it is a waste of time. The first belay has bolts, so it should take less than a minute to build and remove that anchor. If you combine the first two pitches, you can almost certainly not hear your partner because of the creek noise.

I have found the fastest way to climb is whenever you see a good ledge with a fast anchor building opportunity, take it, unless you know there is a better one ahead. I find most of the time wasted on trad is when you run out of rope and have only a few pieces left and you have to build an awkward belay with limited options for gear.

There are cases when linking pitches is definitely faster. Skipping building the first anchor on Green Spur and just running it up to the bolts completely eliminates building/removing an anchor and doesn't make the next one harder since it is just bolts... and you don't have to worry too much about communication since you are far from the creek.

Having a nice long rope length of climbing is always fun, but if you are doing it to save time, you are often facing the problem of taking a short cut that takes and hour longer to get to where you are going...

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