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Multi-Pitch Communication - When you can't quite hear, or see!
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By flynn
Apr 10, 2010
Note from Captain Obvious: agree on what you're going to do before you leave the ground, then stick with it.

My husband and I have climbed together since 1984. Rope tugs have always worked for us, but I'm happy to concede there could be problems on high-friction rock. 3 yanks from the leader mean on-be-lay, 2 from the second mean climb-ing, 1 from the leader means climb. Even mimics the number of syllables.

Rope Braille works with a familiar partner. If there's quite a bit of rope out, but it hasn't moved for a while, that's a good indication that the leader has reached the end of the pitch. If I'm not quite sure, I'll take the rope out of the device but maintain a hip belay until the rope starts whizzing upward.

Knowing the route helps, too. If you know the approximate length of the pitch, it lets you make a more educated guess.

We do the "when the rope comes tight, start climbing" routine very frequently. Can't remember ever having a problem with this one.

Extended discussions never work! "Extended discussion" means anything beyond 2 or 3 syllables. If you have a problem (bees, core shot, stuck biner), about all you can do is ask for what you need in the most basic terms: up rope, slack, watch me. Then fix it as best you can.

By Joe Huggins
From Grand Junction
Apr 10, 2010
A lot of my fellow old Eldo dogs use the Hoot. Some do well with a higher pitched toot, while I favor a lower (moose-like?) tone. For instance, I set up my belay and give a full throated Whoop!(Off Belay) If your code requires, the second will whoop in return. (Belay off) To keep it simple, the first pulls up the slack, and when he has the second on, gives another Whoop. The second can whoop in return, or just start climbing. Obviously, in a non standard situation this can have limits. The best tool in efficient multi pitch communication is to know your partners style and habits. Eldo is a difficult place to communicate, despite the generally short pitches, spring is the worst. Tugs can be a good method, but I have to say that after 30+ years in the Canyon, The Hoot is the way to go. Of course, if everybody is doing it, you're going to have to learn to recognize your partner. Eldo season is here! Halleh-fuckin-lujah!

By Irish-Jane
From Golden
Apr 12, 2010
Terradets, Spain.
I think so much depends on how used to your partner you are. I rarely if ever have communication problems with my boyfriend on multipitch, even though he's quite deaf, but will often have trouble with new partners with perfect hearing, even if the conditions are good.

What I've found works well for us is if the leader doesn't say anything while on lead other than the safe/off belay shout. And "rock" which sounds pretty different. Make each thing ONE shout only, and make it proper loud. If they want take they just start weighting the rope, slack start tugging the rope, all the usual ways you belay well when you can't see the leader. If it's too hard to even hear that they've shouted something just keep them on til there's no rope. Then once the rope is tight, wait for a bit on the anchor, get your shoes on, loosen bits of the setup. Once you reckon you're on you can move up slightly in increments on the anchor, if the rope is being taken in in a normal way then dismantle and climb.

The only problem I can recall is last week he was trying to communicate (on a long rising traverse pitch) "I'm at the anchors but there's a large vulture on the ledge and I can't get past him so you'll have to lower while I pendulum to the next anchors..."

By Geir
From Tucson, AZ
Apr 12, 2010
j fassett wrote:
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

Agreed. Keep your pitches short and you'll more likely be able to see/hear your partner.

By Rockwood
From West Jordan
Apr 23, 2010
Spring in Zion
I've gone with the 3 tugs thing as mentioned by everyone else along with a 3 tug response to it when you can't hear. Something I don't think I saw mentioned though was using eachother's names when you're somewhere with other climbers and can't distinguish between shouts. I was in Red Rocks or Joshua Tree, somewhere like that with lots of climbers and echoes and as I was about to shout "climbing" I heard within 10 seconds, "off belay" "slack" "off rappel" "clipping" "lower me" I waited and didn't say anything and my partner replies "climb on" so I knew he was confused too.
With my partners we'll specify that we'll use our names "Climb on Katie!" works best...of course that's when you can hear still.

By drsmonkey
From A hole, WY
Aug 15, 2010
jarthur wrote:
... 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.

It's hard to think of these things while these situations are happening, but...

Use a friction knot to tie a sling to the rope above the cut (only would work if it is in reach, but I've got long arms) and clip to harness as a backup.

the point is...

You are on your own at your end of the rope so you better figure out what to do in any given situation. I'm lucky enough to never have to climb with anyone but my wife, and after years of simul- and alpine climbing we have pretty much learned what is going on at the other end by feel.

All the yelling and walkie-talkies just seems to be in bad style to me.

By timt
From Wheat Ridge, CO
Aug 15, 2010
on lead, Mean Green Cody,WY
i used walkie talkies ONCE in eldo & i highly recommend it. i got to sit on top of redgarden wall and listen to police setting up to raid some garage. didn't help at all communicating with my partner, but it sure was entertaining.

+1 for discussing before the climb what to do if/when you can't communicate. it is amazing how close you can be and still not hear one another if the winds are high.

By rhyang
From San Jose, CA
Aug 15, 2010
21-August-2012: Me just before heading up the Twil...
4 tugs = take me off belay
3 tugs = you're on belay

But rope tugs don't work if there is a lot of rope drag. I like walkie talkies, but the batteries can die and you can drop them. I like to rig mine with keeper cords (2-3mm accessory cord) long enough to go from harness loop to chest pocket or so. Add garish keychain biner to complete the ensemble.

By Peter Stokes
From Them Thar Hills
Aug 15, 2010
Wall Street, Moab, UT
rhyang wrote:
I like walkie talkies, but the batteries can die and you can drop them. I like to rig mine with keeper cords

This is a good point... testing the batteries before you set out is easy enough, but in addition to keeper cords some models will allow for a speaker/mic combo that can clip onto the shoulder, collar or sleave of your clothing- the speaker is closer to your ear that way, and you don't have to reach your hand as far to talk. I've heard of folks using voice activated stuff, but there are some problems with that- wind, hard breathing, speaking to someone else, etc.

By Marty C
Aug 15, 2010
Shouting or using whistles signals can work, but there is no standard for such a system.

In the book "Up Rope - North American Vertical Rope Techniques" they acknowlege "... there is no universal standard at this time (~1996), codes must be reviewed by everyone prior to any vertical activity."

They then offer some "recommended signals for common rope work communications."


"STOP" - Tweet (1 short blast)
Quit whatever you're doing
Stop feeding out line
Stop rappelling
Stop ascending
Stand by for further

"UP" - Tweet-Tweet (2 short blasts)
Pull up the line
I'm climbing up
I'm on rope
Similar upward actions

"DOWN" - Tweet-Tweet-Tweet (3 short blasts)
Lower the line (when hauling)
Slack (when climbing)
On rappel
On rope
I'm coming down
Similar downward actions

"LINE FREE" - Tweet-Tweet-Tweet-Tweet (4 short blasts)
Off rope
Come on down
Come on up

"HELP" - Long blast
In difficult situations, a
long blast is always heard
better than separate short
"tweets." Short signals are
often affected by echos and
can get confused.

Unfortunately, they do not have any signals regarding "bee stings."

By Jason Gilbert
From Lakewood
Aug 15, 2010
...And a few Push-ups just for fun.
Does anyone actually use whistles to communicate on a regular basis?

My first thought is that in a place like Eldo it could get pretty crazy with everyone blowing their whistles to communicate.

Second, Iíve always viewed whistles as a tool to communicate if youíre in trouble, 3 blasts from a whistle communicates distress and that you need help. If everyone starts using whistles to communicate, it would be difficult to tell if climbers needed help or if it was just normal communication.

By Darren Mabe
From Flagstaff, AZ
Aug 15, 2010
wham bam hand jam. Wrapping up the final moves of ...
Smoke signals

By Buff Johnson
Aug 15, 2010
I don't really know about anybody else, but the quickest way to get help is the "we have beer" signal.

This sound is more like a tweet gurgle gurgle; or possibly a gurgle tweet, followed by a beer bottle launch -- then we know, cause nobody would toss a perfectly good beer.

As soon as the whistle comes out, a gazillion calls to the emergency dispatch will ensue.

By JPVallone
Aug 15, 2010
In this day and age it seems most efficient to just send a text message. Problem is I don't text nor do I allow it to my phone.

So instead of texting, the best method suggested so far, which was first mentioned by J Fasset is to shorten up your pitches, Time saved in communication or having a visual makes up for time you might save running pitches by a long shot. There is definetly a time and a place to run pitches, but on a small route where its hard to communicate and see eachother, the bastille is not one of them. You dont gain much from that but the important thing is being efficient with building anchors and your transistions.

Depending on who I am with, I can see my partner at every belay I make on the bastille. Running pitches Is not that important on small routes like the bastille and especially on routes that are that loud in the canyon. Eyes on communication solves all the problems that you mentioned.

By Tim Pegg
Aug 15, 2010
Me on Hallett Peak's 2nd Buttress.
I like using a tug system, it's worked for me in spite of wind, darkness and rope drag. On new routes, I use it along with voice commands. After a couple rehearsals, it started working really smoothly.

By slim
Aug 15, 2010
tomato, tomotto, kill mike amato.
i've always used the 5-so-monstrous-as-fuck-that-they-are-annoying tugs and it has always worked well. i agree that the 3 wussy tugs are possibly a recipe for disaster. (walky talkies? for fucks sake people the russians aren't coming, get a grip). just be sure that you and your partner are on the same plan. side note, i nearly pissed myself thinking of you epicing on the bastille. you were probably so frazzled that you almost just wanted to do 'hairstyles and attitudes' and get the hell out of there.... :)

By Darren Mabe
From Flagstaff, AZ
Aug 16, 2010
wham bam hand jam. Wrapping up the final moves of ...
JPVallone wrote:
text message

+1. awesome

By Lee Smith
Aug 16, 2010
You can love your rope but you can't "LOVE&qu...
I use Facebook posts.
Lee Smith is...On Belay!
When my partner "likes" it I can start climbing.

By justin dubois
From Estes Park
Aug 16, 2010
Lost Cities 5.12a,Black Canyon,CO
You should be able to tell what the leader is doing just by the feel and speed that the rope moves. When there is a long pause, then many armloads of slack getting pulled up, then sustained tension on you-You're on belay.

If the rope feeds slowly until it hits your anchor, time to simulclimb. Like it or not. You're partner should be able to anticipate the terrain you'll be simulclimbing, and he/she hopefully won't make you second through hard terrain.

I always laugh when climbing at areas like Eldo or Lumpy or BOcan, when you hear people just screaming at each other and still can't hear. you're better off just feeling the rope movements.

By j fassett
From tucson
Aug 16, 2010
mountain golf
JPVallone wrote:
In this day and age it seems most efficient to just send a text message. Problem is I don't text nor do I allow it to my phone.

Classic! I don't text either, nor do I own a 60 meter rope. The true definition of a "dinosaur"


By Adam McFarren
From Boulder, Colorado
Aug 16, 2010
The only answer, the Elite Contact 2000 "Talking Rope".

Elite Contact 2000 "Talking Rope"
Elite Contact 2000 "Talking Rope"

By jaypg
From New England
Aug 16, 2010
Just add two Campbell's soup cans to your otherwise "standard" trad rack.

By J C Wilks
From Loveland, CO
Aug 16, 2010
I used the Elite Contact 2000 and found that the added weight of the cable was excessive and had a tendency to kink the rope. I don't like kinky ropes. Further more when I tied in with the rope the head set cable tangled up in the knot. When my puntner took a whipper the cable BROKE! I can't recommend this product. Thumbs down!

+1 on the annoying rope tugs, anticipate and discuss beforehand. As for the whistles codes, they could work as long as no one else within earshot is using the same system. I tried using Morse code for my partner's name but he didn't know Morse code. The point of the question in the first place is, if you can't hear.

By "H"
From Manitou Springs
Aug 16, 2010
Axes glistening in the sun
Walkie talkies work great. Make sure you dummy chord them though. They add weight.
We usually have a tug method. But if you're like me I generally forget was it 3 HARD tugs to take me off belay or 2?

There's always telepathy.

By Elush
From CA
Aug 16, 2010
Top of Half Dome, after climbing Snake Dike
Just an Idea, I probably would have pulled rope in myself as I Followed the climb. When I got enough rope above the cut, tie a figure 8 on a bite and clip it into my harness with a locker. Problem solved and climbing resumes safely. Sometimes no communication is best.


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