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Ask the Master: How To Escape Tricky Multi-pitch Situations

IFMGA guide Martin Volken explains how to get out of three tricky multi-pitch climbing situations.

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My girlfriend and I are traveling to Smith Rock in a month for the first time. Both of us are experienced climbers, but we are looking to climb multi-pitch routes for the first time. We are traveling with friends (some who have multi-pitch experience), but we have some questions and have not received any consistent answers from friends or videos online. The following questions assume you are several pitches into the climb:

Question 1: You are traversing across a pitch, fall, and decide that the climb is above your skillset: How do you make your way back to the belay from several bolts in? Can it be done without leaving gear?

Question 2: Same scenario as question 1, but this time you are on a roof, fall, and are hanging midair.

Question 3: You are rappelling and come to a section that wraps under a roof: How can you reach the wall below the roof? Do you try your best to swing into the wall and grab a hold of any kind? If the rappel is longer than your rope, what is a good strategy?

—anonymous

Martin Volken, owner of Pro Guiding Service and Pro Ski and Mountain Service in North Bend, WA, is a certified IFMGA Swiss Mountain Guide and guides in North America and Europe. He has been a member of the AMGA examiner team since 2000.
Martin Volken, owner of Pro Guiding Service and Pro Ski and Mountain Service in North Bend, WA, is a certified IFMGA Swiss Mountain Guide and guides in North America and Europe. He has been a member of the AMGA examiner team since 2000.

Hi there and thank you for the questions,

1. If the pitch is truly a traversing pitch, you might be able to “lead” backwards. It is often possible. If not, just leave some gear, it is OK. To be
honest, I have not encountered many truly fully horizontal pitches where you cannot maybe leave one clip and then retrieve the rest which is in actuality
more diagonally below you.

2. This one is “techier”. You might have to ascend the rope while your belayer has the belay locked off until you get to the pro above the roof. You can
do this by installing a simple block and tackle on the rope and your belay loop. Pull this tight, tie it off. Now install a leg prusik of sorts directly
below the block and tackle on the rope side. You will be able to stand up into your leg sling a bit since you created slack between your original tie
in and the block and tackle. Now move the block and tackle system up the rope and repeat the process. It is not that hard but a bit more involved than
I describe it here. The good news is that you can try this from your balcony at home. There are also other ways to ascend a fixed rope, depending on
what equipment you have and your skill set.

Also Read Ascending Rappel Ropes 101

3. That sounds like a poorly chosen rappel station to me and you will rarely encounter it, but yes, you might have to try to swing into the wall and grab
a hold of it. Make sure to do this with backup on your rappel and have your PAS ready, so you can clip in as quickly as possible. If your rope is not
long enough, you might have to ascend the rope to a spot where you can build an intermittent anchor and rappel again. This requires leaving some gear.

Hope this helps.

—Martin Volken


Got a question about climbing? Submit your question to Gear Guy at rockandicegearguy@gmail.com


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