There are a ton of great articles and resources dedicated to this subject already, yet I still see climbers fumbling at belays. Why? When climbing a big route, being able to move smoothly and quickly through technical terrain is just as important as a timely belay set-up and transition. The key to efficiency is maintaining momentum throughout the day. This efficiency starts from the parking lot.
Climbing a big wall route is a test of one’s ability to endure, so anything that can be done to maximize one’s efficiency will increase the comfort and enjoyment of the route. Additionally, small efficiency improvements spread across a big route can make a difference in hours of saved time/suffering. Hauling is likely the largest source of anxiety before the climb, challenges during, and exhaustion immediately afterwards (ascending likely takes second place). The good news? Hauling doesn’t have to be such a challenge. With some technique and correctly applied movements, hauling can actually be less of a chore than mowing the lawn!
As with many climbing techniques and skill sets, there are a multitude of different acceptable methods. Rappelling is one of those basic skills that as long as you arrive safely on the ground afterwards, you’ve succeeded. However, despite that rappelling is such an “entry-level” skill, it continues to be a leading cause of climbing accidents. There are several procedures to increase safety while rappelling, but many of them increase time and are all too often inconvenient. Rappelling safer and more efficiently don’t have to be contradictory tasks.
There is clearly a reason why labels on climbing equipment say “WARNING: Unsafe to use without expert instruction”. Sometimes technology improves at a faster rate than education, resulting in commonplace use of devices without proper training. In terms of climbing, this can potentially have serious consequences. While some techniques employed climbing may not be inherently dangerous, not being able to properly use equipment as designed makes the climbing inefficient, at best. A common example of climbing equipment designed for a specific purpose yet used incorrectly entirely or simply not used as designed is the plaquette style, a.k.a. auto-block, belay device (ex: Black Diamond ATC Guide, Petzl Reverso, or Kong GiGi). This tech tip will discuss properly using a plaquette belay device to belay a following climber and how to lower the climber when the device is loaded.
A few years ago I climbed the popular Chrimson Chrysallis route in Red Rocks, Nevada. This eight-pitch 5.8 is mostly bolted, offers moderate face climbing in the shade, and has a summit top-out so it’s no wonder why it’s so popular. My partner and I had been climbing behind several slow-moving parties the entire route and when I arrived at the summit I was greeted by a woman looking curiously at me, “Have you seen my ATC?” Not sure how to respond, I asked her to repeat the question. “My belay device, have you seen it? I dropped it.”
The double figure 8 knot, aka dog eared or bunny ears, is not a commonly used climbing knot in the USA, but it’s not for a lack of usefulness. The double figure 8 is strong, quick, and has the benefit of not requiring any additional material to construct. This knot can be used to equalize any anchor, though it’s most efficient when used at a 2 bolt belay. Because the double 8 eight uses the climbing rope in the anchor system, it’s best to use when swapping pitches with your climbing partner.
You’re climbing a multipitch route and everything has been going smoothly throughout the day. Excited to be at the top of the route you and your partner high-five and start the first of 8 double-rope rappels. After the second abseil, you start to pull the ropes and the knot jams. You pull harder . . . nothing.
First introduced by John Long in Climbing Anchors 2nd Edition, the quad anchor is basically a doubled equalette applied to two protection points, most commonly bolts. This anchor has the benefit of a wide range for the direction of pull while still maintaining a large masterpoint to clip/remove multiple carabiners, even when weighted. Additionally, this anchor has proved to be extremely strong in pull-tests, due to the equalization of forces to both points. This anchor is also simple to dismantle, clip to the back of the harness, and adjust appropriately for the next anchor.