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leading multipitch with a non-leading 2nd
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technogeekery


Jul 28, 2009, 3:06 AM
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leading multipitch with a non-leading 2nd
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I've recently got back into climbing after a very long hiatus (work, kids etc) and am easing my way back into it with lots of research and updating my old-fashioned techniques & equipment (online, books, guided climbing, climbing with other people with recent experience etc) and am just starting to lead climb again. Forgotten how much fun and how much fear is involved - its great :-)

I'm doing this with my old partner in climb - he doesn't lead and never has - he enjoys following and is a good competent belayer, and is comfortable following anything I can lead - but doesn't want to lead himself. When we were young and dumb we had many epics on the multi-pitch trad routes we both enjoy - and somehow through a combination of luck and on-the-job experience, survived and grew as climbers.

But we are older now, and I have kids now, as well as perhaps more imagination and definitely more fear. Something that never really crossed my mind too much before was - what happens if I get really hurt on a remote climb, perhaps a long way from the ground? So I'm researching self-rescue systems, and will insist he does too, then we'll practise them together until I'm confident we are both competent to rescue ourselves / each other in most circumstances. But you know, I'd much rather he was able to lead climb in a pinch...

There must be many of you who climb with weaker partners or partners who don't lead - is this an issue for you? Is it really an issue at all if you are well prepared, okay to leave gear behind and plan for possible retreat from any climb?

I'm interested in your opinions. Thanks.


Partner oldsalt


Jul 28, 2009, 6:19 AM
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Re: [technogeekery] leading multipitch with a non-leading 2nd [In reply to]
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I'm the weaker partner when I am with my long-time partner, Jimmy. His hair is still on fire, so he will lead almost every pitch. We don't go after high grade multi-pitch, however, so I can pull my weight there.

We are both capable escaping the belay and rescuing each other and ourselves. We both do lead and TR solos, and this provides good practice with planning and executing every aspect of single and multi-pitch rope handling. We both practice emergency skills, and we carry rescue gear outside.

You and your partner should talk about the details of how you will manage various emergencies. Practice them together in a gym, if permitted. If not, find a way to practice together on low grade routes, because rescue techniques do not magically "appear" on your skills list.


markc


Jul 28, 2009, 6:50 AM
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Re: [technogeekery] leading multipitch with a non-leading 2nd [In reply to]
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I climb with a range of people. Some lead harder and have more experience than I do, some are on par, and some either don't lead at all or don't lead on gear. With partners that are better than me, I'm willing to get on things I'm not fully confident I could lead entirely. With climbers on par with me, we'll get on routes we're not entirely sure about. If one of us is having an off day or not feeling a pitch, the other picks up the slack.

When I am the stronger climber, and especially when I'm the only leader, I climb in check. I want to be reasonably certain that I can lead every pitch without difficulty. I know that some partners aren't as well equipped to deal with issues that may arise. If I decide to take someone like that up a multipitch route, the burden of responsibility is mine. I'll dial back the difficulty and have a more casual climbing day. If I'm not feeling a climb, I don't have a problem walking away from it.

Edit - Regarding self-rescue techniques, it's not something I practice enough myself. Discussions like this are a good reminder to refresh myself and make time to practice.


(This post was edited by markc on Jul 28, 2009, 6:52 AM)


mr.tastycakes


Jul 28, 2009, 8:02 AM
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Re: [markc] leading multipitch with a non-leading 2nd [In reply to]
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markc wrote:
[..]especially when I'm the only leader, I climb in check. I want to be reasonably certain that I can lead every pitch without difficulty. I know that some partners aren't as well equipped to deal with issues that may arise. If I decide to take someone like that up a multipitch route, the burden of responsibility is mine. I'll dial back the difficulty and have a more casual climbing day.

^^^This.


Partner rgold


Jul 28, 2009, 8:46 AM
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Re: [markc] leading multipitch with a non-leading 2nd [In reply to]
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There's a difference between a weaker partner who can lead and one who can't. I've climbed with partners who, at the time, couldn't lead free pitches as hard as I could. They were certainly competent climbers, so I never thought there was anything to be concerned about.

This viewpoint was tested many years ago when we were caught in a sudden and very severe summer storm. The entire face turned into a waterfall. I was tied in short in a shallow groove and belaying my partner when the storm hit, and had to crane my head to keep it out of the water---the rest of my body was in the flow. By the time my partner reached the belay (with lots of tension from me since he was climbing in a waterfall the whole time) I was seriously hypothermic and suffering from extreme full-body muscle cramps. The struggles of climbing plus the fact that he had the pack and so had been able to put on raingear kept him warm.

I was supposed to lead every pitch, but that was out of the question now. But no worries, my partner improvised some aid slings for the hardest moves and lead on. (Going down at that point would have been much harder.) The rain stopped and after two or three pitches I warmed up and was able to take over the lead again. The net effect was nothing more than being a little slower than planned because of the aid climbing.

I have climbed and continue to climb with partners who could follow and belay but who really don't lead at all, and I've done this in very remote areas as well as at the local crag. This is essentially guiding, and I think a modified soloing mentality is in order---you absolutely cannot make any leading mistakes and you have to have the confidence of a soloist or you probably shouldn't be doing it. (I use the word "modified" because short leader falls onto good pro are conceivable and do not constitute a "leading mistake" in this context.)

In this situation, the second cannot take over the lead. I think there is one moral imperative: if the climbing is at all remote, the leader must insure that the second is competent enough to save themselves if something really bad happens. This means the second must at the very least be able to set up and execute multiple rappels and know enough about natural and gear anchors to give them a good chance of getting down by themselves.

Beyond that, fancy self-rescue techniques are of course good to know. But the ability to use them in the field, under stress, will depend on having put in a significant amount of practice time, which is something not everyone has either the time or the inclination to do. And many self-rescue procedures will not be effective under all circumstances and will expose the party (and in particular the second) to considerable additional risks.

I say this not to knock self-rescue (which, however, I believe to be way over-hyped), but because people who are embracing situations in which only one party member can lead ought to do so with a clear understanding of what they doing and what the implications are.

[Edited for typos---twice.]


(This post was edited by rgold on Jul 28, 2009, 10:40 AM)


harpo_the_climber


Jul 28, 2009, 8:52 AM
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Re: [technogeekery] leading multipitch with a non-leading 2nd [In reply to]
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Lake Tahoe Community College has Self Rescue for Climbers 1 and 2. I have taken 1 twice in the past, and 2 is new this year (I am signed up for it). I highly reccomend both, and the insturctor (Jim Bitner) is great. Jim has taken some AMGA courses, but I think he got his self rescue training from a fully (rock) accredited local AMGA guide. Best thing is that you can take take both courses (1 evening and 2 all day sessions each) for around $50 bucks. Great way to combine a cheap Tahoe vacation with some climbing instruction. You can register for the courses online at the LTCC website. This summer's two courses are this week and next, but I think there is also a rescue 1 in the fall. I am in no way connected with LTCC other than being an enthusiastic student.


Gmburns2000


Jul 28, 2009, 8:54 AM
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Re: [technogeekery] leading multipitch with a non-leading 2nd [In reply to]
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This isn't really an issue for me. I've climbed with non-leaders before, but I've also been smart in how I choose partners. Even if they don't lead, I choose people who know the basics such as gear and anchors so that if they needed to lead then they could work it out in a pinch.

Also, if I climb with non-leaders then I chose people who are strong enough climbers to be able to get out of a jam if one is encoutered.

In general, I try to find people who are smart enough to think things through, too.

I think you're doing the right thing by ensuring that you're on the same page. So long as the skillset is similar between you and your partner then I think you'll be fine. Good luck.


Partner cracklover


Jul 28, 2009, 9:37 AM
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Re: [rgold] leading multipitch with a non-leading 2nd [In reply to]
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rgold wrote:
There's a difference between a weaker partner who can lead and one who can't. I've climbed with partners who, at the time, couldn't lead free pitches as hard as I could. They were certainly competent climbers, so I never thought there was anything to be concerned about.

This viewpoint was tested many years ago when we were caught in a sudden and very severe summer storm. The entire face turned into a waterfall. I was tied in short in a shallow groove and belaying my partner when the storm hit, and had to crane my head to keep it out of the water---the rest of my body was in the flow. By the time my partner reached the belay (with lots of tension from me since he was climbing in a waterfall the whole time) I was seriously hypothermic and suffering from extreme full-body muscle cramps. The struggles of climbing plus the fact that he had the pack and so had been able to put on raingear kept him warm.

I was supposed to lead every pitch, but that was out of the question now. But no worries, my partner improvised some aid slings for the hardest moves and lead on. (Going down at that point would have been much harder.) The rain stopped and after two or three pitches I warmed up again and was able to over the lead. The net effect was nothing more than being a little slower than planned because of the aid climbing.

I have climbed and continue to climb with partners who could follow and belay but who really don't lead at all, and I've done this in very remote areas as well as at the local crag. This is essentially guiding, and I think a modified soloing mentality is in order---you absolutely cannot make any leading mistakes and you have to have the confidence of a soloist or you probably shouldn't be doing it. (I use the word "modified" because short leader falls onto good pro are conceivable and do not constitute a "leading mistake" in this context.)

In this situation, the second cannot take over the lead. I think there is one moral imperative: if the climbing is at all remote, the leader insure that the second is competent enough to save themselves if something really bad happens. This means the second must at the very least be able to set up and execute multiple rappels and know enough about natural and gear anchors to give them a good chance of getting down by themselves.

Beyond that, fancy self-rescue techniques are of course good to know. But the ability to use them in the field, under stress, will depend on having put in a significant amount of practice time, which is something not everyone has either the time or the inclination to do. And many self-rescue procedures will not be effective under all circumstances and will expose the party (and in particular the second) to considerable additional risks.

I say this not to knock self-rescue (which, however, I believed to be way over-hyped), but because people who are embracing situations in which only one party member can lead ought to do so with a clear understanding of what they doing and what the implications are.

^^^ this.

GO


markc


Jul 28, 2009, 10:05 AM
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Re: [rgold] leading multipitch with a non-leading 2nd [In reply to]
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rgold wrote:
There's a difference between a weaker partner who can lead and one who can't.

There certainly is, and I didn't really speak to that as I could have. Great post.


bill413


Jul 28, 2009, 3:52 PM
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Re: [markc] leading multipitch with a non-leading 2nd [In reply to]
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Like others, I fully agree with Rgold's points.

A few years ago I had an experience which brought to the fore the difference between leading with another leader and leading people who could not lead. I will now only take non-leaders to certain, populated, locations. There is just too much that they do not know, do not appreciate, and cannot get themselves out of (no matter what their technical skills) to be safe in "remotish" locations.

If I'm climbing with someone who leads - lower grades, same strength, tougher grades than I can - I know that they have certain mental skills and if I or we get into trouble there is a base of knowledge that can help. I've become aware (a lot through rgold's writing causing me to reflect) on how inadequate most climber "self-rescue" training is. But, at least with another leader, I can believe the party has a better chance of a non-disasterous outcome in the case of an emergency.


technogeekery


Jul 28, 2009, 6:13 PM
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Re: [rgold] leading multipitch with a non-leading 2nd [In reply to]
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Thanks you all for your considered replies, and rgold especially as you address my concerns very closely. Yes, my partner is by no means a weaker climber than me - but he doesn't lead. Several of you confirm my unease with the situation. Before we get into doing anything remotely serious we'll book in for a guided weekend (we have an AMGA-certified guide here in Tokyo, a very competent young guy) focussing on self-rescue and emergency situations, especially incapacitated leader scenarios. I'll also have a bit of a heart-to-heart with my partner about why he doesn't want to lead and see if given the safety advantages for both of us, he will give it a try, at least on easy pitches.

rgold, I'll track down your posts re self-rescue, am interested in your perspective on this.

Thanks all.


bill413


Jul 28, 2009, 6:45 PM
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Re: [technogeekery] leading multipitch with a non-leading 2nd [In reply to]
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technogeekery wrote:
Thanks you all for your considered replies, and rgold especially as you address my concerns very closely. Yes, my partner is by no means a weaker climber than me - but he doesn't lead. Several of you confirm my unease with the situation. Before we get into doing anything remotely serious we'll book in for a guided weekend (we have an AMGA-certified guide here in Tokyo, a very competent young guy) focussing on self-rescue and emergency situations, especially incapacitated leader scenarios. I'll also have a bit of a heart-to-heart with my partner about why he doesn't want to lead and see if given the safety advantages for both of us, he will give it a try, at least on easy pitches.

rgold, I'll track down your posts re self-rescue, am interested in your perspective on this.

Thanks all.

I would NOT force a person who does not want to lead into doing so.
Choosing to lead is an individual matter. Some folks want to, some folks don't. That is their choice. Just as it is a leader's choice whether to jump onto a 5.13 or a 5.2, a sport or a trad or an unknown route. If someone does not choose to lead, you have to respect that choice.
If whether they lead or not constrains your choices, well, so does choosing to climb with a person who can't do 5.8...or 5.12..., as it would constrain someone who wants to climb with me.

Sorry for the rant, but I'd hate to see someone put into a situation where they felt that their continued ability to climb was based on a choice they didn't enjoy.


technogeekery


Jul 28, 2009, 11:02 PM
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Re: [bill413] leading multipitch with a non-leading 2nd [In reply to]
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Bill, I completely agree, I would never try to force or even overtly pusuade someone to do something they were not comfortable with on the rock. We are very old friends however and he is a strong confident personality - so I have no fear that an open discussion of the issues and possibilities will pressurise him into a decision he is not comfortable with. A good hard look at the pros & cons is on the cards though, and gentle encouragement has helped many a climber stretch him/herself into achieving new (and sometimes very satisfying) areas.

Regardless of where that goes, I'll still continue climbing with him - but will be a little more serious in analysing what I will and won't lead us on.


Partner rgold


Jul 29, 2009, 8:04 AM
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Re: [technogeekery] leading multipitch with a non-leading 2nd [In reply to]
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Techno, the dichotomy I proposed probably can't be meaningfully breached, in the near term, by convincing a non-leader to start leading. The episode I described is a good example: my partner was able to take over and do whatever had to be done to get us up. This included free-climbing at levels he was comfortable with and aiding beyond that, efficiently even though with improvised gear.

The skill, knowledge, confidence, and ability to improvise on the spot are things that come from long and varied experience and are not blessings typically bestowed on someone new to the sharp end. I don't know your partner and don't want, in any way, to demean him, but I don't think it would be sensible to expect him to take over in a stressful situation and continue upward. I say this realizing that people can rise to heroic heights when circumstances demand it of them, and perform in ways that surprise even themselves, but counting on such a performance is not an ideal strategy.

As for looking for what I've written about self-rescue for a party with an injured leader, I'm not sure you find much more than various reiterations of what I just wrote above. One needs to know all this stuff, but knowing it shouldn't produce what I think is a false sense of confidence that these methods will prove effective in the field, and that they can be carried out without considerable risk. I am particularly skeptical of anything that involves hauling anyone more than a few feet; there are just too many situations in which the friction in the system and environment will make this impractical at best and, in some circumstances, just plain impossible.

I think that in a majority of cases when a leader is incapacitated, a team self-rescue will require a descent. This means that the second must be competent at setting up and managing rappels and must know how to do an assisted tandem rappel (both climbers using the same rappel device). The key to these shenanigans is not the rappelling part, it is getting the patient on and off anchors, which involves using releasable knots (munter mule and mariner's hitch)---you're in trouble the minute you use a non-releasable knot to anchor weight that will have to be moved.

My sense is that, unless the injured person can assist in their rescue, most of the time the only real option is for the second to make the patient as safe and comfortable as possible and go for help by themselves. If very near the top of a long route with an easy descent, this raises the prospect of rope-soloing (or even just soloing) the remaining distance to the top. This might be more than many leaders, not to mention non-leaders, are prepared to undertake, and so, for such people, descending, even from near the top, may be the only option they would be prepared to pursue.

It then comes down to setting up and managing multiple rappels. In addition to full rappelling competence, the main ingredient here is the ability to improvise "good enough" rappel anchors from natural features, because the party may not necessarily have enough gear to construct gear anchors for every rappel. Things like threaded slings, jammed knots, and "natural nuts" (rocks picked up, inserted in cracks, and threaded) may be extremely important.

It follows from all this that you might not want to choose routes with highly problematic descents for outings with a competent non-leader, and that your rope system should be up to the task of descending full pitches (twins, half ropes, or tag line). Routes with fixed belay anchors (following the European trend, there are more and more of these in this country) are obviously the safest prospect in this regard. Popular routes with the likelihood of other parties on them are also a safer choice, even though the crowding will, in other ways, probably detract from the climbing experience.


technogeekery


Jul 29, 2009, 5:18 PM
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Re: [rgold] leading multipitch with a non-leading 2nd [In reply to]
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rgold - thanks, a lot of very sound advice here (well - advice that fits with my own thinking, anyway :-)

I think that it would definitely help if my partner were to start leading - there are definitely circumstances where it is easier and safer to complete a climb and walk off than multi-pitch abseil retreat.

But agreed this is not the most important, and choosing appropriate routes, being fully prepared for retreat with the right equipment and understanding of the techniques etc required is the priority. We'll work on refreshing and upgrading our competence in those areas. We've got a 2-day session with a guide coming up here, so we'll make that our focus.

Thanks all.


degaine


Aug 1, 2009, 2:43 AM
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rgold wrote:
There's a difference between a weaker partner who can lead and one who can't. I've climbed with partners who, at the time, couldn't lead free pitches as hard as I could. They were certainly competent climbers, so I never thought there was anything to be concerned about.

Ditto for me. I have crag partners who sport climb well, but with whom I rarely head into the mountains, and other partners with 25 years of experience climbing remote aretes, long low 5th class scrambles up 13,000 ft peaks, etc., but barely climb 5.8 sport who I would much rather climb with on far from civilization climbs even though I know that I will always be leading the harder pitches.

rgold wrote:
Beyond that, fancy self-rescue techniques are of course good to know. But the ability to use them in the field, under stress, will depend on having put in a significant amount of practice time, which is something not everyone has either the time or the inclination to do. And many self-rescue procedures will not be effective under all circumstances and will expose the party (and in particular the second) to considerable additional risks.

I say this not to knock self-rescue (which, however, I believe to be way over-hyped), but because people who are embracing situations in which only one party member can lead ought to do so with a clear understanding of what they doing and what the implications are.

[Edited for typos---twice.]

Learning self rescue for me is similar to learning more about avalanches, the more I learn, the more I simply try to prevent being put in a situation where I will have to pull that arrow out of my quiver. Of course, one can not avoid everything, but the more I practice self rescue techniques, the more I realize how deep in it I will be if my partner (or myself) is seriously injured midway up a 12 pitch remote climb with a three hour approach hike.

Like a helmet for skiing, I put one on because of the risks I am already taking, not in order to take more risks. Since I head out into the mountains a great deal, I learned (and practice when I can) self rescue techniques due to the risks I am already taking, not in order to take more risks.


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