What is the standard for communicating on a multi-pitch when you can't hear your partner?

When oral communication becomes impossible, is there a standard for rope yanks, or whistle toots to signal belay commands? (I understand the danger of whistle signals from another party.) In the past, I have agreed to rope-pull signals with my frequent partner but I wish a standard was universally known. —Arnold


This is a very good question and one I often attempt to answer while teaching climbing clinics at places like the Ouray Ice Festival and the Red Rocks Rendezvous. Communication is a very common problem—even for guides—and one that can lead to serious problems. While a tug system can work, there is no standard for the amount of tugs or what they mean. One issue with tugs that I have witnessed many times is the how the belayer interprets how the rope moves. What feels like tugs may just be the leader trying to pull rope over a horn or free it from a flake. So if you go the tug route, practice them in calm, quiet conditions with your partners and figure out what works. My preferred communication method is to recognize the the difficult communication issues on a given route or day (windy) and plan for it with shorter pitches and visual communication.

—Dale Remsberg is Technical Director for the American Mountain Guides Association, and an IFMGA/AMGA certified mountain guide.