Tech Tip - Aid - Block leading

By Mike Shore ,

You’ve done some walls, you’ve got your system dialed, and you move efficiently on the rock, yet you find yourself asking, “Why does it take me four days to do a route that locals hike in a day?” The honed aid climber knows when to be careful and when to take chances, but he’s also mastered a few tricks, and one of them is block leading. Block leading means that each leader will lead multiple pitches in a row; each group of pitches led is called a block. Block leading on multi-pitch aid and free routes helps your party move more continuously, keeps the leader focused and climbing efficiently, allows mental relief for the belayer, and minimizes clustered belays. Moreover, with the right system, block leading can significantly reduce the amount of time that a leader is stuck waiting at a belay, as he can continue leading while the other members of his party deal with cleaning and hauling. The most efficient group for block leading is a party of three. Climber One leads, Climber Two belays and hauls, and Climber Three cleans. Besides knowing how to jug, haul, and aid, every party member must be competent with self-belaying techniques (the clove-hitch method is simplest). Start by having all three climbers at a belay, anchored with a cordellette. The leader takes off carrying the entire rack, trailing a zip line. When he reaches the belay he builds an anchor with a second cordelette, pulls up the haul line (with extra gear if needed) via the zip line, then ties off the haul line to the anchor’s power point. The leader then pulls up all the slack in the lead line, fixes it to the power point (this will be his belay anchor), and continues up the next pitch using standard self-belay techniques. He continues climbing until he runs out of rope or gear, or is put on belay after the pitch below has been cleaned and the gear zipped up to him. Once the haul line is fixed, the second immediately starts ascending it (for a fast and efficient jugging set-up, refer to the Aid Tech Tip in Climbing, issue 226), reaching the belay much faster than if he had to clean the pitch a la traditional wall style. The third climber cannot leave the lower belay until the second reaches the new anchor and rigs the hauling system. Once this is done, the third releases the pig and immediately starts cleaning. The faster the second and third complete these jobs, the less likely it is that the leader will have to pause. When the second reaches the anchor, he sets up the hauling device and rigs the haul line so that Climber Three can release the haulbag(s), at which point the second can start hauling. If the leader has run out of rope, he will have to wait until Climber Three reaches the new belay and the lower section of the lead line is freed. Once Climber Three arrives, he puts the leader back on a normal belay. The leader then can zip up the cleaned gear and continue his block as the third belays and the second hauls. The team can continue this process, passing gear and ropes up the zip line until its time to change leaders. Practice this method before you get on a wall. The advantages of leading in blocks are immeasurable as you approach more complicated wall situations. Climbing and hauling with three people is simplified, the mental game is broken up, and the movement is more continuous.

A team of three block leading efficiently.

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