Tech Tip - Trad - Silent communication

By Topher Donahue ,

Figure 1. Short and simple — three sharp tugs can speak volumes when out of hearing range.

The other signals. “Slack” is hard to communicate, but is still possible with sensitive hands. A gentle pull usually means that the second is stepping down and needs slack: Feed the rope out slowly and be ready to catch a fall. A fall will often be obvious (a sharp tug on the rope), but may be masked by rope drag, so don’t continually feed out rope if you’re unsure. “Up rope” is best relayed with a single hard tug, while “Tension” or “Take” are nearly impossible to communicate. If you know you’re not going to free climb the pitch, and a piece is close at hand, then just grab the bloody gear and avoid the issue altogether. It’s better to aid your way back to the sleeping bags than to hangdog all afternoon and end up sleeping on a pint-sized ledge. While “Off rappel” seems easy to intuit because there’s suddenly no weight on the rope, your partner could be standing on a ledge hunting for the next anchor. Once the first climber is off rappel he should pull the rope back and forth through the anchors, a couple of feet each way. This not only communicates “Off rappel,” but also ensures that the ropes won’t hang up on the anchor (figure 2).

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