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3 Tips for Transitioning to Multi-Pitch Trad Climbing

Internationally certified mountain guide Marc Chauvin shares three tips for climbing more-adventurous routes.

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Marc Chauvin, 60, has been trad climbing since before it was “trad climbing”—back when it was just “climbing,” before bolted sport routes existed. He’s a professional guide, co-author of The Mountain Guide Manual, and an instructor for Climbing’s Intro to Trad online course. We talked to Chauvin about how trad climbers can move from cragging to taller, more adventurous multi-pitch routes, where more complicating factors and a greater level of commitment come into play. Here are three tips:

1. Change your perspective

“It’s that change in perspective from gymnastics, or pure movement, versus adventure and moving through terrain,” explains Chauvin. Trad climbing, especially multi-pitch and big-wall endeavors, is not merely another skill or genre within climbing. Rather, it’s a whole different take on the sport, in which the climber needs to consider new risks and responsibilities and accept a more adventurous approach. As such, a newbie might need to think more about planning—bringing the right gear and being prepared for changing weather—rather than going after a certain route difficulty. (In other words, your first multi-pitch adventure climb should be well below your physical limit while you iron out your systems, get comfortable with commitment, learn to move at the appropriate speed, etc.) Move into “full-adventure mode,” says Chauvin. “You’re dealing with the entire environment.”

2. Learn to plan

For single-pitch or low-commitment cragging, we might haphazardly bring a few bottles of water and an assortment of food found in the pantry, and take a glance at the forecast before running out the door. If the crag gets soggy or otherwise unfavorable, we’ll just drive home—no big deal. “If you’re doing a two- or three-pitch climb, those problems are relatively easy to manage,” says Chauvin. “But as you progress, and, all of a sudden, you’re doing 10- or 12-pitch climbs … Those little details become a bigger part of the of the picture.”

For longer climbs, you’ll need to plan in greater detail. Get a sense of how long the approach is and how long the climb will take, and then check the weather. Chauvin says the best weather-forecasting products may vary by region—ask locals if you’re traveling. At a minimum, Chauvin recommends using a website like CalTopo to grab a point forecast for your destination. Consider what your descent or bail options are, should a storm suddenly roll in or something else go wrong.

3. Maximize your rack.

Liberally grabbing an assortment of gear before going up a one- or two-pitch climb might not slow you down too much, “but then, if you take that same attitude toward a 10-pitch climb, suddenly that has much more impact on your ability to accomplish your goal, because you’re lugging around all this equipment,” says Chauvin.

To avoid wasting energy, he recommends practicing “maximizing your rack” on shorter routes during a cragging day. To do so, leave the car with all the gear you might want to use that day (on all given pitches you hope to try), and climb each pitch you lead carrying this full rack. In this way, it’s as if you’re climbing the equivalent of a taller, multi-pitch route on which you need to take the full rack with you up every pitch (though you can offload pieces onto your second in a pinch, if you’re sure you won’t need them).

With practice, you start learning “What do I need? What is it like to carry this equipment? What is it that I didn’t use? How could I be more strategic with what I’m packing?” says Chauvin. “And to me, that’s the essence of trad … you’re going into this environment, and you’re going to climb it carrying what you have, and only needing what you’re carrying.”

Itching to get more adventurous in your climbing? Take our Intro to Trad online course and get ready to step up your trad game.

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