Whether you’re bagging peaks in the high country or climbing a big wall in a push, being efficient is crucial to success. Moving quickly, multitasking, and smart belaying techniques are key components to efficiency, and each can help you make up time spent on cruxes or difficult sections. Practice these methods while you hone your technical skills to find success on all types of long climbs.
Using Terrain for Quick Anchors
Often long routes feature sections of low-angle or broken terrain, and climbers can move quicker without building standard anchors at every belay stance. In these cases, using a body belay can be a fast and efficient way to pull in rope while adding security for your partner. Find a good seat behind a chockstone or in a crevice, and use your legs to push against a solid feature such as a large rock (make sure it isn’t loose, it should not move if you push on it as hard as you can) to brace yourself for potential falls. Essentially, make your body the anchor.
After finding a solid position, add gear and clip yourself into it with a locking carabiner and a clove hitch (Fig.1). Line up with the gear and the climber below, and remove all slack in the rope between you and the gear. When the terrain eases, use a hip belay without back-up gear to take up the slack quickly. If the terrain becomes low-angle and featured with rock horns and trees (4th and easy 5th class), consider wrapping the rope around a feature, turning your back toward the climber, and using the friction of the feature to hand-belay by pulling in slack without a device.
Managing the rope, belaying, and constantly working are the best ways to move efficiently over moderate terrain. Flake the rope while your partner racks up. Pull the rope for the rappel while your partner feeds it through the next anchor. If swapping leads, re-rack gear in order while following so it’s ready for the next lead. If leading in blocks, place the gear on a sling so you can hand it to your partner at the next belay. If racking on a sling doesn’t work for you, re-rack the gear on one side of the harness so that the leader can easily grab it at the belay.
Once the leader finishes her block, she should place the remaining gear on a sling to hand off to the new leader. A safe, attentive belay will help the second feel confident and move faster. Don’t sacrifice a good belay in order to multitask. Familiarity with the terrain and your partner’s climbing abilities will dictate when you should give a tight belay and when you can do other things on easier sections. Tie an overhand knot on a bight in the brake side of the rope if you need to manage the rope or put on layers.
Eating and Drinking
Becoming dehydrated and ornery from exhaustion, also known as bonking, slows everything down and causes frustration. Bringing food and water but forgetting to eat and drink can be problematic. If you’re hungry or thirsty, you’ve waited too long. Use spare moments to eat and drink. Climbing, belaying, rope flaking, and just being in the elements burn calories and require water. You can chew and swallow food while belaying, flaking ropes, or re-racking. A hydration bladder will assist with drinking while climbing, and a sugary drink mix in your water will help you hydrate and get calories. Bring foods that are easy to digest and eat, like bars and premade sandwiches. Stuff small snacks, like gels and gummies, in your pockets for easy access.
Staying on Track
Getting off route is easy on wandery climbs and can cost hours of wasted time. If possible, scope the route on the approach. Look at the formation and compare it with the topo. Both climbers should carry a copy of the topo. Keep environmental factors and popularity of the route in mind. Gear stuck in the cracks can be a good sign of where the route goes, but be wary of old webbing, nuts, pitons, and carabiners that people may have used to bail after getting lost in the vertical maze. Use common sense and don’t let climbing fast pressure you into making poor decisions, which takes up more time then stopping to figure things out.
Miranda Oakley works as a climbing guide in Yosemite, spending her days off doing big walls on El Capitan and long routes in the High Sierra. She spends the off-season in the desert Southwest and Patagonia.