Social Climbing

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Tips for speedier threesomes

You and your regular climbing partner have planned to climb the East Buttress of El Capitan (IV 5.10b), and at the last minute, she invites a friend along. Now, at the top of pitch 10, the three of you are looking at climbing the final pitches in the dark and onsighting the descent by headlamp. Here are a few tips to speed up a threesome and finish your climb with plenty of daylight.

LEAD IN BLOCKS: Alternating leads in a party of three is inefficient. Eliminate time-wasting lead changes by climbing the route in blocks, where a leader climbs at least three pitches before handing over the sharp end.

KILL THE CATERPILLAR: Instead of belaying up your partners one at a time, lead on a twin-rope system, clipping both ropes into every piece of protection. Then, belay the seconds simultaneously, using a guide-style auto-blocking belay device on the anchor’s master point. The faster follower should climb first, removing as much protection as possible without exposing the third to a pendulum swing. Meanwhile, the third breaks down the anchor and then starts climbing.

TRIM THE TRANSITIONS: As you build a belay at the end of a pitch, determine where the next pitch goes and where you want your partners to be positioned as you lead. If the pitch goes out left, position your team on the right, so you don’t have to cross over or behind them when you leave the stance.

Pre-place a locker on the belay anchor’s master point for each climber. The first follower who arrives can tie into one of the lockers with a clove hitch and then can take over the belay for the third person, freeing you, the leader, to re-rack the gear. When the third arrives, he cloves in to the other locker. Then you can take the belay device off the anchor and fl ip the ropes over so your ends are on top. As soon as you’re on belay and have re-racked any gear carried by the third, you’re ready to take off on the next pitch.

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