Sunday, November 13, 2011

Carry Less, Climb More


This post is something new for this page, but far from original in the world of climber internet spray- logs. This is an advice post. In the next few posts, I'm going to share some lessons and tricks that I've learned in the pursuit of fast and light rock climbing.

Before getting into it, I'd like to briefly mention that this advice is for experienced climbers looking for new ways to go light. This is not intended for folks just getting into the sport, and many of the techniques inevitably will reduce your margins of safety, and therefore require good "mountain sense".

But now, the first lesson:
Since climbing is a team sport, let your partner do the work. It is often easy to coordinate with your partner to eliminate redundancy, while still bringing exactly what the team will need to send:

One GriGri, one Reverso
I can't think of a multipitch rock excursion on which I would not prefer this system. Belay the leader with the Grigri, bring up the second with the reverso in autoblock.
To rappel, either simul-rap (only on bomber, easy raps), or fix the rope for the first person (with the gri).
There are a ton of advantages to this system. The belay is always auto-locking, which adds safety and allows the belayer to take care of the rope, snap photos, eat and drink etc. Change-overs are cake.
When rapping on unknown terrain, having the leader rap on the grigri allows him to swing around, look for the next potential anchor, unsnag the rope, etc without worrying about holding onto the atc. And it's certainly much faster and easier than using a prussik autoblock backup.
With the new mini grigri, I of course like this system even more. Lighter (duh!) and it works with skinnier cords.

If you're worried about being out after dark, take one good headlamp (probably one with 3 AAA batteries and a good spotlight mode), and one smaller torch (probably one that runs on watch batteries, I like the petzl e-lite). You're partner can route-find with the powerful beam, and you can follow with the surprisingly bright little lamp. It's important to have fresh batteries, and it's always good to have spares if you're gonna be out for a few days. Lithium batteries are pricier, but lighter and stronger.

Sometimes you can even use your ipod speaker as a headlamp! (not actually recommended)

For most summer alpine rock climbs, you won't need a warm layer as the leader, since climbing will keep you warm. So bring one small puffy jacket for the team, have the second wear it at the belays, and bring a windbreaker for the leader. (It helps to climb with someone roughly the same size as yourself.) I put a lot of thought into clothing systems, so look for a future post with more details.

Kinda random, but sometimes you can coordinate footwear to save weight. Bring just one pair of running shoes, and have one team member run back to the base of the route to retrieve both climbers stuff. Or if the approach involves mellow snow and easy walking, bring one pair of runners and one pair of flip flops. The "leader" can kick good steps for the flopper.
One quick climbs up El Cap, I've brought one pair of approach shoes for the second/jugger, and one pair of flops for the other climber to amble down the East Ledges.

On single day pushes in the mountains, you are often required to "carry over" on a route, meaning you can't leave your pack at the base and retrieve it later. So, as always, weight takes center stage. Coordinate with you partner to see who has the lightest pack, maybe 30-40L for a day trip. Take that, and have the second person backpack-coil the rope(s) and wear their harness. For extra comfort, when approaching in a harness, don't wear the leg loops, but rather cinch up the waist and let the leg-loops hang off to the side.

On a two-day mission, you'll probably need two packs, but why take two big packs? Again, take one 30-40L main pack, and have the second carry a ultra-light 20l pack, one that stuffs down into nothing when not loaded, plus the ropes (backpack-coiled). When climbing, the second carries the big pack, and the leader has the option of leading with the small pack or stuffing it into the big pack.

If your gonna be out for a few days, you can find a myriad of corner-cutting, weight saving tricks. For eating, bring just (you guessed it) ONE setup, and share. One small bowl/mug and spork are sufficient for eating re-hydrated meals, or you can even skip the bowl and eat out of the packet. Once done with the meal, cut the bottom of the meal pouch off and save it for use as a bowl or cup in the next meal.

For a sleeping kit, of course it all depends on expected conditions. Often when attempting a rock climbing objective, we rally during expected mild weather windows, so it is possible to go light. Just one night out? Consider sharing one sleeping bag, and just using it as a blanket for both climbers. Try and find a waterproof bivy sack with a full zip, so that you can unzip it to use flat as a ground cloth, or tarp if there's precip.

For longer journeys, I usually think that the benefit of warmer, more restful sleep justify the weight of two sleeping bags, but of course still look to use a light bag in conjunction with the other gear your carrying. If you're gonna bring a puffy belay jacket, look for a specialized bag with distributed insulation, warmer from the waist down, lighter from the waist up (where you'll be wearing the jacket anyways. If you're not gonna share a sleeping bag, look for one with a half-zip, or no zip.

Don't get locked in to what you MUST have on your harness. I've seen so many climbers obsessed with ALWAYS carrying cordalette, extra lockers, bulk webbing, knife, nut tool, whistle, etc etc etc. Of course sometimes as the second you might need slings in a self rescue scenario, but know how to rig everything with the slings and whatnot that you carry anyways. If the route is clean and well traveled, the leader doesn't need a nuttool, and you NEVER need rap rings unless you're trying to establish a popular rappel route.

More unsolicited advice to come, along with more pictures!


  1. Thanks for the advice.

    I'm curious about the gri-gri/reverso combo, as I've never tried this before. Can you briefly comment on what belay changeovers look like with this set up? I'm trying to imagine how it might look, and I can't figure out how to do it.


  2. I'm going to fill in as an uninvited guest host amid scott's absence. I, too, have become SOLD on this system. And although a grigri2 or cinch weighs a little more than a second reverso, we were willing to accept this weight penalty on a trip where we didn't bring sleeping pads (or a spoon) for 6-days out.

    Belay changeover:
    Leader has climbed w/reverso - ALWAYS. He belays up the follower with it. Upon getting up to the anchor, the second climber just hangs on the reverso. If flipping leads, the new follower grabs the grigri from the harness of the new leader, and puts that person on lead belay. They are still hanging on the reverso. when they are racked and ready, they unclip themselves from the reverso and grab it to bring with them on the lead.

    If block leading, they will keep the grigri and after giving up all the gear they cleaned, they'll need to clip themselves into the anchor (probably cloving w/the rope) and unclip themselves from the reverso. They throw the leader on with the grigri, and the leader grabs the reverso as they start.

    Remember to clip in to a high first piece, etc etc. Hope that made sense!

    Another benefit to this system is the follower's ability to instantly self-belay if the leader is busy or the rope gets stuck or something. For example, if there is tremendous rope drag or the rope/tag line gets wrapped up in a flake, the leader can just stop and fix both ropes and the follower can climb by pulling slack down through the grigri, keping everyone safe even if the leader can't pull in rope.

  3. Thanks Blake, that's exactly how I would have described it.

    Especially when swapping leads, the gri/reverso system is like butter. Also, like Blake said, having a grigri adds a ton of versatility.

    Other grigri uses:
    -jugging, using one prussik or tibloc and the grigri

    -simuling, having the second use the grigri as their tie-in. This way they can adjust the amount of rope between the two climbers, hopefully never shorting the leader or building up too much slack.

    -hauling, rig a simple haul system with a biner and a tibloc, and then use the grigri on your harness to pull in slack.

    -snacking and picture taking!

  4. Many thanks for the article Scott (and Blake) - it's always good to hear what others do to speed up their game. I look forward to the next installment.

    I'm intrigued by the use of the grigri on alpine raps though. If you fix the rope for the first person using the grigri, doesn't it slow things down to then have to re-rig the ropes through the anchor for the second? I'm presuming that on a 20+ rap route, this will add up to a lot of time?

    Excuse my ignorance - most of my alpine climbing, even in Patagonia, has been on double ropes so hard for me to envisage how to do this slickly. I have to admit though that on routes that don't wander and have easy descents, a single rope is the neatest way to go.

  5. Thanks for the interest. It's certainly a boon for my own climbing to try and think all of these things through in a logical manner.

    Keep the comments coming, too, because I'm thinking of these posts simply as drafts. I'd really like to make a more comprehensive post, one that's better organized with more pictures, etc. I'm just getting thoughts down now.


    To answer your first question, I honestly don't think that rapping with the grigri/reverso setup adds significant time, even on very long descents.

    When you get in the rhythm of rapping, the first person (the leader, with the grigri), will be the first to arrive at the next (lower) rap station. After calling "Off Rappel", the leader begins to thread the pulling end, just as he would with a "normal" (two reverso) rappel setup.

    Once the second climber (the follower, with the reverso) arrives at the new rap station, both climbers pull the rope as normal, continuing to thread until the mid point is reached. The rope is now threaded for a normal (reverso) rappel. Then the Leader simply throws a clove hitch onto one end, clips it to the anchor, and sets off on the now fixed end with the grigri.

    Once he calls "Off Rappel", the second must simply untie the clove, remove the locker, and begin rapping on his reverso.

    So, maybe an extra 10-15 seconds to remove the knot and biner. Even on a massive 20 rap descent, this adds maybe 3-5 minutes total. Not really significant, in my opinion, compared to the benefits of the grigri and the weight savings of bring just two devices.


    But wait, there's more! On "non-standard" descents, ones in which you'll be building all or most of the stations yourself, the grigri/reverso system really comes into it's own!

    Consider that, with a standard 2 reverso rap setup, most of the followers time is wasted while the leader raps. With the grigri, the leader can get to a new station, throw in a bomber cam or two, and then go off rappel.

    The leader, then starts to rig the new station with slung horns, stoppers, pins, etc. Once the follower reaches the new stance, the leader can immediately pull the rope and clove hitch it at the half-way mark to his cam anchor. This way the leader is free to start descending, untangling the ropes, and looking for the next station (often very time consuming!).

    All the while, the follower is finishing up the higher station, equalizing a stopper and pin, maybe, tying off the tat, and threading the other end of the rope (the one on which the leader is not rapping).

    Once the leader finds the next station and goes off-rappel, the follower simply removes the cams and raps off his newly built anchor.

    OK, so this might not be much different with 2 reversos or the reverso/gri setup, but it is certainly nice for the leader to be hands-free on the rap to untangle ropes and swing around to find the next rap!

  6. A comment so long, I had to publish it as two comments!

    Finally, in regards to rope systems, yes obviously the grigri/reverso system only works when climbing with a single-lead-rope system. Double and twin setups will require different approaches.

    I almost always climb with a single lead line, though, when climbing as a party of two. I like the simplicity of rope management, the simplicity of leading on one rope, and I like using a grigri!

    Climbing long alpine routes, I will usually opt for a skinny lead line (8.9-9.4mm) in conjunction with a dynamic tagline (7.5-8mm). This leaves the options of jugging and hauling open (although be careful jugging/hauling on such skinny lines!).

    Also, if climbing a long, continuously easy-5th-class route, consider leading with a single "Half" rope, often 8-9mm. These ropes are sufficient to catch a fall alone, and work great with the new smaller grigri II. The major danger, of course, with this system would be its susceptibility to rope-cutting (over a sharp edge, perhaps), so be mindful!

    Disclaimer: Leading on a single half rope, using a 8mm rope in a grigri, and many other techniques recommended in this post, are not approved by rope-makers, petzl, or anyone else. Follow this advice, and YOU WILL CERTAINLY DIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  7. Scott, thanks very much for such a comprehensive reply and for clarifying the rap process. I can see it wouldn't add that much time.

    Since the system you describe would work with two reversos, it seems the main advantage with the grigri is the hands-free aspect of belaying and rapping. Obviously if one has to climb back up a rap rope, then the grigri makes that process easier. I have read though that grigris do make for higher impact forces on runner placements, so I guess that's the trade-off.

    I do like the simplicity of a single rope but I question whether the rope management is that much simpler than doubles if the tagline isn't carried in the second's pack. I see many parties hauling taglines and it strikes me that they have bigger issues since the tagline is not of any use while climbing and then just gets in their way while belaying.

    I've also cut a rope through over an edge as well so am nervous there but using a dynamic tagline does allow for both options to be used.

    At the end of the day, I guess it all comes down to what system one is used to! Great discussion - as you say, it helps to think through all this stuff.

  8. Hey Scott good some good beta in there. Just a couple thoughts about the gri-gri though.

    Technically the gri-gri isn't a hands free device for rappelling (or belaying) , one hand should always maintain control of the break hand. I use to believe it was a hands free device until the first time I was using it rigging and it started to release on its own (after going aways and catching the break strand my heart almost exploded). On skinny wet ropes it definitely doesn't always lock-up. Numerous stories of people being dropped on el cap a ways when they weren't holding the break strand while belaying as well.

    the gri-gri also takes two hands to rappel with (unless you are using a fatter older rope). A standard device with prussic takes only one. leaving one hand to hold coils of rope if needed.

    Gri-gri isn't redundant. I know we do lost of things that aren't redundant but a basic device and a prussic for rappelling is redundant.

    When arriving at a lower anchor (pre-built or not) it is good practice to NOT take yourself off rappel. Much safer for you and your especially your partner. This allows you to only put one cam in and clip into it to start building the next rap anchor (or backup anchor). Its also nice when bounce testing shitty fixed alpine anchors. A good habit in places like patagonia where anchors have failed many times on people. Other benefit of not taking your self off rappel is you maintain solid control of the rope (especially the ends). This makes it impossible for your partner to rappel of the ends of the rope (happened many times to people) it also safe guards them agains't loading their rappel device wrong. If they miss one strand it wont matter as the rope is fixed below (again this has killed people).

    Rapping with really really wet ropes and gri-gri is also a receipt for disaster. Ammon Mcneely ( an un-deniable veteran) has broken his wrist doing this on el cap, when a wet fixed rope got away from him and slammed into the wall.

    I'm a firm believer in the use of prussic as a backup and over the years have learnt how to be extremely efficient at it. At first it may take longer to rig than a gri-gri but after dialing in your system it takes maybe seconds longer to hook-up but adds layers of increased safety.

    my 2 cents worth...

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