Multi-pitch climbing

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Multi-pitch climbing is a type of climbing that typically takes place on routes that are more than a single rope length (circa 50 to 70 metres) in height (or distance), and thus where the lead climber cannot complete the climb as a single pitch. Where the number of pitches exceeds 6–10 (300–500 metres), it can become big wall climbing, or where the pitches are in a mixed rock and ice mountain environment, it can become alpine climbing. Multi-pitch rock climbs can come in traditional, sport, and aid formats. Climbers have also free soloed multi-pitch routes.

Multi-pitch climbing is more complex and riskier than single-pitch climbing as the climbers will remain exposed on the route (e.g. a rock climbing route, an ice climbing, or a mixed climbing route) for longer, and it will often involve the use of hanging belays, long abseils, and the creation of belay anchors. Rescues from multi-pitch climbs are far more serious, and climbers will use additional protection to avoid this. Multi-pitch climbing requires greater communication between the climbers, and advanced climbers can use the riskier simul climbing to move faster.


Multi-pitch lead climbing involves ascending routes that cannot be completed in a single pitch (often a rope-length), usually due to their height but sometimes due to routes that move in unusual directions. Multi-pitch routes are more commonly traditional climbing routes (i.e. the leader inserts the climbing protection as they ascend), but there are also multi-pitch sport climbing routes (i.e. the climbing protection is already pre-bolted into the entire route, or at least where important belay anchors are pre-bolted such as on El Capitan in Yosemite).[1][2]

Multi-pitch climbs are usually done in pairs, and the position of leader can alternate between pitches or after a group of pitches if both climbers are able to lead the route; alternatively, one climber can lead all of the pitches. Where both climbers are very comfortable on the terrain and want to move quickly, they can use simul climbing, although this is a more complex and riskier technique. Multi-pitch climbs can be done as solo climbs, either as free solo climbing (i.e. no protection used), or as rope solo climbing (i.e. a self-belying system used).[1][2]

The boundary between multi-pitch climbing and big wall climbing or alpine climbing is not defined. Generally, multi-pitch routes that are at least 6–10 pitches or 300-500 metres in length, and mostly require hanging belays (i.e. due to the sheer nature of the route) are considered "big wall routes". Long multi-pitch climbs on mountains whose route is not continually on a sheer "big wall" face, are sometimes referred to as alpine rock climbing. Ice climbing and mixed climbing can also be done as multi-pitch climbing, or as part of an alpine climbing route.[1][2]


Multi-pitch climbing requires all the equipment used in leading a single-pitch sport, traditional or ice climbing route, but with a few specific additions:[1][3]

  • Extra belaying equipment. Multi-pitch climbers need additional slings, cord, and screwgate carabiners to create strong and secure belay anchors at the end of each pitch. In addition, belaying from above usually requires additional self-locking devices (e.g. grigris). For longer multi-pitch routes (i.e. closer to big wall climbing), ascenders might be used by the second climber to speed up progression on the route.[1][3]
  • Abseiling equipment. Even where the multi-pitch climbers can exit upon completing the climb via a walking trail (versus having to abseil back down), the risk of a forced retreat during the climb means that sufficient equipment for safe abseiling is also always carried; this means having several abseil devices (e.g. the figure 8), additional prusik cords, and also extra coils of rope as a basic requirement.[1][3]
  • Protective clothing. A forced abseil retreat on a multi-pitch climb can be risky, however, abseiling an injured climber on a multi-pitch route is an even more serious undertaking. Multi-pitch climbers will therefore tend to take additional precautions that they might not use on single-pitch routes such as wearing helmets and belay gloves or fingerless climbing gloves, to minimize the risk of retreat from any form of injury. They will also bring additional food and water provisions and all-weather clothing as well.[1][3]


Lead climber and Belayer (in a hanging belay position) on the multi-pitch El Niño 8b (5.13d), El Capitan

While many of the techniques of single-pitch lead climbing are common to multi-pitch climbing, there are specific techniques that are important to be able to execute well to safely ascend a multi-pitch climbing route:[1][3]

  • Belay anchors. A key technique in multi-pitch climbing is the ability to create very robust belay anchors that can hold the strong downward and upward forces a belayer can experience on a multi-pitch route in any climber fall. Some of these anchors may also need to be used later as abseil points in the event of a retreat or at the completion of the climb.[3][4][5] Popular multi-pitch climbs can have permanent bolted belay anchors.[6]
  • Hanging belays and belaying from above. Some multi-pitch climbs will have belay points that have no ledge to stand on, and thus the belayer will be hanging from the rock face from the belay anchor. In addition, belaying from above a climber can involve additional belay equipment (such as a grigri) and techniques to avoid forces being applied directly to the belayer's harness in the event of a climber fall.[3][7]
  • Changing leads. Multi-pitch climbers sometimes need to be able to switch roles efficiently at the end of each pitch. Where the pair alternate leads, the second climber can continue past the belay to lead the next pitch (e.g., the belayer keeps belaying). However, where they need to swap roles at the belay anchor, there are a number of techniques required to ensure that the changeover is done safely and efficiently.[3][8]
  • Communication. Because of the greater distances between climbers (the individual pitches of multi-pitch routes are often typically a full rope-length), and the need for the lead climber to have the time to set up a strong belay anchor, it is important that the pair understand the signals and commands that indicate when such tasks have been completed and the lead climber is ready to belay.[3][9][10]
  • Fall factor management. Multi-pitch climbers need to avoid the lead climber falling with no climbing protection in situ, so that they fall all the way down to the belayer and then the same distance again below the belayer. Such a fall has a fall-factor of 2 and will create significant strains on both the belay anchors and the belayer. To avoid this, the lead will clip into protection just above the belay anchor.[3][11]
  • Rope management. Once the lead climber creates the new belay anchor to belay their partner below, they need to take in the slack rope until there is a taught line between the pair. As they will often be standing on a small platform (or even no platform in a hanging belay), they need to ensure that the rope they pull up does not get caught up equipment or get tangled, and will therefore use some manner of coiling technique.[3][12]
  • Time and retreat management. Retreat from a multi-pitch climb can be difficult, and at a minimum will require abseils which are in themselves a risk factor. Mult-pitch climbers, therefore, need to be aware of their time-keeping, and the specific points at which retreat becomes more difficult, and/or where abseil points are less plentiful (some popular multi-pitch routes have bolted belay anchors that double as abseil points).[3]


Josune Bereziartu on the multi-pitch sport climb Yeah Man 8b+ (300-metres, 9-pitches: 7a, 7b+, 7b+, 7c, 8a+, 8a/+, 8a, 8b+, 7a), north face of Grand Pfad, Switzerland.[13]

Multi-pitch routes are graded in the same way as single-pitch sport route grading, traditional route grading, or ice route grading, depending on the route. Each individual pitch will be graded so that, for example, a 3-pitch multi-sport climbing route might be graded as French sport: 7c, 7b, 8a; or a 5-pitch multi-traditional climbing route might be graded as American YDS: 5.10a, 5.10b, 5.10a, 5.11c, 5.9. Harder or easier options on individual pitches will also be highlighted and separately graded, so that, for example, a pitch might be graded as French sport: 7c "avoidable" or "max" (you don't have to do the 7c part) / 7a "obligatory" or "obj" (you will have to do at least 7a graded climbing).[14]

Sometimes an "overall" grade is quoted for the multi-pitch climb (in addition to the grades of the individual pitches), however, this is usually the grade of the hardest pitch on the route (e.g. see Yeah Man image opposite).[14]

In common with big wall grading, where there are very difficult sections of individual pitches that are well above the general level of difficulty of the overall route (i.e. a common feature of bigger walls as it is harder to find big routes of a consistent difficulty level), an aid climbing option might be highlighted, which will have an attached aid climbing grade, for example, an individual pitch on a multi-traditional climbing route might be graded as: 5.10a (with no aid) or 5.7 A2 (with aid), and the type of aid needed also explained.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Ronald C. Eng, ed. (October 2010). "Chapter 12: Leading in Rock". Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills (8th ed.). Quiller Publishing. pp. 255–276. ISBN 978-1594851384.
  2. ^ a b c Long, John; Gaines, Bob (August 2022). "Chapter 13: Multi-pitch climbing". How to Rock Climb (6th ed.). Falcon Guides. pp. 335–369. ISBN 978-1493056262.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Chelton, Neil (June 2019). "Summary Extract". Sport Climbing Basics: Single and Multi-Pitch Bolted Routes. ISBN 978-1796923278. Retrieved 23 August 2023.
  4. ^ Chauvins, Marc; Coppoillo, Rob (15 March 2022). "Master the Ultimate Multi-Pitch Anchor: The Quadalette". Climbing. Retrieved 23 August 2023.
  5. ^ Debruin, Derek (13 January 2022). "A Simpler Way to Rig Multi-Pitch Anchors". Climbing. Retrieved 23 August 2023.
  6. ^ Sterling, Sarah (4 April 2016). "Five of the best adventurous multi-pitch sport crags in Europe". British Mountaineering Council. Retrieved 23 August 2023.
  7. ^ Climbing Desk (6 May 2022). "Weekend Whipper: 5.14 Multi-pitch route Never Looked So Uncomfortable". Climbing. Retrieved 23 August 2023.
  8. ^ Garlick, Sarah (20 May 2022). "7 Tricks for Speedy Swaps at Multi-pitch Belays". Climbing. Retrieved 23 August 2023.
  9. ^ Pardy, Aaron (13 April 2023). "10 Tips for Better Multi-Pitch Rock Climbing". Gripped Magazine. Retrieved 23 August 2023.
  10. ^ Corrigan, Kevin (23 August 2023). "Avoid Accidents With Better Multi-pitch Communication". Climbing. Retrieved 17 January 2023.
  11. ^ Harris, Will (July 2014). "Top tips for your first multi-pitch adventure". British Mountaineering Council. Retrieved 23 August 2023.
  12. ^ Ellison, Julie (23 August 2023). "Streamline Your Next Multi-pitch With These Rope-management Tips". Climbing. Retrieved 13 January 2023.
  13. ^ "Josune Bereziartu and Rikar Otegi made the first free ascent of "Yeah man"". 11 August 2004. Retrieved 23 August 2023.
  14. ^ a b c Ogden, Jared (2005). "Chapter 2: Big Wall Climbing Procedures, Grades & Ratings". Big Wall Climbing: Elite Technique (1st ed.). Mountaineers Books. pp. 56–60. ISBN 978-0898867480.

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