Multi-pitch Climbing – Multi-pitch is a true adventure in rock climbing. A pitch is considered one length of rope, between 50 and 60 meters (about 165 to 200 feet) long. With sport climbs, most routes are as long as up to one half of a climbing rope in length at the most. This conveniently allows the climber to be lowered off using only the rope the route was led on. Multi-pitch routes differ in that usually most or all of a length of rope is used for each pitch.
In traditional climbing, the normal length of a pitch is from ledge-to-ledge using up as much of the rope as possible. The pitch will usually end where there is a comfortable spot to belay. In some cases, the pitch will finish when the end of a rope is reached. Sometimes this will result in not having a comfortable spot in which to belay (also called a hanging belay). The climbing continues until the top of the cliff is reached. Multi-pitch climbs are rated by difficulty just like any other climb, but are also given an estimate of how much time it will take the average team to complete.
To illustrate, here is a short description of how a typical multi pitch is climbed: A climber and her friend set out to climb their first multi-pitch route together. The leader has received instruction from a fellow climber in correctly placing trad gear and her belayer has likewise received his instruction from a qualified source. They have thoroughly discussed climbing and belaying signals, turn around situations (rain, lightening, darkness, etc) and have told other people where they were going and when they intend to return.
After consulting a friend who has done the climb, and studying the guidebook, they scope out the route from a distance and discuss major features like belay ledges, natural features (arêtes, dihedrals, chimneys, trees, shrubs, discolorations, etc). They now feel confident that they have enough information to begin the climb.
The leader puts on her helmet, ties in, racks up and laces on her shoes. Her belayer gives her the signal to begin. She places a piece near the belayer and equalizes it with another piece providing tension on the first piece. This will provide a multidirectional anchor that will be able to hold upward as well as downward force. Her belayer clips in and she climbs up a few feet placing another piece of protection. Her protection is spaced close together at first, maybe every six feet or so, then the space increases a little as she nears the middle of the pitch.
Careful to inspect each hold before weighting it and the area around each intended gear placement, she is now nearing a large ledge about 50 meters (165 feet) up from the belay. As she climbs over the lip of the ledge she places a bomber cam and clips the rope to it. Using the cam, she builds an anchor using another bomber cam and a very secure stopper. She equalizes these pieces using a cordelette and clips in. She takes up all the slack, stacking it neatly in a sling and secures it to the anchor.
She gives the belayer a signal discussed previous to the climb and he cleans the anchor and begins to climb. Carefully removing and organizing the gear he joins his friend on the ledge. She transfers any gear remaining from the lead to him and he begins to climb the second pitch as she belays. They repeat this process, swapping leads, until they reach the top of the cliff.
They bask in the scenery and then rappel back down the route, following the same way they came up.