Keeping it clean

If you were to judge me by the state of the boot of my hire car (I’m living out of my car for a month) then you would judge me as being a chaotic mess - and I am.  Very often it’s only when I step off the ground that the chaos tightens up, that I get my shit together.  Big wall, alpine or multi pitch climbing is no place for chaos, either internally or externally, as being mess wastes time, trips you up and can be dangerous. 

One of the major log jams that can throw a spanner in your easy living is transitioning at belays, going from second to leader or leader back to leader.  Having a slick system for re-racking is key, and if you go about it half assed you either risk wasting time, dropping gear, or forcing the leader to set off half cocked with their gear in a mess, wires hanging from draws, cams out of order etc.

So here are a few ideas to speed things up.

  • The second should remove all wires from draws as they climb, and rack them onto either a single krab or a single draw.  This can be done as the gear is removed, or when you get to a stance before the belay.  This means that all draws are free to be handed over, and reduces the risk of a leader setting off and looking for a wire that is still clipped to a draw on their harness.
  • Cams should also be stripped from draws and clipped in some kind of order.  You can clip cams into sets by clipping say all small, medium and large cams into ‘strings’ - clipping a .5 onto your racking, then a .3 into the .5’s krab, then a 1 into the .3’s krab.  This means that at the belay you can just hand over a set of cams in one clip (of course if you drop one cam you drop more, but then doing an action once instead of five times should really reduce the risk.
  • All draws should be strings of five, ideally short, medium and long (alpine) draws.  If you’re really moving fast you can just clip in this string of draws and grab them as you go (having strings of draws creates more room on an over burdened gear rack).
  • Cordelette and long belay slings should always be striped and untied and made ready to hand over at the belay, and it’s very poor practice to hand over a tangled spider of tape with iron hard knots.
  • If you’re swapping leads then ignore some of the above, as the second should rack the protection and draws as they go, so their rack is sorted and they only need to take the extra from the leader at the belay.
  • Once at the belay the second should either hand the rack they have one piece at a time to the leader (don’t pass them a huge bundle of hardware), or rack the gear while the leader gets ready.  Another classic system is to take the cleaned gear and clip it into the tight leaders rope (like clothes line) so they can take it off as they go.

These things are super simple, but can make a big difference to the smoothness of a climb, allowing you to keep your psych as unclustered as your rack.

Andy Kirkpatrick
Andy Kirkpatrick

Andrew Kirkpatrick is a British mountaineer, author, motivational speaker and monologist. He is best known as a big wall climber, having scaled Yosemite's El Capitan 30+ times, including five solo ascents, and two one day ascents, as well as climbing in Patagonia, Africa, Alaska, Antarctica and the Alps.

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Books by Andy Kirkpatrick
Unknown Pleasures Higher Education
Me, Myself & I Nutcraft - The Climbing Nut Bible
Aid Basics 1000+ Tips for Climbers
Cold Wars Psychovertical
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