Ask the Master: Catching Falls on a Multipitch Route
What’s the best method for catching a leader fall on a multipitch route? Specifically when you’re using a gear anchor.
Catching a fall on a multipitch route is not that different from catching a fall on a single-pitch route, but here are a few considerations.
Practice. The best place to learn how to catch a leader fall isn’t eight pitches up a route. If you haven’t caught a lot of leader falls, you’ll need to first practice in a safe environment before heading up a multipitch climb. Find a safe sport crag or gym and start to get a feel for how much force a person generates in a fall. Practice with different sized partners and at varying heights above the ground. This will help you gauge when a fall might pull you into the anchor and when you might want to take some preventative steps. Be careful. Learning this important skill is dangerous if executed poorly. A good coach or mentor is highly recommended.
Build strong anchors. Learn how to build solid, multi-piece anchors that can handle multiple directions of pull.
Place gear early and often. Once you move on to catching falls on multipitch routes you want to make sure the leader is placing gear early and often. This is not only a good way to keep the leader safe, but it also limits the potential impact on the belayer. Keeping the falls shorter near the bottom of the pitch limits the amount of force that gets transferred to the belayer and minimizes the potential of the belayer pulling upward on the belay anchor.
Protect the belay. If you cannot protect the pitch adequately or your leader outweighs you by a considerable amount you will have to take other steps to “protect the belay” from an upward pull. One obvious step to protect the belay is to put an upward directional in the belay to hold down the main pieces. Other methods include extending your cove hitch tie-in so you are farther away from the belay. This not only gives you more room to absorb the fall, but it also gives the leader the option to clip the belay with more rope in the system, providing a softer catch if the leader falls before getting in his or her first piece.
More options. On tricky pitches when I’m working with two climbers, I sometimes tether the belayer to the other climber. The second climber acts as a bit of a sandbag and helps keep the belayer in position. Finally, the direct anchor belay is getting more popular these days. It’s best used on bolts or ice screws, but something worth researching if you want to know more about techniques for catching falls on multi-pitch routes.