Speed on long routes


Many long routes, and in particular on big mountains, are not particularly hard from a technical point of view. As an example the very spectacular Standard Route of Mponjwana Peak in the Drakensberg is 10 pitches long, but the hardest move is only about grade 15. What makes this peak a formidable climb is its length and complicated route finding. The speed at which a climbing party operates will determine whether they reach the top and get down again safely, not their individual technical climbing skills.
The gear
Here are some tips about how to climb really fast. Help save time firstly by not carrying heavy rucksacks. Keep emergency overnight gear and food to an absolute minimum. Remember that if you spend the night out you need to stay alive and not in the lap of luxury. Save time by having the whole party stop at the start of the rope work and sort everything out once and for all before the climb begins. Much time can be wasted by people calling a halt to adjust straps, tighten boot lasses and put on sun-cream on some wild and exposed stance. The rucksack must be packed with the food and foul weather gear in an accessible place, harnesses adjusted correctly before roping up. Place your snacks in the pockets of your clothing where it can be reached easily. To save time eat snacks while waiting at the stances while the leader is climbing.
Climbing calls
When the leader finishes a pitch and shouts “off belay”, immediately sort the stance out and generally get ready to climb. This is so that as soon as the “climb on” signal is given, the pitch can start to be seconded. Most mountain routes have long meandering pitches and there could also be a wind blowing. This can cause communication troubles between belayer and second. Small, in-expensive radios can easily be carried and can make a huge difference.
If at all possible avoid sack hauling as this can cause much frustration. Try to get used to climbing and even leading with a climber’s rucksack on.
The pitches
On easy to moderate multi pitch routes, always try to alternate the leading to save time. (On hard routes that are burning you out, leading can be done in blocks because it allows the leader to rest while his second comes up. Alternating will mean seconding a hard pitch then going straight into leading another one).
When seconding a pitch, rack the gear you take out onto yourself as you will want it for the next lead. Arriving at the stance with a muddled up bunch of gear that then takes a half hour to sort into a lead rack is far too time consuming. Also remember that, if in a party of 3, you might as well remove the gear from the third man’s rope as well, (unless they need it for protection in the case of a traverse). In parties of 3 or more, or when only one person is doing all the leading tie into the stances with either slings or a cordelette. This frees both ends of the ropes and makes the change-overs easier. It also makes more rope available to run the next pitch with.
Join pitches
Lastly: time can be wasted by having to scramble or walk between the end of one pitch and the start of the next. So instead of stopping your lead at the proper stance, carry on running the rope out to the actual start of the next pitch. This will mean one less situation where ropes have to be resorted. Many old classic routes were climbed with short pitches by today’s standards. Often these can be linked into a single pitch.
The Route Description
Make copies of the description and topos or photos of the route for all members of the party, so they can read them easily even if they are leading at the time that they need them.

Gavin Raubenheimer

Gavin is the owner & operator of Peak High Mountaineering. He is a certified Mountaineering Instructor (M.I.A.) endorsed by the Mountain Development Trust of SA. He is a NQF National Mountaineering (level 7), Cultural and Nature Guide (level 4). Gavin is a past President of the KwaZulu-Natal Section of the Mountain Club of SA. He has been involved in mountain rescue since 1992 and since 2005 has been the Convener of Mountain Rescue in the province. Want Gavin and his team at Peak High to guide you on a hike? Put yourself in the hands of the certified and experienced experts in mountain hiking, guiding and climbing. See Gavin's Google + profile