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Mountain Madness Climber

Multi-Pitch Training Leads To Big Climbs!

The first day of any Inter­me­di­ate Rock Course is the day to check up on the skills and habits of the recre­ation­al climber, and make sure all of the nec­es­sary pieces are there. Good belay tech­niques, safe­ty checks, and com­mu­ni­ca­tion are among the most important.

I met my three climbers at O’Grady’s in Leav­en­worth. The names on my form were Sarah, Yonatan, and Floris. Sarah prefers to go by her mid­dle name, Skye. Easy enough. Floris sounds just as it looks. But as I stum­bled over Yonatan’s name, he said, I usu­al­ly just go by Yo-Yo,” explain­ing that it’s eas­i­er to dis­tin­guish when you’re high up on a rock face yelling at your climb­ing partner.

I could tell it was going to be a good course.

We met up at the crag, and start­ed with a belayed rap­pel to descend to our climb­ing area. We talked a bit about rap­pel tech­niques and safe­ty, and regrouped below the climb to take a warm-up lap and check off belay techniques.

Prac­tic­ing anchors. Lyra Pierot­ti photo

After address­ing the three most essen­tial skills, we moved on to gear place­ment and anchor­ing. Peer­ing in cracks and tug­ging on cams and stop­pers, we didn’t pay too much mind to the increas­ing cloud cov­er until it start­ed to driz­zle a bit. But a lit­tle rain won’t stop a good anchor, so we kept on plug­ging gear and equal­iz­ing anchors.

As the driz­zle turned to rain, we shift­ed our out­door class­room to caves and over­hangs pro­tect­ed from pre­cip­i­ta­tion. The rain turned heav­ier, and start­ed run­ning down the slabs in sheets. 

Then the once-dry cracks start­ed seep­ing water.

Then the rain got loud­er. It was turn­ing to hail! In no time, the ground was cov­ered in pea-sized balls of ice.

Tak­ing cov­er from the weath­er. Lyra Pierot­ti photo

Now we need­ed rain jack­ets even in our pro­tect­ed caves; but we kept plug­ging gear and got on with our lessons.

Then our stag­ing area start­ed to turn into a lake, and we decid­ed to find some­where dry.

The sky showed no signs of clear­ing, so we drove back into town and cov­ered self-res­cue under man-made shel­ter, our anchors the sol­id 8×8 beams of the build­ing. By the end of the day, we were still well ahead of cur­ricu­lum schedule.

With much of our tech­ni­cal sys­tems by now well pol­ished, we spent the major­i­ty of day two apply­ing it all. Build­ing upon a log­i­cal pro­gres­sion of skills, we start­ed the day with some mock lead­ing. First, a friend­ly hand crack. But these three weren’t mess­ing around. On to the mild­ly over­hang­ing cor­ner offwidth.

After sev­er­al laps dial­ing out their leads, Skye, Floris, and Yo-Yo were ready for some­thing a bit more cere­bral (and less thug­gish). We switched gears now to a mock mul­ti-pitch climb, cycling each of them through as a leader and a fol­low­er. This por­tion brought all of the course’s cur­ricu­lum togeth­er: from the basics of safe lead­ing tech­nique, to build­ing a strong yet time­ly anchor, to rope man­age­ment on ledges and hang­ing belays, and effi­cient belay technique.

Mul­ti-pitch shot from pre­vi­ous trip. Mark Gun­log­son photo

All week­end, I had watched Skye, Floris and Yo-Yo gob­ble up every bit of infor­ma­tion I could throw their way. At the end of only two days, these three were ready and psy­ched to tack­le mul­ti-pitch routes on their own.

A very spe­cial con­grat­u­la­tions to Floris, who, the fol­low­ing week, led the Beck­ey Route, and even took bivy gear to the top for a beau­ti­ful sun­rise wake-up atop Wash­ing­ton Pass’s icon­ic Lib­er­ty Bell!

~ MM Guide Lyra Pierotti