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