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On a multi-pitch route when all climbers have reached the belay point, what is the best way/ what considerations need to be made, in order to swap lead. obviously the leader will need to be tied into both ropes, but the second will be tied into only one.

Update: I appreciate the answer to this question is "Not to swap lead" in this scenario and appreciate the safety aspects involved, but carried out my own investigation under controlled conditions.

So myself and two friends climbed Bosigran ridge using a pair of half ropes. With various belays being large and flat, swapping lead was not too difficult.

In one instance we had a hanging belay. After establishing the anchor over a spike i belayed the seconds (one at a time), coiling the rope over my personal anchor. When the seconds had both arrived i untied one of my ropes (red) and gave it to the climber who was not leading the next pitch. he tied a safety with this. He then untied his other rope and handed it to the other second, who then tied in. That climber was now ready to lead the next pitch. He climbed and there was little tangling/ snagging in the ropes as he went (he climbed un-impeded).

I think in this instance we may have been quite lucky not to create a big mess and since it was the last pitch any further tangling was avoided. One thing to note was that i passed one of my ropes underneath the coils so as not to create tangles, and both of the ends of rope that the final leader used, we emerging from the top of the pile.

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+1. And your question is about how to do this efficiently, right? How to avoid a massive rope tangle, and 15+ minutes at the belay, trying to transition? – DavidR May 17 '13 at 13:00
I don't have an answer, other than to just not to do multipitch routes with 3 people. Every time I've done it I regretted it. – DavidR May 17 '13 at 13:01
i can now say with great certainty, from much experience, that climbing in a 3 and swapping leads, is not only easy and safe, but proper ace – ldgorman Jan 10 at 16:23
up vote 7 down vote accepted

I love doing routes with 3 people. Once you are efficient at it, those don't take much longer than going with 2 people, you have someone to talk to when the leader is taking forever, and you have an additional hand, if you need it (for taking pictures, dealing with rope tangle, keeping an eye out on the weather, another belayer if the leader gets in trouble...)

You specified half-ropes, which pretty much only leaves you with one option: You don't swap leads. You have a designated leader. The alternative is a big untying mess at the anchor with three people and two ropes. Absolutely not recommended, and unsafe in my opinion.

Here are some things to consider when you belay two people from a belay anchor: Make sure you have an appropriate belay device (ATC guide or reverso,) and you know how to use it in it's auto-locking mode. Practice belaying two ropes that are moving at different speeds, without taking your break hand off! This is important, even though the devices mentioned above are auto locking. If you are belaying from a ledge, I find it much more efficient to just stack each rope on it's own pile, and then have each climber re-stack their pile once they are safely attached to the anchor. If you are not on a ledge, you have three options:

  • 1) stack both ropes as if you were belaying one second and are getting ready to lead the next pitch (your previous question). This is the least ammount of hassle, but both climbers have to climb at the same speed, and each climber has to be aware of how much slack is building up.
  • 2) Buy a rope hook, or use a sling clipped to your belay loop and one gear loop to stack one of the ropes, making coils (small to large), and use the rope with whitch you are tied to the anchor to do the same with the other rope. This is slow and complicated. You also have to be careful that the second and third are not getting twisted once they are at the anchor. This you just have to practice, I find it impossible to list everything to look out for (someone else might not?) Once both climbers are at the anchor, flipp and give each their rope back.
  • 3) Buy two rope bags that can be used as rope buckets and proceed as if you were on a ledge.

If you are using ropes that are also rated as single ropes you have one additional option: Either the second or the third can lead on one strand, belay the second up, who will be attached to two ropes (one of which is trailing), and finally belaying the third up. I have done this, and it is fine, but you asked for "the best way," which this is not. Not swapping leads and leading up on two ropes is more efficient, since you can belay both, the second and the third simultaneously, given you have an ATC guide or a reverso.

In case you were curious why you can't to the latter with two half-ropes: It would mean that one climber is leading on one half-rope, which is not what they are rated for, unless they definitively state so. I do have a rope that is rated as both, and there are even ropes that are rated as singe- half- and twin.

As a closing remark: I would suggest being really comfortable with the system of one leader and one second before you take a third, both with swapping leads and one leader leading every pitch. Rope management becomes exponentially more difficult with two ropes, and everything becomes just a little less neat and intuitive at the anchors. As a bonus, here are a couple of skills that you should know before you even attempt to do a multi-pitch climb: Rappel without a rappel device (on a munter hitch or a carabiner break), belay a second from the anchor with a munter hitch, joining two ropes with the appropriate knot, being able to defend why you chose that knot, know how to back up a rappel with a prussic loop and fireman's belay, know how to ascend a rope with two prussics and how to back up your ascend with backup knots, know how to build multidirectional SRENE anchors (I guess this one is an obvious one), know how to escape a belay... I would suggest taking a class, if you haven't done so.

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+1 good detailed answer – ldgorman May 21 '13 at 13:02

Something we used to do in the UK bitd was use three half ropes tied in a triangle. A bit more weight, a bit more cluster potential, but allows leading through without any of the time-consuming and dangerous re-tying.

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thats really interesting, il have a think about that – ldgorman Jul 12 '13 at 9:12

There're a few options all with drawbacks and maybe no advantages:

  • Tie the second 10 metres above the third with. When he gets to the anchor, he'll have to untie and retie 10 metres before the end of the first climber before starting the next pitch. The third climber can then go in the end of both ropes. That way the only one changing ropes is the second climber the third and first will alternate lead/belays. The second climber is usually the least experience one. This is bad if the third climber falls, so don't do it. For the second falling isn't as bad, that's why the least experience climber in the part should take this spot, so he/she doesn't have to lead/belay and if he falls is not as bad.
  • Do it with two ropes and do the same as above.
  • Tie each climber on one end of the rope, then lead gives one rope to the second, second unties one end, gives it to the third climber and it all becomes a big tangle mess.
  • Bring one up at a time, then throw the rope for the other one. Some friends did it this way and it takes ages. Don't do it.
  • Don't do it with three. Find another climber and do it in two groups.

My personal preference, if the climb is more of a fun team adventure rather (e.g. easy for everyone) than a hard climbing project just do it with the second tying on a bight.

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"...throw the rope for the other one." - Really BAD idea for multiple reasons: 1) Unless the route is perfectly vertical and theres absolutely no wind, this is going to be a mess. 2) Two people have to untie, one ties in without anyone checking him/her 3) The rope can get stuck, forcing someone to abseil. 4) The second and third can't climb simultaneously. 5) if something happens to the leader while belaying the second, everyone is stranded. – DudeOnRock May 17 '13 at 23:05
"Tie the second 10 metres above the third" - The OP is talking about half ropes. One person toproping on half ropes: maybe. Two: absolutely NOT!!! – DudeOnRock May 17 '13 at 23:07
Are you describing having the two followers both tie into the same rope? I have seen people do that, but its pretty sketchy, and much safer just to borrow a 2nd rope from someone, and bring the two followers separately. Each person gets their own rope. – DavidR May 20 '13 at 15:49
i think this is missing the point a bit, i specified the use of a pair of half ropes – ldgorman May 21 '13 at 13:04

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