If you're on a multi pitch route and you decide to abandon the climb and retreat(say the weather has turned unexpectedly). What is the minimum amount of gear you should leave behind as a rope anchor to effect a successful and safe retreat (abseil)?

Could cord be used as a sling over a sturdy flake or would you need to leave behind proper slings (nylon or dyneema), nuts or worse yet expensive camming devices?

  • I know you're aiming at somewhat of an "emergency" scenario however I thought I would share: "The guys that introduced me to climbing outdoors stressed never to get in the habit of leaving gear behind...and if you MUST, leave as little as possible
    – AM_Hawk
    Jan 10, 2014 at 21:11
  • @AM_Hawk: If you try too hard to avoid leaving gear behind, you risk ending up having a writeup in the next year's Accidents in North American Mountaineering. A cam is $50 and can be replaced. Your life can't be replaced.
    – user2169
    Jan 12, 2014 at 20:07
  • @BenCrowell My comment was aimed at any scenario other than an EMERGENCY.
    – AM_Hawk
    Jan 12, 2014 at 20:18
  • @Mr.Wizard I think we can all agree, an EMERGENCY is an EMERGENCY. You do whatever is necessary! I think you need to reread my comment, "other than an emergency", how does that not make sense to you? To sum all my comments up, what I was trying to get across is: "Don't leave gear behind, if you have to leave as little as possible and if there is an emergency used anything and everything that will help you get to safety as soon as possible!"
    – AM_Hawk
    Jan 13, 2014 at 11:26
  • @Liam When first learning to multi-pitch climb, it is very important to: climb with more experienced people, read books on the subject, and take a training licensed course (which you can find a places like universities, the Sierra Club, and REI). Jan 13, 2014 at 17:19

3 Answers 3


The answer in my mind is simple and straight forward. Leave the minimum amount of gear required to make a good/acceptable anchor everytime. What that looks like will depend on the situation at hand.

In some cases this will be two carabiners and a sling, in others it will be three big cams and a cordelette. If you're lucky then it might be nothing due to a convenient string of rappel stations. If you're really unlucky you have to improvise an anchor out of materials on hand, and pray like hell.

If you're really worried about losing a couple of cams because they're expensive to replace, remember that just because you retreat today it doesn't mean you can't come back. I've had to retreat off of a route before due to poor planning, inexperience, youthful arrogance, and a rapidly descending sun. We left a few cams and a fixed rope on the route. I couldn't afford to lose that gear so you bet your butt we were at the base of the route at the crack of dawn the next day. It took us most of the day but we recovered all the gear.

The moral of the story is:

Use what you have to in order to retreat safely. Then come back and recover your gear as soon as possible.

  • If by "good/acceptable anchor" you mean one of withstanding a factor 2 fall that seems a bit much when the intended purpose is to support body weight.
    – StrongBad
    Mar 3, 2016 at 22:55
  • 1
    You should not count on your gear being there when you come back. While a little embarrassing, when I was younger, whenever it rained, a group of us would free solo the easy routes in the Gunks and collect the gear people left behind.
    – StrongBad
    Mar 3, 2016 at 23:00
  • @StrongBad "good/acceptable" is meant to be a spectrum based on urgency and opportunity. When repelling your anchor is literally the difference between life and death. Under normal circumstances I wouldn't feel comfortable repelling off a single cam that might walk. Under extraordinary circumstances I'd slam a cam in a crack fly down the rope like an idiot in a movie. I was also trying to say don't be stingy unless you must be stingy. The gear can be recovered, and your life is worth more than any piece of pro. When in doubt I'd personally be overcautious.
    – Erik
    Mar 3, 2016 at 23:02
  • @StrongBad Very true. You can't be certain that the gear will be there when you get back. Depending on the circumstances you will just have to write the gear off as lost, or you can sleep at the base of the climb to block others. Alternatively you can buy flashlights and hike up the backside, repel down the route to clean your gear. It all depends on a multitude of factors. My main point was you might be able to recover the gear.
    – Erik
    Mar 3, 2016 at 23:07

You leave behind gear sufficient to create a rappel anchor that is strong enough for any conceivable load that may be placed upon it. This is no different from any other properly constructed rappel anchor, the specifics of which vary with the placement and circumstance.

The only situation I can conceive that one would have to violate this rule is in a true emergency where you lack sufficient gear to safely complete the rappel, yet if you remain you have greater risk of death by exposure, fire, etc. Since you are asking about "nuts or worse yet expensive camming devices" this does not appear to be the case you are inquiring about. You value your life more than your SLCDs I hope.

The fact that you are asking this question leads me to believe that you are not sufficiently experienced with building anchors. Also, "Could cord be used as a sling ...?" leads me to believe you are not even familiar with the capability of your gear, and/or you do not know how to use it properly. Please seek professional instruction from a properly certified guide if you have any doubt.


My philosophy when bailing from routes is to first try and escape to an easier route. If that fails try and down climb/down lead. If all else fails, rappel off a single bomber piece. Ideally the single piece is a bolt or natural feature, but if not a nut. I have never left a cam.

My basic setup is as follows. Identify both a bomber placement and a second 2 or 3 piece anchor. All, but the lightest climber (possibly most experienced climber) rappel directly off the single piece, but backed up by the remaining anchor. The lightest climber cleans the backup anchor and then rappels gently on the single piece.

While you can argue that a life is worth more than a pair of cams, a bomber placement is designed to hold may times more force than body weight. By testing the piece while backed up, the risk of poor rock or misjudging the placement is drastically reduced.

  • Good info but how does that apply to multi-pitch? Seems more like general single-pitch trad retreats Mar 3, 2016 at 2:46
  • @ChrisMendez first person to rap sets the anchor(s) and repeat as needed.
    – StrongBad
    Mar 3, 2016 at 2:49

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