I've been working on improving my self-rescue skills, but the skills I've learned so far seem to pertain mostly to single-pitch climbing. For example, a lot of people emphasize knowing how to escape a belay, which is fine, but that seems to be mostly applicable to the situation where you're giving someone a belay from below on a single-pitch climb, you can't just lower them (maybe because they'd end up on a ledge), and you need to run and get help.

If you're in the middle of a multi-pitch climb, it seems like it escaping the belay may not be relevant, or may at best be only part of the solution.

I'm sure there are many different possible self-rescue situations that could come up in multipitch trad. But one likely-seeming situation I can come up with is that I'm giving someone a lead belay, he gets injured too badly to be able to up- or downclimb, and we have more than half the rope out, so I can't just lower him all the way.

What do you do in this situation? My best guess would be to lower him down to the lowest piece of protection I can get him to, escape the belay, ascend the rope, improve that piece of pro to a solid anchor, secure him to the anchor, and free the rope from the gear higher up (either by climbing and cleaning, or by untying and pulling the rope through). Then maybe clip him in to the rope with a locking biner, lower him to the belay station, have him unclip, and then rap down to the belay station myself (possibly leaving a lot of gear). Wow, this seems complicated and difficult, especially if I can't see the situation clearly from the belay station.

I think a solution to this problem would also pretty much apply to single-pitch climbing in an area where it's not possible to run and get help, e.g., because you're in a remote area.

Question: what would be some general strategies for dealing with this type of situation?

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    Pending an answer, I'll suggest reviewing the discussion here: mountainproject.com/v/self-rescue/109497805__1
    – requiem
    Oct 7, 2014 at 3:56
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    I take it panic and shout for help isn't a viable option? :)
    – user2766
    Oct 7, 2014 at 9:04
  • @requiem: Excellent discussion at the mountainproject link. That's exactly what I was looking for, although of course an SE answer would be better. If I have time, maybe I'll try to figure out how to condense that thread into an answer to my own question.
    – user2169
    Oct 7, 2014 at 19:04
  • Leaving a lot of gear should be the last thing worrying you when saving partners ass.
    – Val
    Oct 10, 2014 at 9:39
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    @Val: Sure, but e.g., if you have to rap down five pitches to bail off, then you may need to conserve gear so that you have enough to build all the rap anchors.
    – user2169
    Oct 10, 2014 at 20:49

2 Answers 2


To start with, each situation will be different. E.g. if you have an overhang and your partner is hanging freely in space, you may need to handle things a bit differently. Lowering an unconscious leader is also dangerous, as lower-angle terrain can exacerbate their injuries, and getting them caught on an unseen ledge could introduce slack. Also, if you have a sufficiently strong tag line, tying it to the end of the rope and removing some of the lower pieces of protection may allow you to lower the leader down. I suggest viewing the various self-rescue skills as a toolkit, from which you assemble a plan for each situation. Escaping the belay is one of many tools you have to work with. Some of the basics you should be well-practiced in include:

  • Locking-off and escaping the belay
  • Tandem and counterbalance rappels
  • Transferring loads between the rope and anchor
  • Ascending a rope
  • Roped-solo techniques
  • Basic first aid
  • Passing a knot
  • Rigging hauling systems

The scenario mentioned is particularly dangerous since you have no idea if the top-most piece is still safe to climb on. (The original fall might have nearly pulled it out.) For a very general solution, I'd suggest the following steps:

  1. Assess the situation and make a plan. Is there anyone else who can help? Is there an easier way to get above the leader? Is the leader conscious?
  2. Escape the belay and beef up your anchors. Make any necessary adjustments to your anchor (e.g. for direction of pull). If the leader is still conscious, they may be able to place additional protection or give you more information.
  3. Get to your leader. As mentioned, you don't know how secure the rope is. If you have a second rope you may want to consider roped solo techniques. Alternatively you can ascend the rope. Fix any immediate life threats, (although anything that serious will probably already have killed them).
  4. Construct a proper anchor and transfer the leader's weight to it. You will likely need to return to the bottom anchor to lower them onto the new anchor. Once this is done, you can return to the leader to set up a lower or rappel.
  5. Administer any needed first aid and re-assess your plan. If this new anchor is sufficiently low, it may allow you to do a tandem rappel to the original belay station. Otherwise, you may want to lower them first.

Reference: Climbing Self Rescue: Improvising Solutions for Serious Situations

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    I think it's a bad practice to put yourself in to a danger by getting to the leader. It may sound selfish, but personal safety of the last man standing is the main priority. If you'll get injured you'll have two casualties and help will arrive much later. Or won't arrive at all.
    – Val
    Oct 10, 2014 at 9:47
  • @Val, I agree on the need to prevent a second victim, and it's true there may be cases where getting to them is just too risky. I think that's a decision that needs to be made by the person present, based on the particular situation and resources at hand. Climbing is already a dangerous activity, and the additional increase in risk may be something the follower is willing to take on.
    – requiem
    Oct 10, 2014 at 18:00

Although there is information on various websites and forums on self-rescue techniques, you really cannot learn enough to cope with a situation just by reading about it without a LOT of hands-on practice.

To start with try and get help as much as you can - for instance shouting for help if there are any other climbers nearby. Get them to phone immediately for help (e.g. Mountain Rescue if available). If there are other climbers about, then you should have access to more rope and gear hopefully.

Ensure you can escape the system safely and also ensure that the injured climber remains safely belayed. If it is possible, safely gain the top of the crag and abseil down to the injured climber.

I would say the priority is to safely get access to the injured climber and carry out the basic ABC's (Airway with C-Spine control if possible, Breathing, Circulation) of First Aid and ensure their airway is not compromised and that they are able to breathe (for example they haven't been caught by a sling around the neck and are being strangled or maybe their mouth or jaw was injured an compromised the airway). If there is a lot of bleeding from a wound try and apply some sort of bandage so that pressure can be applied to help stop the bleeding.

If they are unconscious, there is a problem known as Harness Suspension Trauma where if an individual is being suspended motionless in a harness there is a chance of death after a relatively short time. So there is an urgent need in this case to get the injured climber in a position where they are no longer being suspended motionless in a harness (e.g. lowering to the nearest ledge or the ground if possible).

The next priority is TO GET HELP and continue with the ABCs.

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    Soloing a multipitch and abseiling down to the injured climber seems an unlikely and potentially dangerous prospect. Surely it'd be better to go down with the injured party, not up?
    – user2766
    Oct 7, 2014 at 12:26
  • Depends how many pitches up you are; hauling may be the better option in some cases. Keep in mind that you also don't know how well the last piece was placed before the climber fell; if you can avoid climbing on it, so much the better.
    – requiem
    Oct 7, 2014 at 15:23
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    Soloing may not be required (and while full of adrenaline and anxiety after an accident, probably not a good idea). Even on some multipitch climbs there may be a safe and easy way to get to the top. And lowering someone on a rope using a belay device will always be a LOT easier than hauling upwards.
    – Paul Lydon
    Oct 7, 2014 at 15:51
  • Thanks, but I don't think this really addresses my question. I was asking about the situation where the leader has more than half the rope out, so they can't simply be lowered, and I'm interested in the procedures that would be necessary to get them down in that situation.
    – user2169
    Oct 7, 2014 at 16:01
  • @BenCrowell The suspension trauma issue is a worrying factor; there's a developing thread over on MP discussing ideas for managing this, e.g. by using slings to support the chest, helmet, and knees of the unconscious climber if they can't be lowered immediately.
    – requiem
    Oct 21, 2014 at 0:47

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