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I'm planning on doing some Grade III scrambling/low grade multi-pitch climbing this weekend. Normally just me and my girlfriend would do this kind of thing, I'll lead she'd second. But I'm thinking of taking another friend along this time. I'll still do all the leading with two seconds.

I'm unclear on techniques to belay two seconds from above though?

  • 1
    Have you looked over people.bath.ac.uk/dac33/high/8ClimbingInAThree.htm ? – requiem Jun 4 '15 at 0:26
  • That's got several good techniques @requiem. The climbing in series seesm the simplest. The terrain will be pretty straight forward, Moderate at worst. – user2766 Jun 4 '15 at 8:08
  • What rating system is Grade III in? – Ben Crowell Aug 13 '15 at 16:10
  • UK scrambling grades, stuff between a walk and a climb. @BenCrowell – user2766 Aug 14 '15 at 7:39
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While belaying two seconds at once using the method ShemSeger pointed out is my favorite, it does take a fair amount of experience so I would not recommend it to someone climbing for the first time with two seconds.

If you're just starting out, I recommend you use the Caterpillar technique: You lead on a single rope and belay the second as you would normally, except the second climber trails another rope behind them and clips it into each piece of gear. When the second reaches the belay, pull up the rest of the slack on the third climber's rope and put them on belay (just as you did for the second). The third climber climbs and removes the gear you placed.

At the belay, the second climber can help with rope management: flaking ropes so they're ready for you to lead off the next pitch, and making sure the ropes don't tangle.

It does have several disadvantages (mostly... it's slow), but it's extremely safe. Most importantly, it's also closest to what you are already used to doing. It's my recommendation for any first-timer party of three: you've already got enough new things going on.

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    I think this is the best solution for my situation. I'm uncomfortable with the idea of belaying two ropes at the same time. I have a friend who was "dropped" and its not something to experience! – user2766 Jun 5 '15 at 6:45
  • Have a great time and be safe! The other techniques are worth experimenting with on the ground (or a staircase) a few times once you feel comfortable with managing two ropes. – Felix Jun 5 '15 at 7:09
  • What's the purpose of clipping the second rope into the gear? The third climber is belayed from above and not taking any lead falls. – Chris Mendez Dec 13 '16 at 15:09
  • @ChrisMendez some climbs can have traverses where protecting each follower is important. It's also a good way to make sure gear isn't forgotten :). But yes, the second can remove some of the gear on the way up. – Felix Dec 14 '16 at 21:38
  • @Felix ah, didn't consider traverses. Thanks! – Chris Mendez Dec 14 '16 at 21:39
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Double Rope

You need two ropes (of obviously different colours so as not to confuse them). Tie into both ropes, one on each side of your belay loop, your seconds will each tie into the other end of one of the ropes. When you set up your belay after you've led the climb, put both ropes into your belay device, you can belay for both of your seconds at once.

Belaying two seconds at the same time is easy if they pace each other (let the slower climber go first, so the faster one can easily keep pace), or you can belay them up one at a time. If you're really good, you can belay one of your seconds as they lead the next pitch while simultaneously belaying up your other second.

Top belaying with two ropes using a Petzl reverso

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This of course takes serious rope management skills, so for your first try it will be easiest to belay one up at a time.

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    Yeah, even this sounds sensible. With two different colors of rope, you can have calls like, "Red one, unrope! And slack on Blue!" – WedaPashi Jun 4 '15 at 3:34
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    How can you comply with the breaking hand principle (always have one hand on the breaking rope) on the leader when pulling in slack from the second (which in practice always takes two hands)? – imsodin Jun 4 '15 at 17:02
  • @imsodin Like I said, serious rope management skils. Your brake hand never lets go of the ropes, which you "comb" with your fingers, holding one rope with your pointer and middle fingers, and the second with your ring and pinky fingers. To feed and take in at the same time, you relax your grip on one of the ropes at a time as you grip the other. Your non braking hand does a lot of taveling between the two ropes and your braking hand. I'll edit the technique into my answer when I have the time. – ShemSeger Jun 4 '15 at 17:14
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    I would prefer you would not as one of the most seen belaying errors in courses I give is pinching the rope with the breaking hand. I know that when you are fully aware of what you are doing, you can do this with minimal risk. but generally it is highly dangorous and potentially fatal (I unfortunatelly had to obsere a fall due to this which luckily ended with minor injuries). So I consider this advice as certainly not well fit for the internet. – imsodin Jun 4 '15 at 18:26
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    When starting out, it's much easier to belay one climber at a time and wait for them to reach the belay before belaying the last climber. – Felix Jun 4 '15 at 20:04
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I assume you are only looking for options by going from belay to belay (as opposed to continuous securing like going on taught rope).

Method using half-ropes:

You tie in on both ropes, your partners on a single one each. They belay you normally on both ropes until you set up the belay-station. Then you secure them using a Munter hitch or a tuber like system to belay them. Using a tuber is preferable, as it autoblocks and does not twist the ropes around each other. They can climb simultaneously, just having to keep a minimal distance, which depends a lot on how fast the rope is pulled in by the belayer.

Advantages:

  • Both partners can go at their one pace (as long as the faster one starts first).
  • One falling does not affect the other.

Disadvantages:

  • Two half ropes are heavier than one single rope.
  • The belayer has two ropes to manage

Method using one single rope

You obviously tie in on one end, the partner which climbs best on the other end. The weaker partner ties in at a save distance from the end. The exact distance is always a compromise between available rope length and safety margin between climbers. The one in the middle can be tied in using a variety of knots, I prefer an overhand secured by a double fisherman's knot. The weaker one starts climbing and the second one follows as soon as the rope in between them is almost taught. If the first falls, this does not affect the second. But if the second falls, he will pull the first off the rock.

Advantages:

  • Only one rope needed which is lighter than half ropes.

Disadvantages:

  • The second has to climb exactly at the pace of the first.
  • The second has to be fairly competent as a fall will pull off the first.
  • The usable rope length per pitch is reduced by the distance between the partners

Method using two single ropes

You tie in on one end of the first rope, one partner ties in on this and the second rope. The other ties in on the other end of the second rope. After you led the pitch the first partner climbs it and clips the second rope into the protection. If the pitch goes sideways and he is insecure, the second partner which is still down at the previous belay can belay him from behind. Thus falls with swings can be caught. After the first partner reached your belay, the second one climbs the pitch.

Advantages:

  • Very easy to handle.
  • Perfectly save, especially in traverses for the first partner.
  • full rope length available for pitches.

Disadvantages:

  • very slow (nearly twice as long as with half ropes)
  • heaviest setup as you carry two full ropes

I would always prefer the half-rope method, its the fastest and save. And the additional weight should not be an issue, after all you are three climbers. If you really do not want to handle two ropes (though it is very easy, just try it out) I would recommend the method using one single rope. The last method is really just in case you need the rope length, and both your partners struggle with the grade you are using or you are insecure handling two ropes (again, thats a none-issue). And keep in mind: You are always a lot slower in a three person rope team than with two.

  • I'm tempted by the method 2. The ground us stright forward so the chances of a fall are slim – user2766 Jun 5 '15 at 6:46
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Its pretty easy for the 2 seconds being together or always nearby, and a bit stretchy for the one leading the climb (You). When I did one similar not-so-tough scramble, I used a trick that at least worked for me.

  1. I was climbing on a single rope, tied at the center & the two idiots with me were on a single strand each. I used a 8mm'er rope, light and good enough. Since it was easier and the two seconds were climbing with very much the same pace and loading the rope at the same time.

  2. Should you choose to go on a Linked end approach where obviously you are tied up at an end and at the other end you have your best second and you have the second second tied at the middle. With you on lead, your girlfriend should set after the other second gets a good 20-25 feet up, since you don't want your second second being a bit more experienced (I assumed) getting frustrated having to climb slower than what she would prefer but then the faster one must gauge where they are with respect to each others position, ensuring that while on the move, little time is consumed between moves either below or above the other second. The issue with this system is that, you will lack time-efficiency since you belay one second at a time (comparatively easier for you) and, maximum pitches you can go up are half the length of rope.

  3. If you go for Double link, with you at one end, the two seconds tied at the other end 10-15 feet apart, you could gain more on efficiency, but then both of them will be loading the rope at the same time. Here as well you should have stronger climber tied below and the weaker one 10-15 ft above her. If your last climber falls, it is likely that she will pull off the climber above her. So, it is advisable to have the weaker climber on the team tied-in above the stronger climber on the end.

  4. For tieing the middle second, an overhand on a bight with about 10-12 inches of slack tail should do enough.

  5. If you at all find it necessary, you can go for something like a Petzyl reverso. Understanding how a Reverso works, I just now pull out a book (thanks to your question, I could at least take it off from my store room after months!)
    Mountaineering Methodology Part - III by Thomas Kublak

Self-braking is caused by the fact that the second who is loading the rope causes the upper strand leading to the belay device to press against the lower strand, thereby pinching it. The sitting second essentially breaks the rope herself. The belayer at the stance therefore does not need to contunually hold the inactive part of the rope in her hand, it is enough that she takes it in during the phases when the second is advancing upward.

Nonetheless, have a great time out there buddy!

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