Over lockdown, I have wanted to step up my mountaineering game from straight forward hiking,
to the use of ropes and anchors to work my way up more difficult terrain.
I have invested in a 60m single rope, a set of rorck-nuts, carabiners, harnesses, belay device and a variety of slings.
I'm quite confident in my ability to place anchors and equalise the strain, and knowledge of the various knots, something which I am intending to practice on some less dangerous terrain to get
the hang of it.
But my question is how is the best way to go about moving in a group of 2/3 people?
If I was at the front of the line, it would seem that the logical thing would be that I am tasked tasked with setting up various anchor points above, as the people behind me would remove the anchors as they come up. But then it seems a bit sketchy that if I was the person in front, I wouldn't have as much fall protection (ie as I go higher to the next anchor point, there would be a bit of a fall before the anchor below me stopped me falling any further).
Is this basically how it's done? Or am I missing something?
You're describing a technique called "moving together". The general approach is to either start from flat ground or an anchor with the rope shortened to 20m or so (using coils around your chest),start climbing/ scrambling and then place gear as required to protect yourself and your seconds.
The first second will unclip their rope from the piece of gear and then clip the rope going to the third person in. Third person will take out the gear as they reach it.
When the leader gets to a hard bit they will place gear before it, climb through and then build an anchor before the first second reaches the hard bit so they can be belayed up it without risking pulling the leader off.
There should always be 3 or more pieces of gear in the system if there is a reasonable chance of falling.
The technique you use will depend on the terrain and your party's ability/confidence. On scrambling terrain you can move together as described above, using coils to shorten the rope to make communication easier and lower the risk of knocking rocks on to your second. You are correct that the leader is at risk of a longer fall than the followers, which is why leading requires more experience. Another risk from this technique is the possibility that the second falls and pulls the leader down/backwards. To avoid this, you can place progress capture devices (e.g. Microtraxions) in between the leader and the followers, but they have to be on a solid piece of gear (see here: https://www.vdiffclimbing.com/simul-climbing/)
On easier ground, you can just use natural protection and place slings to keep things simple and efficient. Moving together is an advanced technique that trades security for speed, so you must trust your second. We usually call intermediate anchor points protection or gear, and use anchor to refer to a fixed point for belaying from. Once you move onto steeper terrain where a fall is more likely/has higher consequences, you would build an anchor and the second belays from this as you place protection. The best thing you can do to gain experience with these techniques is find an experienced partner (or hire an instructor) to show you. Hope that all makes sense.
The only thing I would add is to have the weakest climber in the middle part of the rope in case they fall. Although I have sometimes been in the situation where out of my two 'beginner' partners, the less able was the more experienced at removing gear and thus put them at the end. Just moved even more carefully on lead.
As above, there's a variety of ways of protecting yourself and your partner/s and this will largely depend on the terrain, your experience, confidence etc.
The decision making and judgement to allow efficient movement in this kind of 'mountaineering' terrain is difficult, as on a single route an experienced party will often go from being unroped, to employing rock climbing tactics, as well as other more complicated things such as 'moving together' as described above. The rope work and decisions could actually be more complicated than in rock climbing.
The simplest method would likely be something called 'short pitching', which is similar to rock climbing in that the leader ascends a short tricky step and places some gear to protect themselves, builds an anchor and then brings their partner up the step to join them. This can be repeated as necessary. This can be quite slow where the technical ground is more sustained, but is usually quicker than true pitched climbing (longer pitches), and is an easy and safe concept for beginners to understand. I will often teach this technique first, before moving on to more complicated concepts like moving together.
Sadly there's no shortcut to gaining the experience here, but I would highly recommend going out with somebody experienced first, or booking a course to help your learning. There is such a variety of techniques and judgement calls, this is probably the hardest thing to learn from a book or YouTube in my opinion.
I do offer these courses, feel free to get in touch if I can help at all: https://www.mikenolanmountaineering.co.uk/advanced-scrambling
In this situation it's really worth investing in some quality instruction. It'll pay off massively and you'll be much more confident and safe in the mountains.
I don't think you're describing moving together or simul climbing? I think you're talking about taking it in pitches (you do mention that you have a belay device) but didn't mention that you'll be belayed from below when you're leading?
If that's the case then yes, this does mean the leader is at more risk than the followers as they can be above the last piece of protection, so will fall freely until the rope goes tight on the highest piece of protection.
It really is worthwhile in going out with an experienced instructor, I can't stress that enough, as even if you think you've got it all sorted and safe, there could be something fundamental that puts you and you group at risk (would you know what I mean by backclipping, for example?).
Once you've got the basics sorted you'll be fine to go on and gain experience on your own!
Yep - that's moving together and until you're fluent at it one of the most difficult and dangerous of skills to pull off.
It can be more dangerous than soloing simply because done badly you fall to your death and take the others with you. On the other hand it can be nearly as fast as soloing and nearly as secure as pitching. It's mostly done on moderate terrain where speed is more important (as a safety issue) than total security.
Most of the time you might using natural features to provide security: left of this spike, right of that one etc and only occasionally will you actually stop to arrange a runner rather than slapping something in on the fly. Similarly you should be able to fluidly move from MT to pitching without your partners pausing for instance throwing loops over a spike for belaying.
You've already identified that it's sketchy but that's part of the game: knowing when to use it and when to revert to a safer but slower method.
So in many ways it's a skill that is more difficult to master than basic rock climbing. It isn't an easier intermediate between walking and climbing (even if the terrain is).
It is a compromise between speed and security - but if you can't manage it with both then don't do it because you'll get neither.
It's a good thing to get some training with a good guide.
You're missing quite a lot I'm afraid; you're mixing up pitched climbing, when each member of the party, (usually no more than 3 but more often just 2) climbs one at a time, while the others in the party are belayed to the mountain and basically can't move; with moving together, where all members of the party 'move together', with the leader sometimes setting up protection but more likely just hooking the rope over convenient spikes as they progress. In this form it it essential that the leader does not fall; if there is the slightest suggestion that they might then they should stop and revert to pitched climbing. It follows that you shouldn't embark on routes where you rope up but move together until you're familiar with the basics of pitched climbing; you could end up causing the classic Victorian accident of 'one off, all off'.
Pitched climbing isn't hard to learn but nobody is born knowing how to do it, if you haven't got a local club or mates who can take you out then you need to sign up for a suitable course And until you do, leave all that shiny new equipment well alone - it could well end up giving you a false sense of security.
> ...moving together, where all members of the party 'move together', with the leader sometimes setting up protection but more likely just hooking the rope over convenient spikes as they progress. In this form it it essential that the leader does not fall; if there is the slightest suggestion that they might then they should stop and revert to pitched climbing.
Clarifying for the benefit of the OP: I'd suggest that it's even more essential that the second does not fall. The consequences of anyone falling while moving together (assuming you're not traversing a flat ridge) probably wouldn't be great, but it's incredibly hazardous for the leader if the second falls and pulls them off with them. It's a technique to prevent death rather than injury; a trade-off between security and efficiency.
More generally, I think the trickiest bit is not learning the techniques themselves, but choosing the correct technique for the situation of the moment and being able to move fluidly between them. You'll often find yourself having to, for example, move between moving together and short-pitching more difficult steps. Sometimes it's safer to not be tied together at all. The skills are not beyond anyone's reach, but it takes a lot of experience to have the experience to know when to employ them to not create additional hazards from using the rope.
Thanks for the advice guys.
I was also wondering if there was such a technique for setting up almost horizontal anchor points
when on a a traverse to create an almost "via ferrata".
Possibly tying each anchor point with an alpine butterfly know, stopping a faller from dragging someone with them.
The only thing that comes to my mind here is if someone falls, the direction of pull wont necessarily be directly downwards in relation to the anchor/nut/cam point.
Thanks for your advice.
No. Just no. You're either pitching it - in which case you place gear so that it will withstand a pull from the anticipated direction - or you're moving together, in which case you can still clip gear but the 2nd brings it with them as they follow.
Usually moving together horizontally means moving along a ridge where the 2nd person can (theoretically) offset a leader fall by stepping off the ridge on the opposite side. I've never had to do it in earnest, but I have certainly been prepared to do so.
I still think you need to clearly understand the difference between moving together - which is intrinsically dangerous but fast, and pitching.
Hi there, you have invested a fair bit on kit to stay safe. In order to actually be safe, you need to get an instructor to show you the skills to use it all properly. It will be money went spent. Good luck.
You don't need to get an instructor, although many are more comfortable with this route. There are many people who have learnt from more experienced partners, often through a club. Then there are others who are capable of working stuff out on their own although this is somewhat fraught.
"Moving together" is easy. To practice I would suggest the Cneifion Arete:
In this description they do a VDiff climbing start. Skip this by going to the top of the scree path and look left. I nice diagonal crack scrambles easily onto the ridge. This can be seen at the above site in the picture of the guy in blue's bottom. A diagonal line can be seen on the right corner of the picture sloping downwards left to right. https://www.ukscrambles.com/wp-content/webp-express/webp-images/doc-root/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/cneifion-arete-starting-moves.png.webp
Once you reach the ridge a chimney on the right is another climb. Ignore this and step up to a 1.5m wall on the left and surmount to reach a platform, the ridge is now on your right, scramble upwards to gain the ridge. Now follow the ridge.
Moving together: Much has been said so here's my summary.
> Is this basically how it's done? Or am I missing something?
Yes, you're missing a season or two (or three) being out there as a second, seeing how it's done and how stuff works.
That's not meant as anything facetious at all, just that you've invested in some decent sounding gear but you've yet to grow into it. You certainly shouldn't be leading others till you've got this sorted as placing gear is a big deal.
But that's cool. Get a guide or partner and go and enjoy it. There's a slightly cryptic saying for things like this; How long have you got to learn it? You've got the rest of your life.
Indeed, the hard part of this all is to distinguish between different terrain types and therefore approaches to climbing.
German/Austrian alpine guides make a distinction between 1) Gehgelände, relatively easy terrain where risk of a fall for an experienced party/leader is minimal, and risk of heavy injury/death in case of a fall is also minimal. This is terrain where running pro/moving together is feasable. Think broad ridges, stuff that's not very steep, any climbing feature that would be Euro grade 3+/4 max in a climbing gym, etcetera. Basically hard scrambling stuff at altitude. Then there is 2) Absturzgelände. This is terrain where parties need to pitch it out. Risk of fall and severe consequence of fall is large. Climbing features are more difficult and terrain is steeper/not able to safely catch your fall.
Thinking about it in this way does make it a bit easier to distinguish between what is what but still there is nothing like learning from a guide or experienced partner so don't think that you can make the distinction just because you know how to set up an anchor and have been scrambling a lot.
Be humble about it, practice a lot, and learn from your mistakes. Most of all have fun! Ridge traverses if done in good weather and with good partners is one of the best things ever.
This Alpine Conditions page gives a summary of what is being climbed at the moment, what is 'in' nick and what the prospects are...