The Delicate Dance of Multi-Pitch Passing

Being passed or trying to pass another party while climbing multi-pitch routes can be a stressful scenario, and more than once has been a point of contention between climbers. Use these best practices and tips to avoid conflict while multi-pitching.

multi-pitch passing
Photo: David Navais

Stay polite

The most important thing to remember is to stay polite. A smile and a quick introduction can go a long way in making these cliff side negotiations go smoothly.

If you’re someone new to multi-pitch climbing it’s likely that the concept of being passed won’t cross your mind until the day comes that somebody wants to pass you. Figuring out your systems without the added element of other climbers can be intimidating enough, and it’s understandable to be uncomfortable having people climb over you. Don’t fret, it’s a very normal part of climbing, and given time you’ll be doing the passing yourself.

Let soloists pass

As a rule of thumb always let soloists pass. It doesn’t matter if you don’t agree with the practice of free-soloing, you’re not the crag police. Let them pass and before you blink they will be out out of your hair.

The last time a soloist fell and caused an accident involving another climber was … never; so don’t stress about the encounter too much. The same can be said for folks simul-climbing. With a little communication, letting the simul-climbers pass shouldn’t delay you at all.

Consider whether you should be passed

Sometimes, it’s best to let people pass you. This tricky moment comes when a team pitching out the same climb as you shows up on your heels. It’s time for a judgment call.

Talk to one another and try to let go of your ego for a minute. It’s usually apparent if a team is considerably faster. If that’s the case, post up at the belay and let them climb through. It’s unlikely you’ll really be losing that much time.

When in doubt, my go-to decision is just to let anxious people pass. Not having other climbers dog you the whole way up the climb and crowd belay stations is probably worth giving up 30 minutes of your day.

Don’t assume you’re entitled to pass

You aren’t entitled to pass slow parties so don’t act like you are. At the same time, I would say that the slow party in question isn’t entitled to cause a traffic jam just because they got there first. If you’re moving slow, do the courteous thing and let others pass. Showing a little bit of gratitude can go a long way.

multi-pitch passing
Photo: Iwona Kellie

4 Tips for how to best pass other climbers

So your systems are dialed and you and partner are dispatching vertical ground quicker than ever. You might actually top out before the sun sets … but as chance would have it, you’re not the only party on route and the other team is moving at a snail’s pace. When you get to the belay station it’s likely that the leader of the other party will be part way up the next pitch. Here’s what you ought to do:

1. Ask politely

Talk to the belayer and politely inquire about passing on the following pitch; that way when the belayer seconds the pitch, they can inform the leader of the impending pass.

2. Climb quickly

Now you should start leading the next pitch as soon as the second from the other party leaves the belay.

3. Be efficient

When you reach the next belay station, confirm the pass with the first party, and belay your second up as quickly as possible—making sure the transition to leading the next pitch is fluid and fast. Now might be the one time ever it’s not acceptable to stop for a snack.

4. Say thank you

Make sure to thank the other party profusely for letting you pass. They are doing you a favor and losing time on their own climb. Passing another party only to have them catch back up to you and then inturn have to wait on you is one of the biggest climbing faux pas you can make. If you’re going to pass someone, be sure you will move significantly faster than them.

The biggest takeaway

When it comes to passing or any interactions involving multiple parties of climbers, a little bit of kindness is almost always reciprocated with kindness.

This piece was originally published on March 10, 2015.

Buck Yedor has been trad climbing for almost a decade and is a member of Yosemite Search and Rescue. Having completed courses like Rigging for Rescue and other numerous in-house trainings with YOSAR, he is competent in safely moving over large pieces of stone. Buck’s technical training combined with years of personal climbing experience have given him the chance to see and make plenty of mistakes that he hopes will help you in avoiding to make the same ones.


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