Oh Shit Award #3

The third Oh Shit Award is another simple one and one that ties into my feature “The Problem with Skinny Singles’, the issue of how easy - and dangerous - it can be to take a sport crag mentality onto ‘adventoruous’ (i.e. loose and dangerous) multi pitch routes. Most sport pitches are going to be less than 30 metres high, often far shorter, and so the gear (single ropes, belay assist devices like the GriGri) and techniques have evolved for single pitch climbing. Heading off up multi-pitch routes with single pitch gear and mentality, the sun in your hair, the thrill of the drop, is fantastic. It’s just one single pitch on top of another right? You feel free and bold and unencumbered, free of alpine clothing and gear, no climbing pack filled with survival gear, just shorts and t-shirt. But, we all know how this story eventually plays out, when playing out crashes into the ground truth, when it gets dark and you’re nowhere near the top and have no torches, or the storm hits and you find your clothing no fitting for survival, or you get lost and don’t know how to go up or down.

I think most climbers, like Luca, get a sense of such things before they really suffer them, a bit like a first warning, and it allows them to imagine the ‘what if?’. You start taking multi-pitch climbing a bit more seriously. You start carrying two ropes, a head torch, a light shell and top, maybe a survival blanket, first aid kit (finger tape!). You learn how to do steep rappels, some basic self-rescue stuff, and focus on climbing more efficiently so you don’t need any of the gear or skills you’ve taken on.

With my climbing partner, we went for a multi-pitch route on a local mountain above a marble cave. Since it was supposed to be a bolted sport climbing route with the possibility to walk down from the top, we opted for a single rope. From the first pitch, the rock seemed to be pretty bad, but optimistic kept on going hoping for a better, solid rock.

Around the 9th pitch, my partner was leading and moved a rock the size of a car bonnet, which exploded and fell down with a good amount of debris. Luckily I was protected under a roof (plus point for the route setter). After some good swearing and checking that everybody was ok my colleague went on on the pitch. Soon he realized that the rope was cut and covered from the remaining debris. Good for us the route was indeed good bolted and somehow we managed to reach the next belay. Since the rest of the rope was way too short for abseiling we decided to finish the climb (6 pitches of ~45m left) and had to build some improvised belays.   

Lesson learned, as soon as I am not sure of the route I will opt for half/twin ropes. Maybe bringing some extra trad material will also be wise.