Find a Security Clearance Job!




A steep rock face is a terrain feature that can be avoided most of the time through prior planning and good route selection. Rock climbing can be time consuming, especially for a larger unit with a heavy combat load. It can leave the climbing party totally exposed to weather, terrain hazards, and the enemy for the length of the climb.

Sometimes steep rock cannot be avoided. Climbing relatively short sections of steep rock (one or two pitches) may prove quicker and safer than using alternate routes. A steep rock route would normally be considered an unlikely avenue of approach and, therefore, might be weakly defended or not defended at all.

All personnel in a unit preparing for deployment to mountainous terrain should be trained in the basics of climbing. Forward observers, reconnaissance personnel, and security teams are a few examples of small units who may require rock climbing skills to gain their vantage points in mountainous terrain. Select personnel demonstrating the highest degree of skill and experience should be trained in roped climbing techniques. These personnel will have the job of picking and "fixing" the route for the rest of the unit.

Rock climbing has evolved into a specialized "sport" with a wide range of varying techniques and styles. This chapter focuses on the basics most applicable to military operations.


A variety of refined techniques are used to climb different types of rock formations. The foundation for all of these styles is the art of climbing. Climbing technique stresses climbing with the weight centered over the feet, using the hands primarily for balance. It can be thought of as a combination of the balanced movement required to walk a tightrope and the technique used to ascend a ladder. No mountaineering equipment is required; however, the climbing technique is also used in roped climbing.


The experienced climber has learned to climb with the "eyes." Even before getting on the rock, the climber studies all possible routes, or "lines," to the top looking for cracks, ledges, nubbins, and other irregularities in the rock that will be used for footholds and handholds, taking note of any larger ledges or benches for resting places. When picking the line, he mentally climbs the route, rehearsing the step-by-step sequence of movements that will be required to do the climb, ensuring himself that the route has an adequate number of holds and the difficulty of the climb will be well within the limit of his ability.


Route selection for military climbing involves picking the easiest and quickest possible line for all personnel to follow. However, climbing skill and experience can only be developed by increasing the length and difficulty of routes as training progresses. In the training environment, beginning lessons in climbing should be performed CLOSE to the ground on lower-angled rock with plenty of holds for the hands and feet. Personnel not climbing can act as "otters" for those climbing. In later lessons, a "top-rope" belay can be used for safety, allowing e individual to increase the length and difficulty of the climb under the protection of the climbing rope.


In preparation for climbing, the boot soles should be dry and clean. A small stick can be used to clean out dirt and small rocks that might be caught between the lugs of the boot sole. If the soles are wet or damp, dry them off by stomping and rubbing the soles on clean, dry rock. All jewelry should be removed from the fingers. Watches and bracelets can interfere with hand placements and may become damaged if worn while climbing. Helmets should be worn to protect the head from injury if an object, such as a rock or climbing gear, falls from climbers above. Most climbing helmets are not designed to provide protection from impact to the head if the wearer falls, but will provide a minimal amount of protection if a climber comes in contact with the rock during climbing.


Rings can become caught on rock facial features and or lodged into cracks, which could cause injuries during a slip or fall.


Spotting is a technique used to add a level of safety to climbing without a rope. A second man stands below and just outside of the climbers fall path and helps (spots) the climber to land safely if he should fall. Spotting is only applicable if the climber is not going above the spotters head on the rock. Beyond that height a roped climbing should be conducted. If an individual climbs beyond the effective range of the spotter(s), he has climbed TOO HIGH for his own safety. The duties of the spotter are to help prevent the falling climber from impacting the head and or spine, help the climber land feet first, and reduce the impact of a fall.


The spotter should not catch the climber against the rock because additional injuries could result. If the spotter pushes the falling climber into the rock, deep abrasions of the skin or knee may occur. Ankle joints could be twisted by the fall if the climber's foot remained high on the rock. The spotter might be required to fully support the weight of the climber causing injury to the spotter.


Climbing involves linking together a series of movements based on foot and hand placement, weight shift, and movement. When this series of movements is combined correctly, a smooth climbing technique results. This technique reduces excess force on the limbs, helping to minimize fatigue. The basic principle is based on the five body parts described here.

a. Five Body Parts. The five body parts used for climbing are the right hand, left hand, right foot, left foot, and body (trunk). The basic principle to achieve smooth climbing is to move only one of the five body parts at a time. The trunk is not moved in conjunction with a foot or in conjunction with a hand, a hand is not moved in conjunction with a foot, and so on. Following this simple technique forces both legs to do all the lifting simultaneously.

b. Stance or Body Position. Body position is probably the single most important element to good technique. A relaxed, comfortable stance is essential. (Figure 6-1 shows a correct climbing stance, and Figure 6-2 shows an incorrect stance.) The body should be in a near vertical or erect stance with the weight centered over the feet. Leaning in towards the rock will cause the feet to push outward, away from the rock, resulting in a loss of friction between the boot sole and rock surface. The legs are straight and the heels are kept low to reduce fatigue. Bent legs and tense muscles tire quickly. If strained for too long, tense muscles may vibrate uncontrollably. This vibration, known as "Elvis-ing" or "sewing-machine leg" can be cured by straightening the leg, lowering the heel, or moving on to a more restful position. The hands are used to maintain balance. Keeping the hands between waist and shoulder level will reduce arm fatigue.

Figure 6-1. Correct climbing stance-balanced over both feet.

Figure 6-1. Correct climbing stance-balanced over both feet.

Figure 6-2. Incorrect stance-stretched out.

Figure 6-2. Incorrect stance-stretched out.

(1) Whenever possible, three points of contact are maintained with the rock. Proper positioning of the hips and shoulders is critical. When using two footholds and one handhold, the hips and shoulders should be centered over both feet. In most cases, as the climbing progresses, the body is resting on one foot with two handholds for balance. The hips and shoulders must be centered over the support foot to maintain balance, allowing the "free" foot to maneuver.

(2) The angle or steepness of the rock also determines how far away from the rock the hips and shoulders should be. On low-angle slopes, the hips are moved out away from the rock to keep the body in balance with the weight over the feet. The shoulders can be moved closer to the rock to reach handholds. On steep rock, the hips are pushed closer to the rock. The shoulders are moved away from the rock by arching the back. The body is still in balance over the feet and the eyes can see where the hands need to go. Sometimes, when footholds are small, the hips are moved back to increase friction between the foot and the rock. This is normally done on quick, intermediate holds. It should be avoided in the rest position as it places more weight on the arms and hands. When weight must be placed on handholds, the arms should be kept straight to reduce fatigue. Again, flexed muscles tire quickly.

c. Climbing Sequence. The steps defined below provide a complete sequence of events to move the entire body on the rock. These are the basic steps to follow for a smooth climbing technique. Performing these steps in this exact order will not always be necessary because the nature of the route will dictate the availability of hand and foot placements. The basic steps are weight, shift, and movement (movement being either the foot, hand, or body). (A typical climbing sequence is shown in Figure 6-3.)


Shift the weight from both feet to one foot. This will allow lifting of one foot with no effect on the stance.


Lift the unweighted foot and place it in a new location, within one to two feet of the starting position, with no effect on body position or balance (higher placement will result in a potentially higher lift for the legs to make, creating more stress, and is called a high step) The trunk does not move during foot movement.


Shift the weight onto both feet. (Repeat steps 1 through 3 for remaining foot.)


Lift the body into a new stance with both legs.


Move one hand to a new position between waist and head height. During this movement, the trunk should be completely balanced in position and the removed hand should have no effect on stability.


Move the remaining hand as in Step 5.

Now the entire body is in a new position and ready to start the process again. Following these steps will prevent lifting with the hands and arms, which are used to maintain stance and balance. If both legs are bent, leg extension can be performed as soon as one foot has been moved. Hand movements can be delayed until numerous foot movements have been made, which not only creates shorter lifts with the legs, but may allow a better choice for the next hand movements because the reach will have increased.

Figure 6-3. Typical climbing sequence.

Figure 6-3. Typical climbing sequence.

Figure 6-3. Typical climbing sequence (continued).

Figure 6-3. Typical climbing sequence (continued).

Figure 6-3. Typical climbing sequence (continued).

Figure 6-3. Typical climbing sequence (continued).

(1) Many climbers will move more than one body part at a time, usually resulting in lifting the body with one leg or one leg and both arms. This type of lifting is inefficient, requiring one leg to perform the work of two or using the arms to lift the body. Proper climbing technique is lifting the body with the legs, not the arms, because the legs are much stronger.

(2) When the angle of the rock increases, these movements become more critical. Holding or pulling the body into the rock with the arms and hands may be necessary as the angle increases (this is still not lifting with the arms). Many climbing routes have angles greater than ninety degrees (overhanging) and the arms are used to support partial body weight. The same technique applies even at those angles.

(3) The climber should avoid moving on the knees and elbows. Other than being uncomfortable, even painful, to rest on, these bony portions of the limbs offer little friction and "feel" on the rock.


The following safety precautions should be observed when rock climbing.

a. While ascending a seldom or never traveled route, you may encounter precariously perched rocks. If the rock will endanger your second, it may be possible to remove it from the route and trundle it, tossing it down. This is extremely dangerous to climbers below and should not be attempted unless you are absolutely sure no men are below. If you are not sure that the flight path is clear, do not do it. Never dislodge loose rocks carelessly. Should a rock become loose accidentally, immediately shout the warning "ROCK" to alert climbers below. Upon hearing the warning, personnel should seek immediate cover behind any rock bulges or overhangs available, or flatten themselves against the rock to minimize exposure.

b. Should a climber fall, he should do his utmost to maintain control and not panic. If on a low-angle climb, he may be able to arrest his own fall by staying in contact with the rock, grasping for any possible hold available. He should shout the warning "FALLING" to alert personnel below.


Grasping at the rock in a fall can result in serious injuries to the upper body. If conducting a roped climb, let the rope provide protection.

c. When climbing close to the ground and without a rope, a spotter can be used for safety. The duties of the spotter are to ensure the falling climber does not impact the head or spine, and to reduce the impact of a fall.

d. Avoid climbing directly above or below other climbers (with the exception of spotters). When personnel must climb at the same time, following the same line, a fixed rope should be installed.

e. Avoid climbing with gloves on because of the decreased "feel" for the rock. The use of gloves in the training environment is especially discouraged, while their use in the mountains is often mandatory when it is cold. A thin polypropylene or wool glove is best for rock climbing, although heavier cotton or leather work gloves are often used for belaying.

f. Be extremely careful when climbing on wet or moss-covered rock; friction on holds is greatly reduced.

g. Avoid grasping small vegetation for handholds; the root systems can be shallow and will usually not support much weight.


Besides observing the standard safety precautions, the climber can avoid catastrophe by climbing with a wide margin of safety. The margin of safety is a protective buffer the climber places between himself and potential climbing hazards. Both subjective (personnel-related) and objective (environmental) hazards must be considered when applying the margin of safety. The leader must apply the margin of safety taking into account the strengths and weaknesses of the entire team or unit.

a. When climbing, the climber increases his margin of safety by selecting routes that are well within the limit of his ability. When leading a group of climbers, he selects a route well within the ability of the weakest member.

b. When the rock is wet, or when climbing in other adverse weather conditions, the climber's ability is reduced and routes are selected accordingly. When the climbing becomes difficult or exposed, the climber knows to use the protection of the climbing rope and belays. A lead climber increases his margin of safety by placing protection along the route to limit the length of a potential fall.


The climber should check each hold before use. This may simply be a quick, visual inspection if he knows the rock to be solid. When in doubt, he should grab and tug on the hold to test it for soundness BEFORE depending on it. Sometimes, a hold that appears weak can actually be solid as long as minimal force is applied to it, or the force is applied in a direction that strengthens it. A loose nubbin might not be strong enough to support the climber's weight, but it may serve as an adequate handhold. Be especially careful when climbing on weathered, sedimentary-type rock.


"Climb with the feet and use the hands for balance" is extremely important to remember. In the early learning stages of climbing, most individuals will rely heavily on the arms, forgetting to use the feet properly. It is true that solid handholds and a firm grip are needed in some combination techniques; however, even the most strenuous techniques require good footwork and a quick return to a balanced position over one or both feet. Failure to climb any route, easy or difficult, is usually the result of poor footwork.

a. The beginning climber will have a natural tendency to look up for handholds. Try to keep the hands low and train your eyes to look down for footholds. Even the smallest irregularity in the rock can support the climber once the foot is positioned properly and weight is committed to it.

b. The foot remains on the rock as a result of friction. Maximum friction is obtained from a correct stance over a properly positioned foot. The following describes a few ways the foot can be positioned on the rock to maximize friction.

(1) Maximum Sole Contact. The principle of using full sole contact, as in mountain walking, also applies in climbing. Maximum friction is obtained by placing as much of the boot sole on the rock as possible. Also, the leg muscles can relax the most when the entire foot is placed on the rock. (Figure 6-4 shows examples of maximum and minimum sole contact.)

(a) Smooth, low-angled rock (slab) and rock containing large "bucket" holds and ledges are typical formations where the entire boot sole should be used.

(b) On some large holds, like bucket holds that extend deep into the rock, the entire foot cannot be used. The climber may not be able to achieve a balanced position if the foot is stuck too far underneath a bulge in the rock. In this case, placing only part of the foot on the hold may allow the climber to achieve a balanced stance. The key is to use as much of the boot sole as possible. Remember to keep the heels low to reduce strain on the lower leg muscles.

Figure 6-4. Examples of maximum and minimum sole contact.

Figure 6-4. Examples of maximum and minimum sole contact.

(2) Edging. The edging technique is used where horizontal crack systems and other irregularities in the rock form small, well-defined ledges. The edge of the boot sole is placed on the ledge for the foothold. Usually, the inside edge of the boot or the edge area around the toes is used. Whenever possible, turn the foot sideways and use the entire inside edge of the boot. Again, more sole contact equals more friction and the legs can rest more when the heel is on the rock. (Figure 6-5 shows examples of the edging technique.)

(a) On smaller holds, edging with the front of the boot, or toe, may be used. Use of the toe is most tiring because the heel is off the rock and the toes support the climber's weight. Remember to keep the heel low to reduce fatigue. Curling and stiffening the toes in the boot increases support on the hold. A stronger position is usually obtained on small ledges by turning the foot at about a 45-degree angle, using the strength of the big toe and the ball of the foot.

(b) Effective edging on small ledges requires stiff-soled footwear. The stiffer the sole, the better the edging capability. Typical mountain boots worn by the US military have a relatively flexible lugged sole and, therefore, edging ability on smaller holds will be somewhat limited.

Figure 6-5. Examples of edging technique.

Figure 6-5. Examples of edging technique.

(3) Smearing. When footholds are too small to use a good edging technique, the ball of the foot can be "smeared" over the hold. The smearing technique requires the boot to adhere to the rock by deformation of the sole and by friction. Rock climbing shoes are specifically designed to maximize friction for smearing; some athletic shoes also work well. The Army mountain boot, with its softer sole, usually works better for smearing than for edging. Rounded, down-sloping ledges and low-angled slab rock often require good smearing technique. (Figure 6-6 shows examples of the smearing technique.)

(a) Effective smearing requires maximum friction between the foot and the rock. Cover as much of the hold as possible with the ball of the foot. Keeping the heel low will not only reduce muscle strain, but will increase the amount of surface contact between the foot and the rock.

(b) Sometimes flexing the ankles and knees slightly will place the climber's weight more directly over the ball of the foot and increase friction; however, this is more tiring and should only be used for quick, intermediate holds. The leg should be kept straight whenever possible.

Figure 6-6. Examples of the smearing technique.

Figure 6-6. Examples of the smearing technique.

(4) Jamming. The jamming technique works on the same principal as chock placement. The foot is set into a crack in such a way that it "jams" into place, resisting a downward pull. The jamming technique is a specialized skill used to climb vertical or near vertical cracks when no other holds are available on the rock face. The technique is not limited to just wedging the feet; fingers, hands, arms, even the entire leg or body are all used in the jamming technique, depending on the size of the crack. Jam holds are described in this text to broaden the range of climbing skills. Jamming holds can be used in a crack while other hand/foot holds are used on the face of the rock. Many cracks will have facial features, such as edges, pockets, and so on, inside and within reach. Always look or feel for easier to use features. (Figure 6-7 shows examples of jamming.)

(a) The foot can be jammed in a crack in different ways. It can be inserted above a constriction and set into the narrow portion, or it can be placed in the crack and turned, like a camming device, until it locks in place tight enough to support the climber's weight. Aside from these two basic ideas, the possibilities are endless. The toes, ball of the foot, or the entire foot can be used. Try to use as much of the foot as possible for maximum surface contact. Some positions are more tiring, and even more painful on the foot, than others. Practice jamming the foot in various ways to see what offers the most secure, restful position.

(b) Some foot jams may be difficult to remove once weight has been committed to them, especially if a stiffer sole boot is used. The foot is less likely to get stuck when it is twisted or "cammed" into position. When removing the boot from a crack, reverse the way it was placed to prevent further constriction.

Figure 6-7. Examples of jamming.

Figure 6-7. Examples of jamming.


The hands can be placed on the rock in many ways. Exactly how and where to position the hands and arms depends on what holds are available, and what configuration will best support the current stance as well as the movement to the next stance. Selecting handholds between waist and shoulder level helps in different ways. Circulation in the arms and hands is best when the arms are kept low. Secondly, the climber has less tendency to "hang" on his arms when the handholds are at shoulder level and below. Both of these contribute to a relaxed stance and reduce fatigue in the hands and arms.

a. As the individual climbs, he continually repositions his hands and arms to keep the body in balance, with the weight centered over the feet. On lower-angled rock, he may simply need to place the hands up against the rock and extend the arm to maintain balance; just like using an ice ax as a third point of contact in mountain walking. Sometimes, he will be able to push directly down on a large hold with the palm of the hand. More often though, he will need to "grip" the rock in some fashion and then push or pull against the hold to maintain balance.

b. As stated earlier, the beginner will undoubtedly place too much weight on the hands and arms. If we think of ourselves climbing a ladder, our body weight is on our legs. Our hands grip, and our arms pull on each rung only enough to maintain our balance and footing on the ladder. Ideally, this is the amount of grip and pull that should be used in climbing. Of course, as the size and availability of holds decreases, and the steepness of the rock approaches the vertical, the grip must be stronger and more weight might be placed on the arms and handholds for brief moments. The key is to move quickly from the smaller, intermediate holds to the larger holds where the weight can be placed back on the feet allowing the hands and arms to relax. The following describes some of the basic handholds and how the hand can be positioned to maximize grip on smaller holds.

(1) Push Holds. Push holds rely on the friction created when the hand is pushed against the rock. Most often a climber will use a push hold by applying "downward pressure" on a ledge or nubbin. This is fine, and works well; however, the climber should not limit his use of push holds to the application of down pressure. Pushing sideways, and on occasion, even upward on less obvious holds can prove quite secure. Push holds often work best when used in combination with other holds. Pushing in opposite directions and "push-pull" combinations are excellent techniques. (Figure 6-8 shows examples of push holds.)

(a) An effective push hold does not necessarily require the use of the entire hand. On smaller holds, the side of the palm, the fingers, or the thumb may be all that is needed to support the stance. Some holds may not feel secure when the hand is initially placed on them. The hold may improve or weaken during the movement. The key is to try and select a hold that will improve as the climber moves past it.

(b) Most push holds do not require much grip; however, friction might be increased by taking advantage of any rough surfaces or irregularities in the rock. Sometimes the strength of the hold can be increased by squeezing, or "pinching," the rock between the thumb and fingers (see paragraph on pinch holds).

Figure 6-8. Examples of push holds.

Figure 6-8. Examples of push holds.

(2) Pull Holds. Pull holds, also called "cling holds," which are grasped and pulled upon, are probably the most widely used holds in climbing. Grip plays more of a role in a pull hold, and, therefore, it normally feels more secure to the climber than a push hold. Because of this increased feeling of security, pull holds are often overworked. These are the holds the climber has a tendency to hang from. Most pull holds do not require great strength, just good technique. Avoid the "death grip" syndrome by climbing with the feet. (Figure 6-9 shows examples of pull holds.)

(a) Like push holds, pressure on a pull hold can be applied straight down, sideways, or upward. Again, these are the holds the climber tends to stretch and reach for, creating an unbalanced stance. Remember to try and keep the hands between waist and shoulder level, making use of intermediate holds instead of reaching for those above the head.

(b) Pulling sideways on vertical cracks can be very secure. There is less tendency to hang from "side-clings" and the hands naturally remain lower. The thumb can often push against one side of the crack, in opposition to the pull by the fingers, creating a stronger hold. Both hands can also be placed in the same crack, with the hands pulling in opposite directions. The number of possible combinations is limited only by the imagination and experience of the climber.

Figure 6-9. Examples of pull holds.

Figure 6-9. Examples of pull holds.

(c) Friction and strength of a pull hold can be increased by the way the hand grips the rock. Normally, the grip is stronger when the fingers are closed together; however, sometimes more friction is obtained by spreading the fingers apart and placing them between irregularities on the rock surface. On small holds, grip can often be improved by bending the fingers upward, forcing the palm of the hand to push against the rock. This helps to hold the finger tips in place and reduces muscle strain in the hand. Keeping the forearm up against the rock also allows the arm and hand muscles to relax more.

(d) Another technique that helps to strengthen a cling hold for a downward pull is to press the thumb against the side of the index finger, or place it on top of the index finger and press down. This hand configuration, known as a "ring grip," works well on smaller holds.

(3) Pinch Holds. Sometimes a small nubbin or protrusion in the rock can be "squeezed" between the thumb and fingers. This technique is called a pinch hold. Friction is applied by increasing the grip on the rock. Pinch holds are often overlooked by the novice climber because they feel insecure at first and cannot be relied upon to support much body weight. If the climber has his weight over his feet properly, the pinch hold will work well in providing balance. The pinch hold can also be used as a gripping technique for push holds and pull holds. (Figure 6-10 shows examples of pinch holds.)

Figure 6-10. Examples of pinch holds.

Figure 6-10. Examples of pinch holds.

(4) Jam Holds. Like foot jams, the fingers and hands can be wedged or cammed into a crack so they resist a downward or outward pull. Jamming with the fingers and hands can be painful and may cause minor cuts and abrasions to tender skin. Cotton tape can be used to protect the fingertips, knuckles, and the back of the hand; however, prolonged jamming technique requiring hand taping should be avoided. Tape also adds friction to the hand in jammed position. (Figure 6-11 shows examples of jam holds.)

(a) The hand can be placed in a crack a number of ways. Sometimes an open hand can be inserted and wedged into a narrower portion of the crack. Other times a clenched fist will provide the necessary grip. Friction can be created by applying cross pressure between the fingers and the back of the hand. Another technique for vertical cracks is to place the hand in the crack with the thumb pointed either up or down. The hand is then clenched as much as possible. When the arm is straightened, it will twist the hand and tend to cam it into place. This combination of clenching and camming usually produces the most friction, and the most secure hand jam in vertical cracks.

(b) In smaller cracks, only the fingers will fit. Use as many fingers as the crack will allow. The fingers can sometimes be stacked in some configuration to increase friction. The thumb is usually kept outside the crack in finger jams and pressed against the rock to increase friction or create cross pressure. In vertical cracks it is best to insert the fingers with the thumb pointing down to make use of the natural camming action of the fingers that occurs when the arm is twisted towards a normal position.

(c) Jamming technique for large cracks, or "off widths," requiring the use of arm, leg, and body jams, is another technique. To jam or cam an arm, leg, or body into an off width, the principle is the same as for fingers, hands, or feet-you are making the jammed appendage "fatter" by folding or twisting it inside the crack. For off widths, you may place your entire arm inside the crack with the arm folded and the palm pointing outward. The leg can be used, from the calf to the thigh, and flexed to fit the crack. Routes requiring this type of climbing should be avoided as the equipment normally used for protection might not be large enough to protect larger cracks and openings. However, sometimes a narrower section may be deeper in the crack allowing the use of "normal" size protection.

Figure 6-11. Examples of jam holds.

Figure 6-11. Examples of jam holds.


The positions and holds previously discussed are the basics and the ones most common to climbing. From these fundamentals, numerous combination techniques are possible. As the climber gains experience, he will learn more ways to position the hands, feet, and body in relation to the holds available; however, he should always strive to climb with his weight on his feet from a balanced stance.

a. Sometimes, even on an easy route, the climber may come upon a section of the rock that defies the basic principles of climbing. Short of turning back, the only alternative is to figure out some combination technique that will work. Many of these type problems require the hands and feet to work in opposition to one another. Most will place more weight on the hands and arms than is desirable, and some will put the climber in an "out of balance" position. To make the move, the climber may have to "break the rules" momentarily. This is not a problem and is done quite frequently by experienced climbers. The key to using these type of combination techniques is to plan and execute them deliberately, without lunging or groping for holds, yet quickly, before the hands, arms, or other body parts tire. Still, most of these maneuvers require good technique more than great strength, though a certain degree of hand and arm strength certainly helps.

b. Combination possibilities are endless. The following is a brief description of some of the more common techniques.

(1) Change Step. The change step, or hop step, can be used when the climber needs to change position of the feet. It is commonly used when traversing to avoid crossing the feet, which might put the climber in an awkward position. To prevent an off balance situation, two solid handholds should be used. The climber simply places his weight on his handholds while he repositions the feet. He often does this with a quick "hop," replacing the lead foot with the trail foot on the same hold. Keeping the forearms against the rock during the maneuver takes some of the strain off the hands, while at the same time strengthening the grip on the holds.

(2) Mantling. Mantling is a technique that can be used when the distance between the holds increases and there are no immediate places to move the hands or feet. It does require a ledge (mantle) or projection in the rock that the climber can press straight down upon. (Figure 6-12 shows the mantling sequence.)

(a) When the ledge is above head height, mantling begins with pull holds, usually "hooking" both hands over the ledge. The climber pulls himself up until his head is above the hands, where the pull holds become push holds. He elevates himself until the arms are straight and he can lock the elbows to relax the muscles. Rotating the hands inward during the transition to push holds helps to place the palms more securely on the ledge. Once the arms are locked, a foot can be raised and placed on the ledge. The climber may have to remove one hand to make room for the foot. Mantling can be fairly strenuous; however, most individuals should be able to support their weight, momentarily, on one arm if they keep it straight and locked. With the foot on the ledge, weight can be taken off the arms and the climber can grasp the holds that were previously out of reach. Once balanced over the foot, he can stand up on the ledge and plan his next move.

(b) Pure mantling uses arm strength to raise the body; however, the climber can often smear the balls of the feet against the rock and "walk" the feet up during the maneuver to take some of the weight off the arms. Sometimes edges will be available for short steps in the process.

Figure 6-12. Mantling sequence.

Figure 6-12. Mantling sequence.

(3) Undercling. An "undercling" is a classic example of handholds and footholds working in opposition (Figure 6-13). It is commonly used in places where the rock projects outward, forming a bulge or small overhang. Underclings can be used in the tops of buckets, also. The hands are placed "palms-up" underneath the bulge, applying an upward pull. Increasing this upward pull creates a counterforce, or body tension, which applies more weight and friction to the footholds. The arms and legs should be kept as straight as possible to reduce fatigue. The climber can often lean back slightly in the undercling position, enabling him to see above the overhang better and search for the next hold.

Figure 6-13. Undercling.

Figure 6-13. Undercling.

(4) Lieback. The "lieback" is another good example of the hands working in opposition to the feet. The technique is often used in a vertical or diagonal crack separating two rock faces that come together at, more or less, a right angle (commonly referred to as a dihedral). The crack edge closest to the body is used for handholds while the feet are pressed against the other edge. The climber bends at the waist, putting the body into an L-shaped position. Leaning away from the crack on two pull holds, body tension creates friction between the feet and the hands. The feet must be kept relatively high to maintain weight, creating maximum friction between the sole and the rock surface. Either full sole contact or the smearing technique can be used, whichever seems to produce the most friction.

(a) The climber ascends a dihedral by alternately shuffling the hands and feet upward. The lieback technique can be extremely tiring, especially when the dihedral is near vertical. If the hands and arms tire out before completing the sequence, the climber will likely fall. The arms should be kept straight throughout the entire maneuver so the climber's weight is pulling against bones and ligaments, rather than muscle. The legs should be straightened whenever possible.

(b) Placing protection in a lieback is especially tiring. Look for edges or pockets for the feet in the crack or on the face for a better position to place protection from, or for a rest position. Often, a lieback can be avoided with closer examination of the available face features. The lieback can be used alternately with the jamming technique, or vice versa, for variation or to get past a section of a crack with difficult or nonexistent jam possibilities. The lieback can sometimes be used as a face maneuver (Figure 6-14).

Figure 6-14. Lieback on a face.

Figure 6-14. Lieback on a face.

(5) Stemming. When the feet work in opposition from a relatively wide stance, the maneuver is known as stemming. The stemming technique can sometimes be used on faces, as well as in a dihedral in the absence of solid handholds for the lieback (Figure 6-15).

Figure 6-15. Stemming on a face.

Figure 6-15. Stemming on a face.

(a) The classic example of stemming is when used in combination with two opposing push holds in wide, parallel cracks, known as chimneys. Chimneys are cracks in which the walls are at least 1 foot apart and just big enough to squeeze the body into. Friction is created by pushing outward with the hands and feet on each side of the crack. The climber ascends the chimney by alternately moving the hands and feet up the crack (Figure 6-16). Applying pressure with the back and bottom is usually necessary in wider chimneys. Usually, full sole contact of the shoes will provide the most friction, although smearing may work best in some instances. Chimneys that do not allow a full stemming position can be negotiated using the arms, legs, or body as an integral contact point. This technique will often feel more secure since there is more body to rock contact.

Figure 6-16. Chimney sequence.

Figure 6-16. Chimney sequence.

Figure 6-16. Chimney sequence (continued).

Figure 6-16. Chimney sequence (continued).

(b) The climber can sometimes rest by placing both feet on the same side of the crack, forcing the body against the opposing wall. The feet must be kept relatively high up under the body so the force is directed sideways against the walls of the crack. The arms should be straightened with the elbows locked whenever possible to reduce muscle strain. The climber must ensure that the crack does not widen beyond the climbable width before committing to the maneuver. Remember to look for face features inside chimneys for more security in the climb.

(c) Routes requiring this type of climbing should be avoided as the equipment normally used for protection might not be large enough to protect chimneys. However, face features, or a much narrower crack irotection.

(6) Slab Technique. A slab is a relatively smooth, low-angled rock formation that requires a slightly modified climbing technique (Figure 6-17). Since slab rock normally contains few, if any holds, the technique requires maximum friction and perfect balance over the feet.

(a) On lower-angled slab, the climber can often stand erect and climb using full sole contact and other mountain walking techniques. On steeper slab, the climber will need to apply good smearing technique. Often, maximum friction cannot be attained on steeper slab from an erect stance. The climber will have to flex the ankles and knees so his weight is placed more directly over the balls of the feet. He may then have to bend at the waist to place the hands on the rock, while keeping the hips over his feet.

(b) The climber must pay attention to any changes in slope angle and adjust his body accordingly. Even the slightest change in the position of the hips over the feet can mean the difference between a good grip or a quick slip. The climber should also take advantage of any rough surfaces, or other irregularities in the rock he can place his hands or feet on, to increase friction.

Figure 6-17. Slab technique.

Figure 6-17. Slab technique.

(7) Down Climbing. Descending steep rock is normally performed using a roped method; however, the climber may at some point be required to down climb a route. Even if climbing ropes and related equipment are on hand, down climbing easier terrain is often quicker than taking the time to rig a rappel point. Also, a climber might find himself confronted with difficulties part way up a route that exceed his climbing ability, or the abilities of others to follow. Whatever the case may be, down climbing is a skill well worth practicing.


1. Down climbing can inadvertently lead into an unforeseen dangerous position on a descent. When in doubt, use a roped descent.

2. Down climbing is accomplished at a difficulty level well below the ability of the climber. When in doubt, use a roped descent.

(a) On easier terrain, the climber can face outward, away from the rock, enabling him to see the route better and descend quickly. As the steepness and difficulty increase, he can often turn sideways, still having a good view of the descent route, but being better able to use the hands and feet on the holds available. On the steepest terrain, the climber will have to face the rock and down climb using good climbing techniques.

(b) Down climbing is usually more difficult than ascending a given route. Some holds will be less visible when down climbing, and slips are more likely to occur. The climber must often lean well away from the rock to look for holds and plan his movements. More weight is placed on the arms and handholds at times to accomplish this, as well as to help lower the climber to the next foothold. Hands should be moved to holds as low as waist level to give the climber more range of movement with each step. If the handholds are too high, he may have trouble reaching the next foothold. The climber must be careful not to overextend himself, forcing a release of his handholds before reaching the next foothold.


Do not drop from good handholds to a standing position. A bad landing could lead to injured ankles or a fall beyond the planned landing area.

(c) Descending slab formations can be especially tricky. The generally lower angle of slab rock may give the climber a false sense of security, and a tendency to move too quickly. Down climbing must be slow and deliberate, as in ascending, to maintain perfect balance and weight distribution over the feet. On lower-angle slab the climber may be able to stand more or less erect, facing outward or sideways, and descend using good flat foot technique. The climber should avoid the tendency to move faster, which can lead to uncontrollable speed.

(d) On steeper slab, the climber will normally face the rock and down climb, using the same smearing technique as for ascending. An alternate method for descending slab is to face away from the rock in a "crab" position (Figure 6-18). Weight is still concentrated over the feet, but may be shifted partly onto the hands to increase overall friction. The climber is able to maintain full sole contact with the rock and see the entire descent route. Allowing the buttocks to "drag behind" on the rock will decrease the actual weight on the footholds, reducing friction, and leading to the likelihood of a slip. Facing the rock, and down-climbing with good smearing technique, is usually best on steeper slab.

Figure 6-18. Descending slab in the crab position.

Figure 6-18. Descending slab in the crab position.


When the angle, length, and difficulty of the proposed climbing route surpasses the ability of the climbers' safety margin (possibly on class 4 and usually on class 5 terrain), ropes must be used to proceed. Roped climbing is only safe if accomplished correctly. Reading this manual does not constitute skill with ropes-much training and practice is necessary. Many aspects of roped climbing take time to understand and learn. Ropes are normally not used in training until the basic principles of climbing are covered.

Note: A rope is completely useless for climbing unless the climber knows how to use it safely.


Over the years, climbers have developed many different knots and procedures for tying-in to the climbing rope. Some of the older methods of tying directly into the rope require minimal equipment and are relatively easy to inspect; however, they offer little support to the climber, may induce further injuries, and may even lead to strangulation in a severe fall. A severe fall, where the climber might fall 20 feet or more and be left dangling on the end of the rope, is highly unlikely in most instances, especially for most personnel involved in military climbing. Tying directly into the rope is perfectly safe for many roped party climbs used in training on lower-angled rock. All climbers should know how to properly tie the rope around the waist in case a climbing harness is unavailable.


Although improvised harnesses are made from readily available materials and take little space in the pack or pocket, presewn harnesses provide other aspects that should be considered. No assembly is required, which reduces preparation time for roped movement. All presewn harnesses provide a range of adjustability. These harnesses have a fixed buckle that, when used correctly, will not fail before the nylon materials connected to it. However, specialized equipment, such as a presewn harness, reduce the flexibility of gear. Presewn harness are bulky, also.

a. Seat Harness. Many presewn seat harnesses are available with many different qualities separating them, including cost.

(1) The most notable difference will be the amount and placement of padding. The more padding the higher the price and the more comfort. Gear loops sewn into the waist belt on the sides and in the back are a common feature and are usually strong enough to hold quite a few carabiners and or protection. The gear loops will vary in number from one model/manufacturer to another.

(2) Although most presewn seat harnesses have a permanently attached belay loop connecting the waist belt and the leg loops, the climbing rope should be run around the waist belt and leg loop connector. The presewn belay loop adds another link to the chain of possible failure points and only gives one point of security whereas running the rope through the waist belt and leg loop connector provides two points of contact.

(3) If more than two men will be on the rope, connect the middle position(s) to the rope with a carabiner routed the same as stated in the previous paragraph.

(4) Many manufactured seat harnesses will have a presewn loop of webbing on the rear. Although this loop is much stronger than the gear loops, it is not for a belay anchor. It is a quick attachment point to haul an additional rope.

b. Chest Harness. The chest harness will provide an additional connecting point for the rope, usually in the form of a carabiner loop to attach a carabiner and rope to. This type of additional connection will provide a comfortable hanging position on the rope, but otherwise provides no additional protection from injury during a fall (if the seat harness is fitted correctly).

(1) A chest harness will help the climber remain upright on the rope during rappelling or ascending a fixed rope, especially while wearing a heavy pack. (If rappelling or ascending long or multiple pitches, let the pack hang on a drop cord below the feet and attached to the harness tie-in point.)

(2) The presewn chest harnesses available commercially will invariably offer more comfort or performance features, such as padding, gear loops, or ease of adjustment, than an improvised chest harness.

c. Full-Body Harness. Full-body harnesses incorporate a chest and seat harness into one assembly. This is the safest harness to use as it relocates the tie-in point higher, at the chest, reducing the chance of an inverted position when hanging on the rope. This is especially helpful when moving on ropes with heavy packs. A full-body harness only affects the body position when hanging on the rope and will not prevent head injury in a fall.


This type of harness does not prevent the climber from falling head first. Body position during a fall is affected only by the forces that generated the fall, and this type of harness promotes an upright position only when hanging on the rope from the attachment point.


Without the use of a manufactured harness, many methods are still available for attaching oneself to a rope. Harnesses can be improvised using rope or webbing and knots.

a. Swami Belt. The swami belt is a simple, belt-only harness created by wrapping rope or webbing around the waistline and securing the ends. One-inch webbing will provide more comfort. Although an effective swami belt can be assembled with a minimum of one wrap, at least two wraps are recommended for comfort, usually with approximately ten feet of material. The ends are secured with an appropriate knot.

b. Bowline-on-a-Coil. Traditionally, the standard method for attaching oneself to the climbing rope was with a bowline-on-a-coil around the waist. The extra wraps distribute the force of a fall over a larger area of the torso than a single bowline would, and help prevent the rope from riding up over the rib cage and under the armpits. The knot must be tied snugly around the narrow part of the waist, just above the bony portions of the hips (pelvis). Avoid crossing the wraps by keeping them spread over the waist area. "Sucking in the gut" a bit when making the wraps will ensure a snug fit.

(1) The bowline-on-a-coil can be used to tie-in to the end of the rope (Figure 6-19). The end man should have a minimum of four wraps around the waist before completing the knot.

Figure 6-19. Tying-in with a bowline-on-a-coil.

Figure 6-19. Tying-in with a bowline-on-a-coil.

(2) The bowline-on-a-coil is a safe and effective method for attaching to the rope when the terrain is low-angled, WITHOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF A SEVERE FALL. When the terrain becomes steeper, a fall will generate more force on the climber and this will be felt through the coils of this type of attachment. A hard fall will cause the coils to ride up against the ribs. In a severe fall, any tie-in around the waist only could place a "shock load" on the climber's lower back. Even in a relatively short fall, if the climber ends up suspended in mid-air and unable to regain footing on the rock, the rope around the waist can easily cut off circulation and breathing in a relatively short time.

(3) The climbing harness distributes the force of a fall over the entire pelvic region, like a parachute harness. Every climber should know how to tie some sort of improvised climbing harness from sling material. A safe, and comfortable, seat/chest combination harness can be tied from one-inch tubular nylon.

c. Improvised Seat Harness. A seat harness can be tied from a length of webbing approximately 25 feet long (Figure 6-20).

(1) Locate the center of the rope. Off to one side, tie two fixed loops approximately 6 inches apart (overhand loops). Adjust the size of the loops so they fit snugly around the thigh. The loops are tied into the sling "off center" so the remaining ends are different lengths. The short end should be approximately 4 feet long (4 to 5 feet for larger individuals).

(2) Slip the leg loops over the feet and up to the crotch, with the knots to the front. Make one complete wrap around the waist with the short end, wrapping to the outside, and hold it in place on the hip. Keep the webbing flat and free of twists when wrapping.

(3) Make two to three wraps around the waist with the long end in the opposite direction (wrapping to the outside), binding down on the short end to hold it in place. Grasping both ends, adjust the waist wraps to a snug fit. Connect the ends with the appropriate knot between the front and one side so you will be able to see what you are doing.

Figure 6-20. Improvised seat and chest harness.

Figure 6-20. Improvised seat and chest harness.

d. Improvised Chest Harness. The chest harness can be tied from rope or webbing, but remember that with webbing, wider is better and will be more comfortable when you load this harness. Remember as you tie this harness that the remaining ends will need to be secured so choose the best length. Approximately 6 to 10 feet usually works.

(1) Tie the ends of the webbing together with the appropriate knot, making a sling 3 to 4 feet long.

(2) Put a single twist into the sling, forming two loops.

(3) Place an arm through each loop formed by the twist, just as you would put on a jacket, and drape the sling over the shoulders. The twist, or cross, in the sling should be in the middle of the back.

(4) Join the two loops at the chest with a carabiner. The water knot should be set off to either side for easy inspection (if a pack is to be worn, the knot will be uncomfortable if it gets between the body and the pack). The chest harness should fit just loose enough to allow necessary clothing and not to restrict breathing or circulation. Adjust the size of the sling if necessary.

e. Improvised Full-Body Harness. Full-body harnesses incorporate a chest and seat harness into one assembly.

(1) The full-body harness is the safest harness because it relocates the tie-in point higher, at the chest, reducing the chance of an inverted hanging position on the rope. This is especially helpful when moving on ropes with heavy packs. A full-body harness affects the body position only when hanging on the rope.


A full-body harness does not prevent falling head first; body position in a fall is caused by the forces that caused the fall.

(2) Although running the rope through the carabiner of the chest harness does, in effect, create a type of full-body harness, it is not a true full-body harness until the chest harness and the seat harness are connected as one piece. A true full-body harness can be improvised by connecting the chest harness to the seat harness, but not by just tying the rope into both—the two harnesses must be "fixed" as one harness. Fix them together with a short loop of webbing or rope so that the climbing rope can be connected directly to the chest harness and your weight is supported by the seat harness through the connecting material.

f. Attaching the Rope to the Improvised Harness. The attachment of the climbing rope to the harness is a CRITICAL LINK. The strength of the rope means nothing if it is attached poorly, or incorrectly, and comes off the harness in a fall. The climber ties the end of the climbing rope to the seat harness with an appropriate knot. If using a chest harness, the standing part of the rope is then clipped into the chest harness carabiner. The seat harness absorbs the main force of the fall, and the chest harness helps keep the body upright.


The knot must be tied around all the waist wraps and the 6-inch length of webbing between the leg loops.

(1) A middleman must create a fixed loop to tie in to. A rethreaded figure-eight loop tied on a doubled rope or the three loop bowline can be used. If using the three loop bowline, ensure the end, or third loop formed in the knot, is secured around the tie-in loops with an overhand knot. The standing part of the rope going to the lead climber is clipped into the chest harness carabiner.


The climbing rope is not clipped into the chest harness when belaying.

(2) The choice of whether to tie-in with a bowline-on-a-coil or into a climbing harness depends entirely on the climber's judgment, and possibly the equipment available. A good rule of thumb is: "Wear a climbing harness when the potential for severe falls exists and for all travel over snow-covered glaciers because of the crevasse fall hazard."

(3) Under certain conditions many climbers prefer to attach the rope to the seat harness with a locking carabiner, rather than tying the rope to it. This is a common practice for moderate snow and ice climbing, and especially for glacier travel where wet and frozen knots become difficult to untie.


Because the carabiner gate may be broken or opened by protruding rocks during a fall, tie the rope directly to the harness for maximum safety.


Tying-in to the climbing rope and moving as a member of a rope team increases the climber's margin of safety on difficult, exposed terrain. In some instances, such as when traveling over snow-covered glaciers, rope team members can often move at the same time, relying on the security of a tight rope and "team arrest" techniques to halt a fall by any one member. On steep terrain, however, simultaneous movement only helps to ensure that if one climber falls, he will jerk the other rope team members off the slope. For the climbing rope to be of any value on steep rock climbs, the rope team must incorporate "belays" into the movement.

Belaying is a method of managing the rope in such a way that, if one person falls, the fall can be halted or "arrested" by another rope team member (belayer). One person climbs at a time, while being belayed from above or below by another. The belayer manipulates the rope so that friction, or a "brake," can be applied to halt a fall. Belay techniques are also used to control the descent of personnel and equipment on fixed rope installations, and for additional safety on rappels and stream crossings.

Belaying is a skill that requires practice to develop proficiency. Setting up a belay may at first appear confusing to the beginner, but with practice, the procedure should become "second nature." If confronted with a peculiar problem during the setup of a belay, try to use common sense and apply the basic principles stressed throughout this text. Remember the following key points:

  • Select the best possible terrain features for the position and use terrain to your advantage.

  • Use a well braced, sitting position whenever possible.

  • Aim and anchor the belay for all possible load directions.

  • Follow the "minimum" rule for belay anchors-2 for a downward pull, 1 for an upward pull.

  • Ensure anchor attachments are aligned, independent, and snug.

  • Stack the rope properly.

  • Choose a belay technique appropriate for the climbing.

  • Use a guide carabiner for rope control in all body belays.

  • Ensure anchor attachments, guide carabiner (if applicable), and rope running to the climber are all on the guidehand side.

  • The brake hand remains on the rope when belaying.


Never remove the brake hand from the rope while belaying. If the brake hand is removed, there is no belay.

  • Ensure you are satisfied with your position before giving the command "BELAY ON."

  • The belay remains in place until the climber gives the command "OFF BELAY."


The belay remains in place the from the time the belayer commands "BELAY ON" until the climber commands "OFF BELAY."


A number of different belay techniques are used in modern climbing, ranging from the basic "body belays" to the various "mechanical belays," which incorporate some type of friction device.

a. Whether the rope is wrapped around the body, or run through a friction device, the rope management procedure is basically the same. The belayer must be able to perform three basic functions: manipulate the rope to give the climber slack during movement, take up rope to remove excess slack, and apply the brake to halt a fall.

b. The belayer must be able to perform all three functions while maintaining "total control" of the rope at all times. Total control means the brake hand is NEVER removed from the rope. When giving slack, the rope simply slides through the grasp of the brake hand, at times being fed to the climber with the other "feeling" or guide hand. Taking up rope, however, requires a certain technique to ensure the brake hand remains on the rope at all times. The following procedure describes how to take up excess rope and apply the brake in a basic body belay.

(1) Grasping the rope with both hands, place it behind the back and around the hips. The hand on the section of rope between the belayer and the climber would be the guide hand. The other hand is the brake hand.

(2) Take in rope with the brake hand until the arm is fully extended. The guide hand can also help to pull in the rope (Figure 6-21, step 1).

(3) Holding the rope in the brake hand, slide the guide hand out, extending the arm so the guide hand is father away from the body than the brake hand (Figure 6-21, step 2).

(4) Grasp both parts of the rope, to the front of the brake hand, with the guide hand (Figure 6-21, step 3).

(5) Slide the brake hand back towards the body (Figure 6-21, step 4).

(6) Repeat step 5 of Figure 6-21. The brake can be applied at any moment during the procedure. It is applied by wrapping the rope around the front of the hips while increasing grip with the brake hand (Figure 6-21, step 6).

Figure 6-21. Managing the rope.

Figure 6-21. Managing the rope.


The climber may choose from a variety of belay techniques. A method that works well in one situation may not be the best choice in another. The choice between body belays and mechanical belays depends largely on equipment available, what the climber feels most comfortable with, and the amount of load, or fall force, the belay may have to absorb. The following describes a few of the more widely used techniques, and the ones most applicable to military mountaineering.

a. Body Belay. The basic body belay is the most widely used technique on moderate terrain. It uses friction between the rope and the clothed body as the rope is pressured across the clothing. It is the simplest belay, requiring no special equipment, and should be the first technique learned by all climbers. A body belay gives the belayer the greatest "feel" for the climber, letting him know when to give slack or take up rope. Rope management in a body belay is quick and easy, especially for beginners, and is effective in snow and ice climbing when ropes often become wet, stiff, and frozen. The body belay, in its various forms, will hold low to moderate impact falls well. It has been known to arrest some severe falls, although probably not without inflicting great pain on the belayer.


The belayer must ensure he is wearing adequate clothing to protect his body from rope burns when using a body belay. Heavy duty cotton or leather work gloves can also be worn to protect the hands.

(1) Sitting Body Belay. The sitting body belay is the preferred position and is usually the most secure (Figure 6-22). The belayer sits facing the direction where the force of a fall will likely come from, using terrain to his advantage, and attempts to brace both feet against the rock to support his position. It is best to sit in a slight depression, placing the buttocks lower than the feet, and straightening the legs for maximum support. When perfectly aligned, the rope running to the climber will pass between the belayer's feet, and both legs will equally absorb the force of a fall. Sometimes, the belayer may not be able to sit facing the direction he would like, or both feet cannot be braced well. The leg on the "guide hand" side should then point towards the load, bracing the foot on the rock when possible. The belayer can also "straddle" a large tree or rock nubbin for support, as long as the object is solid enough to sustain the possible load.

Figure 6-22. Sitting body belay.

Figure 6-22. Sitting body belay.

(2) Standing Body Belay. The standing body belay is used on smaller ledges where there is no room for the belayer to sit (Figure 6-23). What appears at first to be a fairly unstable position can actually be quite secure when belay anchors are placed at or above shoulder height to support the stance when the force will be downward.

Figure 6-23. Standing body belay.

Figure 6-23. Standing body belay.

(a) For a body belay to work effectively, the belayer must ensure that the rope runs around the hips properly, and remains there under load when applying the brake. The rope should run around the narrow portion of the pelvic girdle, just below the bony high points of the hips. If the rope runs too high, the force of a fall could injure the belayer's midsection and lower rib cage. If the rope runs too low, the load may pull the rope below the buttocks, dumping the belayer out of position. It is also possible for a strong upward or downward pull to strip the rope away from the belayer, rendering the belay useless.

(b) To prevent any of these possibilities from happening, the belay rope is clipped into a carabiner attached to the guide hand side of the seat harness (or bowline-on-a-coil). This "guide carabiner" helps keep the rope in place around the hips and prevents loss of control in upward or downward loads (Figure 6-24).

Figure 6-24. Guide carabiner for rope control in a body belay.

Figure 6-24. Guide carabiner for rope control in a body belay.

b. Mechanical Belay. A mechanical belay must be used whenever there is potential for the lead climber to take a severe fall. The holding power of a belay device is vastly superior to any body belay under high loads. However, rope management in a mechanical belay is more difficult to master and requires more practice. For the most part, the basic body belay should be totally adequate on a typical military route, as routes used during military operations should be the easiest to negotiate.

(1) Munter Hitch. The Munter hitch is an excellent mechanical belay technique and requires only a rope and a carabiner (Figure 6-25). The Munter is actually a two-way friction hitch. The Munter hitch will flip back and forth through the carabiner as the belayer switches from giving slack to taking up rope. The carabiner must be large enough, and of the proper design, to allow this function. The locking pear-shaped carabiner, or pearabiner, is designed for the Munter hitch.

(a) The Munter hitch works exceptionally well as a lowering belay off the anchor. As a climbing belay, the carabiner should be attached to the front of the belayer's seat harness. The hitch is tied by forming a loop and a bight in the rope, attaching both to the carabiner. It's fairly easy to place the bight on the carabiner backwards, which forms an obvious, useless hitch. Put some tension on the Munter to ensure it is formed correctly, as depicted in the following illustrations.

(b) The Munter hitch will automatically "lock-up" under load as the brake hand grips the rope. The brake is increased by pulling the slack rope away from the body, towards the load. The belayer must be aware that flipping the hitch DOES NOT change the function of the hands. The hand on the rope running to the climber, or load, is always the guide hand.

Figure 6-25. Munter hitch.

Figure 6-25. Munter hitch.

(2) Figure-Eight Device. The figure-eight device is a versatile piece of equipment and, though developed as a rappel device, has become widely accepted as an effective mechanical belay device (Figure 6-26). The advantage of any mechanical belay is friction required to halt a fall is applied on the rope through the device, rather than around the belayer's body. The device itself provides rope control for upward and downward pulls and excellent friction for halting severe falls. The main principle behind the figure-eight device in belay mode is the friction developing on the rope as it reaches and exceeds the 90-degree angle between the rope entering the device and leaving the device. As a belay device, the figure-eight works well for both belayed climbing and for lowering personnel and equipment on fixed-rope installations.

(a) As a climbing belay, a bight placed into the climbing rope is run through the "small eye" of the device and attached to a locking carabiner at the front of the belayer's seat harness. A short, small diameter safety rope is used to connect the "large eye" of the figure eight to the locking carabiner for control of the device. The guide hand is placed on the rope running to the climber. Rope management is performed as in a body belay. The brake is applied by pulling the slack rope in the brake hand towards the body, locking the rope between the device and the carabiner.

(b) As a lowering belay, the device is normally attached directly to the anchor with the rope routed as in rappelling.

Figure 6-26. Figure-eight device.

Figure 6-26. Figure-eight device.

Note: Some figure-eight descenders should not be used as belay devices due to their construction and design. Always refer to manufacturer's specifications and directions before use.

(3) Mechanical Camming Device. The mechanical camming device has an internal camming action that begins locking the rope in place as friction is increased. Unlike the other devices, the mechanical camming device can stop a falling climber without any input from the belayer. A few other devices perform similarly to this, but have no moving parts. Some limitations to these type devices are minimum and maximum rope diameters.

(4) Other Mechanical Belay Devices. There are many other commercially available mechanical belay devices. Most of these work with the same rope movement direction and the same braking principle. The air traffic controller (ATC), slotted plate, and other tube devices are made in many different shapes. These all work on the same principle as the figure-eight device—friction increases on the rope as it reaches and exceeds the 90-degree angle between the rope entering the device and leaving the device.


A belay can be established using either a direct or indirect connection. Each type has advantages and disadvantages. The choice will depend on the intended use of the belay.

a. Direct Belay. The direct belay removes any possible forces from the belayer and places this force completely on the anchor. Used often for rescue installations or to bring a second climber up to a new belay position in conjunction with the Munter hitch, the belay can be placed above the belayer's stance, creating a comfortable position and ease of applying the brake. Also, if the second falls or weights the rope, the belayer is not locked into a position. Direct belays provide no shock-absorbing properties from the belayer's attachment to the system as does the indirect belay; therefore, the belayer is apt to pay closer attention to the belaying process.

b. Indirect Belay. An indirect belay, the most commonly used, uses a belay device attached to the belayer's harness. This type of belay provides dynamic shock or weight absorption by the belayer if the climber falls or weights the rope, which reduces the direct force on the anchor and prevents a severe shock load to the anchor.


In rock climbing, climbers must sometimes make do with marginal protection placements along a route, but belay positions must be made as "bombproof" as possible. Additionally, the belayer must set up the belay in relation to where the fall force will come from and pay strict attention to proper rope management for the belay to be effective. All belay positions are established with the anchor connection to the front of the harness. If the belay is correctly established, the belayer will feel little or no force if the climber falls or has to rest on the rope. Regardless of the actual belay technique used, five basic steps are required to set up a sound belay.

a. Select Position and Stance. Once the climbing line is picked, the belayer selects his position. It's best if the position is off to the side of the actual line, putting the belayer out of the direct path of a potential fall or any rocks kicked loose by the climber. The position should allow the belayer to maintain a comfortable, relaxed stance, as he could be in the position for a fairly long time. Large ledges that allow a well braced, sitting stance are preferred. Look for belay positions close to bombproof natural anchors. The position must at least allow for solid artificial placements.

b. Aim the Belay. With the belay position selected, the belay must now be "aimed." The belayer determines where the rope leading to the climber will run and the direction the force of a fall will likely come from. When a lead climber begins placing protection, the fall force on the belayer will be in some upward direction, and in line with the first protection placement. If this placement fails under load, the force on the belay could be straight down again. The belayer must aim his belay for all possible load directions, adjusting his position or stance when necessary. The belay can be aimed through an anchor placement to immediately establish an upward pull; however, the belayer must always be prepared for the more severe downward fall force in the event intermediate protection placements fail.

c. Anchor the Belay. For a climbing belay to be considered bombproof, the belayer must be attached to a solid anchor capable of withstanding the highest possible fall force. A solid natural anchor would be ideal, but more often the belayer will have to place pitons or chocks. A single artificial placement should never be considered adequate for anchoring a belay (except at ground level). Multiple anchor points capable of supporting both upward and downward pulls should be placed. The rule of thumb is to place two anchors for a downward pull and one anchor for an upward pull as a MINIMUM. The following key points also apply to anchoring belays.

(1) Each anchor must be placed in line with the direction of pull it is intended to support.

(2) Each anchor attachment must be rigged "independently" so a failure of one will not shock load remaining placements or cause the belayer to be pulled out of position.

(3) The attachment between the anchor and the belayer must be snug to support the stance. Both belayer's stance and belay anchors should absorb the force of a fall.

(4) It is best for the anchors to be placed relatively close to the belayer with short attachments. If the climber has to be tied-off in an emergency, say after a severe fall, the belayer can attach a Prusik sling to the climbing rope, reach back, and connect the sling to one of the anchors. The load can be placed on the Prusik and the belayer can come out of the system to render help.

(5) The belayer can use either a portion of the climbing rope or slings of the appropriate length to connect himself to the anchors. It's best to use the climbing rope whenever possible, saving the slings for the climb. The rope is attached using either figure eight loops or clove hitches. Clove hitches have the advantage of being easily adjusted. If the belayer has to change his stance at some point, he can reach back with the guide hand and adjust the length of the attachment through the clove hitch as needed.

(6) The anchor attachments should also help prevent the force of a fall from "rotating" the belayer out of position. To accomplish this, the climbing rope must pass around the "guide-hand side" of the body to the anchors. Sling attachments are connected to the belayer's seat harness (or bowline-on-a-coil) on the guide-hand side.

(7) Arrangement of rope and sling attachments may vary according to the number and location of placements. Follow the guidelines set forth and remember the key points for belay anchors; "in line", "independent", and "snug". Figure 6-27 shows an example of a common arrangement, attaching the rope to the two "downward" anchors and a sling to the "upward" anchor. Note how the rope is connected from one of the anchors back to the belayer. This is not mandatory, but often helps "line-up" the second attachment.

Figure 6-27. Anchoring a belay.

Figure 6-27. Anchoring a belay.

d. Stack the Rope. Once the belayer is anchored into position, he must stack the rope to ensure it is free of twists and tangles that might hinder rope management in the belay. The rope should be stacked on the ground, or on the ledge, where it will not get caught in cracks or nubbins as it is fed out to the climber.

(1) On small ledges, the rope can be stacked on top of the anchor attachments if there is no other place to lay it, but make sure to stack it carefully so it won't tangle with the anchored portion of the rope or other slings. The belayer must also ensure that the rope will not get tangled around his legs or other body parts as it "feeds" out.

(2) The rope should never be allowed to hang down over the ledge. If it gets caught in the rock below the position, the belayer may have to tie-off the climber and come out of the belay to free the rope; a time-consuming and unnecessary task. The final point to remember is the rope must be stacked "from the belayer's end" so the rope running to the climber comes off the "top" of the stacked pile.

e. Attach the Belay. The final step of the procedure is to attach the belay. With the rope properly stacked, the belayer takes the rope coming off the top of the pile, removes any slack between himself and the climber, and applies the actual belay technique. If using a body belay, ensure the rope is clipped into the guide carabiner.

(1) The belayer should make one quick, final inspection of his belay. If the belay is set up correctly, the anchor attachments, guide carabiner if applicable, and the rope running to the climber will all be on the "guide hand" side, which is normally closest to the rock (Figure 6-28). If the climber takes a fall, the force, if any, should not have any negative effect on the belayer's involvement in the system. The brake hand is out away from the slope where it won't be jammed between the body and the rock. The guide hand can be placed on the rock to help support the stance when applying the brake.

Figure 6-28. Belay setup.

Figure 6-28. Belay setup.

(2) When the belayer is satisfied with his position, he gives the signal, "BELAY ON!". When belaying the "second", the same procedure is used to set up the belay. Unless the belay is aimed for an upward pull, the fall force is of course downward and the belayer is usually facing away from the rock, the exception being a hanging belay on a vertical face. If the rope runs straight down to the climber and the anchors are directly behind the position, the belayer may choose to brake with the hand he feels most comfortable with. Anchor attachments, guide carabiner, and rope running to the climber through the guide hand must still be aligned on the same side to prevent the belayer from being rotated out of position, unless the belayer is using an improvised harness and the anchor attachment is at the rear.


A "top-rope" is a belay setup used in training to protect a climber while climbing on longer, exposed routes. A solid, bombproof anchor is required at the top of the pitch. The belayer is positioned either on the ground with the rope running through the top anchor and back to the climber, or at the top at the anchor. The belayer takes in rope as the climber proceeds up the rock. If this is accomplished with the belayer at the bottom, the instructor can watch the belayer while he coaches the climber through the movements.


Do not use a body belay for top-rope climbing. The rope will burn the belayer if the climber has to be lowered.


Communication is often difficult during a climb. As the distance between climber and belayer increases, it becomes harder to distinguish one word from another and the shortest sentence may be heard as nothing more than jumbled syllables. A series of standard voice commands were developed over the years to signal the essential rope management functions in a belayed climb. Each command is concise and sounds a bit different from another to reduce the risk of a misunderstanding between climber and belayer. They must be pronounced clearly and loudly so they can be heard and understood in the worst conditions.


Table 6-1 lists standard rope commands and their meanings in sequence as they would normally be used on a typical climb. (Note how the critical "BELAY" commands are reversed so they sound different and will not be confused.)






The belay is on; you may climb when ready; the rope will be managed as needed.


(as a courtesy)

I am ready to climb.

(as a courtesy)


Proceed, and again, the rope will be managed as necessary.



PROTECT YOURSELF FROM FALLING OBJECTS. Signal will be echoed by all climbers in the area. If multipitch climbing, ensure climbers below hear.



Take in excess rope between us without pulling me off the route.

Belayer takes in rope.



Release all braking/tension on the rope so I can have slack without pulling the rope.

Belayer removes brake/tension.



Take all the slack, apply brake, and hold me. My weight will be on the rope.

Belayer removes slack and applies brake.



I am falling.

Belayer applies brake to arrest the fall.



You have approximately 25 feet of rope left. Start looking for the next belay position.

Climber selects a belay position.



You have approximately 15 feet of rope left. Start looking for the next belay position.

Climber selects a belay position within the next few feet.


Set up the belay.

You have 5 feet of rope left. Set up the belay position. You have no more rope.

Climber sets up the belay.

Removes the belay, remains anchored. Prepares to climb.


I have finished climbing and I am anchored. You may remove the belay.

Belayer removes the belay and, remaining anchored, prepares to climb.

Table 6-1. Rope commands.


Sometimes the loudest scream cannot be heard when the climber and belayer are far apart. This is especially true in windy conditions, or when the climber is around a corner, above an overhang, or at the back of a ledge. It may be necessary to use a series of "tugs" on the rope in place of the standard voice commands. To avoid any possible confusion with interpretation of multiple rope tug commands, use only one.

a. While a lead climb is in progress, the most important command is "BELAY ON." This command is given only by the climber when the climber is anchored and is prepared for the second to begin climbing. With the issue of this command, the second knows the climber is anchored and the second prepares to climb.

b. For a rope tug command, the leader issues three distinct tugs on the rope AFTER anchoring and putting the second on belay. This is the signal for "BELAY ON" and signals the second to climb when ready. The new belayer keeps slack out of the rope.


In military mountaineering, the primary mission of a roped climbing team is to "fix" a route with some type of rope installation to assist movement of less trained personnel in the unit. This duty falls upon the most experienced climbers in the unit, usually working in two- or three-man groups or teams called assault climbing teams. Even if the climbing is for another purpose, roped climbing should be performed whenever the terrain becomes difficult and exposed.


Top-roped climbing is used for training purposes only. This method of climbing is not used for movement due to the necessity of pre-placing anchors at the top of a climb. If you can easily access the top of a climb, you can easily avoid the climb itself.

a. For training, top-roped climbing is valuable because it allows climbers to attempt climbs above their skill level and or to hone present skills without the risk of a fall. Top-roped climbing may be used to increase the stamina of a climber training to climb longer routes as well as for a climber practicing protection placements.

b. The belayer is positioned either at the base of a climb with the rope running through the top anchor and back to the climber or at the top at the anchor. The belayer takes in rope as the climber moves up the rock, giving the climber the same protection as a belay from above. If this is accomplished with the belayer at the bottom, the instructor is able to keep an eye on the belayer while he coaches the climber through the movements.


A lead climb consists of a belayer, a leader or climber, rope(s), and webbing or hardware used to establish anchors or protect the climb. As he climbs the route, the leader emplaces "intermediate" anchors, and the climbing rope is connected to these anchors with a carabiner. These "intermediate" anchors protect the climber against a fall-thus the term "protecting the climb."


Intermediate anchors are commonly referred to as "protection," "pro," "pieces," "pieces of pro," "pro placements," and so on. For standardization within this publication, these specific anchors will be referred to as "protection;" anchors established for other purposes, such as rappel points, belays, or other rope installations, will be referred to as "anchors."


During all lead climbing, each climber in the team is either anchored or being belayed.

a. Lead climbing with two climbers is the preferred combination for movement on technically difficult terrain. Two climbers are at least twice as fast as three climbers, and are efficient for installing a "fixed rope," probably the most widely used rope installation in the mountains. A group of three climbers are typically used on moderate snow, ice, and snow-covered glaciers where the rope team can often move at the same time, stopping occasionally to set up belays on particularly difficult sections. A group or team of three climbers is sometimes used in rock climbing because of an odd number of personnel, a shortage of ropes (such as six climbers and only two ropes), or to protect and assist an individual who has little or no experience in climbing and belaying. Whichever technique is chosen, a standard roped climbing procedure is used for maximum speed and safety.

b. When the difficulty of the climbing is within the "leading ability" of both climbers, valuable time can be saved by "swinging leads." This is normally the most efficient method for climbing multipitch routes. The second finishes cleaning the first pitch and continues climbing, taking on the role of lead climber. Unless he requires equipment from the other rack or desires a break, he can climb past the belay and immediately begin leading. The belayer simply adjusts his position, re-aiming the belay once the new leader begins placing protection. Swinging leads, or "leap frogging," should be planned before starting the climb so the leader knows to anchor the upper belay for both upward and downward pulls during the setup.

c. The procedures for conducting a lead climb with a group of two are relatively simple. The most experienced individual is the "lead" climber or leader, and is responsible for selecting the route. The leader must ensure the route is well within his ability and the ability of the second. The lead climber carries most of the climbing equipment in order to place protection along the route and set up the next belay. The leader must also ensure that the second has the necessary equipment, such as a piton hammer, nut tool, etc., to remove any protection that the leader may place.

(1) The leader is responsible for emplacing protection frequently enough and in such a manner that, in the event that either the leader or the second should fall, the fall will be neither long enough nor hard enough to result in injury. The leader must also ensure that the rope is routed in a way that will allow it to run freely through the protection placements, thus minimizing friction, or "rope drag".

(2) The other member of the climbing team, the belayer (sometimes referred to as the "second"), is responsible for belaying the leader, removing the belay anchor, and retrieving the protection placed by the leader between belay positions (also called "cleaning the pitch").

(3) Before the climb starts, the second will normally set up the first belay while the leader is arranging his rack. When the belay is ready, the belayer signals, "BELAY ON", affirming that the belay is "on" and the rope will be managed as necessary. When the leader is ready, he double checks the belay. The leader can then signal, "CLIMBING", only as a courtesy, to let the belayer know he is ready to move. The belayer can reply with "CLIMB", again, only as a courtesy, reaffirming that the belay is "on" and the rope will be managed as necessary. The leader then begins climbing.

(4) While belaying, the second must pay close attention to the climber's every move, ensuring that the rope runs free and does not inhibit the climber's movements. If he cannot see the climber, he must "feel" the climber through the rope. Unless told otherwise by the climber, the belayer can slowly give slack on the rope as the climber proceeds on the route. The belayer should keep just enough slack in the rope so the climber does not have to pull it through the belay. If the climber wants a tighter rope, it can be called for. If the belayer notices too much slack developing in the rope, the excess rope should be taken in quickly. It is the belayer's responsibility to manage the rope, whether by sight or feel, until the climber tells him otherwise.

(5) As the leader protects the climb, slack will sometimes be needed to place the rope through the carabiner (clipping), in a piece of protection above the tie-in point on the leaders harness. In this situation, the leader gives the command "SLACK" and the belayer gives slack, (if more slack is needed the command will be repeated). The leader is able to pull a bight of rope above the tie-in point and clip it into the carabiner in the protection above. When the leader has completed the connection, or the clip, the command "TAKE ROPE" is given by the leader and the belayer takes in the remaining slack.

(6) The leader continues on the route until either a designated belay location is reached or he is at the end of or near the end of the rope. At this position, the leader sets an anchor, connects to the anchor and signals "OFF BELAY". The belayer prepares to climb by removing all but at least one of his anchors and secures the remaining equipment. The belayer remains attached to at least one anchor until the command "BELAY ON" is given.

d. When the leader selects a particular route, he must also determine how much, and what types, of equipment might be required to safely negotiate the route. The selected equipment must be carried by the leader. The leader must carry enough equipment to safely protect the route, additional anchors for the next belay, and any other items to be carried individually such as rucksacks or individual weapons.

(1) The leader will assemble, or "rack," the necessary equipment onto his harness or onto slings around the head and shoulder. A typical leader "rack" consists of:

  • Six to eight small wired stoppers on a carabiner.

  • Four to six medium to large wired stoppers on a carabiner.

  • Assorted hexentrics, each on a separate carabiner.

  • SLCDs of required size, each on a separate carabiner.

  • Five to ten standard length runners, with two carabiners on each.

  • Two to three double length runners, with two carabiners on each.

  • Extra carabiners.

  • Nut tool.


The route chosen will dictate, to some degree, the necessary equipment. Members of a climbing team may need to consolidate gear to climb a particular route.

(2) The belayer and the leader both should carry many duplicate items while climbing.

  • Short Prusik sling.

  • Long Prusik sling.

  • Cordellette.

  • 10 feet of 1-inch webbing.

  • 20 feet of 1-inch webbing.

  • Belay device (a combination belay/rappel device is multifunctional).

  • Rappel device (a combination belay/rappel device is multifunctional).

  • Large locking carabiner (pear shape carabiners are multifunctional).

  • Extra carabiners.

  • Nut tool (if stoppers are carried).


If using an over the shoulder gear sling, place the items in order from smallest to the front and largest to the rear.

e. Leading a difficult pitch is the most hazardous task in roped climbing. The lead climber may be exposed to potentially long, hard falls and must exercise keen judgment in route selection, placement of protection, and routing of the climbing rope through the protection. The leader should try to keep the climbing line as direct as possible to the next belay to allow the rope to run smoothly through the protection with minimal friction. Protection should be placed whenever the leader feels he needs it, and BEFORE moving past a difficult section.


The climber must remember he will fall twice the distance from his last piece of protection before the rope can even begin to stop him.

(1) Placing Protection. Generally, protection is placed from one stable position to the next. The anchor should be placed as high as possible to reduce the potential fall distance between placements. If the climbing is difficult, protection should be placed more frequently. If the climbing becomes easier, protection can be placed farther apart, saving hardware for difficult sections. On some routes an extended diagonal or horizontal movement, known as a traverse, is required. As the leader begins this type of move, he must consider the second's safety as well as his own. The potential fall of the second will result in a pendulum swing if protection is not adequate to prevent this. The danger comes from any objects in the swinging path of the second.


Leader should place protection prior to, during, and upon completion of any traverse. This will minimize the potential swing, or pendulum, for both the leader and second if either should fall.

(2) Correct Clipping Technique. Once an anchor is placed, the climber "clips" the rope into the carabiner (Figure 6-29). As a carabiner hangs from the protection, the rope can be routed through the carabiner in two possible ways. One way will allow the rope to run smoothly as the climber moves past the placement; the other way will often create a dangerous situation in which the rope could become "unclipped" from the carabiner if the leader were to fall on this piece of protection. In addition, a series of incorrectly clipped carabiners may contribute to rope drag. When placing protection, the leader must ensure the carabiner on the protection does not hang with the carabiner gate facing the rock; when placing protection in a crack ensure the carabiner gate is not facing into the crack.

  • Grasp the rope with either hand with the thumb pointing down the rope towards the belayer

  • Pull enough rope to reach the carabiner with a bight

  • Note the direction the carabiner is hanging from the protection

  • Place the bight into the carabiner so that, when released, the rope does not cause the carabiner to twist.

(a) If the route changes direction, clipping the carabiner will require a little more thought. Once leaving that piece of protection, the rope may force the carabiner to twist if not correctly clipped. If the clip is made correctly, a rotation of the clipped carabiner to ensure that the gate is not resting against the rock may be all that is necessary.


Ensure the carabiner gate is not resting against a protrusion or crack edge in the rock surface; the rock may cause the gate to open.

(b) Once the rope is clipped into the carabiner, the climber should check to see that it is routed correctly by pulling on the rope in the direction it will travel when the climber moves past that position.

(c) Another potential hazard peculiar to leading should be eliminated before the climber continues. The carabiner is attached to the anchor or runner with the gate facing away from the rock and opening down for easy insertion of the rope. However, in a leader fall, it is possible for the rope to run back over the carabiner as the climber falls below the placement. If the carabiner is left with the gate facing the direction of the route there is a chance that the rope will open the gate and unclip itself entirely from the placement. To prevent this possibility, the climber should ensure that after the clip has been made, the gate is facing away from the direction of the route. There are two ways to accomplish this: determine which direction the gate will face before the protection or runner is placed or once clipped, rotate the carabiner upwards 180 degrees. This problem is more apt to occur if bent gate carabiners are used. Straight gate ovals or "Ds" are less likely to have this problem and are stronger and are highly recommended. Bent gate carabiners are easier to clip the rope into and are used mostly on routes with bolts preplaced for protection. Bent gate carabiners are not recommended for many climbing situations.

Figure 6-29. Clipping on to protection.

Figure 6-29. Clipping on to protection.

(3) Reducing Rope Drag; Using Runners. No matter how direct the route, the climber will often encounter problems with "rope drag" through the protection positions. The friction created by rope drag will increase to some degree every time the rope passes through a carabiner, or anchor. It will increase dramatically if the rope begins to "zigzag" as it travels through the carabiners. To prevent this, the placements should be positioned so the rope creates a smooth, almost straight line as it passes through the carabiners (Figure 6-30). Minimal rope drag is an inconvenience; severe rope drag may actually pull the climber off balance, inducing a fall.

Figure 6-30. Use of slings on protection.

Figure 6-30. Use of slings on protection.


Rope drag can cause confusion when belaying the second or follower up to a new belay position. Rope drag can be mistaken for the climber, causing the belayer to not take in the necessary slack in the rope and possibly resulting in a serious fall.

(a) If it is not possible to place all the protection so the carabiners form a straight line as the rope moves through, you should "extend" the protection (Figure 6-31). Do this by attaching an appropriate length sling, or runner, to the protection to extend the rope connection in the necessary direction. The runner is attached to the protection's carabiner while the rope is clipped into a carabiner at the other end of the runner. Extending placements with runners will allow the climber to vary the route slightly while the rope continues to run in a relatively straight line.

Figure 6-31. Use of slings to extend placement positions.

Figure 6-31. Use of slings to extend placement positions.

(b) Not only is rope drag a hindrance, it can cause undue movement of protection as the rope tightens between any "out of line" placements. Rope drag through chock placements can be dangerous. As the climber moves above the placements, an outward or upward pull from rope drag may cause correctly set chocks to pop out, even when used "actively". Most all chocks placed for leader protection should be extended with a runner, even if the line is direct to eliminate the possibility of movement.

(c) Wired chocks are especially prone to wiggling loose as the rope pulls on the stiff cable attachment. All wired chocks used for leader protection should be extended to reduce the chance of the rope pulling them out (Figure 6-32). Some of the larger chocks, such as roped Hexentrics and Tri-Cams, have longer slings pre-attached that will normally serve as an adequate runner for the placement. Chocks with smaller sling attachments must often be extended with a runner. Many of today's chocks are manufactured with pre-sewn webbing installed instead of cable.

Figure 6-32. Use of sling on a wired stopper.

Figure 6-32. Use of sling on a wired stopper.

(d) When a correctly placed piton is used for protection, it will normally not be affected by rope drag. A correctly placed piton is generally a multi-directional anchor, therefore, rope drag through pitons will usually only affect the leader's movements but will continue to protect as expected.

(e) Rope drag will quite often move SLCDs out of position, or "walk" them deeper into the crack than initially placed, resulting in difficult removal or inability to remove them at all. Furthermore, most cases of SLCD movement result in the SLCD moving to a position that does not provide protection in the correct direction or no protection at all due to the lobes being at different angles from those at the original position.


Any placement extended with a runner will increase the distance of a potential fall by the actual length of the sling. Try to use the shortest runners possible, ensuring they are long enough to function properly.

f. Belaying the follower is similar to belaying a top-roped climb in that the follower is not able to fall any farther than rope stretch will allow. This does not imply there is no danger in following. Sharp rocks, rock fall, and inadequately protected traverses can result in damage to equipment or injury to the second.

g. Following, or seconding, a leader has a variety of responsibilities. The second has to issue commands to the leader, as well as follow the leader's commands. Once the lead climber reaches a good belay position, he immediately establishes an anchor and connects to it. When this is completed he can signal "OFF BELAY" to the belayer. The second can now remove the leader's belay and prepare to climb. The second must remain attached to at least one of the original anchors while the leader is preparing the next belay position. The removed materials and hardware can be organized and secured on the second's rack in preparation to climb.

(1) When the leader has established the new belay position and is ready to belay the follower, the "new" belayer signals "BELAY ON." The second, now the climber, removes any remaining anchor hardware/materials and completes any final preparations. The belayer maintains tension on the rope, unless otherwise directed, while the final preparations are taking place, since removal of these remaining anchors can introduce slack into the rope. When the second is ready, he can, as a courtesy, signal "CLIMBING," and the leader can, again as a courtesy, reply with "CLIMB."

(2) Upon signaling "BELAY ON," the belayer must remove and keep all slack from the rope. (This is especially important as in many situations the belayer cannot see the follower. A long pitch induces weight and sometimes "drag" on the rope and the belayer above will have difficulty distinguishing these from a rope with no slack.)

h. When removing protection, the man cleaning the pitch should rack it properly to facilitate the exchange and or arrangement of equipment at the end of the pitch. When removing the protection, or "cleaning the pitch", SLCDs or chocks may be left attached to the rope to prevent loss if they are accidentally dropped during removal. If necessary, the hardware can remain on the rope until the second reaches a more secure stance. If removing a piton, the rope should be unclipped from the piton to avoid the possibility of damaging the rope with a hammer strike.

(1) The second may need to place full body weight on the rope to facilitate use of both hands for protection removal by giving the command "TENSION." The second must also ensure that he does not climb faster than the rope is being taken in by the belayer. If too much slack develops, he should signal "TAKE ROPE" and wait until the excess is removed before continuing the climb. Once the second completes the pitch, he should immediately connect to the anchor. Once secured, he can signal "OFF BELAY." The leader removes the belay, while remaining attached to an anchor. The equipment is exchanged or organized in preparation for the next pitch or climb.

(2) When the difficulty of the climbing is within the "leading ability" of both climbers, valuable time can be saved by "swinging leads." This is normally the most efficient method for climbing multi-pitch routes. The second finishes cleaning the first pitch and continues climbing, taking on the role of lead climber. Unless he requires equipment from the belayer or desires a break, he can climb past the belay and immediately begin leading. The belayer simply adjusts his position, re-aiming the belay once the new leader begins placing protection. Swinging leads, or "leap frogging," should be planned before starting the climb so the leader knows to anchor the upper belay for both upward and downward pulls during the setup.


When a route is too difficult to free climb and is unavoidable, if the correct equipment is available you might aid climb the route. Aid climbing consists of placing protection and putting full body weight on the piece. This allows you to hang solely on the protection you place, giving you the ability to ascend more difficult routes than you can free climb. Clean aid consists of using SLCDs and chocks, and is the simplest form of aid climbing.

a. Equipment. Aid climbing can be accomplished with various types of protection. Regardless of the type of protection used, the method of aid climbing is the same. In addition to the equipment for free climbing, other specialized equipment will be needed.

(1) Pitons. Pitons are used the same as for free climbing. Most piton placements will require the use of both hands. Piton usage will usually leave a scar in the rock just by virtue of the hardness of the piton and the force required to set it with a hammer. Swinging a hammer to place pitons will lead to climber fatigue sooner than clean aid. Since pitons are multidirectional, the strength of a well-placed piton is more secure than most clean aid protection. Consider other forms of protection when noise could be hazardous to tactics.

(2) Bolts. Bolts are used when no other protection will work. They are a more permanent form of protection and more time is needed to place them. Placing bolts creates more noise whether drilled by hand or by motorized drill. Bolts used in climbing are a multi-part expanding system pounded into predrilled holes and then tightened to the desired torque with a wrench or other tool. Bolts are used in many ways in climbing today. The most common use is with a hanger attached and placed for anchors in face climbing. However, bolts can be used for aid climbing, with or without the hanger.

(a) Placing bolts for aid climbing takes much more time than using pitons or clean aid. Bolting for aid climbing consists of consecutive bolts about 2 feet apart. Drilling a deep enough hole takes approximately thirty minutes with a hand drill and up to two minutes with a powered hammer drill. A lot of time and work is expended in a short distance no matter how the hole is drilled. (The weight of a powered hammer drill becomes an issue in itself.) Noise will also be a factor in both applications. A constant pounding with a hammer on the hand drill or the motorized pounding of the powered drill may alert the enemy to the position. The typical climbing bolt/hanger combination normally is left in the hole where it was placed.

(b) Other items that can be used instead of the bolt/hanger combination are the removable and reusable "spring-loaded removable bolts" such as rivets (hex head threaded bolts sized to fit tightly into the hole and pounded in with a hammer), split-shaft rivets, and some piton sizes that can be pounded into the holes. When using rivets or bolts without a hanger, place a loop of cable over the head and onto the shaft of the rivet or bolt and attach a carabiner to the other end of the loop (a stopper with the chock slid back will suffice). Rivet hangers are available that slide onto the rivet or bolt after it is placed and are easily removed for reuse. Easy removal means a slight loss of security while in use.

(3) SLCDs. SLCDs are used the same as for free climbing, although in aid climbing, full body weight is applied to the SLCD as soon as it is placed.

(4) Chocks. Chocks are used the same as for free climbing, although in aid climbing, weight is applied to the chock as soon as it is placed.

(5) Daisy Chains. Daisy chains are tied or presewn loops of webbing with small tied or presewn loops approximately every two inches. The small loops are just large enough for two or three carabiners. Two daisy chains should be girth-hitched to the tie-in point in the harness.

(6) Etriers (or Aiders). Etriers (aiders) are tied or presewn webbing loops with four to six tied or presewn internal loops, or steps, approximately every 12 inches. The internal loops are large enough to easily place one booted foot into. At least two etriers (aiders) should be connected by carabiner to the free ends of the daisy chains.

(7) Fifi Hook. A fifi hook is a small, smooth-surfaced hook strong enough for body weight. The fifi hook should be girth-hitched to the tie-in point in the harness and is used in the small loops of the daisy chain. A carabiner can be used in place of the fifi hook, although the fifi hook is simpler and adequate.

(8) Ascenders. Ascenders are mechanical devices that will move easily in one direction on the rope, but will lock in place if pushed or pulled the other direction. (Prusiks can be used but are more difficult than ascenders.)

b. Technique. The belay will be the same as in normal lead climbing and the rope will be routed through the protection the same way also. The big difference is the movement up the rock. With the daisy chains, aiders, and fifi hook attached to the rope tie-in point of the harness as stated above, and secured temporarily to a gear loop or gear sling, the climb continues as follows:

(1) The leader places the first piece of protection as high as can safely be reached and attaches the appropriate sling/carabiner

(2) Attach one daisy chain/aider group to the newly placed protection

(3) Clip the rope into the protection, (the same as for normal lead climbing)

(4) Insure the protection is sound by weighting it gradually; place both feet, one at a time, into the steps in the aider, secure your balance by grasping the top of the aider with your hands.

(5) When both feet are in the aider, move up the steps until your waist is no higher than the top of the aider.

(6) Place the fifi hook (or substituted carabiner) into the loop of the daisy chain closest to the daisy chain/aider carabiner, this effectively shortens the daisy chain; maintain tension on the daisy chain as the hook can fall out of the daisy chain loop if it is unweighted.


Moving the waist higher than the top of the aider is possible, but this creates a potential for a fall to occur even though you are on the aider and "hooked" close to the protection with the daisy chain. As the daisy chain tie-in point on the harness moves above the top of the aider, you are no longer supported from above by the daisy chain, you are now standing above your support. From this height, the fifi hook can easily fall out of the daisy chain loop if it is unweighted. If this happens, you could fall the full length of the daisy chain resulting in a static fall on the last piece of protection placed.

(7) Release one hand from the aider and place the next piece of protection, again, as high as you can comfortably reach; if using pitons or bolts you may need both hands free- "lean" backwards slowly, and rest your upper body on the daisy chain that you have "shortened" with the fifi hook

(8) Clip the rope into the protection

(9) Attach the other daisy chain/aider group to the next piece of protection

(10) Repeat entire process until climb is finished

c. Seconding. When the pitch is completed, the belayer will need to ascend the route. To ascend the route, use ascenders instead of Prusiks, ascenders are much faster and safer than Prusiks. Attach each ascender to a daisy chain/aider group with carabiners. To adjust the maximum reach/height of the ascenders on the rope, adjust the effective length of the daisy chains with a carabiner the same as with the fifi hook; the typical height will be enough to hold the attached ascender in the hand at nose level. When adjusted to the correct height, the arms need not support much body weight. If the ascender is too high, you will have difficulty reaching and maintaining a grip on the handle.

(1) Unlike lead climbing, there will be a continuous load on the rope during the cleaning of the route, this would normally increase the difficulty of removing protection. To make this easier, as you approach the protection on the ascenders, move the ascenders, one at a time, above the piece. When your weight is on the rope above the piece, you can easily unclip and remove the protection.


If both ascenders should fail while ascending the pitch, a serious fall could result. To prevent this possibility, tie-in short on the rope every 10-20 feet by tying a figure eight loop and clipping it into the harness with a separate locking carabiner as soon as the ascent is started. After ascending another 20 feet, repeat this procedure. Do not unclip the previous figure eight until the new knot is attached to another locking carabiner. Clear each knot as you unclip it.

Notes: 1.

Ensure the loops formed by the short tie-ins do not catch on anything below as you ascend.


If the nature of the rock will cause the "hanging loop" of rope, formed by tying in at the end of the rope, to get caught as you move upward, do not tie into the end of the rope.

(2) Seconding an aid pitch can be done in a similar fashion as seconding free-climbed pitches. The second can be belayed from above as the second "climbs" the protection. However, the rope is unclipped from the protection before the aider/daisy chain is attached.

d. Seconding Through a Traverse. While leading an aid traverse, the climber is hanging on the protection placed in front of the current position. If the second were to clean the section by hanging on the rope while cleaning, the protection will be pulled in more than one direction, possibly resulting in the protection failing. To make this safer and easier, the second should hang on the protection just as the leader did. As the second moves to the beginning of the traverse, one ascender/daisy chain/aider group is removed from the rope and clipped to the protection with a carabiner, (keep the ascenders attached to the daisy chain/aider group for convenience when the traverse ends). The second will negotiate the traverse by leapfrogging the daisy chain/aider groups on the next protection just as the leader did. Cleaning is accomplished by removing the protection as it is passed when all weight is removed from it. This is in effect a self-belay. The second maintains a shorter safety tie-in on the rope than for vertical movement to reduce the possibility of a lengthy pendulum if the protection should pull before intended.

e. Clean Aid Climbing. Clean aid climbing consists of using protection placed without a hammer or drill involvement: chocks, SLCDs, hooks, and other protection placed easily by hand. This type of aid climbing will normally leave no trace of the climb when completed. When climbing the aiders on clean aid protection, ensure the protection does not "move" from it's original position.

(1) Hooks are any device that rests on the rock surface without a camming or gripping action. Hooks are just what the name implies, a curved piece of hard steel with a hole in one end for webbing attachment. The hook blade shape will vary from one model to another, some have curved or notched "blades" to better fit a certain crystal shape on a face placement. These types of devices due to their passive application, are only secure while weighted by the climber.

(2) Some featureless sections of rock can be negotiated with hook use, although bolts can be used. Hook usage is faster and quieter but the margin of safety is not there unless hooks are alternated with more active forms of protection. If the last twenty foot section of a route is negotiated with hooks, a forty foot fall could result.


Often times a movement on steep terrain will require a team of more than two climbers, which involves more difficulties. A four-man team (or more) more than doubles the difficulty found in three men climbing together. A four-man team should be broken down into two groups of two unless prevented by a severe lack of gear.

a. Given one rope, a three-man team is at a disadvantage on a steep, belayed climb. It takes at least twice as long to climb an average length pitch because of the third climber and the extra belaying required. The distance between belay positions will be halved if only one rope is used because one climber must tie in at the middle of the rope. Two ropes are recommended for a team of three climbers.


Time and complications will increase when a three-man team uses only one rope. For example: a 100-foot climb with a 150-foot rope would normally require two belays for two climbers; a 100-foot climb with a 150-foot rope would require six belays for three climbers.

b. At times a three-man climb may be unavoidable and personnel should be familiar with the procedure. Although a team of three may choose from many different methods, only two are described below. If the climb is only one pitch, the methods will vary.


When climbing with a team of three, protected traverses will require additional time. The equipment used to protect the traverse must be left in place to protect both the second and third climbers.

(1) The first method can be used when the belay positions are not large enough for three men. If using one rope, two climbers tie in at each end and the other at the mid point. When using two ropes, the second will tie in at one end of both ropes, and the other two climbers will each tie in to the other ends. The most experienced individual is the leader, or number 1 climber. The second, or number 2 climber, is the stronger of the remaining two and will be the belayer for both number 1 and number 3. Number 3 will be the last to climb. Although the number 3 climber does no belaying in this method, each climber should be skilled in the belay techniques required. The sequence for this method (in one pitch increments) is as follows (repeated until the climb is complete):

(a) Number 1 ascends belayed by number 2. Number 2 belays the leader up the first pitch while number 3 is simply anchored to the rock for security (unless starting off at ground level) and manages the rope between himself and number 2. When the leader completes the pitch, he sets up the next belay and belays number 2 up.

(b) Number 2 ascends belayed by number 1, and cleans the route (except for traverses). Number 2 returns the hardware to the leader and belays him up the next pitch. When the leader completes this pitch, he again sets up a new belay. When number 2 receives "OFF BELAY" from the leader, he changes ropes and puts number 3 on belay. He should not have to change anchor attachments because the position was already aimed for a downward as well as an upward pull when he belayed the leader.

(c) Number 3 ascends belayed by number 2. When number 3 receives "BELAY ON," he removes his anchor and climbs to number 2's position. When the pitch is completed he secures himself to one of number 2's belay anchors. When number 1's belay is ready, he brings up number 2 while number 3 remains anchored for security. Number 2 again cleans the pitch and the procedure is continued until the climb is completed.

(d) In this method, number 3 performs no belay function. He climbs when told to do so by number 2. When number 3 is not climbing, he remains anchored to the rock for security. The standard rope commands are used; however, the number 2 climber may include the trailing climber's name or number in the commands to avoid confusion as to who should be climbing.

(d) Normally, only one climber would be climbing at a time; however, the number 3 climber could ascend a fixed rope to number 2's belay position using proper ascending technique, with no effect on the other two members of the team. This would save time for a team of three, since number 2 would not have to belay number 3 and could be either belaying number 1 to the next belay or climbing to number 1. If number 3 is to ascend a fixed rope to the next belay position, the rope will be loaded with number 3's weight, and positioned directly off the anchors established for the belay. The rope should be located so it does not contact any sharp edges. The rope to the ascending number 3 could be secured to a separate anchor, but this would require additional time and gear.

(2) The second method uses either two ropes or a doubled rope, and number 2 and number 3 climb simultaneously. This requires either a special belay device that accepts two ropes, such as the tuber type, or with two Munter hitches. The ropes must travel through the belay device(s) without affecting each other.

(a) As the leader climbs the pitch, he will trail a second rope or will be tied in with a figure eight in the middle of a doubled rope. The leader reaches the next belay position and establishes the anchor and then places both remaining climbers on belay. One remaining climber will start the ascent toward the leader and the other will start when a gap of at least 10 feet is created between the two climbers. The belayer will have to remain alert for differences in rope movement and the climbers will have to climb at the same speed. One of the "second" climbers also cleans the pitch.

(b) Having at least two experienced climbers in this team will also save time. The belayer will have additional requirements to meet as opposed to having just one second. The possible force on the anchor will be twice that of one second. The second that is not cleaning the pitch can climb off route, but staying on route will usually prevent a possible swing if stance is not maintained.

Join the mailing list