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On Route Technique – Passing

In the past, passing another party on a bigwall invoked a barking dog response, with the higher team often claiming some type of ‘holier than thou’ seniority. Climbers acted like this old school flapper:

Old School Flapper
Old School Flapper

But today’s climbers recognize that more folks on the wall means a bigger party:

Heart Ledge El Capitan
Party on Heart Ledge!

Passing another party on a bigwall, unless you’re ropeless Alex Honnold, will be somewhat complicated. But it can also be efficient and even entertaining. You get a front row seat to someone else climbing for a change! Having a good attitude, whether you are the passer or the pass-ee, is essential.

Oh shoot, someone just showed up at the belay…..what’s it say on his helmet?


To Pass Or Not To Pass

Unless you are very experienced, you don’t want to start up a bigwall route intending to pass a party above you. Passing is difficult because extra space at a belay is unheard of, and rope and equipment clusters, commonplace while passing, can easily cost both teams precious daylight. That said, you will probably find yourself being passed or passing another party on one of your first bigwall climbs.

Pointers For Being Passed By A Faster Party:

  1. If your party is being passed by a faster party, allow them to fix the next pitch for you. This will allow them to pass more smoothly, and allow you and your partner(s) to be more helpful to the passing party by being able to look for rope or equipment tangles and fix them. If not, you will most likely loose more time than you think by letting a party pass you, and your upward momentum will wane, fatigue will set in, and your psyche will plummet.
  2. Helping another party pass you on a bigwall will only go smoothly/efficiently if you are friendly. These people are your new best friends. If things go good they will be celebrating with you in the meadow after your climb; if things go bad they will help, possibly even rapping down and saving your life. Seriously, these people are important and they are there to celebrate the route with you.

Pointers For Passing A Slower Party:

  1. You can only pass a party on a bigwall efficiently if you are friendly with them. These people might be freeing your stuck haulbag a pitch or two above, or returning a cam you could not get out. Introduce yourself and be encouraging!
  2. If you are hoping to pass another party, always make the experience win-win by offering(and recommending) to fix the next pitch for that party – so they will not have lost any time for allowing you to pass. This means you(your cleaner) will trail one of their ropes up and fix it to the next belay, so the lower party can jug up and haul as though they had just led the pitch.
  3. Consider building a, most likely natural, belay right below that team’s anchor. This will allow you to get your partner and all your equipment ready to pass the party without clustering up their current belay. Then you can either lead quickly up behind their cleaner when they finish the pitch, and pass them at a belay where they are at least prepared to have a crowd at. Or you can ask to jug their haul line before they haul(which the leader fixes redundantly to the anchor above), and pass them right then by hauling while they haul and then getting to ready to lead while they are still cleaning the pitch.

Sequence For Passing A Party:

  1. Lead up to the party and build a belay with them or possibly just below their belay. Either way try to not trap their biners or slings in your belay setup(do not clip your biners into their biners for fixing the rope and hauling or they might not be able to remove them; this is not the end of the world, but it is better to keep separate systems as much as possible, and to reduce entanglement).
  2. Introduce yourself and your partner(s)(even if they are at the previous belay).
  3. Thank the other party for being awesome and determine the best sequence for passing.
  4. Haul/clean the previous pitch quickly and get your ropes coiled and ready to pass.
  5. Either jug the other party’s haul line(recommended) and set up your own anchor with their leader above and haul quickly or
  6. Lead quickly behind the cleaner when he/she leaves the belay, ideally arriving at the next anchor shortly after the cleaner arrives.

Be Cool At The Belay:



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