If your climbing partner is crying when they reach the belay, you’re doing something wrong. I should know, this has happened to me many times, and every time was my fault.
I am not certified or employed to guide, but I do. When I say guiding I mean: Leading all the pitches for a team, and being the sole possessor of the skills needed to progress or retreat safely.
Single pitch sport cragging is fairly safe and straight forward, so moving on… I usually guide on easy multipitch trad routes, and this is where additional skills become important. Here are some considerations for the next time you guide…
Know Your Partner
I have a tendency to over estimate my partner’s climbing ability and/ or climbing knowledge. Assess this on the ground, or else…
Katie and I went for a climb on Wind Tower. She’d “done this a few times before” and I thought it was all good. We started on the easiest route around to warm up. I soloed to the first belay and started pulling up rope. I pulled up a knot that would have choked a hippopotamus. I should have flaked the rope better, and better explained the systems we were using.
Out at The Dome, I got on an offwidth with a friend. When she finally reached the belay, her eye were almost swollen shut from crying. Five.Seven is not easy for everyone, especially if there is an overhang. Honestly evaluate your partner before leaving the ground. Keep in mind the mental factor of being outside. “You climb 5.11 in the gym,” doesn’t mean a thing when they’re staring at a pendulum or looking 100’ down.
Can your partner rappel? If there is ever a question, I suggest setting up the rappel, feeding their device and talking it over. Then put yourself on rappel below their device, untangle the ropes on the way down, and hold the rope as they descend.
Know The Route
Bring the right rack, including a nut tool for the follower. Equally important, bring “just in case” gear- like a beanie, knife, ascenders/ prussiks, water, food, and headlamp (you may not need all this all the time). Know where the crux is, and place additional gear in case they need to pull on it.
Protect pendulums- especially if they are toward the end of a route. A small traverse near the anchor can create a violent swing. Build good anchors, they will be weighted. Can you rappel with a single rope if your partner can’t finish? Can you hear each other at the end of the pitch? I use a simple method for voice free communication- I pull up all the rope, put ‘em on belay, then keep tension.
I once led a route I eyeballed at 5.7, and it felt pretty easy. When my partner couldn’t finish, I freaked. “She must be hurt- It was so easy she can’t be struggling from difficulty.” I cut rope to set a good anchor, and rapped down to a pumped and embarrassed girlfriend. The route turned out to be Blind Faith (5.10a).
Can you safely lead the climb in question? Are you comfortable being caught by your belayer?