Multi-pitch climbing is a type of climbing that typically takes place on routes that are more than a single rope length (circa 50 to 70 metres) in height (or distance), and thus where the lead climber cannot complete the climb as a single pitch. Where the number of pitches exceeds 6–10 (300–500 metres), it can become big wall climbing, or where the pitches are in a mixed rock and ice mountain environment, it can become alpine climbing. Multi-pitch rock climbs can come in traditional, sport, and aid formats. Some have free soloed multi-pitch routes.

Multi-pitch climbing is more complex and riskier than single-pitch climbing as the climbers will remain exposed on the route (e.g. a rock climbing route, an ice climbing, or a mixed climbing route) for longer, and it will often involve the use of hanging belays, long abseils, and the creation of belay anchors. Rescues from multi-pitch climbs are far more serious, and climbers will use additional protection to avoid this. Multi-pitch climbing requires greater communication between climbers; advanced climbers can use the riskier—but faster— simul climbing.


See also: Lead climbing § Multi-pitch leading

Multi-pitch lead climbing involves ascending routes that cannot be completed in a single pitch (often a rope-length), usually due to their height but sometimes due to routes that move in unusual directions. Multi-pitch routes are more commonly traditional climbing routes (i.e. the leader inserts the climbing protection as they ascend), but there are also multi-pitch sport climbing routes (i.e. the climbing protection is pre-bolted into the route, or at least where important belay anchors are pre-bolted such as on El Capitan in Yosemite).[1][2]

Multi-pitch climbs are usually done in pairs, and the position of leader can alternate between pitches or after a group of pitches if both climbers can lead the route; alternatively, one climber can lead all of the pitches. Where both climbers are very comfortable on the terrain and want to move quickly, they can use simul climbing, although this is a more complex and riskier technique. Multi-pitch climbs can be done as solo climbs, either as free solo climbing (i.e. no protection used), or as rope solo climbing (i.e. a self-belying system used).[1][2]

The boundary between multi-pitch climbing and big wall climbing or alpine climbing is not defined. Generally, multi-pitch routes that are at least 6–10 pitches or 300-500 metres in length, and mostly require hanging belays (i.e. due to the sheer nature of the route) are considered "big wall routes". Long multi-pitch climbs on mountains whose route is not continually on a sheer "big wall" face, are sometimes referred to as alpine rock climbing. Ice climbing and mixed climbing can also be done as multi-pitch climbing, or as part of an alpine climbing route.[1][2]


See also: Rock-climbing equipment

Multi-pitch climbing requires all the equipment used in leading a single-pitch sport, traditional or ice climbing route, but with a few specific additions:[1][3]


Lead climber and Belayer (in a hanging belay position) on the multi-pitch El Niño 8b (5.13d), El Capitan

While many of the techniques of single-pitch lead climbing are common to multi-pitch climbing, there are specific techniques that are important to be able to execute well to safely ascend a multi-pitch climbing route:[1][3]


See also: Sport climbing § Grading, Traditional climbing § Grading, and Ice climbing § Grading

See also: Big wall climbing § Grading, Alpine climbing § Grading, and Aid climbing § Grading

Josune Bereziartu on the multi-pitch sport climb Yeah Man 8b+ (300-metres, 9-pitches: 7a, 7b+, 7b+, 7c, 8a+, 8a/+, 8a, 8b+, 7a), north face of Grand Pfad, Switzerland.[13]

Multi-pitch routes are graded in the same way as single-pitch sport route grading, traditional route grading, or ice route grading, depending on the route. Each individual pitch will be graded so that, for example, a 3-pitch multi-sport climbing route might be graded as French sport: 7c, 7b, 8a; or a 5-pitch multi-traditional climbing route might be graded as American YDS: 5.10a, 5.10b, 5.10a, 5.11c, 5.9. Harder or easier options on individual pitches will also be highlighted and separately graded, so that, for example, a pitch might be graded as French sport: 7c "avoidable" or "max" (you don't have to do the 7c part) / 7a "obligatory" or "obj" (you will have to do at least 7a graded climbing).[14]

Sometimes an "overall" grade is quoted for the multi-pitch climb (in addition to the grades of the individual pitches), however, this is usually the grade of the hardest pitch on the route (e.g. see Yeah Man image opposite).[14]

In common with big wall grading, where there are very difficult sections of individual pitches that are well above the general level of difficulty of the overall route (i.e. a common feature of bigger walls as it is harder to find big routes of a consistent difficulty level), an aid climbing option might be highlighted, which will have an attached aid climbing grade, for example, an individual pitch on a multi-traditional climbing route might be graded as: 5.10a (with no aid) or 5.7 A2 (with aid), and the type of aid needed also explained.[14]

In film

A number of notable films have been made focused on multi-pitch (and big wall climbing) including:[15]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Ronald C. Eng, ed. (October 2010). "Chapter 12: Leading in Rock". Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills (8th ed.). Quiller Publishing. pp. 255–276. ISBN 978-1594851384.
  2. ^ a b c Long, John; Gaines, Bob (August 2022). "Chapter 13: Multi-pitch climbing". How to Rock Climb (6th ed.). Falcon Guides. pp. 335–369. ISBN 978-1493056262.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Chelton, Neil (June 2019). "Summary Extract". Sport Climbing Basics: Single and Multi-Pitch Bolted Routes. ISBN 978-1796923278. Retrieved 23 August 2023.
  4. ^ Chauvins, Marc; Coppoillo, Rob (15 March 2022). "Master the Ultimate Multi-Pitch Anchor: The Quadalette". Climbing. Retrieved 23 August 2023.
  5. ^ Debruin, Derek (13 January 2022). "A Simpler Way to Rig Multi-Pitch Anchors". Climbing. Retrieved 23 August 2023.
  6. ^ Sterling, Sarah (4 April 2016). "Five of the best adventurous multi-pitch sport crags in Europe". British Mountaineering Council. Retrieved 23 August 2023.
  7. ^ Climbing Desk (6 May 2022). "Weekend Whipper: 5.14 Multi-pitch route Never Looked So Uncomfortable". Climbing. Retrieved 23 August 2023.
  8. ^ Garlick, Sarah (20 May 2022). "7 Tricks for Speedy Swaps at Multi-pitch Belays". Climbing. Retrieved 23 August 2023.
  9. ^ Pardy, Aaron (13 April 2023). "10 Tips for Better Multi-Pitch Rock Climbing". Gripped Magazine. Retrieved 23 August 2023.
  10. ^ Corrigan, Kevin (23 August 2023). "Avoid Accidents With Better Multi-pitch Communication". Climbing. Retrieved 17 January 2023.
  11. ^ Harris, Will (July 2014). "Top tips for your first multi-pitch adventure". British Mountaineering Council. Retrieved 23 August 2023.
  12. ^ Ellison, Julie (23 August 2023). "Streamline Your Next Multi-pitch With These Rope-management Tips". Climbing. Retrieved 13 January 2023.
  13. ^ "Josune Bereziartu and Rikar Otegi made the first free ascent of "Yeah man"". 11 August 2004. Retrieved 23 August 2023.
  14. ^ a b c Ogden, Jared (2005). "Chapter 2: Big Wall Climbing Procedures, Grades & Ratings". Big Wall Climbing: Elite Technique (1st ed.). Mountaineers Books. pp. 56–60. ISBN 978-0898867480.
  15. ^ Bisharat, Andrew (6 September 2022). "The 20 Best Climbing Films of All Time". Outside. Retrieved 28 September 2023.

Further reading