Multi-Pitch Communication

Multi-Pitch Communication
November 4, 2016 Julie Morter

I was inspired by Phil’s probing article and a recent article I read by the American Alpine Institute about multi-pitch communication. Who wants to have a debate? Ice climbing season is right around the corner and some of the most popular routes are multi-pitch climbs.

Here is the article that was my inspiration:


In this article, they propose acknowledging every command with ‘thank-you’ before calling the next command.  To quote an example from their article, see the below communication as the leader finishes a pitch.

Climber: Off belay!

Belayer: Thank-you! (The belayer will then take the rope out of his device.) Belay-off!

Climber: Thank-you! (The climber will then pull up all the slack.)

Belayer: That’s me!

Climber: Thank-you! (The climber will then put the belayer on belay.) Belay-on!

Belayer: Thank-you! (The belayer will break down the anchor and then yell just before he is about to climb.) Climbing!.


In their article, they say that ‘thank-you’ is intended to be an acknowledgment that you heard the command from your partner. They suggest it will reduce stress and confusion.

My first thought when I read this article, was that I completely disagreed, but I wanted to put it out there for discussion.

If you and your partner can hear each other, the regular climbing commands are sufficient. If you say ‘Off Belay Adrian’ and your partner yells back ‘Belay off Julie’, you know they heard you. The ‘thank-you’ doesn’t add any new information. If you can’t hear your partner, you won’t hear them say ‘thank-you’ either. If you don’t hear your partner say ‘thank-you’ are you supposed to wait before moving on to the next step and command? If not, then it again begs the question of what ‘thank-you’ is supposed to convey. On the other hand, if you do wait for a ‘thank-you’ it will make you slower any time you can’t hear your partner.

I don’t think that saying ‘thank-you’ will make you less safe, as long as you have other systems in place to guard against poor communication. For instance, see this next example from their article:

Second: That’s me!

Leader: Thank-you! (The climber will then put the belayer on belay.) Belay-on!

Second: Thank-you! (The belayer will break down the anchor and then yell just before he is about to climb.) Climbing!

Leader: Climb-on!
There is a chance that after the climber says ‘That’s me’ they could have trouble distinguishing between ‘thank-you’ and ‘on belay’. They sound different when you hear them clearly, but on a climb it can be difficult to pick out words. That is why it is critical to have a back-up plan of what to do if you can’t hear your partner. You should already know what steps your partner will be doing and what to watch for on your end, in terms of rope behavior etc. You need this back-up system regardless of if you say ‘thank-you’ or not, but again the extra phrase doesn’t add any new or useful information.


The AAI now teaches ‘thank-you’ as a part of their standard curriculum, which makes me think there must be some advantage I am missing. Does anyone in the club use ‘thank-you’? What advantages do you get out of using it?


  1. Orvel Miskiw 7 years ago

    Thanks for your great article Julie — sorry I only got around to it several months later. My personal impression also was that “Thank You” mixed in with all the existing commands is pedantic & nerdish while complicating the banter on climbs in often-difficult hearing conditions, with likely no net benefit. The nerdish aspect alone is likely to prevent it from catching on anyway. I also agree with ‘Susan’s’ comments to your article.

    I did read the AAI article to be sure that we didn’t miss anything, and one thing that I’ll say I DO agree with them on is calling out “Rock!” for EVERY falling object, rather than trying to describe whatever it is: “moss!”, “stick!”, “camera!”, etc. Someone might take you up on calling “rock!” for a block of ice, but if he gets hit by it, he would rather have heard “rock” in time to duck.

    As for “thank you” all over the crags: Nah, let’s just wait and see how it works out for others.

    What I’ve found to be a REAL help with climbing communication is ‘walkie-talkies’. These FRS, GMRS, etc. radios do complicate a climb a bit, but have gotten so good, and so compact and cheap in the last few years, that it’s a pity to not have them available when needed. In complex terrain, wind, or traffic noise, they make a world of difference — the difference between a fairly normal climb in bad sound conditions, and a tedious project of forced short pitches, misunderstandings, and frustration.

  2. Susan 8 years ago

    Good Topic!

    When I’m well within shouting distance, we’ll often say “OK” instead of “thank-you”, but we don’t wait on hearing an OK to move to the next steps of the transition. OK usually gets shortened to ‘kay, which helps to distinguish between the other commands (‘kay is one syllable, while “on-belay Susan” or “secure Luc” are at least three). The one advantage I’ve seen is that you know immediately that your partner heard & understood you, and you don’t need to shout again or resort to rope tugs etc. If it’s windy or really difficult to hear one another, I might omit this part of the conversation though.

    I prefer to shout “secure” instead “off-belay” when I have lead a pitch and am secure at the top. That word sounds quite different from “on-belay”, so my second knows that anytime they hear the word “belay” from me, it means they are on belay and nothing else.

    Using names is also really important when at a busy crag or gym, as shown in your examples. I once had an experience where a climber with a similar sounding voice to me shouted for a “take”, while I was still leading on (well, actually I was stopped and trying to convince myself to leave my nice comfy ledge, but the point is the same….). My belayer took, and luckily I was still below a clip so I didn’t get yanked down off the wall, but that was a good learning opportunity!

    On multipitch, if communication is ever in doubt, we’ll just keep the belay on for longer than probably necessary, even if it means the leader and second end up both belaying the rope at the same time. Better to belay for too long than for not long enough!

    Really, the most important thing to me is that I confirm with my partner what the commands will be before I leave the ground, and ensure we are on the same page.

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