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!
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?