The zen art of multi-pitch climbing

I finally completed my first multi-pitch climb!  It’s been a long time coming. Specifically a year, which is when I added it to my list of things I want to do.  The past year has been a big learning curve for me in climbing – and in life I suppose. And aren’t they both a little intertwined?  Last spring I decided I wanted to climb outdoors on my own and started with leading in the gym. That progressed to more climbing outside, learning to set/clean anchors and finally going climbing and being the girl in charge. It’s a long way to come in one year and I’m really proud of myself. I’m especially proud of the fact that it’s all happened because it’s something *I* wanted to do.  I didn’t have anyone I was tagging along with or trying to keep up with. It’s just something I really wanted to prove to myself I could do.

I spent a lot of time this winter thinking about different climbs I’d like to get on.  I love sport climbing but I wanted to try multi-pitch climbing because it’s such a different experience.  Different skill set and challenges.  Fortunately I was able to enlist a friend to take me out and show me the ropes (haha) when it comes to multi-pitches.

So, a few details on “the climb”:

The approximate route up. Might be a little off!


Mother’s Day Buttress, Cascade Mtn, Banff National Park


5.7, Trad w/bolted belays


 ~8? I’ll be honest – I had way too much fun to count.  I know there are a few variations and pitches that can be combined so it was probably between 7 & 8 but I’m going to go with 8 because it makes me feel like more of a rock star (pun intended)!


The descent is not particularly straightforward.  I was glad I was with someone who knew the way down well.  There’s a good description in the topo.


I loved this climb!  For a first outing it was great because you definitely feel like you’re out there climbing a real multi-pitch route but it’s never so intimidating that it takes away from the fun.  All of the belays were in great locations where I didn’t feel too exposed.  There are a few spots on the route where it’s very exposed climbing but from what I remember that wasn’t the case for most of the climb.  However, you get great views of Mt Rundle and the Bow Valley all the way up which gives a good sense of how high up you are.

Overlooking the Bow Valley, Trans-Can and Mt Rundle

Things I learned

  • Bring a backpack that is actually designed to be worn while climbing.  I borrowed a friend’s 18L pack and while the size was good, it was meant for biking so the hip belts got in the way of my harness.
  • On the backpack topic – think about how you’re going to pack it before you head out.  18L is really not a lot of space when you need food, water, shoes and extra layers to fit.  Next time I’d be a bit more strategic about what I brought to save weight & space.
  • Camera + case + sling = stress free pictures! I’m a bit paranoid about dropping things so this system really helped.  I girth-hitched my camera wrist-strap to a 60cm sling which I put over my shoulder (thanks for the tip Eileen!).  I also attached my camera case to the sling – it had a velcro attachment.
  • Higher up on the climb, it gets windy and it becomes impossible to hear your partner.  You’re also likely to be out of sight as well.  Being clear about how you’ll handle communication is key.  Also, this means that while you’re climbing, it’s not possible to ask your partner to “take” or pull up any slack.  And there will be some slack.  Single-pitch sport climbing this is not.  I hadn’t realized this so it was nice that the climbing wasn’t terribly challenging and I knew it was very unlikely I would fall.

Looking down

Really I just had an amazing day out.  There is something very zen-like about being alone, climbing on a wall – it’s so quiet and peaceful.  It forces you to be in control of your thoughts and emotions because there’s nowhere to go but up and often no one that can hear you.  It also helped that it was the nicest, sunny day we had in almost 3 weeks of rain.  Climbing is definitely far more enjoyable when the weather cooperates!

ps – thanks so much Pat for taking me out!

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  1. Hmm, I was scared of the Rocky Mountains trad scene by lots of people making comments about how awful the rock is – but this looks like a really fun climb, maybe I shouldn’t have been so hasty about sending my trad rack home (although with a 10 month old who still needs me every 3 or 4 hours, and a partner who doesn’t do multi-climbs because he hates heights… well it might be a bit tricky anyway this summer).

    But awesome! Nice work on your first multi-pitch :) There’s nothing quite like hanging out on a cliff face and climbing all day.

    • There was some loose rock on the route but I found it was pretty easy to tell what was a no-no before grabbing it. I would just be concerned if I was below another party because, you never know what they’ll send down. Overall I thought the rock quality pretty decent.

      I can definitely relate to having a partner who is scared of heights! My hubby will happily come sport climbing but has no interest in multi-pitches.

  2. Congratulations, Sarah! You have really been committed to take your climbing to the next level, and with your upcoming Yamnuska course you are going to feel so much more confident when climbing in a lot of different environments and situations. Great experience to have!

    • Thanks :) This climb really showed me how far I had come and made me so proud of myself. If this is what I can do in a year I’m so excited for what’s to come.

      And yes I’m really looking forward to the women’s mountaineering course with Yamnuska. You can’t go wrong with a group of girls in a hut for a week, climbing!

  3. Laurel

     /  June 17, 2011

    Has anyone showed you the clipping the hip belt to itself around the back of the pack trick? That helps when switching a pack from hike mode to climb mode

    • I did wind up doing that but I found that even behind my back, the the hip belts were really bulky. I think that might have been to do with the fact it was a cycling backpack I borrowed. I saw some alpine climbing bags and their belts are much smaller and streamlined which might work better.

  4. that last bullet is huge, thanks so much for bringing that up! communication is so important. congratulations on what sounds like a fantastic next step for you and your climbing :)

    • Thanks Katie! I completely agree about the importance of communication. I can see how if you’re not expecting to be out of earshot it could be very stressful and potentially dangerous if you haven’t worked out some type of system beforehand. I’ve heard of people taking walkie-talkies although I would probably still want a backup plan!

  5. Yay! Glad my camera tip worked out for you! The route and your pics look great, makes me want to go back to Canada to climb!

    I once used a non climbing pack for a multipitch, it was pretty terrible, mainly because it was too big and one of the buckles had a tendency to come off so I kept checking it out of paranoia. I’ve also borrowed other folks’ packs for multipitch but they were also too big.

    I’ve been using a Black Diamond Bullet pack for years now, I still love it, though I noticed they’ve changed the design a bit for it’s latest incarnation.

    • So true, it’s always great when you can borrow a piece of gear but nothing beats having your own! Thanks for the suggestion, I’ll definitely be buying my own pack before my next climb so I’ll have to check out the Bullet.

  6. Congrats on your first multi-pitch, it sounds like it was a success! That view of the valley is incredible. The feeling you describe of being alone on the rock is one of the big things that stands out for me in multi-pitch. Love it.

    • Yes, that’s definitely what appealed to me the most about multi-pitch climbing! One moment that really stood out was when I saw a crow fly by me – at eye level. Very strange to be at the same height that birds fly. Totally loved the experience though and I can’t wait to get back out and do it again!

  7. Congrats on your first multi pitch! Looks like a beautiful climb :)

  8. Many congrats on your first multi-pitch! I’ve been inspired, I’m messaging my climbing buddies to try and sort out my first multi-pitch this summer!

    • Hope you’re able to get out and enjoy your first one! It was just such an amazing experience. Good climbing partners also help a lot!

  1. Interview with Sarah of Rockies Girl – Campfire Chic

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