Communication is one of the most critical yet underused components of rock climbing!
Communication, whether it is in the gym or on a big wall, is a skill that needs to be practiced even when it seems like it is not necessary. It can be very easy to get caught up in the glamour of climbing outside, or even climbing amazing indoor routes, which can sometimes result in sloppy communication. By using proper communication, you are not only ensuring your own safety, but also the safety of others.
In this article we will be talking primarily about communication while top roping. This applies to rock climbing both inside and outside. We will be covering communication in other settings in later articles.
On belay? Belay is on!
This ensures that your belayer has you before you put yourself out there on the rope. It is important to do this when you are both on the ground, because in the instance of a belay from the top of the route, knowing when you are on belay is not always easy and intuitive.
Climbing! Climb on!
After you are on belay, ensure that inform the belayer when you are starting to climb. This does not only apply to the start of the climb, but it also applies to climbing after a rest mid climb. Always let your belayer know what you are going to do, before you do it, that way there are not as many surprises.
This tells the belayer to pull the rope in and make it tight. You would use this if you are about to lower, or if you are below you last quickdraw on a sport climb and you want to rest on the rope.
This lets the belayer know that you want them to loosen up on the rope. In many top roping situations, some climbers will want the rope looser, so they do not feel like they are constantly hanging on the rope.
Ready to lower!
So your climber has reached the top, and they are ready to come down. The climber should only say this when they have their weight completely on the rope, and have let go of the wall. A call for tension is appropriate prior to this.
Remember that good communication can save your life!
I cannot stress how important it is to use good communication when climbing. Many injuries and deaths have happened because of a lack of proper use of commands while climbing.
Make sure your partner knows you are talking to them
One further aspect of communication comes at busy areas, such as gyms or high volume outdoor areas. There have been many times where I have told my partner “Ready to lower!” and another belayer said in response, “What? You want me to lower you? You’ve just started!”, thinking that their partner had said it.
The easiest way to eliminate this confusion is to simply add your partners name into your commands. You would say, “Ready to lower, Joe.” This eliminates the majority of confusion, unless you are unfortunate enough to end up climbing next to someone named Joe.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of commands, but is merely a starting point. The most important element is that you and your partner communicate! Whether you use the commands here, or you come up with your own, you need to understand what the other person wants you to do. We will cover commands for lead climbing and multi-pitch climbing in later articles.