The Multi Pitch Systems Course - Learn to Rock Climb Series



Looking to open some doors in your climbing this summer?


Read on, this might be just the ticket... 


While we are definitely going to miss our Guests who frequently join us from the United States, and our time on programs in the European Alps this summer, there's a small silver lining in that for most of our Canadian clients, the opportunity to sneak out into the parks during a season with lower traffic will be a bit of a gift for us here at home, and might offer a good season to learn some new skill sets, and take a course without having the high volumes of traffic to contend with at trailheads and on routes around the Bow Valley. For all out Guests near and far however, we're all looking foward to calmer times, open borders, and the ability to join you on trips abroad... just not quite yet!



It's not uncommon that newer climbers view Multi Pitch climbing as out of reach. It's too high (ie: scary), technically complicated (ie: scary), or is reserved for those with traditional climbing skill sets (definitley scary). The reality is quite different, especially these days. As rock climbing has ramped up in popularity and climbing gym memberships across North America have seen substantial increases in memberships, a growing demand for single pitch crags and multipitch routes has followed that make the move from indoor climbing gyms to the outdoor crags more accessible. In our home here in Canmore and the Bow Valley this has meant a growing demand for technically less challenging multi pitch sport routes, that have well protected/bolted pitches, easy to manage anchors and generally shorter and less complicated technical descents and rappels.


Generally, students are often ready for this next step sooner than you might think. While the stories from the wild days learning this style of climbing on runout poorly protected routes still have their place, maybe moreso with a pint in hand, the reality is that the multi pitch routes we learn to lead today are nothing like they once were, and many options exists at a variety of grades (5.5 - 5.11) where a well protected, systematically straightforward route will allow those wanting to learn multi pitch skills and systems to pick a route at a level of difficulty that fits their level of fitness... and as a bonus, most students are surprised that they often feel a lot more comfortable than they initially expected.


For many of the Guides here, as we began our climbing careers in the Bow Valley, most multi pitch routes required a collection of somewhat diverse skill sets. This usually included the ability to assess and place traditional protection; cams, nuts, pitons, hexes etc. Routes would often include long stretches of climbing between reliable protection, required comfort with long runouts, and relied on leaders to have a sound ability to dig out a quality anchor in the often fractured and occasionally suspect limestone we often see here in the Canadian Rockies. 


Thankfully, the times are a changin', and while there will be those who are ready and willing to chase those big and complicated traditioanlly protected routes, there has been steady growth and development of well protected, bolted sport routes that make the transition from leading sport routes at the crags to the bigger walls, a far more reasonable threshold to cross without elevating risk, danger or commitment levels to what was once required to learn to climb longer routes.


One of the unique opportunities that come in taking a Multi Pitch Systems Course with us at Cloud Nine Guides, comes in tandem with our now long running partnership with the Calgary Climbing Center. The new Rocky Mountain Location of the CCC provides an indoor multi-pitch wall with training opportunities for students post course, and an excellent way to help engrain and practice skills learned on our courses before stepping back out and onto your first multi pitch route after your course. Look for the opportunity to book review and training time at this unique feature at the Rocky facility in future, in supervised sessions with our staff. 


The Course & What to Expect: 


Our Multi Pitch Systems Course is run over two days, generally offered on weekends, however is also available for private bookings where you choose dates that fit for you. Courses run all summer in partnership with the Calgary Climbing Centre, private bookings are also available, subject to Guide availability, each day through the summer months.

Get Course Info & Available Course Dates Here


In general, the majority of the first day on course is systems focused and based from our local crags here in Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise. This allows our Guides to take an inventory of where you're strenghts lie, what you've learned to date, provide points for review, and of course to teach the new and remaining skills you will require for multi-pitch ascents. The first day generally wraps up with a short 2 pitch route, either led by you or your Guide where we're able to put these skills into an observable progression, and with plenty of time to talk through systems and troubleshoot challenges as they arise. 


While understanding how to build anchors, set up belays, and belay your partner up are no doubt essential skill sets, the devil in clean and smooth multi pitch climbing... is without a doubt in the details. What tends to frustrate new multipitch climbers most frequently is transitioning between essential systems followed as a second, by rope management. While it might seem excessive to conciously choose to position a belay device on either left or right side or your anchor for example, to be be deliberate about which side your 2nd arrives at your belay, or how you as a leader will depart, there are many small contextual details that you'll learn on course that not only increase efficiency but also keep risk levels in check. As is standard on all of our programs, learning critical thinking skills in the context (in this case, of a multi pitch route), are equally as important as acquiring the hard skills like how to build an anchor, belay or rappell.


In general you can expect that we'll deliver the following hard skills on your first day on course:

  • Review of all equipment required, strenghts, limitations and in what context they'll be used in your multi pitch ascent. This includes both your personal equipment as well as the fixed gear found in place en route.
  • Review of anchor construction and anchor assessment prior to use. For those who have taken our Outdoor Lead Lesson, we will build this out slightly giving you new options for soft anchors (the new girth hitch focal point), or where it can be appropriate to build out an anchor using only a few locking carabiners and your ATC Guide (keeps it fast and simple, no need for a sling).
  • You will learn a variety of belays, including the "Direct Anchor Belay" a "Redirected Belay" as well as "Fixed Point Belays". Each of these three belays have application in very different cirumstances, from managing traversing pitches to long easy sections of climbing. Knowing which to apply when, are keys to ensuring quality, high integrity belays.
  • Learn best practices for securing climbers to an anchor, and the differences in choice and application required in both ascent and technical descents.
  • Review and introduce essential communication and climbing commands for multi pitch climbing.
  • Learn why, how, and where to position climbers at belay stations in consideration of maximum efficiency at transitions, as well as to reduce the likelyhood or rope management issues (this one makes you fast!)
  • Learn the difference between "swinging leads" and "leading in blocks" and how each to transition efficiently when both climbers arrive at a belay station. 
  • Learn what's required for routes that require a rappel, or technical descent. This includes best practices for securing the climbers, how to safe guard the rope, how to extend a rappel device off the harness and introduces appropriate backups for individuals and for the climbing team.


During Day 2, our aim is to pick a Multi Pitch objective comfortably below your best grade climbed on lead to date. The objective is to take all of the skills, best practices and context developed on Day 1 and allow you to apply it with direct coaching from your Guide on Day 2. This is going to be your first multi pitch day, and you'll be in the drivers seat as much as you're comfortable. The role of our Guides on Day 2 is to act more as coaches than Guides, again with the aim of helping you to develop those essential critical thinking skills in this new environment. At times, and where appropriate during the day, you'll find your Guide simply floating alongside you, often removed from your system on a seperate line, but right with you to offer helpful tips, suggestions or pointers - or a quick clip in if things get a little exciting on your lead.


Multi Pitch Systems Courses in the Age of COVID-19:


At present we've been working diligently to open programs where social distancing can be easily accomplished. The Multi Pitch Systes Course does present challenges with achieving this, to be sure, however we've implemented a series of best practices for our Guiding Staff to help minimize contact or possible viral transmission points at tight spots such as belays. As is now the norm on all our courses available, students that are interested in booking or who have already booked will recieve or can request a PDF copy of these best practices prior to booking, or prior to arriving on course. 


One of the best ways to reduce the risk of viral transmission is to book this course with us and our partners at the CCC in what we now refer to as either a "quarantine group" "household group" or "cohort group". Essentially this means your exposure has been limited to just the other person you're on course with extending back from the start date of your course by 14 days, and additionally all parties present will be required to complete a "Statement of Health Form" prior to arriving on course.


Any Guiding staff booked to instruct these courses for us will also be required to declare that they too have not exibited any signs or symptoms that may indicate illness of any kind prior to your course, and each of your Guides personal social distancing and isolation practices has been vetted on an individual basis prior to their arriving on course with you.


To limit the potential for viral transmission at pinch points, mask and hand sanitizer use will be required at the belays where social distancing may not always possible, and your Guides will be choosing and suggesting routes for your multi pitch ascent on Day 2, that allow them to remove themselves from the belay station area at transitions frequently, and to ensure 2.5m socially distant spacing as much as possible. Students should be aware that while we cannot entirely remove all contact points, nor can we ensure that at every belay the Guide will be able to maintain 2.5m separation from you, we can accomplish this for significant portions of your day, reducing collective exposure. We are also taking the time with students to connect with them early and often to check in on their own personal comfort levels in relation to what will be deliverd and expected on course, and to ensure time is allowed in advance to discuss an concerns or questions that arise in relation to minimizing the potential for viral transmission.


Students do need to be aware and to understand, that even with dilligent effort to create social distance, pinch points and cross contact will occur on this course, albeit for limited periods of time. 


What Next?


Interested? Drop us a line to discuss if the course is a fit, or kick our tires on any other questions you might have. You can check out our course website HERE, or visit the Calgary Climbing Centre directly for more course information and booking. Public dates are open for booking, with the parameters above in consideration. We'd also encourage you to book togeather with a family member or member of your isolation group for the course over the coming summer.


Kick our tires at:

or call direct at +01 403 707 5877


All the best for a safe and happy summer on the big stone,


The Cloud Nine Guides