By Don Graydon.

Succinct voice commands allow climbers to communicate even when they can not see each other. As climber and belayer get farther apart and hearing each other begins to be difficult, stick exclusively to a set of short commands designed to express essential climbing communications.
Introduction to voice commands.
  • Do not preface your commands with explanations or justifications; this makes them harder to recognize and defeats their purpose. Use the commands alone.
  • When you are a long way from your partner, shout as loudly as possible and space out each syllable, using very big spaces if there are echoes.
  • In a crowded area, preface commands with your partner's name. Don't expect an audible response; just do your best the first time.
Common problems at end of each pitch.

Three problems are common at or near the end of each pitch, when hearing is most difficult.

  1. First, when calling out to your leader the length of rope remaining in the coils, the first syllable is often lost, and if normal word order is used the leader hears only "--ty feet." Instead, invert the word order and pronounce each digit separately: "Feet: . . . three . . . zero," for 30 feet. The climber will pause upon the first word and have a better chance of understanding the remainder.
  2. Second, when the leader completes a pitch and calls "Off belay," do not respond with "Belay off" to indicate you heard him. "Belay off" means you have taken apart your belay and the rope coils are ready to be pulled up, and you won't be ready to shout that command truthfully for a while yet.
  3. Third, avoid the impatient question "On belay?" unless an inordinate amount of time has passed. Often the leader, at work setting up anchors, is out of earshot anyway.
Rope pulls.

Commands are sometimes transmitted by rope pulls, but there is no universal system.

  • Because of rope stretch at the end of long leads, it's necessary to greatly exaggerate the pulls. A simple tug will seldom be felt at the other end.
  • Take in all slack, and for each signal reach way down and pull the rope as high as possible, holding it tight for a while before releasing the tension. If there is much friction, pulls may not be distinguishable from normal rope movements.
  • The most common commands correspond to the number of syllables in their verbal equivalents: one pull from the follower means "Slack," two means "Up rope," and three from the belayer above means "Belay on."

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