Skills of a Competent Second

What is a competent Second?

‘Seconding’ is the term commonly used to describe a climber who ‘follows’ a lead climber. Typically, this means that the rope is above the ‘seconds’ head, and with attentive belaying a climber ‘seconding’ a straight pitch shouldn’t travel any significant distance.* This is only the case if a climb or ‘pitch’ is straight (up) and involves no traversing.

On climbs with long traverses or girdle traverses, the prospect of a fall for a ‘second’ could involve a swing or pendulum meaning that it could be as serious to climb it ‘leading’ or ‘seconding’. Climbs with big traverses require forethought and skill from the ‘leader’ to protect both themselves and their partner or ‘second’ to prevent large and potentially damaging swings.

The skills outlined below (not exhaustive) are what we recognise as the basics for becoming a competent second:

  • Put on a sit harness correctly;
  • Tie into the end of a rope with an appropriate knot/s;
  • Understand the mechanics of ‘leading’ and multi-pitch climbing;
  • Understand basic climbing calls and terminology;
  • Safely belay and be able to hold a falling ‘leader’, ‘second’ as well as a climber top/bottom roping;
  • Be able to make themselves safe at a belay (tie in with a clove hitch);
  • Be able to dismantle a belay on a multi-pitch climb when safe to do so;
  • Abseil with an appropriate prusik;
  • Have a basic understanding of grades and their personal limits.

*Climbers typically use ‘dynamic’ ropes, so in the event of a fall, there is some stretch in the rope to absorb high or excessive impact loads. In reality, this means that if a ‘second’ falls, they will also cause the rope to stretch and travel down anything from a few inches to a couple of feet depending on the characteristics of the rope (diameter; shock absorbency, etc.), as well as the amount of rope out from the belay and the climber’s weight.