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Independent team of two

Alpine climbing ascents in the format of an independent pair-two.

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Tactical features, risks and additional dangers associated with climbing in the format of an independent roped team of two.

Descent from the summit of Dykh Tau, Caucasus, Bezengi

This topic is relevant for climbers, whose climbing level has not yet grown to steadily confident independent climbing, but ambitions are already running ahead and calling for difficult and beautiful routes. The conversation about the advantages and disadvantages of climbing tactics in the format of an independent pair-two regularly turns to difficult technical alpine routes, especially to such famous climbing idols as Mount Ushba, Dykh Tau, Matterhorn, Shkhara, etc., on which this climbing format is quite relevant and effective. But taking into account some nuances, which I will discuss below.

Passing the summit ridge of Mount Dykh Tau

So, a roped team of two. The fastest, most mobile and most successful climbing format on the technical climbing routes. The undoubted advantages of this format are the independence and mobility of the climbing schedule - any difficulty associated with the weather, short-term illness, unforeseen difficulty on the route is resolved promptly, without delays typical for large groups.

Mount Dykh Tau - the second highest peak in Europe and the Caucasus

A in alpine climbing the pair of two is the best solution for trained partners who have sufficient experience in joint ascents and do not want to be dependent on other people's problems, which are inevitable if the ascent is performed by a large group. It would seem – team of two - an ideal solution for most climbing technical routes? Alas, in reality, this is not as obvious as it seems at first glance.

Caucasus. Western part of the Bezengi wall, view from Mount Dykh Tau

Climbing in a pair-two is associated with serious additional risks, which in no case should be underestimated, and the possibility for a group ascent should often be accepted, despite the fact that it would be faster and more successful to climb in an independent team of two. What are the risks associated with such climbing tactic, which are usually left outside of the classic mountaineering curriculum?

Against the background of the famous Bezengi wall - a symbol of sports mountaineering in the Caucasus.

The first and most important thing that should be understood with full responsibility is the extremely limited ability of the pair-two to self-rescue in the event of an accident. Having the skills of mutual assistance, even well-developed ones, mastering the technique of repelling and pulling out the victim from crevasse is all good, but it is a deep delusion to seriously expect that if one participant is injured, the second will be able to do something. Given the additional complicating factors - fatigue, difficult weather conditions, stressful conditions, one needs to soberly understand that there will be no benefit from theoretical knowledge in the field of mountain rescue.

Passing the snow ridge, climbing Mount Shkhara, Bezengi

We are not talking about the fact that studying the techniques of working with equipment in various non-standard situations is meaningless - no, of course there is significant benefit in this and having a number of skills in reserve is useful and even necessary for any climber. However, do not count on the fact that the possession of these skills will be a universal remedy for troubles - this is self-deception. The priority should always be on how to build a tactical climbing plan in order to avoid these troubles, and in the event of an accident, not to be left without the opportunity to receive the external help.

On a steep section of the Mount Dykh Tau ice ridge, Bezengi

In most critical situations, the independent team of two is deprived of the possibility of self-rescue - you can only count on timely external assistance, and build a tactical plan of ascent, based precisely on this principle. Self-rescue attempts in the small teams very often lead to a critical loss of time, and as a result, to aggravate the situation as a whole, often with the most gloomy consequences. Examples of such situations are numerous.

Climbing the Summit of Mount Shkhara by Crab route, Bezengi

Please note that the prerequisites for accidents with a team of two, as a rule, are: uneven distribution of experience between participants, underestimation of the complexity of the route as a whole, insufficient coordination with rescue services and other groups located in the climbing area.

On the summit of Dykh Tau - the second highest mountain in the Caucasus

As a summary of this article, the advantages of climbing in an independent team of two should be used very carefully, based on one's own and others' experience, taking into account and carefully weighing all the pros and cons, because serious risks are associated with tactical advantages in this case, which in no way case should not be underestimated.

The author of the text and photos - Alex Trubachev

MCS EDIT 2023

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