Here are a few top tips for big wall climbing. I will hopefully get some more picture and many be a video up to illustrate a few of these points, after the weekend when I will have to demonstrate them at the Plas Y Brenin – Expedition Symposium this weekend. The hopefully will serve as an online aid memoir for those on the course, as well as those that could make it. If you’d like a big walling masterclass then as well as weekend course run at Plas Y brenin, I also offer similar courses tailored to you specfic needs and aspirations. Visit Snowdonia Mountain Guides for more details.
Should I wear Gloves?
I didn’t and I lived to tell the tale, however I wish I had taken some along though
Should I take finger tape?
Yes in the absences of gloves this will cure a thousands blister on you hands
El Cap and the Nose
Should I take knee pads?
Again I have survived big walls without them. However if I was doing a lot of aid climbing and jumaring there comfort would be a small pleasure. Although the bruising and scars soon heal
Should I take duck tape?
Yes, I would also recommend the 1000 things to do with duck tape for a riveting evening read. Great for adding protection to ropes, haul bag and porta-ledge.
How Many ropes should I take?
Well you can get away with two sixty metre ropes, one dynamic for climbing on and the other semi-static for hauling. You will also need a short 30m x 7mm lower out line for the pig. Some routes however take about five 50 metre rope to reach the ground from the normal ‘blast off’ point
Author Powering up the Stove Legs
What rack will I need and how do I carry all that gear?
You’ll need an arsenal of gear, for routes like the nose, salathe and R NW face Half Dome a double rack of wires 1 to ten, plus RP’s/Micro wires, a double rack of cams from 1/4 to 4 (wider still for some routes!), including half sizes, a few micro cams will help as well. You will also need about 15+ quick-draws, 10 + screw-gates, plus a bunch snap gate carabiners to use as runners. You’ll still need to back clean the longer pitches as you climb. You will need a bandolier to carry all this, often cams on the bandolier, wires and other quick-draws. Slings, snap-gates on harness. A bandolier also helps speed up changeovers.
Sorting out a rack – Yosemite Style
What the blast off point?
Often when big wall climbing you climb for a day without the haul bag and fix those pitches and come back and haul the gear to your high point and then blast off, severing the umbilical cord to the ground and of course the Yosemite Lounge Bar. Blasting off with confidence helps as before long you reach the ‘point of no return’.
What’s the point of no return?
The critical point of a wall where retreat becomes increasingly unappealing or difficult due to a traversing line like on Salathe Wall.
How much water do we need to take?
4 litres per person per day during sept/oct in Yosemite. That’s a lot if there are three of you and you expect to spend five days on the wall. That’s 60 litres or 6kg of weight you are going to have to haul up the wall in the ‘pig’. You will have to beg, borrow and steal water bottles in camp four, just remember to offer your bottle, buy lots of 4 litre bottle of juice and gatorade, as it tastes way better than water on the wall, so refreshing its unreal.
What about number 1’s and 2’s?
You will notice that all belays stink of piss, a could sign if you at the top of a difficult pitch is the smell of urine, as it means the belay is close by! To shit on the wall, you are going to need some paper bags and know where your own arse hole is, by linking one to the other you won’t shit on your own shoes or mates porta-ledge! Not as easy as it sounds. It is common practice to carry a poo tube and pack it all out. In some places (e.g. Alaska, its is mandatory).
What’s the pig?
The haul bag or pig is your enemy, if will get stuck at every opportunity, of virtually anything. You will feel every kilo you are essentially dragging up this wall. It needs to be hard wear, and reinforced with at least and extra 2 kg of duct tape. Use the top off another drinks bottle threaded onto the knot that attaches the haul line to the pig. Apply gaffa tape as the knot is a serious rub point when hauling.
The Author and the Pig on the very long approach to Half Dome
What will I need to take?
Well don’t forget your tooth brush! You’ll be living in close proximity to your climbing buddies. However you really need a synthetic sleeping bag, as if it rains there is no place to hide unless you have a porta-ledge and fly. Similarly warm clothing as it is really windy at the top of a wall, and the heat is literally turned off the moment the sun drops off the wall. Leaving you staring upwards shivering in the new dawn, looking for the first sign that the sunlight and warmth is return as nature starts to light the wall from the top down. A truly amazing experience as you can almost feel the world spin.
Uncomfortable ledge bivi
What’s a porta-ledge and will I need one?
Several of the classic routes – The Nose, Salathe Wall and the Regular NW of Half dome; all have ample ledge for sleeping on. Some are more comfortable than others. So you can get away with a roll matt and a sleeping bag, although a goretex type bivi-bag is essential as a minimum, a group shelter or even a simple tarpaulin can make a difference in the autumnal storms.An advancement and essential for many wall are porta-able ledges, a make shift tent that in conjunction with a rain fly can offer shelter in all but the worse waterfalls that can appear on the wall.
A couple of well known climbers enjoy some light porta-ledge reading on El Cap
So I have water, food and enough stuff to survive a storm how to I get it all up a 3000ft cliff?
This is why the haul bag becomes a pig, most teams go with the classic one to one body haul. Tie you climbing rope off so you have 20ft or more depending on your confidence, and clip your jumar in the haul line thats running through the wall hauler. Now weight the haul line and try to counterbalance the haul bag. You’ll probably have to push yourself down the wall, alternative pull up on the rope going down to the haul bag with another jumar. When you get to the end of your 20ft leash jumar back up the haul line.
Other techniques use elaborate pulley set ups. Now I am sworn to secrecy, but the Yosemite ratchet is my favourite, makes light work of heavy loads. Way to complex to explain, I’d have to show you.
How do I get to the top of the pitch in the first place?
Big Wall are often too hard to free climb, instead we have to cheat by modern tactics and use the French free method or full on aid climbing. Both require a fifi hook, and French free can become very slick on the big three in Yosemite. Even if free climbing I have a fifi hook on my harness, as it allows me to rest on gear rather than weight the rope, meaning that if I can put another piece of gear in above my head then I can clip it before I unweight the last piece. Try practising it in your local wall, by fifi hooking into the highest bolt, reach up and then clipping the next bolt, as soon as you’ve clipped it pull up the rope and fifi into yo0u new high point. Get this dialled as speed is important on big walls, else you’d go adrift.
Looking down a typical Bolt ladder.
What about aid climbing?
Again it is just a process, have a go aid climbing up the bolts at a climbing wall, and get a system that works for you. Practice it, till you have it dialled. Speed is your friend on a big wall. One tip, when using two aiders and etriers, these will often tangle if they do remember they are tied to you so often dropping them resolves a tangle. Again the fifi hook is essential here. I once tried aid climbing without one, stripped 30ft of a pitch, as I over balanced backward, because I was trying to use a quickdraw as a fifi hook. I landed on the belayer who promptly gave me his fifi hook.
How does the second get up?
Often jumaring is the preferred method as they can strip the pitch, whilst the leader hauls the pig. Firstly you need to be efficient as jumaring, you will be by the top! Secondly know how to deal with slight deviations to the climbing line as well as run out traverses, it can often speed things up if the leader runs it out and back cleans traverse if there is a good place to lower out from.
Jugging El Cap
To get round a slight deviation it is possible to step out of the aider loops and smear against the wall, lay-backingg off the jumars allowing to to swing and unweight the gear, remove it and then walk or pendulum (brave/insane only) to under the next runner.
To lower out from a traverse, you need to pass a loop of rope from you figure of 8 knot attach you to the climbing rope, through a piece of tat on some fixed gear. Pull up and you can release the climbing rope from the fixed gear, then lower yourself out slowly and controlled. Quick effective and safer than taking a swing on jumars.
The Author making the first free ascent of Pitch 2 or 3 of what became Leo’s Passage to Freedom. E4