Mountain Leader Environemnt Photo’s

Well a few months ago I put a post up showing various plants I show on Mountain Leader environment days. Whilst the ability to name and tell a story about various plants is part of the environmental content of the scheme, there is of course a lot more to access and conservation. I stumbled across this gallery on UKC which has some other plants that I didn’t get a picture of, as such if you want to brush up on your plants then I suggest that you take a visit. They are amazing pictures as well.

Whilst this might not be climbing coaching, hopefully in the wider sense it will help those trying to make there way into the industry gain their Mountain Leader Award.

There is a book due out covering the Nature of Snowdonia that will be an excellent reference tool for those wanting to know more about, well the nature of Snowdonia. It is currently at the printers, and should be out before christmas from pesda press.

Equipment Care and Maintenance

Climbing equipment is essential for your safety, so much so that there are various standards that each and every piece of personal protective equipment must achieve for it to be fit for purpose at the point of sale. To check this batches of it undergoes random destruction testing during the manufacturing process. However as we use and often abuse the kit during our climbing we need to be able to make informed decisions as to when to retire and replace our equipment.

General rule of thumb on equipment life
Metal Equipment – 10 year life span.
Webbing – 5 years Storage (On shop shelf) and then five years use.
Ropes – 5 years from the date of manufacture.

Despite these general rules of thumb, it is important to realise that excess use might reduce these lifespans. However there is antidotal evidence that suggests that metal work in particular can stand up to the tests of time. DMM tested a featherlite carabiner from the 1960’s which still broke at 20kN, similarly they have run ‘Break what you Brung’ workshops as various events and have found twenty year old carabiners regularly breaking at there cited strength. This is possible because Aluminium strengthens and hardens with age, which has a knock on effect in that a new wire is slightly plastic, in that it might mould itself to a crack when you fall on it, but and older wire will have harden, so won’t. Whilst this shouldn’t compromise the placement it is an interesting effect of metal ageing.

Wires need to be checked regularly, by examining the swaged wire for damage, if any of the strands are broken then it is time for it to be replaced, firstly because the strength will be effected and seconding because the sharp wire can add to the abrasion of webbing based products. It is recommended that you slide the wedge of metal down the wire to see what is going on underneath, as well.

A pervious myth was that if you dropped a carabiner on the floor from a small height it would somehow magically hit a sweet spot that caused micro-fractures and compromised the integrity of the carabiner. This is a myth as the carabiners are forged at over 400 degrees, and makes the metal form strong molecular bonds that are elastic. However if you drop a piece of gear down and entire pitch and it lands on a solid rock then you would be advised to retire it.

All metal work is also liable to corrosion especially if you climb at or near the coast. Salt in the air will stick to the metal, and stay there slowly corroding the metal whilst it sits in your rucsac until the salt is washed away. As such it is recommended that you rinse all hardware in fresh water after climbing at sea cliffs, to prevent corrosion.

Manufacturers have started to anodise equipment, as it creates a molecular barrier to corrosion, however, any scratch to the anodised surface exposed the metal underneath to the corrosive environment, so even anodised equipment needs a rinse.

Cams are perhaps the hardest piece of equipment to maintain as they have many moving parts, again they need to be rinsed after sea cliff climbing and regular oiled with specific oils like the Metolius cam oil, they can also be cleaned using Metolius Cam Cleaner. Maintaining the cams will prevent the cams from ceasing up, and stop you having to buy a new one to replace it. The important part to oil is the axle where the cams rotate around, when checking and oiling the cams it is important to make sure all the cams move independently of the axle and each other. Sometimes long falls or lack of care and cleaning can prevent this from happen, making the cam less stable when placed. Trigger wires can also break on cams, and can often be replaced by returning the unit to the manufacturer where a small charge is made for the work, if the unit is over ten years old they will not replace the trigger.

Both cams and hexes have a sling webbing, as such there is a discrepancy between the lifespan of the cam unit and the sling. Again these can be replace by the manufacturer at a price. One of the main reasons behind the need to replace webbing products more frequently is that the material is not only more susceptible to damage from UV light, it also abrades quickly. The abrasion causes more damage than you think.

If for instant we got a new dynema sling and cut completely through 1/3 of the width of the sling, and then abraded the sling across its whole width, the sling will break under destructive testing not at the cut but at the surface abrasion. This is why the five year rule might be worth seeing as a maximum lifespan, as heavy use will result in abrasion all over the sling. This same issue with abrasion also extends to harnesses, where as well as general wear and tear there are specific wear points, which are where the buckles are tightened and loosened every time we put a harness on and take it off, and also where the rope is threaded through the strong point of the harness. A worn harness was the cause of the death of Todd Skinner, a very famous and experienced climber, who had order a new harness that hadn’t arrived prior to his climbing trip.

The last piece of equipment we need to maintain is the rope, whilst this has a life of five years, again this might be worth see as a maximum life, excessive use or damaged from being weighted over an edge might damage the sheath of the rope or the core. If the damage is severe then the rope needs retiring, however it needs to be checked every time it is used, you probably do this without knowing, as every time you flake the rope out you feel it run through you hands, as you do so feel for fluffy sections or irregularities in the rope, and check these section more thorough, if it feels like the core is damaged then it is better to replace the rope than risk your life.

Photo of a rope damaged lowering someone over a sharp edge, probably needs retiring!

Similarly avoid treating your rope badly, so avoid walking on it at all, dry it after use if it gets wet, wash it from time to time in fresh water and don’t add your own half way marks with marker pens as this damages the sheath. Whilst UV will damage rope just like webbing and slings, it is less of an issue with rope as the sheath with represents about 10% of the overall strength of the carabiner, the remain 90% strength provided by the core is protected, recent tests of insitu abseil tat exposed to an alpine environment, has shown whilst reduced in strength compared to slings the reduction is not as dangerous as slings exposed to UV. In terms of storage you should still store the rope away from direct sunlight.

Thanks go to DMM for spending the time to talk me through these points, and to check my facts.

A beginners Guide to Periodisation in Training

Hierarchy of training for peak performance from Bompa.

With winter knocking on the door, I have headed inside for my annual training binge I have set my goal for next year, so have a real target to get my teeth into and motivate me on those long and tiring wall sessions. This year I am going to try and add some form of structure to my training, and to do so I have turned to an oracle on the matter, Bompa, who literally wrote the book on periodisation training.

What I am going to do is attempt to condense it into a single post. The general ideas is that through structured approach to overloading and recovery we can create a situation in which we improve to the best of our ability, before finally tapering to a specific goal.

The first stage is to increase your general physical training, by increasing the frequency and loads you can maintain. For climbing this can be achieved through climbing routes or bouldering. The idea is not to climb to your max at this stage, instead try holding back, or certainly not operating at 100% for too long. Try to increase the number of session from two a week up to four. I try to include a couple of general and specific climbing cardio sessions again aimed at increasing general fitness.

The next stage is start working on sport specific fitness, and for climbing this really needs to be aimed towards the major goal you have. So for me it is hard sports climbing, so I need to work on my strength and strength endurance, as well as working of enhancing technique. It is in this section of the training it is important to add structured overload. Now the research is based on sports that tend to use major muscle groups, as such there is a worry that because climbing uses predominantly the fingers and arms that we can increase our strength so rapidly that our fingers fail to support the increase in power. (see diagram of periodisation)

Diagram of periodisation from Bompa

As such these schedules may require you to listen to your body and add longer rest periods or even less intense session to allow the tendons, ligaments and pulleys in the fingers time to adjust, which will take months as opposed to the weeks that it takes to make muscular strength gains.

There are other reasons that you might need to adjust the time it takes for recovery, based on the fact that it takes over 25 year olds longer to recover than under 18’s; females are slower to recover than men; cold weather slows recovery; knots in the muscle slow recovery; fast twitch muscle fibres fatigue quicker than slow twitch; endurance athletes take longer to recover than sprint; a happy state of mind leads to better recovery than a sad one, so using relaxation to reduce stress hormones can help recovery; injuries slow recovery; good nutrition speeds recovery.

Diagram of recovery time from Bompa.

Things we can do to aid recovery are active rest (20 minutes light exercise post training – <60%)

When you are at you starting to approach you optimum performance then start to include tactical practice like redpoint skills, route reading, finding and utilising rest, and dealing with the fear of falling. In the final stages of your tapering use mental and psychological skills like imagery, confidence, self-talk and relaxation, although these should also make up part of your on going training, if you have a mental weakness that requires their use to counteract and over come.

Remember to listen to your body though, injury which can often totally destroy you goals and ambitions don’t always just happen, a feeling of weakness, a constant ache in the fingers, a loss of contact finger strength when training, poor foot work are all pre-cursors to sloppy training and potential injury. Don’t necessarily stop training but consider very low intensity as a form of active rest.

Big Walling FAQ


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.

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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